The homesick agoraphobe – Anna Spargo-Ryan

The homesick agoraphobe

The homesick agoraphobe

For the first seventeen years of my life, I hung around in a very nice part of the world called the City of Burnside. I was born in Burnside Hospital, and for seventeen years never lived more than three kilometres away from it. My friends were down the road, around the corner. For ten years I walked to the very same pizza shop, the very same deli, the very same fruit shop. At the fruit shop they had apricot bars dipped in chocolate and they were seven for $2, and for ten years I bought fistfuls of them and ate them at the very same park. I love Fruchocs and Haigh’s and Balfour’s custard tarts and Vili’s chicken pies and people who pronounce it as “dahnce”, and the Norwood Oval and Coopers Pale Ale and buying rambutans at the Central Market and catching the O-bahn bus.

I’ve lived in Melbourne since 2000, when mum moved here for work, and yet in 2014 I still feel profoundly homesick. I poke around Melbourne, I eat its delicious breakfasts and go to its wonderful festivals and cheer at its frequent football. My children were born here, in a hospital just down the road from here, same as I was. But I have never managed to make an emotional connection to it. Not for one solitary minute. I am a long-term angry tourist, like I’ve been sent on a camp I hate forever.

(It’s not you, Melbourne; it’s me.)

Not long after I moved to Melbourne, I hit a brick wall of anxiety. Acute paranoia. Paralysing, devastating fear. I bound myself up in my house and I did not come out for three months. I didn’t go to the bakery, let alone Adelaide. And I thought about it nearly every day, the way it seemed torn out from under me (no matter how untrue).

When Georgia was a baby, in the weeks before Michael and I got married, I had a sudden attack of bravery/valium and boarded a plane for Adelaide. We arrived first thing in the morning, and I hugged myself undercover at the airport and chain smoked until my brain was numb. A (white) taxi drove us past the places I knew, the places I yearned and ached for. My memories were clear: I was seven years old and choking on a boiled lolly at the Pancake Parlour; I was ten years old and buying potted flowers on The Parade; I was fourteen years old and still tasting the hot chips from the corner shop. It was surreal–unfamiliar and resonant all at once. I was in a place I knew everything about, and yet I was strung in the air like a marionette. An observer. An impostor.

At my grandmother’s house, which looked and smelled and grumbled exactly the same, I hid inside her floral couch and thought about screaming. The displacement was so disarming that for hours I couldn’t open my eyes. But as the hours went by I felt more settled than I had in years, and by the end of the three days, I had the familiar pang of leaving home.

“That was fine,” I said. “We’ll come back.”

We didn’t, though. That was eleven years ago and I never have, not once. As the time has passed, it has become less a place I used to live and more a town from a storybook, with places and people conjured from my naive brain. Big skies and small ponds and blessed peace and quiet. In my muddledness, going to Adelaide would require travelling through a wormhole, or walking into a book Gumby style. I don’t even know what place it is now: what I would find if I wandered down Rundle Street; what the biscuits in Hahndorf taste like; whether the tram comes to a stop at Glenelg with the same clunk. Do they set out the Christmas trees the same as before? Do they still have a colouring competition for Easter at the Hilton? Do the cricket nets at my school still need repairing? Are the people there? Did they stay? Did they leave, like I did, and circle around for years, trying to find the door again?

I feel ridiculous for pining for a place the next town over–a day trip! I could justifiably go to Adelaide for an hour. Get on a plane, go to the Haigh’s factory, have lunch with my nanna, come back again. There are people who hate going to Adelaide. People who go there under duress and are relieved when they leave. It is nothing. Not Paris or New York or a pocket of ivy on a hillside in Wales.

Being an agoraphobic person in a familiar place is the pits. Being an agoraphobic person away from home (and frankly, it doesn’t matter how far, because some days even 500 metres may as well be a foreign country) is confounding. It’s like trying to drop anchor on a cloud. And the older I get — the more obliged to Melbourne, with my Victorian children and my Victorian house and my Victorian friends — the less I believe I will ever make it back home. If such a place even exists.

  • Mayhem

    October 2, 2014 at 10:59 pm Reply

    That’s so sad and compelling and beautiful.

    I had the opposite upbringing. Child of the RAAF, always moving, never having friends for more than a couple of years…
    Until I turned 13, and moved to Melbourne. We stayed for 7 years, I grew up here, saw my first band, made many friends, had the corner store and the green cafe. Here I met my first love, had my first kiss, learned to drive and had my first drink, my first job.

    Then we moved to Brisbane. There’s nothing wrong with Brisbane, but it was never home. Ever. I made do. I made friends, I had decent jobs and crap jobs. I raised a son and got (and survived) Breast Cancer.

    Nearly a year before my diagnosis, my first love came back into my life. He still lived in Melbourne, so we did long distance for a time, while I planned my eventual move “home”. With cancer came delays. Treatment was priority. I planned it, underwent it, survived it. With Cancer came clarity. Life is too short, never know what’s around the corner, all the usual cliches. My decision was made. I would beat the horrible disease and then I would come home!

    That’s what I did. It hasn’t been easy, there have been issues with family I left behind. There have been more cancer scares, though thankfully I remain cancer free. I suffer now from depression and anxiety.

    In February this year, I married my first love, with my son at my side. My son and my husband are my world. If we all ended up in Adelaide, or Darwin, or Timbuktu, I would be home. Because home is where the love is.

    (Sorry for the rambling comment).

