I was standing in their bathroom upstairs, the rain lightly tapping on the skylight overhead. “It doesn’t sound like real rain,” I thought. “At home, the rain sounds more deliberate. It sounds better.” I was fifteen-years-old and it was the first time I was away from home for more than a week. It was late afternoon and I was heading back to bed again. Growing tired of watching “When You’re Gone” by Bryan Adams featuring Mel C for the umpteenth time, I couldn’t switch from German MTV because my understanding of the language wasn’t good enough to watch other shows. I had strep throat again. So as most of my friends and the other students on our high school exchange were galavanting around the Rhineland, I was nursing a wounded ego, some homesickness, and a sore throat.
In no time at all, my stay was over and I was sitting on the couch at home in my family’s living room. Frankfurt felt like a lucid dream, a blip on my consciousness. Home continued on as if I had never left. And, once the jet lag had worn off and I had caught up on missed homework, it really felt as if I’d never gone. The implications of my trip to Europe were lasting in a vast and substantial way. One particular lesson was on non-permanence. Life events, especially those that happened away from my hometown, are finite. It is best to soak in each millisecond, allowing each imprint to emboss itself on my long-term memory before the experience is gone way too soon.
What’s funny about this particular life lesson for me is that how I use it is quite erroneously selective. I have deliberately savoured exciting life events I know will be short-lived. Subsequent trips to Europe, time spent with my husband’s and my family during our wedding, and throughout my children’s infancy and now, I try or have tried to slow down and capture moments before they slip away. In instances of uncertainty, I haven’t been as good about remembering the lessons from my time sick and homesick in Germany. When it’s come to leaving my home and a city that embodies everything I love for something other than travel, my desire to cower has superceded an attitude of positivity or optimism. I have moved from home twice. Both times, I have hoped and prayed to get out of it. The first time was for my work. I left knowing I would be coming home before the year’s end and yet I almost begged my boss to ensure my departure would be as imminent as possible. It took only a couple of weeks in my new province for my attitude to shift and for me to love every remaining minute of it. I was home seven months later and life resumed as it had after my first trip to Germany. It was business as usual.
More recently, my little family was in need of change. My soulmate of a city wasn’t fruitful and, as a result, we were looking for opportunity elsewhere. Well, my husband looked as I clenched in silent resistance. Before kids, when we began planning our life together, it became increasingly evident that the price of the mountains, ocean, and mild climate combined with less opportunity might force our migration. My husband referred frequently to where he grew up, citing its family-friendly nature and low cost of living. I bit my tongue. I had been there before and I wasn’t impressed. At age thirteen, I had fundraised myself into a trip to French Canada. Our first stop was the capital city. With baited breath, I made my way out to explore, only to find it was flat. Everything was flat. Adding to this impression was the overcast, sullen sky and desolate trees, their stark, bony frames seemingly reaching to the sky in the hopes their fertility would return. Having travelled from the west coast where the rain of winter had already been affirmatively eclipsed by jacketless days, sunshine, and verdant growth, our experience in Ottawa was nothing more than fine. We moved on to the rest of the trip and the rolling hills of Quebec, the waterfalls, the bodies of water, and the European-style architecture made me fall in love with the East. However, as is the case with many childhood impressions, my perception of Ottawa remained very much etched in my mind. I couldn’t tell anyone, though. After all, what kind of patriot doesn’t really like her capital city?
The lack of opportunity my family was faced with really forced my hand. When my husband started look for a better career, a job posting in Vancouver led to an incredible two-year contract in Ottawa. I needed to make it work, but had virtually no faith in myself. I remained stoic. What sort of wife would I be if I wasn’t congratulatory and supportive of my husband? What sort of person would I be if I insisted on staying in a city that didn’t actualize our potential and didn’t create a sound future? By the time we had moved, my protective tension and silence started to lessen. It took a couple of cries, not even those cathartic, let it all out cries. Nonetheless after a couple of cries, I was able to let go of what wasn’t and remember my earlier life lesson. Just as I became increasingly cognisant of how short our stay in our new home would be, the buds on the early signs of Spring had burst into lush, verdurous trees and wild flowers. The river and canal that run parallel to seemingly everywhere we go in our new city acts as a wonderful underscore to the uniqueness of the town’s beauty. Old architecture, museums highlighting my country’s mosaic-like history, and a new found appreciation for deciduous forests are reasons I am now falling in love with this city. The warmth and engaging nature of the parents just in the parks alone make this whole stint so much less lonely than I ever would have thought.
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