Scrolling through old phone photos in a never-ending quest to free up my iPhone storage space, I ran into a trove of pictures I’d taken in my last few weeks living in Melbourne. Buried behind rows of Dili sunsets and sweat-streaked selfies sit neat shots of my Victorian terrace house; croissants captured halfway through a housemate breakfast feast; the Fitzroy Baths’ famously misspelled AQUA PROFUNDA sign; and bird’s-eye pictures of my feet poised on bicycle pedals. As I swiped myself further and further back into memories, I felt a greater and more urgent sense of missing; of feeling left out.
Proactively – so I thought – I decided to do something about it, and fired off an email to a few Melbourne friends, urgently requesting them to send me photos and short updates from their lives. Make them boring, please, I asked – I didn’t care as much about grand weekend trips and big news as I did updates about their brunch plans and tram routes: the everyday snapshots I saved in my camera roll had me longing for some very specific, mundane memories of Melbourne.
The friends delivered, promptly – and to my surprise, I wasn’t happy.
One dear friend replied within 15 minutes with a chirpy dot-pointed list containing a weekend’s worth of gigs, beers and brunching, which I read, grinning, until I reached the end and felt oddly flat – as if I were sitting on an inflatable pool toy that was slowly leaking without me noticing.
I want to be there, I realised. I don’t want to be sweating in a microlet in Dili or roaming my house for an internet connection (“can you hear me now?“) or pointing wordlessly as MSG vegetables in a lukewarm bain marie; I want to be back in Melbourne, going for a pint at the Catfish and puffing my bike up the Rathdowne Street hill. I wanted cold mornings and red wine in the courtyard and friends who know all my stories and homemade hummus and the 8am Saturday open shift and standing coffee dates and a ride home up St Georges Road after Body Pump with Annie. As exciting as all this is, I thought, it all feels totally underwhelming when I compare it to what I’ve given up.
One self-pitying sulk later, my mood was gone, but not forgotten.
But yesterday, another friend – who lives in Perth, my real home – sent me a long, thoughtful email, containing a few sentences that described my life of dancing in the rain and photographing cultural ceremonies and speaking Tetun in a way that stopped me in my self-pity and made me think, “oh yeah, this is pretty good, isn’t it.”
While I’m a little embarrassed I needed the wake-up call (how blinkered must I be to forget all this?), my mood dip reminds me that moving to a literal tropical island of course doesn’t magically cure me of the obsessive tendency to compare I’ve had my whole life (I stand with you, middle children everywhere).
Of course I’m going to miss Melbourne when I’m in Dili – in the same way I missed Perth when I was in Melbourne; in the same way I didn’t care for a second who my friends were brunching with until I transplanted myself from Fitzroy North to Farol. A cheesy pop song on high rotation in the microlets here (right after Major Lazer’s Cold Water and John Legend’s All of You for frequency) is Let Her Go, by Passenger – and while the lyrics are cliched, the sentiment acts as a rallycry for all of us suffering this mysterious malady known as FOMO.
Instead of covering it up with greener and greener pastures, I could just look it in the face and recognise that, sure, there are things I miss about Melbourne. And Perth. And I think that’s really normal.
But it doesn’t mean there aren’t good things about life here – there absolutely are. And I’m always going to find something to feel jealous of, or like I’m lacking, no matter where I am (if you’ve known me for longer than five minutes you’d bet a Bintang I’d return to Melbourne and miss microlets and palm trees and $1 coconuts and broken Tetun, hey?).
That being said, Melbourne friends: please don’t stop sending me photos of perfect lattes and the 96 tram route. And in return, I promise to pay closer attention to my sweet black kafe Timor and the number three microlet.
Related: thin slices of happiness