By Juliette Salom
When I was twenty-three, all I could see were beginnings. Everywhere I looked, everywhere I listened, all that permeated my world was the feeling of newness. New bands that boys I liked dragged me along to see would shout into microphones and I’d hear my name; drunk girls in bathrooms at house parties would introduce themselves and later call my name across the living room dance floor.
Everywhere I went, my name was said like I’d never heard it before; new inflections, new pronouncements, new ways of speaking. And I couldn’t get enough of it.
And then my mother decided it was about time that she drag my father and us all back to where he came from. Back to a place of old-world architecture and outdated culture. We flew five hours across the country, from the eastest to the westest. We flew back in time, the difference of the distance winding our clocks back three whole hours. It felt like much more.
Landing in a coastal city where one could watch the sun set over a horizon of only water, I realised it was the rewinding of time that made the air feel stale; time felt stagnant. In a city that wasn’t mine, time stood still whilst my real life happened back home, back east. On a family holiday and made to feel like a child again, my real youth was happening elsewhere.
Out west, where the sky is big and the roads are long and dusty, my father embraced the stillness of time. My youth had been stolen from me whilst I followed my family around, sitting in the backseat of a rental. My father’s youth, mid-while, was revisited. At opposites sides of the country and in varying points of time, our youths could almost not be more different. Besides from the normal conventions of time that don’t allow me to understand my father as a young person, the separation of geographical distance somehow makes that gap of understanding exponential.
A romantic childhood of living in a town a little south of the big city, killing fish and killing time, is all I can conjure up when my father speaks of his youth. A rare occurrence that is, anyway, to hear a hint of reminiscence from the forward-looking bulldozer.
Coming back west was the one time he allowed himself to believe that he came from there, that he’ll always come from here. But in our brand-new rented four-wheeled-drive, we drove straight from the airport to the hotel. No detours, no scenic routes, no bypasses down memory lane. My mother was tired, she told my father as she punched the address of our four-point-five start accommodation into the car’s sat nav. “Let’s just get there already.”
My father moved to the city when he was nineteen years old. A job at a bank and a few friends who’d moved up a year or so before him, it was naïve optimism and an immense desire to never return to his hometown that forced him to thrive in the city. The longer he stayed, the more it became his home; the longer he stayed, the less the place he was born in – still survived by his parents and youngest brother – didn’t. The city was close enough to that small town to go home for weekends, for holidays, to feel like one is only several hours drive away. But he never made the trip. He bulldozed himself from the bush smoke to the big smoke, and he never looked back.
My whole life had been cities. Twenty-three years in inner-city suburbs of leafy greens, all it took was a head out my bedroom window to see the skyline of the cranes. If my father moved on from the bush smoke to the big smoke, the biggest smoke was my smoke, the smoke where he eventually found a home. For me, there was no going back to anywhere, nowhere to go back to. Everything was home, for me. Home, in my city, was everywhere for me.
We passed a sign on the highway that read ‘Welcome to Perth’ and I wondered if that felt like coming home to my father. I wanted to ask him, but my mother was mucking around with the radio, turning all the dials trying to find a station, and my brother and sister sandwiched either of my shoulders, their obnoxious presences not compatible to the any hope of sincerity from my father. “How long until we’re there,” I asked instead. Planes could still be heard overhead and highway stretched into the horizon for what looked like forever, but I was already restless.
No one heard me. My mother swore at the radio and my siblings sighed and huffed. My father focused on the horizon, on those long stretches of road that lead seemingly to nowhere. I wondered if he knew where we were going.