not in our stars, but in ourselves
It’s another tough anniversary. On this day four years ago, I left Melbourne. In previous years, the passage of such an anniversary didn’t bother me too much; this year, I am very much reliving the pain and the trauma. Indeed, that’s something of an overarching theme. Stay tuned.
If you’ve had a Facebook account for more than a few years, you’re surely familiar with its handy-dandy “on this day” feature. See what happened on this day last year, two years ago, five years ago, ten years ago. Yesterday, it reminded me that I’d written this note on February 22nd, 2013:
Cats and kittens, guys and dolls —
You may or may not have heard, but it’s official: I am leaving Australia tomorrow. I’ll go from sunshine and warmth to snow and cold, all within the span of a day or so. Appropriate.
While I’m not quite enough of an attention whore to go into the whys and wherefores of the reasons I’m leaving, I will say this: it is not in happy circumstances, it is with a lot of regret, it is my fault, and it is with a possibly irrational hope that someday I’ll be able to come back. I feel like some sort of fallen woman from a 19th-century novel or a 1930s melodrama. So Americans, while I am very glad to be able to see you again after being away so long, please hold off on the champagne and celebrations. Let’s start with vodka and crying.
And Australians: sorry that I haven’t gotten to say good-bye to many of you in any sort of proper way. This will have to do for now: good bye, thank you, and I hope we’ll meet again.
Lovely K. is going to entertain me during my 16-hour (!) layover in Los Angeles, and then I’m getting a redeye to Boston by way of Charlotte. I hope the snow behaves itself; I’m sure I’ve forgotten how to deal with it. There will be lots of retraining I’ll have to do, in fact: looking to the left when I cross the street, dealing with money that’s all the same color and size, remembering to tip my servers, remembering that tax isn’t included in the advertised price of things, and probably lots of other things that will hit me like so many arrows as I re-encounter them.
Anyway. Australia, it’s been real. America, I’ll be back in you in approximately 26 hours.
Great memory. Terrific. In short, today is tough. It’s made tougher still by the proximity of the anniversary of my arrival in Australia – quite the one-two punch.
Perhaps in order to save some sanity by looking outside my own experience for some sort of meaning, I’ve been thinking about Vertigo as a helpful lens through which to view all of this. D’entre les morts, you know. For one thing, Madeleine/Judy: the dream woman and the poor girl who has to transform herself into that dream woman or lose the man she loves. No need to get into gory details, but I can relate. For another, still more personal reason, Hitchcock uses not only Scotty’s but also Judy’s memories – and how they relive them – to make the film that much more devastating. Scotty, for his part, is positively bedeviled by his memories of Madeleine. During the gorgeous, tragic “green scene,” Judy’s shabby little hotel room transforms itself into the stable where Scotty last kissed Madeleine before she “died.” Effective filmmaking, in my opinion.
But the evocation of Judy’s memories really does the trick for me. You may recall, when Scotty is driving Madeleine to the Mission, there’s a shot looking up at the treetops as they zoom past. It’s from Madeleine’s point of view. It’s what she’s seeing. On first viewing, it doesn’t seem like a terribly important insert into the scene, although it might strike an especially astute viewer as odd that Hitchcock suddenly cares what his female characters are seeing. Later, its importance is revealed fully: when Judy has slipped by putting on the necklace she received from Elster as thanks for impersonating his wife, and Scotty tells her there’s something he must do in order to free himself of the past, we see the same shot of the same trees along the same road, from Judy’s point of view again. And from there, things go pretty badly for Ms. Barton.
On the day that I arrived in Melbourne, I was enchanted by all the funny-looking trees, the big bright skies, the feeling of being a stranger in an exciting new land. I drank in every detail. It was all so new, so wonderful, so different, and it was going to be my home. We zoomed down the Tullamarine Freeway, and I called my parents to let them know I’d landed, and I just felt so happy.
Two years, a week, and a day later, we undid all of that. We took the same route to the same airport. I saw the same trees – no longer funny-looking to me by then – and knew there was no guarantee I’d ever see them again. The cheerful morning summer sun was cruel this time: such an occasion deserved only grey skies, preferably grey enough to delay my flight. The joyous reunion at the airport from two years ago was transformed, like some sort of horrible inverted ritual, into a soul-crushing farewell. And then I had to leave. Judy plummeting off the tower. The end.
As I said at the start, I’ve been able to pass most of these anniversaries over the past few years without too much difficulty. It’s different this year. I’m different this year. Things are transparently, flagrantly, horrifically bad here, and only due to get worse, and I cannot for my life stop thinking about what I’ve left behind and how little I wanted to leave it. There are those who would argue, and convincingly, that everything played out the way it should have. If I hadn’t come back to America, I wouldn’t have met some of the best people I’ve ever known. If I hadn’t fucked up in Australia, I wouldn’t have had to come back to America. Sure. That doesn’t make the pain any less severe, and that doesn’t make me feel like any less of a ghost in my own life.