As the Autumn foliage falls, the streets are eerily quiet again. A year has passed and I’m not sure if it feels like forever or yesterday. Although the tram bells still ring and the coffee is still served hot – with endless milk options at exorbitant prices – Melbourne feels a little different.
I moved to Melbourne in 2016. I was 20, and I was ready to take risks and make mistakes. As I stepped off the plane, I felt my body drop with relief, I was home; I was finally somewhere I could be whoever I wanted.
I remember walking through the Melbourne CBD on the first night I arrived. It was a dead quiet Monday night, the air was cold but invigorating and the millions of lit-up windows triggered a warmth inside of me that I never wanted to let go of. Maybe I’d romanticised Melbourne as a big city full of opportunities, like the Australian version of NYC. Or maybe, I just really liked being anonymous in a place that felt like it would teach me something.
Now it’s 2021 and we’re back in lockdown. In truth, I think I’m still getting my head around the fact that we’re living in a pandemic. It all feels very surreal, like something out of an early 2000s sci-fi film, or a futuristic version of a story my great grandma told me once.
There is something so unsettling about life completely stopping without any warning and I think it’s because it feels like we’re being controlled by something bigger than us. We feel helpless. No one can imagine a virus completely controlling their life unless they’ve lived it. For many of us, 2020 was our first taste of this.
Last year was a big year for me. I fell in love, coronavirus came into existence, I lost friends, I re-learnt how to ride a bike and I turned 25. I felt so many emotions in 2020 that I don’t think I’d be able to sum them up in any legible way. I’d just say that it was both challenging and rewarding, like getting through a good book or perfecting the consistency of a macaroon (way harder than it sounds). It also kind of feels like it never happened.
Interestingly, I think I’m suffering more this year. My mental and physical health have had enough of me pushing through and being “motivated”, and my emotions are coming through hard to remind me that I actually need to cry and sleep a bit more than I realise.
When Melbourne’s seven-day “circuit breaker” lockdown was announced last week, I felt my energy drop.
Starting and stopping is exhausting. When you’re on a roll and something stops your momentum, it feels like being hit by a truck. Melbourne is feeling that a lot right now, and everyone is in the same boat.
But Melbourne is resilient, and you can still see culture through the takeaway shop windows and the people on walks wearing local ethically-made jewellery. Melbourne is dead quiet, but still very much alive. Even though the streets are missing their usual buzz, there’s always a good energy. Melbourne feels reliable, like you know it’s always going to be there for you.
Walking through the city still feels the same that it did to me on my first night here. During lockdown, there’s no such thing as peak hour and the high-rise buildings and grey streets have a somewhat calming coolness to them. There’s so much space, so much room to breathe and, still, the undertone of stories float through the atmosphere around you.
When your environment suddenly changes, it’s okay to feel disoriented. Even if you’ve experienced it before – as we have with lockdown – it’s okay for it to feel jarring, confusing and exhausting. We’ve got to remind ourselves that it’s not Melbourne that’s changed.
With every softboi covered in tattoos, every perfectly brewed coffee we purchase and every pop-up wine store that has opened to fulfil our lockdown needs, we should strive to see that the true essence of Melbourne is the people, and they’re still themselves.
We need to have faith that we can get each other through the collective trauma we’ve experienced throughout this pandemic and that although we’re physically isolated, we’re actually all in this together. I guarantee you that when you’re able to walk back into your local whatever, you’ll be greeted with familiarity and warmth and you’ll feel like you’ve come home.
For now, let’s enjoy the lack of early-morning public transport, the calmness of the usually chaotic streets and the true indulgence that is wearing pyjamas and fluffy socks during many hours of daylight.