That Place Away From Here

Leaving home. Leaving those who know you and who you know, regardless of where that finds you – that is the sharpest memory of a place you will ever have. Alone in grey Seattle, in the bleary Pacific Northwest, those streets, that weather, that feeling. It was the first city I buried myself in.

"The first city I buried myself in…" Image Credit: Sheldon Photography, Creative Commons.
“The first city I buried myself in…”
Image Credit: Sheldon Photography, Creative Commons.

It is about a difference of place. The profound impact of being translated to a city where nobody knows you and you can put forward your own story, be what you weren’t sure you wanted to be. You put yourself here consciously, wanting something foreign and lonely to conquer or curl up in. Because there is a temptation with all this choice, with all this freedom, to choose to be unhappy. To be aware of the limits of how close you can be to all these others who were once alone here, who are making their own stories. A desire to self-destruct, to see if you can, to see how it would change the stories others are trailing out around you and tie a thread between theirs and yours.

You’re shaping this self and the city is shaping this self, with these full, cloud-filled days, the damp, the contrast of the quiet streets and the wild, lucid, demanding to be alive and prove it chaos inside the houses. With what’s happening in the back lanes and how separate you’re kept from it even with it right at your back door. Because that’s one self you can’t self-create, seeing those among you, who have stepped into it. You only glimpse it or are told of it, walking past closed doors without guessing what your friends are doing behind them.

All those others who started here alone are doing the same. The girl who’s sleeping with American boys, walking down the lanes to theirs at night. The boy who’s playing the cool quiet card but is really just plain quiet, too unsure to create himself into someone loud. The Irish mate who laughs and keeps it all from you, so that you never know which way she’s going. The girl in control who gets followed home and hides, and the boy who sits with her on a couch in a basement, keeping his hands to himself, listening to her talk about her pretty dresses. The loud boys competing to get in the most pills, the most punches, the most proof that they’re close to the back lanes before they go back to their clean houses.

The urge to drink in rooms below ground, to sleep below rusty pipes, see how low you can get, how far south towards where grunge came from, even knowing that what inspired them was boredom and hard work and damp and the same need to create a new yourself by going north. Walking home in the rain day after day, toying with sadness and excitement and the pure love of the place you’re in for a reason you can’t identify with the mud and the damp walls and the mattress on the floor because it’s the freedom and the new self not the place.

Never wanting to see your old friends for fear of those old ideas they connect with you. The fear that in the end nothing is different in you, that it will all fade when you leave the place. And it does. Until you see those people from that city again and you realize it was them the whole time, it was their not knowing you that was the addiction, that they took the story you laid out for them and didn’t question it. With a bitter fear that you need these people, that it was only with those few from that time and place where you felt that feeling that you can have it again. You can have it again, you will have it again. The recognition of the same thought in their eyes, the sitting up late saying the same thing to one another, reassuring each other and yourself that you’re right, that they felt it too. It really was there, that it really is there again. That you felt it as soon as you were alone in a room together, as soon as you were all in a place, regardless of the place, regardless of how clean and warm it all was now. That place was now the place. You could take this place elsewhere with each other. Not home, never home, but a perpetually new city.

Elise Newton

Elise Newton is an emerging author based in Sydney for whom writing has always remained a deep seeded ambition despite pursuing other paths in her professional career. With a Master of Human Rights she is passionate about international politics but finds that her writing centres on more intimate sketches of the people that move in and out of her life and the places she has travelled. Her influences include Sherwood Anderson, J.D. Salinger, William Faulkner and John Steinbeck.

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