i woke up sunday morning with a feeling of dread. i quickly shut my eyes and tried to escape this bad dream. was it really already time for me to fly back to america? had my time in australia whizzed by me at lightning speed? i let M sleep as i showered and got dressed for breakfast. i reorganized my suitcase and carry-on luggage for the upteenth time and then journaled a bit while listening to tristan prettyman on my ipod.
M had correctly assumed that we’d brunch at porch for my true last meal in bondi (he’s quite intuitive and also, i’m quite predictable). so once he arose from his slumber at around 10:30 a.m., he got himself ready and we slipped out into the sunshine. it was shaping up to be another beautiful day. the sun shone brightly as we walked along the boardwalk to my beloved sidewalk cafe. though there was a gathering of patrons in front of the doorway, we didn’t have to wait more than a few minutes for a quaint table inside. we sat down and ordered our coffees right away -(obviously) a soy flat white for me, a macchiato for M. for our meals, i asked for one last serving of their toasted muesli while M ordered up “the devils breakfast” -a dish served with paprika and chili coated eggs, chorizo, beans, fried potato, rocket and toast. i didn’t have to try it myself to know that it was spicy!
on our way home after our meal, we wandered through one of the sunday markets. we cruised quickly past the kiosks of miscellaneous wares -hats, jewelry, clothing, and other home decor. then it was off to a few convenience stores to find a bubble-wrap wine holder to ensure that my bottle from murray street made it back to america safe and sound. remember when i told you in chapter five that M had purchased a bottle of wine at murray street while i was in the ladies’ room? i had just assumed that it had been one of the reds he had tasted. y’all, i had walked around the rest of the day with the wine in my carry-on (australian domestic flight regulations are significantly less strict than ours. seriously you don’t even need to show your ID to fly), completely oblivious to fact that what lie inside was not a red wine but a white. THE white that i had enjoyed so much -the viognier marsanne. yes, unbeknownst to me, M had bought a wine for me to bring back as a souvenir. he figured i could share it with my parents over our next family dinner. i mean, what a guy.
so the search was on for a container to secure it in my checked luggage so that it made it back to LAX in one piece. coming up empty-handed, we turned our efforts to another agenda item – locating the perfect keepsake for my momma, who had been beyond amazing (per usual) throughout the entire trip (she handled everything back home in my absence and was a huge support system throughout the entire planning process that led up to my departure). M had taken me to the aquabumps gallery on my first day in sydney. it showcases the work of a local photographer, eugene tan, who ventures out (nearly) every morning to capture the first moments on bondi. his work is STUNNING. seriously, you should subscribe to his daily email -it’s free! a few years back he produced his first photography book entitled “a day at bondi.” given her love for photography-slash-her photography skills, M thought my mom would appreciate having a copy of her own. i couldn’t have picked a better souvenir for her than if i had thought of it myself. the only downside was that the book weighed a good three kilograms, but with a bit of space still left in my checked bag, i figured we could make it work just fine.
for those who have never bore witness to my pre-flight rituals, i tend to get very quiet and reserved. i think that’s how my inevitable case of the nerves manifests itself. unfortunately for me, and for M, being withdrawn only dampened my final moments in sydney and our final moments together. once we arrived back at the apartment, it was all i could do to maintain my composure. i think in all reality, i was just kind of in disbelief that our adventures were coming to a close. this trip that i had been waiting to embark on for five+ months had already come and gone in what seemed to be a blink of an eye. and while i certainly took advantage of my tenure as a temporary australian, i couldn’t help but feel as though there was still so much to do, see, taste, and experience before i said goodbye. but my 3:00 p.m. flight to LAX would wait for no one (of course that wasn’t true as i would soon learn that it was delayed a good 45 minutes), so after we secured the wine bottle in a trash bag and then wrapped in my knit circle scarf, i zipped up my suitcases, did one final walk through the apartment to ensure i hadn’t missed anything, picked a book from M’s collection to take with me in case i was in need of some reading (i was nearly finished with me before you at that point), and we bid farewell to his humble abode.
M hailed down a taxi and we loaded up my luggage (which was significantly heavier than when i had arrived), and jumped inside. the whole time we were driving, i secretly hoped we’d blow a tire or get caught in some beach traffic so i would “conveniently” miss my flight. but we pulled up in front of the qantas gate at the international terminal with plenty of time to spare. M accompanied me inside and we walked right up to an attendant to check me in. as expected, my checked luggage was a bit over the weight requirement, so we had to move a few items into my carry-on and i had to hand-carry mom’s book onto the plane. after the re-shuffling, it came in under the allotted 25 kg and they sent it on the conveyor belt to the belly of the plane before handing me my boarding pass and telling me to have a safe flight. M and i walked over to a nearby table so i could fill out my customs form.
