The body does not remember. My sewage flooded room and the years of tolerating the six-month Victorian winter. But recurrence spurs memory. I wake up to the smell of silkworms in a shoebox, bitten-into mulberry leaves, wooden slats dried and grey from the sun. Jasmine wound around wood painted cream and eucalypt silver-green.
There’s familiarity as sensations are repeated, disjointed in time (why should I smell silkworms and mulberry leaves on the air of a different suburb, in a different decade?) The things that reminded me of home while I was away were always dependent on the body in space, the body as subject. Thirty-five degrees in the shade on a hot day and it feels like the whole world is blood temperature. Back where this feeling originated – that there’s no separation between the inside of the body and everything else – I recognise another facet to it. The humidity is key. Rather than your body adding moisture to the air as it’s inhaled it just slips in and out, the same. But you only remember exactly how something felt as you’re experiencing it again. And even then, memory is fallible: it might all just be a story you tell yourself.
Some things can be repeated, and are: the shift in the body around a corner on a road that’s been the same my whole life. I don’t know why this is pleasurable.
People converge like moths around the idea of a place. After seven years of living away, sliding from Sydney to Melbourne, I am back in Brisbane to marinate in sweat for the foreseeable future. Moving states every few years means that you never feel like you belong somewhere, though I suspect this is a common feeling and motion is just the cause I attribute to it. If there’s something good about being really dedicated to one place I’ve missed it.
It’s easy to come back and say, solemnly, ‘the new developments in this area are an affront to the natural landscape’, like where I grew up wasn’t, too, like the only change is in the suburbs and not the viewer. Moved away from the ringtail possums, back to the brushtails. One in particular sits in the tree outside my bedroom making its devil-pig noises. When the house isn’t closed up at night it comes in, through the hallway, down the stairs, and eats whatever’s on the kitchen table.
People who’ve recently moved to Melbourne ask: why would you move back? Like I’ve suggested pulling your own teeth. No one moves back. I offer: everyone likes sunshine, I have a Dreamworld season pass now (whip out the season pass), I get to spend time with my family before they die, I never want to be cold again. I’m sure everyone in Melbourne has seasonal affective depression. In a car park there’s a black numberplate: 50SAD, yellow text on a black background, a palm tree next to it. QUEENSLAND.
Applying for Christmas casual jobs around Queen St, the same ones as when I was a teenager. Intervening qualification subsides in importance. I catch an air-conditioned bus into the city, leaking under the sun. Heavy plod through the wide treeless mall.
The possum that’s plagued the house I’ve moved into for years is in the gutter out back twitching. No one can do the right thing.
Just watching: the light change from gold to grey in one spot, the housing developments lap up the hills, the water sucks back from the mossy steps at the river. When I try to spot a former home from the train, there’s a false recognition of similar shape and colour (blue, cinderblocks, rotting veranda wood) – am I recognising home in other things incorrectly? Silkworm, brushtail, mulberry leaf, potato jasmine. I spot the right one, and it puts the nostalgia in its place.
From the writing I did while I was away some longing for the subtropics could be interpreted. I wasn’t aware of it at the time. Memory is not a museum. Things look simpler from further away. (When you map a coastline, its length is longer the more accurate it is.) Cynicism is insurance against looking foolish, but this is not the place to be cynical. And so I am making a record of home. What home is now. I fall asleep on the couch with the window open and a cloud of mosquitos relieves me of the majority of my blood, and then disperses.
Alex Gerrans is a nonfiction writer from Brisbane. Her essays and reviews have featured in The Guardian, Voiceworks, Meanjin and Overland online. She tweets as @algerrans.