Sunday, October 27, 2013
If you've ever felt that, in the words of Ron Burgundy, you IMMEEEDIATELY regret a decision, Then you know how I felt in the fall of 2004.
I'd just moved to Vancouver from Toronto, leaving behind the love of my life, to start grad school. I was living in a college-style graduate residence on the very edge of the UBC campus, practically falling off the edge of a cliff into the Pacific Ocean. There were mountains all around me, long shorelines and beaches below. It was overwhelming. I'd read somewhere that the West Coast is a good place to go if you'd like to get lost, and now I saw that it was true: even her cities seem capable of swallowing you up.
Within a few weeks of my arrival, I knew that the college wasn't for me. It felt like a sort of haute bourgeois frathouse. It was beautiful there, but oh so wrong. I met a handful of lovely people, but I still felt so uncertain. I began to worry that I'd made a huge mistake by moving out to the coast in the first place. What in the fucking WORLD had prompted me to believe that the best thing I could do was leave behind my boyfriend, my family, and all my friends and take off to the other side of the country? I am an idiot, I told myself as I walked back home through the UBC rose garden, wandered past the massive totems at the Anthropology Museum up the road. I am in over my head.
Then I met my friend Tara. She was in the same program as me, and she was a few years older than me, and from the moment I met her I wanted her to be my cool big sister. We spent the first few weeks of school politely eating lunch together, progressing to trips to the movies and getting stranded after the buses stopped running, (goddamn you, Translink), consuming as much free beer as possible at the library school's social events. It was a strong start. But it wasn't till Halloween that we really fell in love.
I somehow managed to convince Tara to come with me to a Grad Student Union sponsored party on Friday night, in spite of ALL of our better judgment. It was a complete and utter gong show, a middle school dance populated by shit-wasted philosophy TAs in sexy angel costumes. I was dressed as Margot Tennenbaum, and Tara went high concept as The Morning After: lipstick smeared across her face, hair a mess, skirt tucked into her tights. No one quite got it.
Let's get OUTTA here, we agreed, and I walked her to the bus loop. It was one of those wonderfully windy, rainy coastal nights. "Halloween weather," my boss at the time called it. The wind whipped around us as RCMP cars whisked past-drunk revellers to the nearest paramedic. My mangy Margot fur coat had the heft and scent of a drowning racoon. Of course the buses had stopped running (goddamn you again, Translink) and so I told Tara she could stay at my place. It was the first sleepover party I'd had in years.
We made our way meanderingly back to the college, trolling the grounds on our way. We climbed the fire escape of Cecil Green House, pausing to consider the weirdness of this oceanside mansion in my backyard. From the top of the stairs we could see the Georgia Strait and West Vancouver in the distance, the mountains beyond. We tumbled back down and past the former inground pool, now filled in and turned to a garden space. What a strange place I live in, I thought hazily, momentarily glad to be so far outside my comfort zone, relieved to have someone to share it with.
Tara slept on my floor that night, and I think we watched The Big Chill before we passed out. The next morning I took the bus back to Kitsilano with her and we spent the day doing what Tara called the Epic Hangout: brunch, Sally Ann shopping, beach walks. Man, it gets hard to find people who are up for it, Tara said. People couple off and then it just changes.
I realized then that for the first time in a long time, I was completely unencumbered. Half my heart was still back home in Toronto, and that hurt more than I could bear. But suddenly, my days were completely in my own control. My life was all mine. I walked the Sea Wall with Tara that afternoon and felt so glad and free.
A month or so later, Tara's roommate situation imploded, and my itchy feet got the better of me, and she asked me to move in with her. A few weeks after that, I borrowed a family friend's car and drove all my worldly goods down the mountain to Arbutus Street. There are a lot of other stories that ensued, which I will tell one day. But the moral of THIS story is that I think of Tara every Halloween, of how she always went full-bore when she committed to the absurd, of how things were never ever dull with her.
