Chronicles from an Island: Part III

January 23, 2011 § Leave a comment

 “We are so many selves. It’s not just the long-ago child within us who needs tenderness and inclusion, but the person we were last year, wanted to be yesterday, tried to become in one job or in one winter, in one love affair or in one house where even now, we can close our eyes and smell the rooms.” -Gloria Steinem

Being back on the Island and seeing old friends is helping me remember years gone by.

I have been thinking a little about the circumstances of my move to Montreal, way back in August 2000.

After living in Victoria for a few years a good friend of mine Katrina and I decided to make the big move east together.  We had a huge garage sale in Victoria and sold most of our belongings before saying goodbye to boyfriends, roommates, and our families, and boarding an Air Canada flight on a one-way ticket.

We arrived mid august and started our hunt for an apartment, wandering all over the Plateau in the heavy and humid late-summer heat.  We finally settled on a cheap ($625/month) three-bedroom top-floor walk-up way out in the east end of Sherbrooke Street, a run-down mostly francophone area on the very far outskirts of the Plateau Montreal.  Our apartment was bohemian and romantic. It had an antique claw-foot tub, high ceilings, french doors, stained glass windows and skylights in most of the rooms, one directly over the bath. Though it was very run down, it was slathered in thick shiny white paint which gave a fresh and beautiful glow to the spacious rooms –perfect for aspiring artists.  We felt like we had won the lottery when we stepped inside, and handed our new Hungarian landlord the first month’s rent in cash. My dad co-signed the lease for us that day. And our new home was born.

The first night we spent there in our empty Montreal five-and-a-half, we barely slept a wink because of the jarring noises of the traffic barrelling down the busy 4-lane Sherbrooke Street, the trucks might as well have been driving right through our living room.   The heat was like nothing I had ever felt growing up in the breezy sea air of Canada’s west coast.  Sweat dripped from our foreheads and stuck to our backs while the trucks and busses rattled the walls and our dusty turn-of-the-century window panes.  The apartment was stark and empty, save a few bags full of clothes, photos and belongings we’d taken on the plane with us.

The next day, Katrina and I spotted some abandoned mattresses in the back alley behind our apartment (Yes!) and excitedly claimed them as our beds, hauling them up to the third floor, around the narrow bends of the dark stairwell — didn’t have to sleep on the floors anymore after that.  Our bohemian, warm, Montreal, summer life evolved.  School began, and then the weather turned to fall. It was a time of incredible growth, busyness and change, and an overwhelming sense of possibility.


About three weeks after school started, I got a phone message from a casual friend I knew who lived in Victoria.  I knew right away there had been some kind of emergency.

The news I got that day was that my good friend’s seven-year-old son had died suddenly in Victoria the day before.  This little boy had been a part of my extended family since his birth.   The news completely devastated me, as it did everyone who knew this boy and his family- very dear friends of mine.

I remember waking up early in the morning, crawling into the antique clawfoot bath, looking out the skylight window at the sky and clouds and crying in disbelief.

It’s one thing to leave a place you love, with the idea of returning one day to a world that is unchanged; it’s another thing to realise that you will never see again someone who you love very deeply.  The excitement and joy of setting up shop in Montreal co-existed with this parallel sense of tragedy and confusion.  Sometimes we have to hold it all together by holding an almost scared space inside for both aspects of our circumstances, the losses and the possibilities.


This last year, I have decided to travel by train rather than fly, back and forth between the two ends of the country. I have been flying around for years, a practice that I find, for some reason, really emphasizes the distance and disparate nature of living outstretched across a huge country.    I love to just sit on the train looking out the window at the countryside as it passes by. I love knowing that these two places that I have always seen as disjunctive have an actual continuity, that they are linked by a real, living landscape.  This is integration: Joining two worlds into one whole life, where memories, not just landscapes, have a continuity and an integration also.

As one friend of mine who just stopped by the library today while I was writing this told me, “It’s very difficult to have two lovers.  I’ve done it before and my life was a mess!”

What he meant was that when we live between two places, we might as well be juggling two lovers.  In some senses, the lack of commitment makes things safer and easier. It’s so easy just to hover on the surface with the knowledge that when the going gets tough there is always somewhere else to go.  And what happens if we just stay?

What if we didn’t only celebrate eating locally, but living and loving locally also?  One thing I know for sure is that this is a beautiful place to eat, live and love, at least that’s what these Swans swimming in the Fulford Harbour told me earlier this week: 

I have been reading the amazing writings of Buddhist Psychotherapist David Richo, who has some great insights on grief work and integration.  I love this quote: “In this moment of serene compassion, I lay to rest any complaint, blame or regret. I say yes unconditionally to all the conditions under which I live. I appreciate them as providing just the lessons I need to learn. I feel affection for myself and for all those who walked the path with me. I allow myself to go on as of now, without fear or clinging to the past or to any of its seductions or distractions. I line up all that has happened and simply say ‘Oh, that happened. Now what?’  […]  May I and all those I have known become enlightened because of all that we went through together.”


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