They say you can never go home, but we all know they’re full of shit.
I wasn’t heading towards the area, I just happened to get here. It’s like when you’ve got an ex you don’t want to bump into, but you kind of do, so you go to the places they hang out, telling yourself all the while they won’t be there so you can act surprised when you see them. I turned the corner onto my street, and it was just, like: “Oh hey, Low-Rent Studio Unit, fancy seeing you here! Not moved on yet? Well, I have. Not that I came here to tell you that. Actually, I’m just here to raid the house across the street. I thought I may as well collect some of my things, while I was passing. I didn’t even think you’d be home.” But it is. It’s home, and even as I tell myself I can’t bring back the past and it’ll only open old wounds and leave me confused and vulnerable, I know I’m going to stay the night.
I can see now that I was just putting off the inevitable. I had to come back before I could move on. I just couldn’t imagine a scenario where I’d open the front door and it wouldn’t be depressing as fuck. I thought, it’ll either have been raided by someone like me, and it’ll look like a burglary: every lock broken, every cupboard and drawer turned out in search of edibles or useables or valuables, then abandoned as a wreck not worth the effort of salvage, like a metaphor for my life. Or it’ll be somebody like the Triggers, before they went rogue, and they’ll have been in and cleared everything to be logged and sorted and stored for the quarantines, leaving it empty and hollow with only the ghostly echo of the presence of my soul, like a metaphor for my life. Or there could be somebody living there, eating the last of my food and wearing my clothes and sleeping in my bed, reading my books, watching my movies, listening to my music, taking in everything I am and gradually replacing me from the outside in, challenging me to surrender everything I was or fight to reclaim myself, thereby ultimately destroying a reflection or aspect of myself. Like a metaphor for my life.
As it turned out, none of those things had happened. Where I live isn’t exactly rich pickings, so it might have been passed over by the salvage squads and not yet resorted to by the scavengers. It’s almost exactly as I left it, except for the radioactive slime monster in the fridge and the patches of mould and fungus that a winter without heating has brought out of the wallpaper and soft furnishings. It’s kind of weird. I got out my spare camp stove, and it still had half a canister of gas left. I made coffee – actual coffee – and drank if from the blue speckled-glaze mug I stole from work for my birthday. I made a bean chilli and rice from the food in my cupboards, with cumin and smoked paprika and passata with basil, a splash of cabernet and fresh oregano from my window box, the new spring leaves.
When it started to get dark, I lit some scented candles from the cupboard of generic gifts, collected over the years from colleagues and casual drinking buddies and ex-partners’ mothers who’ve felt they should get me something but don’t know what I like. I filled a hot water bottle. I put on my pyjamas and my dressing gown and my slippers, and got into my bed and dreamt strange dreams. I dreamt that I’d spent five months barricaded into Colmart and then wandered the deserted streets of Canberra looting kitchens to survive. Then I dreamt that was only a dream. Then I woke in the bright sun through unlined, badly-sewn velvet curtains and looked around and, for a good while, I really didn’t know what had happened, and I tried to get back to sleep before I’d remember for sure, but I couldn’t.
I got up and put on clean clothes. Then I filled every container I could find with water. I dug out the solar shower I’ve never used (cause I sneer at campers who won’t get in the river) and put it out front in the spring sunshine. Then I opened every window in the house, got out every cleaning product from under the kitchen sink, shook out every sheet and duvet and rug and throw, scrubbed the mould off the walls, emptied and cleaned the fridge and freezer and kitchen cupboards, washed my raiding clothes and sleeping bag in the bath and hung them out on the neighbour’s washing line. I went through just about everything in the place, burning junk I’d never want again in the yard, packing what I could use in my rucksack, stowing everything else away neatly in clean drawers and cupboards. Then I brought the solar shower into the bathroom and hung it off the useless electric one and got properly clean in warm water for the first time in months, with flower-scented soaps and seashell-shaped sponges (more generic gifts). I made more real food to eat and to pack. Then I sat down at my table to write this.
And now I’m hearing that seductive little traitor voice that says I can stay here just a little longer, just casually, no commitment, no ties – no rent, even – and nothing outside has to be real tonight. I could lock my door and make it all go away. “Just for eight hours,” says the duvet. “Or twenty-four,” says the liquor cabinet. “Or forever,” says the bathroom cabinet. And that’s why I can’t stay. If I keep still, then by the time I’m out of options I won’t be able to face going out to find more, and this time there might not be a gang of raiders to chase me away. Or there might be one too soon. I don’t have my in-store security system here, and my smoke’s probably already caught somebody’s attention. It’s too dangerous not to move on.
I’m re-stocked and clean, and I’ve got fresh clothes and thick socks and boots that fit. This is the time to head out again. No staying still, no going back.
No idea where I’m headed.