When you're getting to know someone, you're tentative, unaware of how this person may weave into your life. It's so funny to think back on those first moments of a friendship that is now so essential.
Tuesday, September 3, 2013
...reblogged from my new(ish) Tumblr,, where I endeavour to re-imagine my own day to day conversations as excerpts from bad chick lit. Please check it out.
"I don’t know why you want to get here so early," his sister told us as we got out of the car at the airport. I wasn’t sure either, really. I guess I wanted to get it all over with, skip past the horrible goodbyes to the part where I was drunk on the plane. That part came easy.
When we got inside I found out my flight was delayed. I felt like I was going to throw up. Ridiculously I felt like someone waiting to head on over to the electric chair—I’d steeled myself, told myself I had exactly this much time till I’d say goodbye, convinced myself I could survive till the moment of departure if I just took deep breaths. Adding another hour of waiting should have been a blessing, but instead it felt like torture.
He was a real good sport about waiting with me—he usually was, I’d discovered. “Do you have any change?” he asked me. “I’m kind of thirsty.” I did, and I bought him a drink, some orange pop I’d never heard of before. “They make it here, he told me, passing the bottle to me for a sip. “It’s the best orange pop in the country.” He talked, and I listened, and leaned into him. We babbled, as we’d been doing for days. There was something about the way we could talk to each other that calmed me down. I avoided looking at the security gates. I tried to keep myself as close to him as I could, practically burrowing into the sleeve of his hoodie. Only days earlier we’d shared our first awkward hug in the Arrivals lounge, just steps from where we now sat. What had felt so tentative before now felt so steady and certain.
They called my flight and I started to cry, which wasn’t anything new at this point. “You’re SUCH a good crier,” he told me again, and I laughed and snorted and generally looked like a soggy toddler in the midst of a tantrum as we kissed and hugged goodbye one last time. I couldn’t even turn around to wave to him one last time; I thought it might kill me, vaguely believed it might turn me into a pillar of salt.
Months later he told me that after he called his sister to come and pick him up, he came back inside to see if I was still there, but I wasn’t. The couple who’d been sitting down the row of seats from us in Departures asked him, “Did you guys just break up or something?”
"NO," he told me he replied, as though it were the most absurd conclusion anyone could ever come to. "I mean, really," he said to me, "do couples who’ve just broken up spend every last SECOND together like that?"
"I don’t think so," I replied, "but weirder things have happened."
Monday, September 2, 2013
It's been eight years since I flew back to Vancouver from Toronto. I'd been home for the last few weeks of the summer, nursing a brand new broken heart, travelling around the province by Go Bus and Via train and back seats, I was crashing on couches, eating my mother's cooking, trying to get it together. "Keep it classy," my best friends advised me on my last night in Ontario, heading out to a party at my old house on Crawford Street, running into my now inexplicably former love, travelling into the past. I kept it classy, or tried to, saving my tears for the run up the block after the party was over. My first day back in Vancouver was the Saturday of Labour Day weekend, and it rained on the walk back from the Granville Island Market, and in a moment I could feel the damp sink into my bones. I could tell the summer was over.
It's been five years since I drove back to Ottawa from Hamilton. I had come home to host a wedding shower for my best friend Danielle, a sunny, perfect afternoon in my parents' backyard that devolved into a regrettably boozy evening out on the town. Driving back to Ottawa with a hangover added insult to injury. What am I heading back to, I wondered, smoking out the window of the Civic, blasting Amy Winehouse to keep myself awake, unable to stop thinking of the man with whom I suddenly found myself in love. I was terrified to say it out loud, even more scared to ignore that feeling, push it down. A week later our emotions would get the better of us and we'd admit, exhaustedly, what we felt deep down, admit we were completely wrong for each other, admit we had no idea what we were doing. But I wasn't quite there yet.
