Tuesday, July 1, 2014

My Toronto

As I sit here, I look outside, to see trees, cars, houses, some lawn, some sidewalk; there is a church steeple too, and blue sky and clouds.  Ours is not a street of flags - even when England had some hopes in the World Cup (i.e. before it started) there were no flags to be seen anywhere.  It's not that kind of neighborhood.  There are flags enough down the street and around the corner, where the pubs are, and fluttering here and there from windows elsewhere.

I mention this as it's Canada Day and I am still, deep down, used to seeing Canadian flags out and about on this day.  I don't know where I'd see them in London - not at Trafalgar Square, as this year the government isn't sponsoring an all-day festival there to celebrate the nation's birthday.  And deep down, I am increasingly ambivalent about Canada myself; about where I used to live.  Not its importance in making me who I am, especially when I was young; but in what ties I have there now. 

If you leave a place and miss people, you can keep in touch with them; if you leave a place and once you're acclimatized you become ill and stay ill for months, things take a different turn.  Throw in that I moved to London to be with my husband and I should not be surprised that anyone would want to keep up with me or for that matter that they would want me to.  I am, for all intents and purposes, not there in any real sense, and not much in a virtual sense, either.  And so if I respond to a general round-robin email (as I did this April) with a short note of my own, should I be surprised that no one responded, including the person addressed? 

I guess not.

When I think back to my time in Toronto, I can remember that within my social circle I was virtually the last person to get married (who was interested in doing so) - also the last to meet the person I would marry in the first place.  I think there must have been a kind of sigh of relief when this happened, along with a well-that-problem's-solved-now feeling.  Not that the circle cared too much about this topic, but as an unpaired-up woman over a certain age, these things are nice to hear.  So, in a way, there was a detachment long before I actually left - two years before, in fact - and in a few months I'd be ill and not be well again for some time.  Everyone got on with things, and before I knew it I was in London again, and then back and the rest of the year was taken up with the wedding, then getting my visa, etc. 

And so I look on this day awkwardly towards Canada; towards a city that I once knew and people I once knew.  And what Brendan Canning said to me on Twitter rings more true than ever:  "Toronto is a state of mind and heart."  I carry mine - the one with all the bookshops, record stores, hockey fervor, ravines, streetcars, cooler-by-the-lake-calculations, city-wide libraries...within me.  And while there's nothing like (most) of that here, that doesn't mean I can't represent, in a small way, what Toronto is in any case.  My Toronto is within me; manifesting it here isn't always easy - is it in what I eat?  What I do?  How I write?  I am still not sure. 

A great deal of what happened in my years in Toronto was a defining myself against things, in learning what I wasn't; I arrived there just two years after my father's death, and this turned out to be a very long process indeed.  A lot happened that's hard to sum up in words.  In my social circle I was part of it, but not in a really-truly way; and this feeling grew within me as time passed.  The detachment happened maybe even before I met my future husband; it may well have happened that day in August 2004 when I went to see Broken Social Scene (cough, the irony) for free at Harbourfront by myself.  I was living in Thorncliffe Park at the time and needed to get out, and so I went down and had my mind altered.  It happened again in July 2005 downtown, late one night, with Dundas Square utterly packed for more BSS goodness.  That cleansing wall of noise; the musicians as sweaty as the audience; the square itself somehow redeemed.  I didn't know anyone there and yet here they were, my people.  Something inside of me shifted; my understanding of what Toronto could be was altered.  And I realized that the one person I knew would understand utterly what had happened wasn't with me; at that time, he was still in shock over the 7/7 bombing and I wasn't sure what he thought of me.  Years later, the day after we married in Toronto, we walked into Rotate This only to see the two BSS founders, Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning - a verification, if you like, of what I felt back in 2005. 

I am sure those in my social circle had their own epiphanies during that time; moments that change your life, concrete ones, ones you can't ignore.  Births, marriages, deaths - which somehow make my moment seem a bit small.  But it was real enough.  I don't think there's a video of it available anywhere; just some photos.  That's fine with me; the night and moment are private, ultimately.  As is my Toronto...

Outside, the clouds thicken and the light is sharp; the breeze is gentle and I feel like going out.         

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