Is it possible for a city to break your heart? If it is, it’s Sydney and it took mine in July.
I moved to Australia on the Working Holiday visa at the age of 29. I sold my house, left my career and fully intended to never come back.
July 24, Circular Quay, Sydney NSW
I’m sitting in Opera Bar at Circular Quay like I do most days after work. It’s a view I’ve seen a hundred times but this time, as the sun goes down over the Harbour Bridge, it’s obscured by the tears in my eyes.
It’s 6pm as I look out over the harbour and up at the coloured blur of lights as traffic passes over the bridge. Commuters are making their way home. Bumper to bumper, cars full of bored rat-race workers trying to make their way their way back to their waiting families.
They don’t care that they are sitting on the most beautiful bridge in the southern hemisphere. They don’t even notice the majesty of the Royal Opera House as the evening lights dance over her curves. They could be anywhere and it’s irrelevant because they have to be somewhere.
I have nowhere to be. No one is waiting for me. For two years now it’s been just me and this city and for that reason, I see things they will never see.
I know that as the sun sets, a gentle light hits the top of the Shangri La hotel and casts as blade of gold down over the water. I know the way the freshly cut lawn smells in Hyde Park when it’s been raining and the way my heels sound as I run over the cobbles on Argyle Street when I’m late for work.
I know that at 6am a young girl sits under the railway station eating bread that she steals from the delivery man as he stacks fresh crates for the food court. I know that there’s a lady who dances alone in the Botanical gardens and reads an imaginary newspaper to an imaginary friend. I know that if you walk past the Queen Victoria Building at 10pm there’s a couple kissing goodbye as they wait to take separate buses home. I know that that the suited man who sits in the window and orders coffee in Gloria Jean’s every lunchtime is hoping that the young, blonde waitress will one day notice him.
I am in love with this city. I’ve travelled a lot in my life and passed through more cities than most but I’ve never belonged anywhere like I belong in Sydney. I was lost until it found me. Sometimes I would leave the city for a few days just to feel the warmth of ‘coming home’ when I returned.
My hands are cold on the glass of chilled white wine and a couple at the next table are looking at me with concerned faces. I’d forgotten about the tears, now steaming down my face and reach in to my bag for a tissue. I don’t have one.
I imagine they think my boyfriend has left me/I’ve lost my job/I’m having a terrible hair day. I wonder what they would think if I told them that not being able to look at this view anytime I like, for the rest of my life, is breaking my heart. That I have nothing to go back to.
They get up to leave and as she passes she leans in to gently push a pack of tissues across the table towards me. We share a smile and they walk away hand in hand.
I’m crying because it’s been two years and I’m borrowing a life that I can never own.
The friends I’ve made, the men I’ve loved, the jobs I’ve held, the homes I’ve shared, it’s all temporary because my visa days have always been numbered and I’m struggling to hold tight in a cyclone of transition.
I’m crying for the loss of the happiness that was always eclipsed by the shadow of time creeping up behind it.
I’m crying because it’s time to leave home to go ‘home’ and nothing has ever hurt like it.