Sunday, 29 January 2012

About Me, Part 26: Stop! Look! Listen!

On first try, I did not get into library school, for reasons that I still cannot understand. I got onto the waiting list in April 1995 and waited patiently (or not so patiently) to hear where I stood. In the meantime, my grandmother and I moved into a condominium in the west island suburb of Pierrefonds. I started trying to figure out the logistics of moving across the country to a city I had never been in and that I knew almost nothing about. When my seasonal work at Concordia University Library wound down at the end of May, researching Vancouver became a full-time job of its own.

One of my mother's former coworkers had a son studying anesthesiology at UBC; he had just moved to a somewhat upscale Vancouver neighbourhood called Fairview so that he could be close to the university's medical campus at the Vancouver General Hospital. I had met him for the first time the previous Christmas when I was in Ontario. He offered to put me up until I could get my living arrangements settled. I was elated. Seven months later, I found out that I had been admitted to the library studies program, so I gave him a call to firm up arrangements; he would be in the UK with his fiancee for two weeks in August and September, hence I could have the apartment to myself. Things were looking up.


One day during the spring of that year, I noticed a bump on my shoulder. It was soft, kind of fleshy, and it felt somewhere between uncomfortable and painful. With cancer in my lineage, I was petrified. After a doctor examined it, he felt there was nothing to worry about, but I was at an all-time low in trusting doctors. I told him to send me to someone who could get rid of it. The plastic surgeon that he sent me to was quite short with me, but removed it anyway. I thanked him. The stitches came out a few weeks later. I kept low-key about this to my folks as I did not want to alarm them with another health issue in the family. We were quite weary at that point. Gradually the area on my shoulder healed and the fear and anxiety subsided.

I continued to practice t'ai chi that spring and summer in a park in Westmount. My interest in health eating continued. Whenever I was downtown, I would eat at health food restaurants as often as I could. I practiced meditation occasionally at the local Shambhala Center which, at the time, was located in a loft in the old garment district near Mile End.

I felt some interest in dating return to me, but I continued to have problems forming connections. I really was clueless about myself in those years, but I was set to learn a great deal soon enough.

I began the process of selling off most of my belongings and saying goodbye to my friends that summer. The sadness of saying goodbye was balanced with the happiness of being in the driver's seat of my own life. I saw the latter as a way to honour my mother's memory. In 1995, I got the best of the past and the future.

One of my cousins got married that summer and it was the last time I set foot in Toronto or Mississauga. I went to Meadowvale Cemetery to make sure that my mother's plot was being well looked after and I visited her friends one last time before staying at a relative's in the Parkdale neighbourhood of Toronto; the wedding was in the town of Kleinberg, north of the city. A friend of mine got married about a month later, in early August. People were moving on.

There were more than a few going away parties. Some friends from the Chaucer course I took in my first year (we still kept in touch) held one for me as did my old high school friends. My family held one near the end of August at the west island home of one of my uncles. Some money was collected as a gift. It was mostly my mother's side of the family although my father and step mother were also there. My father and step mother also took myself and my grandmother out to dinner earlier that week. Another relative took us and some out-of-town visitors on a drive around the western edge of the island of Montreal. High end burbs, a few beaches, some lush areas of greenery and a stretch of country road with a few farmer's markets; at the time, I felt that this was a great way to remember my home town.

And so on August 24, 1995, both my living and late grandfather's birthdays, I got up, made sure my luggage was packed, had the courier pick up some boxes to ship across the country, had breakfast and small lunch, and then, my father and step mother drove my grandmother and myself to the airport. Montreal was fading, becoming the transparent stuff of memories and dreams. After waiting around in the airport lounge, we made our way to the security area where I turned around to say goodbye and hug everybody. I felt a great deal of sadness for my grandmother, so many losses in such a short time, I hoped that she would see this, me moving on to the next stage of life, as something good. As I waved and headed towards the security gate, I felt a mixture of melancholy and joy. From within the security area I saw my father console my grandmother.

When the plane took off, I felt for a moment that I was leaving my past permanently, all the while getting the memory flashbacks that one would see in the final episode of a TV series. Was I really doing this? Myself?


By coincidence, the passenger sitting next to me was a friend of someone else who was going to be in my class at UBC. We chatted during the turbulence which settled my flight nerves. I landed in Vancouver at about eight pm local time and, after getting my luggage, got into a taxi which drove over the Arthur Laing Bridge and up Granville Street. I felt a deep satisfaction as I counted down the avenues on the way to the apartment in Fairview. When I got there, I called home like I promised. "The eagle has landed," I said.

To be continued ...

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