I’ve known Melbourne to unfurl at this time of year. The ambrosial smell of Jasmine extracts us from winter swaddles. We use public green spaces like old English commons- reading, laughing, drinking pinkish wine until the bats begin their shadow-puppetry overhead. My city feels rigid now. Most days churning footage of a confrontation with police blisters online. In my local gardens, joggers occupy the space of teetering elderly. I’m surprised by how quickly this place lost its give.
There’s anger pulsating through my city. It’s quiet, passive and undulating: posters of protest in the window of a bar, boots paired inconspicuously at gates- once an image of suburban order now loaded with political symbolism: kick Dan out. The city doesn’t wear it well. A city that I’ve always been proud to inhabit as a balanced, forward-looking, kind, amicable place to be. A city that I’ve felt heard and held and reflected by.
I wish I could be angry. That there was someone to blame or protest against to remedy this. I wish jostling in the street, becoming reacquainted with the heat of a stranger at my flank, would convince Covid that Melbourne deserves an exemption. I wish that the way I imagined conducting my twenty-third year was a safe and viable option for my community. That’s the thing about illness, though, it’s amoral and indiscriminate. No number of boots planted at my gate will appeal to Covid’s conscience, send it packing.
So, I’m not angry. I am, however, anxious. This anxiety is a double-header. The first is a heightened sense of responsibility for the vulnerable. Like a post-nasal drip, this worry is prolonged, frustrating, barely conscious. The second strain is a treacly, indulgent anxiety that only someone in their early twenties could conjure. It congeals inside me when I’ve had a few drinks: what does it mean to submit the better part of twenty-three to lock-down?
I’m thumbing through photos of mum at the same age when this question induces visceral panic in me. The pages are groaning with European discos and bodies clustered, draping on a campus lawn. At a dinner party, friends contort around each other for conversational sidebars and cheek-kisses. I think about the people I haven’t had the energy to call. How, under normal circumstances, we’d meet in the density of the CBD and scrape at share-platters and swap cocktails. The performativity of a window seat at our favourite bar; the heightened laughter, the pressure to sell the place. We’d Tetris ourselves into a Melbourne tram at peak hour. We’d go to book talks and sling our arms around the author for a photo. We’d light tall candles and invite our neighbours over to dinner, ecstatic with new adulthood. We’d feel molecular in footy throngs. We’d dent our uber ratings. We’d learn the curvature of new bodies on dancefloors and laugh about it the next morning. Maybe we’d travel, if the money was there. We’d sit down with mentors for coffee, shake their hands, allow their body language and facial expressions to inform our questions and steer the conversation.
I’d take the tram into the city and settle into the steps of the Old Treasury. I’d run my palm over the warm plane of bluestone and relish in the purposelessness of Melbourne on a spring Saturday.
For now, though, twenty-three means anticipating these things. It means reappraising, taking stock. In some small way, it feels like a precipice, the second coming of adulthood. Much like my school-aged self, I fall asleep conjuring the liberties that the near future promises. It’s a small consolation to think, maybe, when this weird stasis lifts, I’ll recommence my twenties with enough zeal to compensate for what was lost.