If anywhere is the place for clichés, it’s gotta be in love letters. So with that said, I never realised how much I appreciated you until I left. Absence really does make the heart grow fonder. Now, with that said, I’m leaving again. I’m sure you can understand why.
You and I have had a bumpy relationship over the years. I’ve known you almost my whole life, since the day I popped out at St John’s, through my formative years at your local primary and then neighbouring secondary schools, and into my adult life. You were a constant in all this time; solid, wide-reaching, slowly moving in cyclical rhythms. The grass of the school oval that changed from a khaki speckled sandpit into an endless green expanse and back each year. The water of Jualbup lake that rose and fell, bringing with it either a hunt for turtles or dreams of exploring that mysterious island. The flowering of the jacarandas in my lane. The annual descent of the cockatoos like a beautiful, squawky plague. Like the life of medieval peasants, the calendar was punctuated by ritual holidays: sundowners under sprinklers in late summer, the street party down Rokeby Road, footy every week at Subi oval or Rosalie in winter, and our own street Christmas party each December. I came to know and love all this as well as I knew all the laneway shortcuts between your streets.
Sure, things changed, but the onwards march of progress was incremental. Vacant blocks where we’d once thrown bundies or waded through the lupins in search of caterpillars were eventually built on, the playground at the Theatre Gardens finally got renovated, and both markets ultimately succumbed to the pressures of development. Each time it looked like you were going to become irrevocably different, like when Ace cinemas closed up or finger buns at Crossways inexplicably went up to more than a dollar a piece, life marched on in its familiar metre. But, if I can be permitted another stereotype, I changed. It wasn’t you, it was me.
At first I guess this was simply from growing up. Picnics at the lake gave way to hastily passing a goon bag around with other teens. Instead of going down Rokeby to grab a slice at Delisio, we’d go down to Cheek Wednesday’s. I began to venture further afield as well: nearby to Leederville, or on the train to The City, Northbridge and down to Freo.
In comparison to these places you were too tame, too bland, too boring, too bloody GT. Where were the trendy bars, the street art covered walls, the ‘gramable brunch spots, the rough edges close enough to make someone feel like a real urban youth but not so close as to be an actual inconvenience? I suppose some of it was there. Beneath the smooth jazz of the Exeloo public toilets by the train station there was broken glass, graffiti, stains and sharps disposal. But these details were overlooked or ignored by the eyes of a teenager fixated way too much on being cool. They saw only the upmarket fashion boutiques and endless coffee shops, rather than the empty shopfronts on Rokeby. I never went by the public housing down by the train line, but I walked past enormous double blocks on Heytesbury Road inhabited by former Australian cricketers.
So I began to reject you. To have a distaste for your banal, suburban lifestyle. Your pretentiousness. Your wealth. Your age. I longed to get away from our relationship, so I fled. I ran away, many times, and we had a long period of separation. I tried my upmost to deny our connection. But for every departure there was an arrival, a return. I always came crawling back to your familiar landscape, the background hum of cars down Railway parade peppered with low cries of trains on the Freo line. The long, umbilical tug of home reeled me in again each time as I began to look at you differently. Like the realisation that Mum and Dad were just other, regular people trying to navigate their way through life, I now grasped that you were just a place like any other. You had your ups and downs, more than in a purely topographical sense, but you were no better or worse than all the other suburbs. Your only crime was familiarity. In that respect, you were different too – you were my home.
I’m no longer ashamed of our relationship, so when people ask where I live I don’t feel like I have to spit your name out quickly and softly between gritted teeth anymore, like I once did. Rather, I’m thankful for all the moments and memories we’ve shared. The times I felt like a rebel as I rode my scooter around with my friends on the school steps, or sat there enjoying a supershake from Farmer Jacks. The hours I’ve passed in your various parks; after school in the small one that blocks the end of my street and perpetually confuses visitors, walking someone else’s dog for money in the long one across the train tracks, or making fun in the one that lay next to my friend’s house on the aptly named Park Street. I’ve carved my nickname’s initial into the grand old eucalypts on your roads, and left it etched into doorframes like the mark of a tiny Zorro who targets exploitative employers, so I like to think that my presence will be felt in you as much as yours is in me. For now though it really is time for me to leave.