on moving

From time to time, I will post some words that I plan to turn into an article or short story, or that has already had  been turned down by a publisher. Here’s the first one. It’s about my adventures in moving in Toronto. Feedback, suggestions, criticism welcomed.

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Once upon a time, I moved eight times in six months.  Once or twice would have been bad enough, but eight times was pure hell.  It wasn’t just the physical part, all of the packing and unpacking, the hauling of this piece of furniture up or down stairs usually by myself.  It wasn’t the putting together or dismantling of beds, tables and bookcases. Of course, that was a big part of my private hell.  No, the worst part was leaving someplace warm, cozy and safe.  Leaving a home – my home – someplace that I had made to suit myself.  

Naturally perhaps, this particular series of moves began with a broken relationship.  One day after work, I walked into our apartment and saw her bags packed at the top of the stairs.  I should have seen it coming but I didn’t.  It felt like a drop-kick to the chest.  For weeks after, I couldn’t function.  Even though she had moved out first, I decided to move out last.  She could keep the place. 

It was such a nice place too.  A park just across the street but just far enough at a few doors away.  Minutes from the subway.  On the corners of Little Korea and Little Cuba.  This was the first time I had an apartment with red brick walls, old pine board floors, and an upper floor deck.  I would stretch myself out in the sun for hours some days, another first.  I really hated leaving it.  But the memories…

I put my stuff into a rented storage shed.  I found a cheap place that I discovered too late was full of mice and bugs.  I moved out almost immediately.  I found refuge on a friend’s couch for a week until I got this real deal – a house.  The owner, a woman with two not too bright cats, was moving to New Zealand (Aotearoa) for a year.  She wanted a house and cat sitter while she was gone. I found her through friends at the CBC.  I hauled all of my stuff to the house and moved in on a warm fall day, the moment after she hopped onto that plane.

I got a call a couple of months later, right after I had finally unpacked that last box.  She said she was broke, and lonely.  She was coming home.  When?  In a month.  I had protected her home from her neighbours because they wanted to cut down her wild plants and flowers, front yard and back.  They offered to pay for grass instead, so her yard would fit in with the rest of their chemically-treated, finely manicured lawns.  No, I told them.  I like it this way.  I began to pack my boxes again.  Before Xmas, my stuff was back in storage and I was back in a boarding house.

This is how things went until I found this lovely little place on the border of Little Italy and Little Portugal.  It was the top of a two-story older house behind a YMCA, a block away from some restaurants and pubs, a short bike ride to work at CBC through Chinatown. Only a short hop on the streetcar to anywhere.  A huge park was just down the street, just off Queen Street West.  I grew poppies and pot on my little deck overlooking the backyard.  The landlord gave me really terrible homemade wine. Late one foggy night, I heard Mohawk songs coming from one of the houses out back.  I couldn’t tell where those female voices came from, but I heard the songs as clearly as the streetcar rumbling down College Street.

This was my place for the next year and a half.  My heart mended.  My soul healed.  New loves blossomed.  I had two bikes stolen from there, including one that I had dragged from South Africa through four countries and across three continents.  It disappeared the day before I went to Banff on a month long fellowship.  I found that bike the day I returned, chained outside one of my neighbourhood pubs.  When I reported this to a cop, he said he couldn’t do anything.  What can I do, I whined?  Steal it back, he said.  Just don’t get caught.  So I did.  And I didn’t.  Me and that bike spent another month together until it was stolen once more.  I finally let that go too.

Moving is an experience that has brought both good and bad into my life.  My moves reflected the changes in my life, in my relationships with others; the ending of some or new beginnings with others.  The good times came with the exhilaration I felt when finding that perfect little place, finally settling into it, and knowing it like a pair of old jeans.  The worst times didn’t come with moving out, although that was never pleasant. It was being forced to move before I was ready to leave. You know that feeling; waking with the sunlight warming your face on a cool spring morning but you don’t want to get out from under the blankets.  Certainly, I couldn’t wait to leave some of the dumps.  But it felt like a funeral sometimes when I had to move out of an apartment that I had made a home – my home.

Today, I’m essentially homeless.  I’m officially jobless again, as of tomorrow.  Until I get paid from my last gig, I will be almost penniless.  But I am free.  As far as I’m concerned, that makes everything okay.  

Summer is almost here.  My bicycle has emerged from its storage place.  It’s still too cold to go on any long rides.  There’s too much melting snow, and too many cars racing by on country roads that are too narrow.  But soon.  In the meantime, I’m planning my house.  No more renting.  I want my own place; a place I can call home for the rest of my life. Someplace that I will never ever feel that I must leave behind but a place that I will always crave to return to.

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9 Comments

Filed under journalism, writing

9 responses to “on moving

  1. urbandaddy

    Wow. Quite a history… I read the entire post waiting to see how it ended and I am quite disappointed to hear that you are homeless. I gather you need to be near the downtown, otherwise I would have suggested heading out to the burbs for cheaper home prices, but you’re not really near anything…

    Is there part of the downtown you like or dislike? Danforth vs. Chinatown, St. George’s vs. North York?

    It’s tough but if you are looking for a small place that you can afford, now is the time to buy. I began by looking in those little real estate mags, then the newspapers, then got a kick-ass agent and the rest is history (4 houses in 8 years though. :)…)

  2. shmohawk

    Much appreciated. But I am quite happily homeless. I live in the country not far from Montreal. I am hoping to build my own home soon. Until then, I house-sit while my sister works in Ottawa. maybe I should have explained the happily homeless bit a little better. Thanks for the worry. Nice to find someone who cares about other people.

  3. Pingback: stageleft:. life on the left side : Fish Gotta Swim, Birds Gotta Fly, Shmohawk Gotta Write

  4. Love the nostalgic tone of your story and, especially, “happily homeless.” In our writings, Daphne and I try (not always successfully) to convey to the non-poor that among the variously labelled homeless, poor, needy, vulnerable or “less fortunate” (think that’s my favourite; it sounds so patronizing) are people who simply choose to live differently and they’re happy with that choice.

  5. shmohawk

    I moved out of a house into a tiny one-bedroom granny suite two years ago when that relationship collapsed. I had yanked satellite and refused cable years before. I hate Bell so I went wireless for phone and Internet. I gave away or got rid of about 2/3 of my possessions in the process of stripping away the complicating extras in my life.

    My needs are minimal. I live simply. I’d like to become as self-sufficient as possible at home, while taking on an occasional gig to earn enough money to pay bills. I earn much less than before but live within means. I am anything but poor as my life is more satisfying and fulfilling than ever. Not for everyone but it suits me at this point in my life.

    Of course, I wouldn’t refuse a ride in an Aston Martin or a return ticket to Africa. (hint)

  6. I spent the happiest year of my life living in a basement suite in Vancouver with a mattress on the floor, my clothes in milk boxes (the plastic ones, not the ones you actually pour milk out of), a kitchen table w/chairs, 2 rattan chairs “for guests” and a boom box. Furniture is just “stuff” (well, except for my dining room suite that belonged to my grandmother) and if I didn’t have a child living with me, I’d probably turf the lot of it.

    Thanks for making me feel better for moving my child every year for about 5 years in a row – you make me feel somewhat stable!

  7. shmohawk

    @Candace: …you make me feel somewhat stable!

    Pleased to be of service.

  8. poppies and pot…yeah baby

  9. shmohawk

    Poppy tea can be surprisingly calming. :->

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