Winter has come back to Australia. It happened without warning; one day I was wearing shorts and sandals, the next I was pulling out my fleece onesie, inspecting the closed feet for huntsman spiders before I put it on. It’s the kind of cold where your scalp tightens and you move around with permanently hunched shoulders, as if this will protect what little heat you have in your body.
Even though it’s cold, the winter here lacks the bitterness and length of my childhood winters. It feels like Australia is just dabbling in the cold season, conducting an experiment to see what it’s like. I wrap myself in a blanket and lament the lack of insulation and central heating, but secretly I know that this isn’t that bad. It’s not like Korea, where we used to wear coats in the classroom. Or Indiana, where going outside with damp hair meant a head full of instant icicles. I dig my two sweaters out of a drawer and place them in a prominent position in the closet, knowing that in a few short months I’ll be able to put them away again.
Even though we all know that the weather is different on the other side of the world, understanding it is another story. Two months ago my dad was preparing for his inaugural visit to Australia, unconvinced by my then-balmy weather reports. The topic of what he should pack came up repeatedly.
“Do I need to pack a sweater?” he asked.
“No,” I said.
“What about pants? I’ll need pants, right?”
“Not really,” I said. I tried to remember the last time Jared wore pants when he wasn’t going to work. Six months ago, maybe? “No, shorts will be fine.”
It wasn’t until my dad was here, fresh from one of the worst winters in Midwestern memory, that he became a believer. The rumors were true; it was still the end of summer in Australia. We leaned against a wooden fence, his familiar forearms already sunburned, and watched Jared surf. I didn’t have to explain what it was like anymore, to be here, because my dad could finally see it for himself. He took it all in: bare feet, endless coastline, coal ships waiting on the horizon.
“You live in Australia and you are going to marry a man who loves to surf,” he said. “Does that surprise you?”
Jared paddled for a wave, the motions second nature as he matched the ocean’s speed and prepared to pop up. I’d never thought of him as “a man who loves to surf.” He’s Jared, and he happens to be Australian. But to other people he’s not just Jared, not just my fiancé, but my Australian fiancé. It would be one of the first things that came up if they were describing him to a friend, a defining characteristic that I stopped noticing long ago. Was I surprised that I was here, planning a wedding to an Australian?
Jared and I had known each other for exactly one week when I first suspected that he was more than just another face in the sea of Aussies coursing through Europe. We sat side by side on a bench at the bottom of a dark hostel stairwell in Berlin, talking about everything and nothing. For hours we passed a giant bottle of Pilsner back and forth, heady with the thrill of falling, hard, for a complete stranger. I’d had crushes before, sure. A handful of boyfriends, a few fleeting moments with other travelers who I’d never see again. But this. Before my brain realized it, my instinct had perked up and taken notice that this one. He was different.
“I know it sounds like a cliché,” Jared said, “but I’ve always believed that when you know, you know.”
If it had been a romantic comedy, I would have rolled my eyes and shouted, You’ve known each other for a week! A week! That’s such a line! But it wasn’t a movie. It was real, and in that moment, I got it. I believed in the possibility that sometimes you do just know. I didn’t decide to marry him right then (Hello? A week?), but felt a confident hope that this Australian in the squirrel-patterned shorts was not going to pass through my life, he was going to be in it. Six years and many countries later, here we are, a team. But it happened so gradually, through a series of conscious mutual decisions, that it doesn’t surprise me.
I forget that I am the American fiancé, the friend, the daughter, the sister who merits a mention whenever Australia comes up in conversation, the way I say, “Oh, my sister lives there,” if someone brings up LA. Here, I am different; my accent and nationality define me before my character does. But in my day-to-day life I do not think of myself as Lauren the American; I’m still just Lauren. If you’d told me ten years ago that this would be my life, I’d have been more taken aback that I was getting married, not that I was marrying someone from another country.
It’s the mundane details that catch me off guard: wearing sweaters in July, not tipping at a restaurant, or measuring distance in kilometers. What surprises me is realizing that I’ve internalized this new normal, that I’ve gotten used to it. Where we are, where we’re from, the obvious facts, they aren’t the details that frame my life.
Sometimes the things we know for sure aren’t facts, like what season it is on the other side of the world. What we know—we just know—is the way we feel. The little leaps of faith, when we act on our instincts without knowing where we’ll end up, shape our reality. What may have sounded like an outrageous fantasy to our younger selves can very easily become our lives, and we’re comfortable and confident in a place we never guessed we’d be. Like in Australia, marrying a man who loves to surf. So if you come to visit, and I tell you to leave your pants behind, you’ll just have to trust me.