Homesickness in the time of coronavirus


Last Monday started like every other; my alarm went off at 5am; I had a hot cup of green tea, I read my book for half an hour; I attempted (but largely failed at following) a ten minute guided meditation. I left my apartment just after six, when the sky was still dark and Sydney’s bitter chill infused the inky sky, and I walked towards Gertrude & Alice, where I ordered a coffee. Iced latte in hand, I started the coastal walk towards Bronte, a route I follow most mornings; and one who’s beauty – even after almost five years of living in Sydney – I never, ever tire of. An hour later, as the winter sun started its slow ascent overt the horizon, I met my friend Ellie by Bondi’s famous ocean pool, around which waves were crashing ominously, and started meandering back to the most northerly part of the beach. We spoke about dating and work and Covid-19; about how improbable the year had turned out to be, about the guilt of being so far away from home, about the uncertainty of future travel; and about the subsequent effect it might have on us living down under.

I do the coastal walk nearly every day; and I’m still amazed by this city’s allure; by its big and boundless skies, by its sparkling seas and the endless stretches of powder-like sand. Not a day goes by when I don’t say a silent prayer of thanks that I get to live here; that I get to call Bondi my home; that I live in such a beautiful bubble that feels safe and shielded and sheltered from reality – sometimes to its detriment.

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But as I walked back to the bookshop – my sanctuary, my happy place; my home away from home – I felt a sense of unease; and a gradual weight bearing down on my shoulders. I sat outside the bookshop, the familiarity of Bondi no longer a comfort; and found myself messaging friends that had moved home. I asked them if they had regrets, how they knew it was the right decision to make, what spurred them to move home; and if they had ever felt truly happy since.

And as I waited for their replies, suddenly, from nowhere, it hit; the sort of homesickness I hadn’t experienced since I first moved to Sydney; the type that feels so all-consuming and overwhelming the only thing I could do was sit with it and pray it would pass. I found myself Googling flights home; I looked at flats in Richmond and Kew Gardens and Battersea, and wondered what life would be like were I to leave Sydney; were I to go through the same upheaval I faced when I first moved to Australia; when I then moved to Ubud and later LA. I imagined the ease with which I could see my parents and sisters and uncles and cousins; but I also envisaged the heartache and anguish I would feel at packing up my life in Bondi.

A week on and it’s still there; simmering below the surface. The feeling of longing and a wistfulness at what could have been, what might still be and what never was. The knowledge that belonging and longing are twin strands of the same thread; that the more I nourish and nurture my friendships in Sydney, the further I feel them fade back home. That the agony and the ecstasy of being torn between two countries has never felt more pertinent.

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The poet Byron once famously penned the following: ‘all farewells should be sudden, else they make an eternity of moments, and clog the last sad sands of life with tears.’ I can’t help but think that if my time down under does reach its end that I would want it to be immediate. No long and agonizing goodbyes; no farewell drinks, no poignant walks in which I linger wistfully over the places I have known and loved for so long. A quick packing of suitcases, a swift emptying of my apartment; a midnight dash to the airport for a barren flight out of Sydney while the friends who have become family were sound asleep, not knowing that during the night I had packed up and gone for good .

For now, I’m sitting with the feeling of homesicknesses, and wondering if it will pass; or if it will turn out to be more than just a phase. If Covid-19 will prove the final obstacle between me and a life lived in Sydney; if it will signify the beginning of the end of my time spent down under.

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