It's been four years since I drove back from Almonte to Kingston, after my best friend Freya's sweet baby boy's first birthday. Everytime I drove back to Kingston I felt so relieved. I was in a happy daze that weekend, making jam, doing yoga, walking quiet and dilapidated streets around the North end. On Sunday the man who'd seemed so wrong a year ago called me up, as he often did now, and asked if I wanted to go for a swim. Of course, I replied, of course I do. We drove out to the secret little beach just past Porstmouth Harbour, and he threw the frisbee for the dog while I paddled back and forth along that oddly lagoon-like bit of Lake Ontario. We ran into Freya's sister on the way back to the truck, off to run her own dog, and I felt safe in a town full of familiar faces and easy intimacy.
It's been a year since I woke up on Sunday morning, and called my best friend Kat to tell her I was on my way over to convoy up to her cottage. We'd spent that Saturday at the Harvest Picnic at Christie Lake, wandering between Gord Downie and the taco truck and the beach, feeling sunburnt and stoned on music and so happy to be home. Something was happening, someone new was around, and for the first time in years, really, I could feel my heart opening up again. It wasn't long after that it all blew up in my face, as, perhaps, I always knew it would. But I wasn't quite there yet.
This year I realize I've spent the past three Labour Days running away from Hamilton. It's been awhile since I called any town home for longer than a couple of years; not to mention I never could've conceived of once again calling Hamilton home. That teenage vow to leave and never return could only last so long--the pull is so strong, the visceral realization that you need to get back to your own magnetic North. And as safe at home as I may be, sometimes I feel my feet start to itch. Usually there is a direct correlation between the level of my heartbreak and the urgency of my need to escape. This year I'm holding tight to my heart, tending fresh wounds, hoping beyond hope that I can stay patient and kind as things apparently get weirder and more magical with every passing moment. I'm still not quite there yet. I might never be. As safe at home as I may be, I keep an escape route in my back pocket. I figure it can't hurt to have a secret dream.
Monday, August 12, 2013
Earlier this summer, I was up at a cottage on the Hawk River near Carnarvon. Every day we'd head down to the local public beach on Halls Lake, which is arguably one of the finest lakes in Ontario. It's deep and clear and dotted with midcentury cottages, tiny wood cabins built into the Canadian Shield, not a Muskoka monster boathouse in sight. Even better, for a long time it was a dead lake, so the frightening fish sightings are few and far between. For those who don't know, while I love lake swimming more than most other things, I am not a fan of underwater life. My worst nightmares are ones in which I am trapped between aquariums. My mom used to pretend to pour bleach into the lake to convince me she'd killed everything off before I'd dip so much as a toe into the water. A few years of partnership with a dude who lived on a wild and fish-filled lake (and the consequent desire to not look like a total wuss) have lessened my terror somewhat, but not much. All of which is to say, ecological concerns aside, a fishless lake is my happy place.
So we'd go to Halls Lake at least twice every day. A couple afternoons in, some local yahoos were blasting Thin Lizzy from their car on the beach while they drank Bud Light on the floating raft a few metres from the shore. The noise pissed me off to no end (for all my big talk of respect and acceptance I am surprisingly intolerant), but luckily my mother talked me out of just reaching into the car and turning off the stereo. Treating it as an object lesson, I dove into the water and found silence under the surface.
A few minutes later, I noticed an older woman asking them if they'd mind shutting off the radio. She had a sturdy, confident look about her, grey hair and tanned shoulders and a towel wrapped around her waist. She seemed fearless. The yahoos heeded her request, and soon there was quiet above sea level as well as down below. It felt like a relief. I watched the woman out of the corner of my eye as I swam back and forth. She stopped to talk to my friends back on shore, and later I learned from them that she was from Germany, that her sister married a Canadian after World War II, that she had been coming to visit her up here every summer for years. In the following days, I saw her with her sister, swimming long, steady laps back and forth in the deeper part of the bay. I loved the narrative arc of it all. I loved her strength. I loved watching their solid, hearty bodies moving gracefully through the water, their heads bobbing above the surface as they talked and talked.
