How to return
I don’t remember anything concrete about the day I left Canada. By the day I left Canada I mean the day that I left and it would accidentally turn out to be a long time before I came back to live in Canada again. I remember that it was my father’s fifty-fifth birthday, that it was late June and therefore Vancouver Island’s Saanich Peninsula was its particular kind of unleavable, and that I only sort of knew what I was doing. In retrospect it was as if I were being led by the hand by an invisible being, or as if I were a migratory creature, going solely by design or magnetism rather than a premeditated urge.
People say things like I gave everything up to do this thing, and now this is the thing that I do. This is admirable. It shows commitment and dedication and all the other good things like willpower, virtue, and positive goal setting. That said, I’m never quite sure which branch of that sentence signifies the giving up. And really, does the giving up happen at the outset?
I booked my flight, I told my father a few weeks before I left, and it’s on your birthday. Does this make me a bad daughter?
Yes, he said. You’ll have to spoil me next year.
I am back in Canada now. I moved to Toronto last month with a man and a cat. I’m very committed to both of them. My father’s birthday is later this month. He’ll be sixty-five. I’m thirty-three, and it’s only now that I see when the giving up everything happened. It was in the trickle of moments of realization, plotting their way through my consciousness and my journey, methodical and relentless as the passing years.
So suddenly after giving everything up in increments – and in turn replacing it all incrementally with other things – I’m back, and more than one person asks me Now what? until I one day find myself saying to the man and the cat that I think I’ll start a blog. What else is to be done with ten years of wisdom and experiences than to shrink them down until their parts can be easily encapsulated in a series of indulgent online ruminations?
I gave up nothing when I left, by the way. I was twenty-three; what did I have at that point besides Ikea furniture, dangerously blind youth-fuelled confidence and more than a few too many ska CDs? It was as the years passed that I gave up little things, like a shot at early financial stability, for example; or the possibility of having spent my twenties close to home with a husband, one-of-each, and a mortgage; or the deep-seated fantasy that a transient life traversing continents is somehow glamorous (ok so some of it is kinda); or the possibility of going on a holiday without marinating myself in the politics and ethics and guilt of it. For everything I gave up as I moved in, out, through and around about thirty countries over the course of a decade, though, I gained as well. Important things: a man with a sexy antipodean accent, a cat that is now better travelled than most other foundling tabbies, a sense of perpetual unsettledness, and a certain perspective on loss that seems to tell me it almost always results in some kind of gain.