Before I left the UK, I sent an old friend an email. I no longer had their number, they'd moved out of the address I had, and I couldn't reach them on social media. I wasn't even sure they used this account any more, but I reached out anyway - across the dark void of both space and time - to let them know I was leaving. To let them know I wouldn't be back. To say some sort of goodbye, although goodbyes were said long ago. I didn't expect a reply, and the darkness didn't answer with one. But somewhere, somehow, I knew they had received my message.
They say when you meet the 'one' for you, you know. I think that's true with many decisions in our lives - some little, some monumental; that courses set into action will irreversibly change your life forever. Sometimes, these are happy moments, like knowing you're with the right person; sometimes they are tinged with guilt and sadness, like closing a door on a chapter you will not revisit again. These are 'sliding door' moments - that if something, however big or small, had or had not happened, your life would be very different.
Although I know, just know, that leaving the UK was the right decision, the knowledge is not an easy burden. I left behind a life that was filled with people and memories, with events and stages that have shaped me as a person and made me who I am, in exchange for one that, although familiar, is entirely new. I grew up here. I remember so many little details. Yet I have been entirely absent for 12 years. I have missed all my friends from those years grow up. I missed their trials and tribulations, their first kisses, their boyfriends, their parents' divorces - and although when I see them again it's like we were never apart, it's wholly surreal. Like I was in a coma and woke up 2 months ago. I have no idea of Australian politics (don't ask me who the last Prime Minister was), or any big news stories. I have a very bad sense of geography (I thought Canberra was North of Sydney until I looked on a map). I say 'football' instead of 'soccer', and 'rugby' instead of 'football', which although sounds quaint in my conditioned English accent, is fundamentally wrong here. I didn't know what 'Goon' was (cheap wine in a bag, what everyone got drunk on as teenagers), or 'schoolies' (Australia's equivalent to Spring Break), and I still cringe whenever anyone calls flip-flops 'thongs'. But despite me feeling like I might as well have lived on the moon for a decade, I know I'm happy. Like, deep down, fundamentally happy. Yet I feel more guilt for being happy than when I wasn't in the UK. Why?
A weekly Skype date with my parents is scheduled every Sunday. Technology has made the world so small that I still sit with them at home through a window spanning thousands of miles, talking to them like I would in person. Since I've been away, my mother has mourned my absence by unpacking my childhood belongings, which haven't seen the light of day for more than a decade. She's put teddy bears on my bed, carefully unpacked books into a new bookshelf, and slowly turned my room into her own kind of shrine. Although this behaviour is not new - when I left for university she turned my pinboard into an organised photographic chronology of my life, and hung portraits of me on the wall - it still makes me feel guilty. I feel my happiness has come at a cost - to them - and it pains me. Although technology makes it so easy for us to communicate, the distance can still be felt, and the distance is great. I don't know how to say I'm not coming back. At least not for good, and not for a long while. We avoid the subject of permanence every time we talk. And while I think we both know the truth, uttering it would break a spell that we have all weaved; that I will return, that I belong there, with them.
It's strange to realise how a life that seemed so all-encompassing, so saturated with people and memories, can so easy be forgotten. Events that haunted me for years have all but evaporated in the space of a few months. Yet I still think back to that rainy night I left the UK, when the weather echoed my emotions, and the email I sent to my old friend. The email that detailed my leaving date, and time, and asked for one last goodbye. It never came. They never came. And although I am several thousand miles away, and living an entirely different life, I am still waiting for it. Perhaps one day it will come, and through a window of a screen I will say a hello that will really mean goodbye.