“HAVE YOU DECIDED what you’re doing yet?” Mendes asks. We are hungover and drinking strong cappuccinos on the patio of Tango 475, a coffee shop hidden down a lane in Melbourne’s Toorak Village.
“I don’t know. I can’t figure it out. Part of me wants to stay and try to have a real life for once, y’know? I’m tired of moving around all the time. But I might be sick of Australia. I can’t decide if I should stay or just go again,” I say.
“Where would you go?”
“Somewhere weird. Maybe India.”
“Why do you want to go to India?”
“Because I want a motorcycle. And elephants and curry and Goa.”
“You can have almost all those things in Thailand. And it’s way closer. Let’s go there. Maybe I’ll try and get someone to take my apartment. I don’t know if I can stay,” he says.
“If you wanna go, I don’t want you to feel like you have to stay here just because I’m crashing at your place.”
“No, I know. It’s good having you there.” I think he thinks he means that, but he looks skittish and tired. He officially moved in the day before I got to Melbourne, and I get the feeling he only migrated from his friend’s couch to his own apartment so I would have somewhere to stay.
“What would you do if I did give it up though? I might go.”
Three years ago, Mendes and I lived in the same apartment building in Toronto. We’ve both been traveling fairly constantly since then, though not together. I’ve paid rent for a circa-1972 trailer in Maui, an apartment in Utila, and a cottage in Cape Tribulation.
Mendes has crashed on couches and floors in more places than I ever kept track of; until a few days ago, he has not had a place of his own since he left Toronto. He is now the legal tenant of an apartment at Toorak and Orrong, and that is freaking him out. He has RESTLESS tattooed across his knuckles. I’m not sure if it’s there to describe his way of life, or to encourage it.
I drift in and out of sleep with my arm across his chest. Mendes doesn’t sleep well, or much. His bedroom window is open and Melbourne’s night sounds sift in through the screen and harmonize with the quiet strains of Bon Iver’s “Skinny Love” coming from his laptop.
He lies still, but I can tell by his offbeat breathing that he’s awake. Occasionally, he drinks from the bottle of Carlton Draught sitting on the dresser beside his bed. He has learned to do this without sitting up; I keep my arm across his chest and fall asleep again.
I’m in a cafe called Fringe in St. Kilda. The noise of the grinder is annoying but I order another coffee. I’m distracted by the traffic outside; I am envious of these people in cars and going places and unsure if I resent them more for having new places to go or for having homes to get back to. Flies are tickling my shoulders and eating the grains of sugar I’ve spilled on the table. The afternoon sun is hot on my back and reflecting off the greasy fingerprints smeared across my Mac’s screen.
There’s a rack of free postcards across from me; I think about writing my mom, my dad, my best friend Steph. A fly is crawling over the one that reads, “Her absence filled the world.” What does that even mean? Maybe I’ll take that one and send it without writing anything on the back except an address. Maybe whoever I send it to will be intrigued by my cryptic anti-message and assume I am too busy doing exciting things to fill a 4 x 6 inch postcard.
What would I tell them? Dear Mom, I’m wasting my afternoon in a coffee shop like I could be doing at home? Dear Dad, I’m thinking of coming home, but I can’t afford the flight and I don’t think being there would make me any more satisfied? Dear Steph, I don’t even know where home is anymore and that used to be what I wanted but now I don’t know what I want and it’s scaring the hell out of me?
I need a drink. I need alcohol, not caffeine. I need to get laid. Mendes and I are just friends.
The past few years, I’ve returned to Canada around this time, either due to visa or money issues. But now I don’t have to, and it’s not that I feel lost, but disoriented and indecisive.
I thought if I left Cape Tribulation and came to Melbourne, Mendes and I would both find comfort in each other’s confusion.
Instead, neither of us are any closer to figuring anything out. We are 25. By current life expectancy standards, this is neither a quarterlife crisis nor a midlife crisis. It isn’t even really a crisis. This is life.
When we were young, my brothers and I stood our tallest with our backs against the doorjamb. Our mother tracked our changes in height, once a year, on the threshold between the kitchen and the front hall.
A series of lines and names and dates climbed the frame, year by year, until my parents divorced and sold the jamb and the house and the record of our growth, measured against ourselves at different times, and measured against each other.
“It’s called a strangler fig,” Shane had said as he lead his tour group plus myself along the Daintree Rainforest’s Marrdja Boardwalk. I was hitching a ride from Cape Tribulation to Cairns, then flying onward to Melbourne to crash with Mendes.
“Eventually it grows completely over the other tree, stealing its water and nutrients and preventing it from growing, until the other tree essentially dies of strangulation.”
“I think you should take over my place,” Mendes says.
“Are you going to Thailand?” I ask.
“I don’t know. It might be good to get away for a bit but I don’t know what I want to do. Patty’s going on tour again though so I can crash there while he’s gone. I think I’d feel more comfortable if I could leave whenever I wanted.”
“Yeah. Well, I need a place, and if you don’t want yours, that would be good for me too. I think I might stay. For awhile, anyways.”
I’m alone in what is now my own room, eating ramen noodles to offset the price I’m paying for this floor-to-ceiling view down and eastward over mango trees and church spires.
There are no lines on this door frame, nothing so clearly indicative of change. 12 months ago, I was living in Honduras. I don’t know where I’ll be in another 12. Perhaps this is home — this feeling of not knowing whether to stay or go, or where I belong, or if I want to.
Last night Mendes and I slept flat on our backs, close but with our arms to ourselves, in case one of us wanted to move.
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