    • Anna Spargo-Ryan

      October 5, 2014 at 1:32 pm Reply

      Don’t be sorry, I LOVE this rambling comment! That sounds like the perfect kind of “home”, even with its other kinds of obstacles.

      I’m fairly sure I won’t be able to find that one until I let go of some of the resentment I feel towards Melbourne — solely because it’s not Adelaide, which is not its fault. I’m pretty good at the old grudge hold ;)

  • Johanna

    October 3, 2014 at 2:02 am Reply

    I roll the images you produce and the sound of the words you use around in my mind, and finish a piece like this with a satisfied sigh; feeling a little wiser and a little more emboldened to think about ‘home’. Perhaps home is where the heart is, or perhaps home doesn’t exist at all except as a place where we once had some roots. Loved this post :)

    • Anna Spargo-Ryan

      October 5, 2014 at 1:23 pm Reply

      Thanks Johanna :) I do think a big part of my issue is that I’m not sure how to define home, so then where do I go to look for it? Silly old brain.

  • ali

    October 3, 2014 at 10:34 am Reply

    Next time I come down I’m driving you back.
    I will take you to the cafe in Ballarat with the thickest-rye swirled bread in the universe.
    We will drive past the big hay bales where Billy Picken was from and laugh at how un-big they are.
    We will get petrol at Lake Bolac, because what else do you do there?
    You will look out for the roos at Casterton so they don’t jump from the cool edges.
    I will show you the blue lake crystals at Mt Gambier (mostly from the car) and the collapsed cave gardens.
    Then quickly, we will have a look at Penola, then I’ll take you up the guts, past all of the fields and the coast and the long grey windy and straight road and before you can even think that it’s long, too long, we will be at the wineries and I will show you a secret one in Maclaren Vale and you will forget that you were ever scared to leave home because that wine is from the smooth skin of devilish angels and it will make all the deep breaths and the hitches worth it.

    • Anna Spargo-Ryan

      October 5, 2014 at 1:23 pm Reply

      This just made me cry and cry. THANKS A LOT.

      No but seriously, thanks.

      • ali

        October 5, 2014 at 8:44 pm Reply

        Cool. If it made you cry then it is worth doing.
        Let’s just do it then.
        I will hold your hand sometimes (and sometimes it will be too sweaty so I’ll just pretend I need two hands on the wheel, because: roos).
        If we go at the right time we can get some crays from Robe and maybe even spot the that tiger on the way.
        The trucks with the logs will try and pass us, but we will go slow because sometimes everyone needs to go slow, and if the picnic races are on we can go there and pretend to be fancy and dare to cross between the horses and it will smell like hope and despair and fresh green cut grass.
        Let’s just do it.

        But I will NOT eat a deep fried Mars Bar*


  • Krissie

    October 3, 2014 at 10:48 am Reply

    I dream of Adelaide too. We left in 1994 and it still feels like yesterday. Since my kids were born (9 and 11), I’ve taken them back to my Riverland childhood home for a few weeks of long days and big blue skies. On the way home we spend three nights in Adelaide, by the beach, and I swoon at the sunsets and calm waters.
    The only way I can make it happen is to allow a decent three weeks for the trip, because I need the time to settle in and feel normal before I leave again.
    I hope you can get back there, but your memories are vivid so hang onto them.

    • Anna Spargo-Ryan

      October 5, 2014 at 1:26 pm Reply

      Thanks for your camaraderie Krissie! It seems to be the kind of place that gets under one’s skin. I thought I might have been imagining it (or at least looking at it through the fog of nostalgia). Glad you get home again.x

  • Deb @ Bright and Precious

    October 3, 2014 at 11:27 am Reply

    Anna, it’s like I’m reading my own thoughts and feelings. Our similarities don’t just end with no emotional connection to Melbourne (I’ve been here since 2002), and even though I came from Sydney (sort of) – there’s BURNSIDE. You do realise I lived in Burnside when I was 10 (well Glenside/Glenunga… but bordering on Burnside). In that year I fell in love with it. I still have such strong sentimental attachment to those bloody shops, the smell of the Red Rooster place, the library, the leafy trees. Ah. And now I’m in love with this post. xxx

    • Anna Spargo-Ryan

      October 5, 2014 at 1:29 pm Reply

      I didn’t know that Deb! It is such a lovely spot, so good for being a kid. Burnside Library remains one of my favourite places in the world. Nanna used to take me there for reading sessions, and then across to Burnside Village for an eclair at Didiers. Oh, how I miss it!

  • JodiGibson (@JFGibsonWriter)

    October 3, 2014 at 12:36 pm Reply

    If I had to only choose one place to live in Australia (apart from where I do) it would be Adelaide. I love it. We have been going there every January for the past 12 years, it feels like my second home. I can’t say I *know* it like home, but she has certainly captured me in her grasp.

    • Anna Spargo-Ryan

      October 5, 2014 at 1:33 pm Reply

      So glad it isn’t just me, and that she really is as wonderful as I imagine :D

  • Sonia Life Love Hiccups

    October 6, 2014 at 11:35 pm Reply

    I have only ever known Adelaide from a tourists point of view, but I can see how her beauty would haunt you. I hope you figure it outbefore too long chick, the home things that is… and all the rest too xx

  • Maxabella

    October 8, 2014 at 10:46 am Reply

    Then this is your goal, Anna, above all other goals. If you do nothing else in this life, then do this. Do THIS. x

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