I’ve spent the past 10 days in my parents’ tiny but airy apartment overlooking Commercial Drive, a noisy and electric hippie enclave on the east side of Vancouver. Although this apartment was my live-and-workspace for a few wayward years after my undergrad years at UBC, I’ve been beset by an uneasy sense of homelessness since I got here.
I was born and spent 19 years in Ottawa, 8 in Vancouver, and now 6 years in Toronto, long enough for each place to reciprocate in friends, workplaces, and odd cravings, but not long enough to be unthinkingly, presumingly, at home. Ottawa left me with an affection for Irish pubs, deep snows, and the gentle slope of the Gatineau hills, while on the West Coast, I learned how to bike in spitting rain, how to order food in an izakaya, how to interpret ferry schedules and to vent about rental prices and gentrification; while in Toronto’s west end I grew addicted to West Indian roti and Portuguese natas, to racing sailboats in the harbour and to the constant stimulant of the city’s conversations. Rather than feeling more settled with each year, I find myself jerking my head around, wondering, “what’s next?” and feeling as though at any moment, the hardwood floors of rented abodes will be yanked out from under me.
Meanwhile, my life is crammed into ever-decreasing quarters, and instead of accumulating vintage Swedish furniture, stackable dishes and baby clothing as most of my 30-year-old cohorts are, I’m shedding layers. Last summer, when I moved east of the Don Valley, I was astounded at how quickly I forgot street names west of Bathurst, at the changes along Bloor, College, Dundas West and Queen when I biked through them after the long winter. It wasn’t just that I had left, but was being left behind by the shifting city blocks, being reset like a tile game.
For a while, the book-lined apartment of the lovely, funny and cultured man I began dating was a refuge–- not my home, but a kind of floatation device in the storms of Toronto’s restlessness. But the house above him is being renovated, the stomping feet and heavily accented workmen seemingly about to crash through the floor above our heads. Already, dating in cities seems like a shoring up and combining of shared assets, as well as of temperaments and music collections. I’m happy to give, but terrified to take, thinking that everything on offer will one day require some grand reckoning. City blocks change so quickly that finding favourite haunts is like a dare.
As I’m writing this, I’m shifting through a dish of jade beads and pendants collected from bits of cast-off jewellery. Over the years, my parents have sold or recycled the gold settings, snipped off fastidious silk thread knots. There’s a little jade pig, interlocking rings, a heavy dark fish, cylinders and doughnuts and carved wheels. I imagine secreting them in a pouch, slipping them in a sleeve when a storm of fists evicts me from my village hut. What would I take? Where would I go? Mysteriously, these questions are slowly replaced with others: Who would I ask to come along? Whose offer of help would I most want? And maybe I will be at home if I think less about where and what, and more about who, and when.