Tuesday, 31 January 2012

About Me, Part 27: Here Comes That Rainy Day Feeling Again

I went to sleep a few hours after landing in Vancouver. Beforehand, my host showed me the view from the balcony, out over Fairview Slopes and False Creek towards downtown, and the strange strings of lights hanging suspended in the dark sky that were actually ski hill lights on the north shore mountains. When I woke up the following morning, I could not wait to see the mountains. I remember peering through the blinds in the guest room to see them and feeling a sense of promise and optimism. At the time, I felt things could only go up. But, I was also determined to not make my move all about running away from myself. I intended to find a therapist to do some grief work. I also aimed to find another t'ai chi instructor and a meditation center as well as make good use of the many natural and organic food markets around town.

On Day 2 in Vancouver, I traveled around the neighbourhood, had lunch in the nearby City Square Mall, then took a bus out to UBC campus to see where the library school was. The campus was larger than any I had seen before and was much less built up back then. When I got to the old Main Library building, across from the campus clock tower, I went up to the top floor and found myself in a somewhat secluded environment with a few offices. The halls were empty. I introduced myself to one of the professors and she, in turn, introduced me to a few of the others who were in that day sorting through paperwork. I remember mentioning that I had just arrived and what a year I had had up until that point. "Are you sure you can do this?" asked one of the faculty, meaning the work intensive library studies program. "Yes I am," I responded. Not only did I believe that I could handle the work load, but, still under the influence of all of the progressive ideas about the internet and its democratic possibilities, I felt that I could really make a difference in this field.

Later on, I followed my host and some of his friends to a production of Brecht's Three Penny Opera in Douglas Park, several blocks from I was staying. It began just after sundown and ran until about 11:00 pm. After which, I headed back to the apartment on my own. My host was leaving on an overnight flight to England. I had card access to his building. I relished having a nice clean apartment all to myself. I spent the rest of the week exploring downtown and Chinatown and went back to the library studies department to ask a few more questions. I also explored my own neighbourhood a little more and found a Shambhala Center not far from where I had seen the play in the park. It was scheduled to re-open the second Monday of September. I also went to close my mother's estate bank account, now that all necessary expenses had been paid, and open an account for myself at a branch of my bank at UBC. I spent a few afternoons at the Granville Island Public Market taking in the food stalls and craft shops. I was invited to dinner by some relatives (part of my mother's godmother's family) in the suburb of White Rock; I took the SkyTrain for the first time to meet them in Surrey.

On September 2, I went to an assembly in the Student Union Building to get my student residence assignment. When I got it, I walked a fair distance across campus to a small cluster of pink townhouses with a cobbled lane winding down the middle of them. Fairview Residence, a coincidence given that it had the same name as the neighbourhood I was staying in temporarily. There was a gym and a sauna as well as a cafe called The Beanery. I used my key to unlock the door to the suite I would be sharing with three other students. It was well-worn, but not run down. The common areas were clean. I opened the door to my bedroom and found a tiny, yet cozy nook with a bed, a desk and chair, a closet, a night table and lamp and a book shelf above the bed. The window was just the right size, with thick maroon curtains. I was quite impressed. It was then that I heard the front door open and two guys walked in. Two of my three roommates. They were each in their senior undergraduate years. They told me that they had cleaned up the mess that the previous occupants had left (eg. food, condoms). I was glad that I had not seen any of it and I appreciated that they had taken the time to do that. Never having had roommates before, this looked promising.

I went back to the apartment, gathered my luggage, food and the boxes that the courier had delivered a couple of days earlier and phoned for a taxi van. I left behind the card key for the apartment as well as some money for a few long distance phone calls that I had to make. I also left a huge thank-you note. I felt indebted to my host. I immediately moved into my new place and unpacked everything. We all spent the Sunday afternoon of Labour Day weekend grocery shopping at Metrotown Mall in Burnaby getting caught in the stampede on the way out at closing time.

The next few weeks were a rush of events. I started school on Tuesday, September 5. My roommates and their girlfriends surprised me with a birthday cake on Wednesday. My new phone got connected on September 12, just in time for me phone my father long-distance and find out that his eldest sister, my aunt, had died of lymphoma (she had been ill for years). I went to my first Monday night open house at the Shambhala Center. One member of the Center was a UBC graduate student in Social Work and lived in the adjacent Acadia Residences. She offered to give me a lift to the Center on Monday evenings. I accepted. I began looking for therapists at the Center.

By the end of September, the weather had begun to turn rainy. I began to get melancholy again. Eating alone at a restaurant or in my room listening to music, I would suddenly cry. On Thanksgiving Day, I went to my relatives in White Rock for dinner where I met some people who went to high school with my parents. Meeting them was interesting; hearing about my mother was awkward.

But the grief continued. I spent a couple of days at a Benedictine Monastery near the town of Mission, a couple of hours east of Vancouver, in part to work on a paper on monastic libraries. It was an all around healing experience: contemplative eating, hiking on the acreage around the monastery and conversing with travelers passing through in the dining hall. By coincidence, I met the widow of the former head of the library studies program. She was there with her Anglican church congregation. I was invited to their service that Sunday; it reminded me of my mother's congregation. When the service ended, I wept. That morning, clouds inundated the Fraser valley and wafted up our hillside, at one point, even obscuring the ground we were standing on. It was very dreamlike.

My first appointment with a therapist, who I had met at the Center, was on Halloween. On the same night, my home province was having its second sovereignty referendum. I readied myself for the tough grief work that lay ahead. Over the next few years, I would uncover things about myself that had been buried for years.

When I went home for Christmas that year, many remarked on how I had changed, how looked healthier and more confident. They could not see the work that went into it. And the work, both in my chosen field and my inner work, had only just begun.

To be continued ...

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