At Tullamarine airport, sometime around 4am on Sunday, 20th August, I purchased a tiny Moleskine notebook.
“I’m going to write in this every day while we’re in Italy,” I said to Jesse, thinking about all the times I went to Burning Man, or traveled, or went to festivals, and years later found myself lamenting the fact that I didn’t have any daily records.
I like looking back and remembering the little things. I like remembering what I ate, how I felt, who I spoke to, even how well I slept – but our brains aren’t built to retain that kind of detail long-term. They hold on to the big things pretty well, but even the big things lose clarity as time passes.
I didn’t think I’d stick to it. I don’t have a lot of faith in my own ability to stick to anything. But I surprised myself: I managed to journal our entire 25-day Italian vacation in a way that should (hopefully) allow me to recall the texture and feeling of each day. Photos and videos do a wonderful job of recording the big moments, while journalling feels like the right way to record all of the little ones.
Travel is one of the best ways to learn about yourself. Just about everyone I know would agree with this.
In Italy, I discovered that my tolerance for high-density, chaotic environments is decreasing faster than I thought – Roma and Firenze were fun for a couple of days, but by the third or fourth day, I was itching to get out. The European heatwave and overwhelming crowds didn’t help, but I felt my soul relax in Val d’Orcia, in the Dolomites, and Malcesine.
Traveling also reinforces things I already know about myself, and this trip highlighted my yearning for evergreen forests, mountains, alpine lakes, and pristine rivers. Driving north from Verona towards the Dolomites felt like ascending into heaven. Even though I was unwell in the Dolomites, something about being there had a deep sense of physical rightness. It’s the same way I felt living in the Pacific Northwest, like oh – this is where my body is supposed to be, and this is what my body is supposed to be doing.
It was a beautiful and timely reminder of the landscape that makes me feel most at home, and the kind of place I’d like to end up one day.
Coming home from Italy was just as pleasurable as the trip itself. We happened to return on a beautiful, warm, sunny day. The drive between Melbourne and our home was just huge blue skies and flat, green land, punctuated by streaks of bright yellow canola fields. Rigby, delighted to see us again, slept in the back seat of the car.
Our home, the cats… our bed. The pleasure of returning to what you know and love after almost a month of Very Different Things is intense. Before we took our bags out of the car, we walked around the property, looking at what had grown while we were gone. I complained about the weeds, and we resolved to mow as soon as possible.
We showered, unpacked, and climbed into bed, sighing with contentment and gratitude.
24 hours after we landed, I got so unbelievably sick that I was stuck in bed for 4 days straight. I couldn’t work. I took painkillers and slept. Each evening I’d drag my body out of bed to eat dinner, take a bath, and then get straight back under the covers.
By the time I was feeling good enough to log on to work, Jesse started feeling sick, and I had to start packing for a 2 week trip to San Francisco. Thankfully, he wasn’t as sick as I was, but leaving him while he was unwell felt awful.
I felt like I’d barely gotten home from Italy before I was back at the airport again, walking towards that bright yellow DEPARTURES sign. This time, though, I was alone.
If Italy felt unknown, San Francisco felt like the complete opposite. I felt like I was coming home, because I was. It felt almost wholly unchanged in the three years it had been since we last visited.
I landed around 9am on a Sunday, left my bags at my hotel room, and immediately got on a bus towards Lone Mountain – our neighborhood for the last 5 years of our life in SF.
I ate brunch alone at our favorite local spot. I walked to our old house, cried, and took a photo. I bought a towel from a dollar store on Clement Street and rode the bus to Ocean Beach. I wept as soon as I saw the water, and continued to cry from the bus stop to the water’s edge. I changed into my swimsuit – still crying, snot dripping down my face – and jumped in the water twice.
Every time I cried, I felt good. It felt like release. It also felt like nostalgia, safety, and that I was exactly where I was supposed to be in that moment.
But I also felt the pain of missing Jesse. I wanted him to feel the things I was feeling, and I wanted to hold his hand while he felt them. I wanted to kiss him. On the bus, on the beach, in front of our old home.
The first week in SF was mostly spent with my favorite colleagues, some of whom I’d never met in person before, and all of whom I hope to stay friends with forever. I also managed to have a couple of emotional and wonderful moments with SF-based friends that I consider as close as family. On Friday, my colleagues dispersed, and on Saturday morning, I moved from my downtown hotel to a friend’s house in Potrero Hill.
I spent the rest of Saturday at Portola music festival, drinking huge cans of cider, dancing until my legs hurt, finding and losing friends, meeting new people, and enjoying those in-between moments of being alone in a crowd.
The next day, I found myself on a sailboat in the bay, briefly seasick before being saved by anti-nausea medication. After the sun set, I shivered in my denim jacket as we watched the lights from the Golden Gate Bridge illuminate the fog that was threatening to swallow it whole. Then the moon rose – yellow and fat, but not quite full – and we sang at the top of our lungs to our favorite 80s songs under the stars.
My second week in SF was spent largely the same way as the first: dropping into the office to work, trying to eat at all my favorite old places, and meeting up with friends I hadn’t seen in years. My final Saturday was spent on the sailboat again, drinking cold cider and sticking my fingers in my ears as fighter jets flew in formation overhead.
Sunday was my last day. I packed, ran final errands, and took my bags to the Mission District to eat dinner and drink margaritas. Finally, I called an Uber to take me to SFO for a midnight flight back to Melbourne.
I think I’m getting caught up in the detail of my San Francisco trip for two reasons:
- Despite taking the same notebook I used in Italy with me to SF and planning to continue writing daily entries, I didn’t open it once. This is probably an attempt at avoiding a potential loss of memories.
- I might be avoiding trying to describe how the SF trip felt. I don’t have confidence in my ability to properly put it into words, and I’m afraid that anything I write will be inaccurate at best, and embarrassing at worst. No matter how hard I try, I don’t know that I’ll be able to truly capture it: the sense of being home, my feet in the sand at Ocean Beach, the tearful hugs and reminiscing with friends, the weather, the fog, riding MUNI for hours, the simultaneous brokenness and beauty of the city, and above all, the bittersweet feeling of wishing Jesse was by my side for every moment.
I’m tired. My body needs a lot of rest. But I’m so happy to be home.