now let’s just call a spade a spade -goodbyes are the worst. like the absolute worst. especially on the heels of a trip of a lifetime. despite normally being a glass box of emotion, i was surprisingly composed in those final moments. almost detached. maybe it was the realization that on the other side of that 13 hour plane ride was the cruel reality of my normal routine. the one where i have to set alarms and go to work and wear pencil skirts and not consume alcohol before noon. or maybe it was the culmination of a few different things. leaving sydney, a city i had fast fallen in love with, leaving the adventures M and i had shared over the past fifteen days, and of course, leaving M himself. i had spent the cab ride over to the airport (okay, it was more like the whole morning) composing the perfect monologue to capture the immense amount of gratitude i had for M and everything that he had planned and executed over the course of the past two weeks, but when i went to open my mouth as we stood in front of the customs gate, all that i could muster was about a half dozen “thank you’s.” i supplemented with a really long hug and a few kisses, too.
i gave him one final squeeze and turned toward the line for customs. before i disappeared from view, i looked back one last time and waved with my right index finger. M stood smiling back, arms folded, looking ridiculously tan (jerk). i passed through customs and the security line with ease. the customs officer managed to make me laugh when he inquired if i could get him a membership at the club when he saw my occupation listed on my form. and i made friends with one of the tsa guys while my carry-on went through the scanner. those interactions certainly lifted my melancholic spirits.
once i arrived at my gate, i learned that due to some electric issue, our flight had been delayed 45 minutes. i shrugged and settled into one of the seats to finish me before you. wiping the tears from my eyes (oh so there were the waterworks!), i closed my nook with satisfaction a few minutes later as i took in the final words of jojo moyes’ masterpiece. we finally began boarding the A380 around 4 p.m. australia time and i was guided to my seat -the second in a row of four in the middle of the plane. well at least there was only one person i had to climb over to make it to the lavatories. the flight path we took back from sydney to LAX guaranteed a few less minutes in the air, so instead of a 15 hour flight, it was more around 13 and some change. i filled my time with eating, hydrating, annoying my rowmate with how many times i had to awaken her from her slumber to get out to go to the ladies’ room, and of course, lots of movies. i watched naomi watts’ portrayal of the late princess di in diana, and immediately followed that up with about time. oh my goodness, so many feelings. there were definitely more tears. ugh. to alleviate the need for an entire box of kleenex, i chased the rachel mcadams film with a classic –the devil wears prada and then turned to qantas’ small screen options -a few episodes of 2 broke girls and modern family.
not soon after i had finished my third episode of the emmy award-winning abc comedy did i hear the captain notify the flight attendants to prepare for landing. and despite the delay in departure, we didn’t arrive too long after our originally estimated time. i officially touched ground back in the us of a at approximately 10:30 a.m. five hours earlier than from when i left sydney. on the SAME day. so essentially i traveled through time. it was like groundhog day -i got to relive sunday all over again. and funnily enough it was actually groundhog day, too (february 2nd).
i retrieved my checked luggage from baggage claim and went through u.s. customs and immigration at a relatively swift pace. and as i began to ascend the ramp into the arrival area at tom bradley international, i searched the sea of faces for familiarity. there in the cluster of loved ones were mom and toppie. mom had even printed out a sign in the shape of a poodle (her nickname for me). tears welled up in her eyes, and seeing her get misty-eyed encouraged me to do the same. despite wanting nothing more than to turn around a board another outgoing flight back to sydney, i couldn’t deny the fact that it was good to be back in the arms of my bestest friends.
before i knew it we were back to my humble abode, everything was as i had left it, as if time had frozen for two weeks. while toppie downloaded the photos from my camera onto my computer’s hard drive, i got busy unpacking my suitcase and starting the first of two large loads of laundry. in the matter of hours, it was almost as if i had never traveled at all. everything was back in its place. but despite my house being back in order, my emotions and sleep patterns were left in disarray (i mean, in a good way, i suppose). i spent the remaining hours of super bowl sunday camped on the couch, tuning into briefly to catch the score of the game before bracing myself to tackle my DVR.
i tried to savor the last moments of my two-week vacation before returning to work in the morning. it seemed like some kind of cruel joke to set my alarm for 5:29 a.m. the next morning. but despite the lies i tried to convince myself were true, there was no changing reality. vacation was over and it was time to settle back into “real” life. lucky for me, i didn’t have to say goodbye to the two-weeks’ worth of memories quite yet as with each passing day, M emailed me updated links to photographs he had captured on film over the course of our adventures. and those images are the ones that have made writing these recaps an absolute joy. sure, my words can paint a picture of what life was like for those 15 days on the other side of the world, but photographs, especially the caliber of M’s work, make the picture come to life. and now whenever i feel blue or just a little bit homesick for my australian adventures, i can come back to this series and relive the best trip of my life over and over again.
to be continued…