Or Moving House Blues, originally written in July of 2003, on the eve of my eviction from a lovely, second-floor apartment in Toronto. This is a dreary and gloomy piece of writing but it’s a record of a time when I came close to rock bottom. 2001 was anticlimactic and the beginning of a long downturn in fortune. Lost my girl, my job, my pets, and more. Eventually, I lost the apartment. I like to remind myself, from time to time, what it’s like to feel so rotten so I can be grateful for what I have now. Besides, I have never been taught so much humility before or since and humility is a lesson we should never forget.
Feeling Low on Upper Canada Drive
I have seen brighter days. I am told there will be brighter days ahead. I have seen brighter days.
Eventually, they say, everyone sees hard times. Hard, in this case, is a relative thing. For someone else who has grown up in a war-torn region, has watched family members get blown apart, watched others wither away, and who have never owned a matching pair of shoes, my bleak reality is their luxurious dream. For someone else who has grown up in the very lap of luxury, watched some family members make it big in stocks, watched others marry into the gentry, and who have never worn the same pair of shoes twice, my brightest days are their impoverished nightmare. It’s all relative.
This is my story, however, and my dark times. All the cheery, positive-thinking cliches mean nothing to me right now. July, 2003, has been the most difficult month of my life. Cue the band at the pity party.
What do we humans do to survive dark times? “The truest test is what we do when we cannot see.” It is said that to truly see a man’s character, you must first strip away all he holds dear, all that he relies upon, and all that he enjoys. Only when he is laid bare can you actually judge his character. I haven’t lost all that, yet but I have lost something significant. Call it pride or call it self-esteem. The first is considered a sin and the second a necessity of well-being.
I believe they are the same thing differentiated only by degree.
All That You Can’t Leave Behind
My home is no more and this is the cause of my shame. It’s just a single-bedroom apartment in a half-century old building. Parts of it are dilapidated, others need repair, and still more just need a good cleaning. It has seen its fair share of inconsiderate houseguests, clumsy live-in girlfriends, and three mammals whose idea of good behaviour is not shitting on their own beds. Too many cigarettes have been smoked here. Too many scuff marks haven’t been removed or repainted. Too many candles have dripped on the rug. There are stains which could not be removed, stains which cannot be identified, and stains which I wish I couldn’t identify.
The carpet is buckled, the bathroom ceiling has water damage, and the highway is so close that during some of the wee hours you can actually hear the construction workers — talking. It’s a bit too cold in the winter, a bit too hot in the summer, and nigh on impossible to get a breeze to blow through it. I’ve had breakups here, I’ve lost pets here, I’ve had some of the most painful events in my life here. The ghosts of my personal miseries wander the halls.
But it’s my home and I am loathe to give it up.
It Ain’t All Bad
There’s a time of year that the sun leaves patterns of golden light through the trees. No one tells me what to do here. I can still remember the move into the building, inconsiderate though I was to the friends who’d come to help — I wasn’t packed. And I can recall my (very white, very Canadian) girlfriend, the (very black, very Jamaican) maintenance guy from the old building, his (even more black, more Jamaican) friend, and me making the drive with the last of my furniture precariously loaded in the truck. And I can remember torrid, after-breakup sex.
There was a particular early summer, late-night thunderstorm filled with inspired naughtiness which comes to mind. Countless marathon essay co-writing nights, when I clung desperately to the waking world. I remember one winter morning I awoke to find that one of our ferrets had escaped through the balcony window, and the frantic search eventually led us to discover her curled up outside the superintendent’s apartment, thankfully safe and possibly remorseful. I remember finally defeating the uber bad guy in Jedi Knight II and the time I made myself airsick trying to play a helicopter simulation while drunk and high. Embarrassing at the time but worth a good laugh, looking back.
I remember sitting on the balcony, catching up with a friend I hadn’t seen for ten years, and reminiscing about the glory days at the boarding house in Jamaica. Once, I rested my head on a girl’s tummy while we sang, among others, my favourite U2 songs. There was the time my District Manager called to say a mistake had been made, and to ask if I wanted my old job back. I agreed, as long as I didn’t have to tell the Restaurant Manager (who was also my best friend) until the next day, since he was buying me drinks that night. I confessed halfway through but he picked up the bill anyway.
I remember so many things in this apartment that it would take me a whole book to write them down. Good days, bad days, sad days, lazy days. A lot of lazy days. Moments of joy, tenderness, anger, discovery, and loss. Almost ten years of my life in my home comes to an end soon. And though this means that something new and something fresh lies in store, I cannot help but be saddened by the change.
For all its collection of painful memories — all that is now gone which still echoes against the walls — this place means so much to me. This place, apartment #208, has left as many marks on me as I have on it. This place is my home.
This place was my home.
I have seen brighter days. I am told there will be brighter days to come. I have seen brighter days.
Hey, will someone ask the band if they’ll play just one more song before the pity party ends. What? Oh, make it Jimi Hendrix, Castles Made of Sand.
Addendum: After I that summer, I spent a few years couch-surfing upon the grace of friends, and even spent a few nights on the street. I’ve had ups and downs since then but nothing quite as depressing as that summer. I learned so much from the experience, though, including less reliance on material things. It took a while for me to balance out and I’d be kidding if I claimed to be a well-adjusted person today. But I’m not that guy who was so very, very woe-is-me sullen in July of 2003.
In the coming summer, eight years later, I’ll again be looking for a new place but this time there’s a very big difference. It’s amicable, planned, and not the last straw of any run of bad luck. Also, I’m no longer self-medicating with a prescription from Dr. Jack Daniels. I couldn’t admit it then but that was a big part of the problem.
Most importantly, in both senses of the phrase, I’ll be traveling with much less baggage.