We sat on the porch, Jess and I, staring at our feet with nothing much to say. She knew I was leaving and I knew I couldn’t stay. When the time came, as it must, I kissed the top of her head and walked away.
Then, for no good reason I stopped. I turned and said thank you – to a dog.
In a village with more cows than people, Jess was my only real companion. For two months she never left my side, and wherever we went loneliness lost its way. We were buddies, and even I know what that’s worth.
But maybe it wasn’t just her I was thanking. I wonder now if the words slipped out to find the people who deserve them, the people who didn’t hear them enough because I didn’t say them enough.
I hope so.
May my gratitude be carried all the way to Darwin, to the folks who welcomed a young man in pieces and kept him til he knew himself again. Make it suffer dusty highways to follow all the strangers who stopped to give me water when I had none. Pray it finds Boyup Brook and Lorinna and Liena, where arms were open and every table was home.
If those words have legs, let them rest where I did – in the lands I love so much. See them curl up in the Kimberley and gawp at stars that fall like fruit from a tree. Take them to the Pilbara, where silence is a sound. Have them look for adventure on the Nullarbor but find themselves instead.
Run them over the bark of a giant karri and show them a koala for the first time. Give them mornings with kangaroos and galahs and possums caught red-handed. Deliver them to desert roses and waterfalls and whales, then ask them if the lump in their throat is the same as the one in mine.
I may not come this way again, but Australia is a part of me now and forever. Call me old and spent and I’ll still know what this place means to me. I came at my worst and left at my best, and for that I owe it everything.
It’s not enough – will never be enough – but I say this from the bottom of my humble heart: Thank you.