Sunday, October 27, 2013

the days we hit the coast: halloween.

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.