Last week, I found myself diving into yet another lake. This time it was Irish Lake, a shallow body of water randomly plunked down in the farmland south of Owen Sound, where my best friend Kat's family has a cottage. Last year that little lake became my sweet escape from an adolescent and melodramatic summer, and it felt so good to be back there. Kat and I have always had this way of cancelling out each other's neuroses; our key methods include Vinho Verde and secret bacon breakfasts and long, lovely swims.
"The Irish Lake Mermaid Squad, reunited at last," Kat said as we dove in that first night. We've been referring to ourselves as mermaids since sometime last summer; one of the best things about best friends is the unabashed permission to behave like a ten year old at a slumber party.
Every day, Kat and I swam out to the deepest point in the bay, both of us feeling quieter and more at peace than we'd felt in weeks. One windy afternoon we canoed around the lake, me and my embarrassingly weak J-stroke at the helm. A few weeks earlier, Kat had sent me an article about how mermaids were the new vampires.
"We're ahead of the curve," she informed me.
"Always," I replied.
One evening as we swam slowly back toward the shore, I thought of that woman at the beach on Halls Lake, gliding across still water, catching up with her sister, making the same movements she had probably made a million times over a million summers. I wondered if she felt any older than she'd felt the first time she came to visit. I wondered what it was like for them to be reunited that first summer. And I wondered at what point she became fearless, unfettered by thoughts of drowning, unconcerned about the reactions of others, calm and confident and grounded in herself. It's a point at which I hope to find myself one day. It's a point I work towards with every breath, with every laugh, with every dive into the deep. We grow more graceful underwater, I think. Softer, more alive, more aware of our movements. It's a feeling I want, always. It's a feeling I can find, over and over again.
Tuesday, July 30, 2013
Prompted by the fact that I never update my iPod anymore, and also by my obsessive love of summer playlists, here is a short but sweet compilation of albums by bands I have been listening to for a depressing amount of time (more than ten years, to be precise) and who, as such, remind me of my own horrible mortality.
The Strokes--Room on Fire
Even though I've been listening to this record fairly consistently since it came out ten years ago, it really reminds me most of my first summer in Kingston back in 2009. I think I put Reptilia and The End Has No End on every mix I made that summer. Arriving in Kingston I felt freer and younger than I'd felt in years. That August I drove out to Almonte along the gorgeous back roads of Frontenac County, on my way to my best friend's wedding, listening to the Strokes and Plaskett on repeat. I felt like I'd finally figured out where I belonged.
Weezer--the Blue Album
I know I reference Weezer and kissing boys a LOT, and I don't want to put too fine a point on it, but look: If I'd had a baby with the first dude I kissed while listening to this album, that baby would now be nearly finished college and asking if it could move back in for just a few more months while it got its independent coffee shop/performance space up and running (my imaginary babies are INCREDIBLY creative and intellectual).
I've loved Thrush Hermit ever since they did the theme song for Street Cents on CBC back in the early 90s (I have been a public broadcasting nerd for a long, long time). I found a used copy of Smart Bomb at Dr. Disc when I was 13 or 14 and listened to it all the damned time. I couldn't get over their clever, poetic lyrics, the wordy jokes they made; I'd found my nerd-rock gods. A little while later, my best friend made me a series of amazing mixtapes to listen to on a family trip out west, and she put The Great Pacific Ocean on one of them. I rewound it and listened to it over and over again. We had a complicated, overwrought, intense friendship, and I missed her like crazy while I was on the other side of the country. Listening to that song I felt my heart leap and sink and break and mend a thousand times.
