Melbourne again

I cycle through the streets like I’m sorting through memories, trying to remember who I was, see my young face again. Again I’m on a bicycle, riding on Canning Street. Again I’m on Brunswick Street, passing by the Coles, jaywalking.

Today I went to my old home. A gorgeous blue block in the middle of Faraday Street. Bikes were locked out the front. Plants grew from old tins perched on a window sill. I went to the alley and tried to see if my garden was still there. I couldn’t. I didn’t try very hard.

Here I once was. Here in this city I was for a time and now that I is no longer and that time is gone.

the blue house from faraday street

I remember my housewarming in the blue house. I’d moved from Northcote with a red door to Carlton with a blue house. My new housemates were not my type. Roughly 10 months later, they had all gone, I was still there. None of them came to the housewarming. Friends dribbled into the lounge room. I wasn’t then as generous and we contented ourselves on meagre hummus and dips. Somebody watched a YouTube video.

Many memories of Melbourne, within this house: meeting a lady and that night together in my room up the stairs, the window open and without a flyscreen, the curtain flapping in the breeze, leaves littering my doona like ash. Dinners with friends: meals of okonomiyaki, burgers, drinks. Friendships that came together like batter and formed cakes and others that crumbled.

But it’s not just the house. It’s who I was, where I was, how I was – a young man, new to this city, having left home, having left home. Away. First job. First move interstate. First sharehouse. A thousand things to learn.

Oh how I came to know this city! How I unravelled Northcote – learnt the bike routes, discovered the dumpsters, uncovered the best grocery stores. Soon I knew where to get lentils, the best places for muesli ingredients, where to go for haircuts. How I fell for Carlton – for five minute rides that would leave me in the city, with fifteen dumpling restaurants within smelling distance. I fell for Brunswick Street and its vegetarian restaurants, its musicians, its rolling inhabitants, the many, the pedestrian. And Carlton Gardens! How I jogged through you. How I ran from zombies or listened to Eminem and planted foot after foot after foot after foot after foot and circled you twice and soon 5km was run. Here I was first swooped by a magpie.

Ah, Melbourne! Tree-planting near Healesville, bushwalks elsewhere. Rides by the Yarra, lunches in Abbotsford, ukulele ensembles, vegan parmas, satirical songs about tram journeys.

I worked here too. What was once a daily routine is now a faded memory, a few images: a standing desk, a dreaky elevator, a single meeting room with intermittent WiFi. Then work took me South East and I, for the first-time, broached Richmond, Hawthorn, Camberwell. Then work took me West and I crossed to Werribee and such and realised Melbourne was more, so much more, than just cafes and trams and bicycles and hip haircuts and fine gardens. Melbourne also has its hernias: far-flung suburbs sprawling into emptiness, thousands of inhabitants pushed out and kept out and left to fend for themselves – often by car, despite our Treasurer’s objections. A thousand or ten at the wheel, listening to radio, waiting sometimes hours just to make a right turn.

Oh Melbourne! Where I first made stuffed capsicums, where my bikes would crash, where I would find Commonground and love and what we might call success.

I return to you someone else, a sequel to my former self. A wiser, worldlier, tighter being. Perhaps slightly more cynical, more wistful – not for who I was, but for a certain Quixotic ungainliness that didn’t know enough to regret itself.

Melbourne, I roam through you like an alumnus through the halls of the Alma Mater: grateful for the lessons, absorbed in memories, changed forever by those who taught me.

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