17:55, passing low slung brown buildings in Richmond, watching the monolithic city temples disappear away from me. Cool grey-blue skies, and an early half-moon emerges from between clouds. The railway cuts a path through verdant gullies and soars over slate freeways and desolate carparks.
It’s been a long time since I took this trip by train, by myself. I look at my reflection in the window and realise, not for the first time, that I look my age.
Years ago, after high school, most of my friends wisely moved away from the semi-rural nightmare of misspent youth that is The Country. My exodus came later, by which time I’d lost contact with many of those that I had once been close to. My move to the City, coming a few years later than the rest, was more deliberate, less an 18-year old reflexive rebellion. As such, when I left, I never returned, not properly. Not like those one-time friends, who had drifted back, got married, got kids, got on drugs, got off drugs, split up, got together again, moving between towns and partners and families and jobs but ultimately returning to the same place, stuck in a rut.
It feels a little harsh writing this – I don’t know these people anymore, don’t know if they’re happy doing what they’re doing. But I know when I was 18, 19, hearing their stories of new lives and all the wonderful things about moving away, growing up, about how they had finally escaped … well, they betrayed that late-teen impulse and have been slowly, inexorably drawn back into the purgatory we spent so long trying to escape from.
So now, after many years, I return, however briefly. And I revel (somewhat bitterly) in the fact that I was one of the few that built up the escape velocity to truly be released from the pull of Home.
I’m listening to Sad Waters by dear Saint Nick on my iPod, a song that always reminds me of a late-afternoon summer wind at a grassy spot near where my then-current, now-definitely ex used to live. A creek flowed nearby, and I remember my friends jumping from the banks and bombing into the cool water far below. I remember sitting off to one side, always the introspective navel-gazer, sad and angry from one too many fights with aforementioned ex.
The clouds outside the train have now darkened, the sun vanishing somewhere over Yarraville. Even though it’s only April, winter is coming fast and sudden this year. Days are growing shorter. My eyes are growing colder, my insides stiffening and becoming harder. This is how I deal with stress, for better or worse. Walling up, closing down.
I welcome melancholia like an old friend, as I go to visit others.