Elliott Smith--Figure 8
Here's a fun story about this record: I bought the CD at Chapters on Bloor Street in Toronto, during my second year at Trinity. The dude who worked in the music department there was really cute and nice, and he seemed pleasantly surprised to be helping someone find an Elliott Smith album rather than something operatic or otherwise Yorkvillian. "Are you a Nick Drake fan?" he asked me, and I admitted that I had never heard of him. "He's an amazing singer songwriter who killed himself before he really got recognized," he told me, and found me a copy of Way To Blue: An Introduction To Nick Drake, which, naturally, I bought. I stopped by my boyfriend's residence room on my way back to St. Hilda's to show him my purchases. "You didn't know who NICK DRAKE was?" he asked incredulously. "Well, did YOU?" I countered. Of course, he did. He then got really sore about the fact that a cute boy had prompted me to buy a record and we got in a fight. A year later, we were both in a Canadian Literature class and there was this British guy in the class who looked and sounded EXACTLY like Nick Drake, and when I pointed it out to him, my boyfriend declared me a genius. It was one of a handful of running jokes that somehow carried us through an ill-advised year of sharing an apartment. A year or two after that, Elliott Smith killed himself, and I wondered if I had somehow made it happen by buying his album at the same time as another misunderstood suicidal genius.
Belle and Sebastian--Lazy Line Painter Jane
The same boyfriend put this on a mix tape for me once. During our first summer, both of us lived back in our hometowns, and we'd take turns hopping on the train from Hamilton to Oshawa to visit each other. One Friday night he picked me up in the dark at the Oshawa GO Station, and blared this song on the drive back to his parents' place. It was dark out, and chilly for a June night. I'd heard Belle and Sebastian plenty of times before, but never this song. The sound of it made me want to lean against him, burrow down, nod my head till I nodded off. But we weren't that close yet, or maybe we just weren't that honest yet. So I just told him, "I really love this song." It was a time when it was easier to tell him I loved a song than that I loved him. "I figured you would," he replied. "It's on the tape I made you."
Friday, July 5, 2013
Third in a series. Catch up here, and then here.
You arrive on a rainy Thursday, feeling somewhat crazed. He's not waiting for you by the baggage carousel and for a moment you wonder, did I make him up? Is this a trick? And then suddenly there he is, and suddenly you're hugging awkwardly, and suddenly you're in a taxi to the Best Western downtown. You lean into him carefully as the cab crawls down wet streets. Don't tell them you're sharing the room with me, you warn him, suddenly certain that you want him to stay. Do you WANT me to share? he asks. Of course, you reply, I just don't want to have to pay the extra ten bucks. It's more than that, though. It's also that you like sharing a secret.
One day you rent a car, and at first neither of you see quite sure what to do with it. You drive to his house so he can pick up a change of clothes, and then downtown, and then finally back to the hotel to park it before walking back up the block to the pub. It's cool and drizzly out, and after a walk along the waterfront you scurry back to the hotel for a nap. You fall asleep as he bearhugs you close. When you stir, and decide to roll over, he doesn't seem to wake up, but he loosens his hold, opens his arms, lets you get settled before gently wrapping them around you again. Oh man, you think. Oh man.
The next morning you head out on the Trans Canada toward the west side of the island, en route to a cottage on a cliff occupied by an old friend. He doesn't have a license, or much of a sense of direction. You hate driving. I hate driving, you tell him, white knuckles on the steering wheel. Maybe let's pull over and check the map, he replies. He's steady, somehow, in spite of it all. He buys you a bag of Cheezies at the gas station. I've been here before, you think.
Having found your bearings, you keep driving. He puts on the latest playlist he made you and tells you why he chose each particular song. Your heart melts and you get only slightly lost on red dirt backroads. At the cottage there are little girls offering copious high-fives, treks through sleeping lofts and power tool nooks and half-built forest forts. Your dear friend leads everyone down to the beach as the tide is coming in, and as you dip your feet in the shallow water, tiny crabs scuttling around your feet, he wanders off and looks at the erosion lines along the red rock. It's pretty neat, he says, interested and excited at the idea that his little island is sinking into the sea. I read somewhere that in a hundred years none of this will even exist anymore, he tells you. Leave it to you to find the endearing quality in someone fascinated with end times.
