Brisbane is the capital city of Queensland, the state where I've lived since I was three years old. It's an hour and a half from where I grew up, and where I currently live—just far enough to be an irregular adventure. I never went to Brisbane without a purpose.
There are several different Brisbanes in my memory. When I was a kid, it was just a place that was passed on our way south to visit Dette and Kev, a sign on the road that meant we were over halfway.
Sometimes we visited Brisbane on school trips—like an excursion to the art gallery—but we were plonked down directly in front of the correct building and then picked back up without any ability to connect the art gallery to the surrounding geography. When my parents took me to the theatre, it felt the same: we arrived at the theatre, we saw whatever we had tickets for, and we got back in the car. I had no spacial understanding of where the theatre was in relation to the gallery, or anything else for that matter.
The first time I remember going to Brisbane and beginning to make those connections was in 2011. I stayed for a week at the Sebel with Sean, my boyfriend of the time, walking into the city every day to explore. We rode the train down from Nambour station, our luggage beneath our legs. As we walked the streets, I started to work out the landmarks: the Hungry Jacks on the corner of Queen Street, the Myer Centre, and the bridge to Southbank. That city was full of sunshine and freedom, as we bought groceries on our own for the first time.
The parts of that holiday that excited me most are parts of my every day now. It was going to Big W and buying whatever I wanted, or not needing to tell anybody what time I was going to be home. It was choosing whatever brand of butter I wanted from Woolworths, and cooking whatever I felt like for dinner. Nowadays, none of this fills me with joy; on the contrary, most of this feels like a chore.
I started to return to Brisbane regularly in 2013, but by then, it was a different city. The Hungry Jacks was exactly where I'd left it, but the city was always enveloped in cold nights and crowds. It didn't feel suffocating; on the contrary, the sky felt so far away that I could fall into it.
"Want to go out to karaoke tonight?"
On a whim, I'd drive from home to the northern suburbs, and I'd travel from there to the CBD by bus. I accompanied Dakoda and his mates from his masters program to bottle shops, where we'd gather supplies, and we'd pour ourselves drinks in plastic cups while singing Suburbs by Arcade Fire. Once, we went to the casino for milkshakes. Another night, we all played pool together. I remember walking for an hour back to Ashgrove one night because nobody would take us home. I slept on the couch in Dakoda's spare room.
Now I drive to Brisbane every day for work, but it's a different Brisbane. The Hungry Jacks is still on that same corner, but I rarely see it—I work in Fortitude Valley, still a five minute drive from the city centre where those old landmarks stand. I haven't sung pretentious, artsy songs at a karaoke bar in years, and there's no one to drive to visit in the middle of the night anymore because Dakoda lives in my house. I spend so much time here that I don't call it Brisbane anymore; it's just "the city".