It’s been a long time. When I left, I thought I’d be back every other weekend. I always loved you, but life gets in the way. Everyone likes to say that, but still they manage to find time for less important things.
After my last visit, I could see that you’d withered. It was obvious you were unwell, but I called it the changing of the seasons. Your grass had dulled, your river struggled to flow, and your trees had been forced to shed their leaves and twigs and lay bare to the sun. I knew I needed to visit more, but after the weekend I had so much to do, and I forgot to worry about you.
I watched the news. I knew about all the trouble you were in, everybody did. We’d mention it on the coffee break, wedged between planning the next big night and sharing news from HR, under our breaths.
I didn’t prioritise seeing you. I asked about you. Mum said things were tough. I know, I would say. It’s the same here. Dad said you were struggling. He said you looked unwell. I said I felt unwell sometimes too, and I laughed.
I wanted to come and see you, but I was afraid I’d changed. I thought I’d picked up some invisible piece of the city and would carry it back to you. I thought you’d sense it and realise I was different, and somehow new.
What I didn’t consider was that you had changed. After seeing the news reports, I thought I knew, but I didn’t. I didn’t expect your riverbed to crack and crumble beneath my boots, or your lawn to be dust, rising into the sky and leaving the earth bare. Your trees reached into the sky in search of water, and found smoke. I didn’t expect to help Mum and Dad pack parts of you into the car, and leave the rest of you behind.
I didn’t expect the heat to peak, the clouds to drift so far, or the spark to carry right over our back fence. I didn’t expect trucks to roll in and draw water up from your bones, drop it over your skin, and give you what the sky couldn’t.
Home, I had to leave. I didn’t stop loving you. I’d only ever dream of feet in clover patches and hands picking prickles and wet hair as we ran up from the river. I’d only smell late summer, eight o’clock sunset, and the neighbour’s barbecue. I’d remember diving for the riverbed. I’d remember the day I finally caught it, and the scrubbing of my fingernails in the bathtub afterwards.
I never stopped loving you, home, but I stopped willing the clouds to gather. I stopped picking the four-leafs and climbing the trees, and I forgot to miss being with you.