The girls send you on your way with a bouquet of wildflowers in a juice glass and you drive onward. You choose to trust the insane GPS on your new Fancy Phone and it leads you down every unmarked country road between Bedeque and Cavendish. Everything is so green and so vast. He is an incredibly good sport about following you around Green Gables. In the front entry you spot a 1980s era phone on a low shelf and shout, Look, it's Anne's original touchtone. The historical interpreters are remarkably cheerful about your outburst. Well, she had to call Diana SOMEHOW, one replies. That was surprisingly fun, he tells you in the car on the drive home, soundtracked by Joel Plaskett. You feel warm and tired and if you weren't in the driver's seat you'd lean right over and put your head on his shoulder.
The afternoon nap becomes a ritual, and when you wake up in his arms again you don't move right away. You don't want it to be over quite yet. You order pizza and watch episodes of the Simpsons with the commentary track on, half listening and half narrating the episodes to each other. It's Saturday night, and you head to the bar. The guy working the door is a friend of his and gives you a deal on the cover. Later when he goes back to thank him, the doorman smiles knowingly and says, I didn't want you to look bad in front of your guest. The bar is packed and his cousin's band is playing but you spend most of the evening out on the back porch, giggling and giddy. At one point when you return from inside, it takes you a few minutes to sneak your way back into the seat next to his, and when you make it he tells you, Boy am I glad to be sitting next to you again.
Me too, you reply.
Later on, you walk back to the hotel in the rain. You have an umbrella, but you don't bother to get it out. This is something, you both admit to each other. This is definitely something.
Tuesday, July 2, 2013
A sequel to a previous entry, which can be found here.
The winter passes, and spring creeps in slowly. Girl is sick, a lot, and spends too much time online, conducting business from the couch with episodes of Homeland playing in the background. Boy gets a new job, and either doesn't have enough to do or would rather talk to Girl online than paint the wall behind the theatre's urinals. It works out pretty well for both of them, at least Girl thinks so. Boy and Girl spend an inordinate amount of time discussing an inordinate amount of things. It's comforting, being involved in and aware of the minutiae of a person's life. Every time there's a blizzard warning Girl looks at the weather online, checks to see if it's coming in from his direction or heading from her toward him, suddenly curious about the patterns of movement up and down the eastern seaboard. It doesn't matter, not really, but she likes the idea that they might both survive the same storm, days apart.
The first truly warm day of the year is a Wednesday in May. That afternoon, spring fever gets the best of Girl. She buys a plane ticket to the island where Boy lives. Boy and Girl ask for, and get, the time off work. Girl trawls the internet for a hotel room and Boy advises her on which spots are okay and which spots are roach havens and which spots don't actually exist. Girl is thankful for the help.
At first the flight feels so very far away, an abstract and vaguely wonderful thing. Girl blinks, and suddenly it's time to go. Now it is high summer, almost too hot to be outside in the evenings. Girl checks the weather forecast obsessively in the days before she leaves, feeling strangely hopeful about the possibility that it will be cooler there.
Boy makes Girl a mix for her birthday, and for her travels. Here we go again, Girl jokes, remembering the long ordeal of their first music exchange. This time, though, it's easy peasy, downloaded in seconds. Girl uploads the songs to her Fancy Phone (things sure have changed on Walton Mountain) and it becomes her soundtrack for sun-soaked walks to work. It's the kind of hot that makes you feel dumb and dreamy. Summer fever doesn't have the same ring to it, but that's what it is. Boy says he hopes she won't find the playlist too weird or jarring, and truth be told, it is an odd one. Girl hears Bowie followed by Snoop Dogg followed by Thrush Hermit and feels more optimistic than she's felt in a long time.
The night before she leaves, Girl listens to the mix. She's overpacking, as usual. It's hard to tell what she might need when she gets there. You can't really trust the forecast; it creates the dangerous illusion that you can be prepared for what's ahead of you. She knows she'll never be fully ready for whatever's waiting for her on that tiny island, but she'll try. It's raining when she leaves Toronto and raining when her plane touches down, and as she walks across the misty tarmac she wonders if the rain followed her across the provinces. Not that it's all that important. What's really important is on the other side of the Arrivals door.