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from montreal to the maritimes

November 2, 2016

Now, where were we? Ah yes, we were just leaving Nelson and driving back home with a car full of stuff and a head full of dreadlocks and a dog that we adopted from the local shelter. We went to Nelson, had a complete reverse makeover (from young professionals to free spirits) and left very different people from the couple who’d rocked up the year before. Nelson will do that to you.

So brew yourself a cup of tea and maybe grab few biscuits and a blanket. This is going to be a bit of a bumpy ride. Most transitions are.

Rang St-Jacques, St-Barthélemy, Québec
Autumn/Winter 2002
Soundtrack: Coldplay – Yellow

When we arrived in Montreal, we didn’t have a pot to piss in. Hippies aren’t generally renowned for their money-making/saving savvy. At least, we hippies weren’t. We initially moved in with my sister Michelle in the small town where I grew up. Ain’t much to do there except watch the clouds go by and listen to the cows chew cud. No offence citizens and family of St-Barthélemy. I have nothing against clouds and cows. I love clouds and cows. It’s the lack of anonymity that I found difficult. There’s a Québécois saying about small towns and it goes something like this: “Tu pètes un soir, tout le monde le sait le lendemain.” Translation: You fart one night and everybody knows about it the next morning.

Coming home isn’t always the amazing, marching-band homecoming you think it’s going to be. Even though you’ve changed, often nothing else has, and it’s hard to keep sight of who you’ve become when everyone around you only sees who you used to be, and expects you to be the way they knew you back then. I suppose change makes people feel uncomfortable. Or perhaps it was envy. I know what that feels like, I’ve been there. People coming back from travels to faraway lands, telling you about all the wonderful places they’ve seen and the people they’ve met and me, answering the standard response to their well-meaning “So, what have you been up to?” question… Oh, you know, same old, same old… In other words, man, I’m happy for you but I sure wish it didn’t make me feel so shitty about myself. Whatever the reason, and without malicious intent on anyone’s part, it was hard to transition back. Like trying to fit into a pair of jeans two sizes too small. They used to fit… but you’ve since outgrown them.

I spent my days “trimming plants” for a friend’s “green” business. Working in a basement with no windows (for obvious reasons) probably didn’t help my state of mind. It always smelled of urine, the plumbing was bad. I was permanently stoned on the resin alone. Not fun stoned… just fuzzy around the edges. It wasn’t what you would call a vibrant workplace (I think I remember the music selection being good though) and it was pretty risky business but I was in my twenties and I desperately needed the cash and this was a quick way to earn some. It was a seasonal job and when the job was done, I got going.

Rue Cartier, Montreal, Québec
Eight months in 2003
Soundtrack: Buck 65 – Wicked and Weird

K moved in with his parents in the West Island and I moved in with my sister Christina and my cousin Amy in Montreal’s Plateau Mont-Royal, a neighbourhood known for its bohemian flair, brightly coloured houses and spiral staircases, cool cafés and book shops and back alleys with graffiti on garage doors and clothes drying on the line.

My ex-boss at McGill offered me an office job. She said, “It pays well, office hours are 8:00 – 3:30 and you get Fridays off in the summer.” (And it’s legal). How could I refuse? So I spent four days a week commuting between Montreal and MacDonald Campus. I loved getting up at 6am, walking the quiet morning streets to the metro station, getting off at Lionel Groulx to hop on the 211 bus for an hour. It sounds like  a chore (and these days, perhaps I’d think so too) but I loved it. I used that hour to observe people, watch the world go by and write about it, every day, on the way to and from work. It was a very creative time in my life.

My weekends were spent deepening my Ashtanga yoga practice, going to gigs with my pals Collin and Shawn, enjoying amazing food, chilling at a friend’s cottage up north, writing in coffee shops, walking around the city and hosting the occasional gathering. Ok, so maybe our place was party central (case in point, see ridiculous white-trash theme party above). Welcome to my twenties.

I can only sum up 2003 in two words – good times!

I loved my time in Montreal. I truly did. That year may have been one of the best years (or at least the most fun) of my life. My Nelson self eventually succumbed to Montreal’s city ways. First I shaved my armpits, then the lip ring went, then I chopped off my dreads, then I entered Urban Outfitters and that was it. I became urbanised.

But the truth is, I was and remain a country girl at heart. I can do the city thing, but it’s not who I really am. I like that my nails aren’t done up; in fact, even better if they have dirt under them from gardening. There was a time in my life when you couldn’t find a single pair of high heels in my house, but there were plenty of wellies. The most makeup I wear is lip balm and, occasionally, mascara. What can I say? You can take the girl out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the girl.

So a year into our stay, you guessed it… K felt that itch again, the need for an adventure (living with your parents at age 30 will do that to you). In August he packed our dog and our camping gear and took a road trip out east. We’d been curious about living by the ocean and we figured since we’d never made it to the west coast, might as well explore the east coast. While he went to scratch that itch and find us a home, I stayed back. He eventually ended up in Purcell’s Cove, just outside of Halifax, at the studio of a potter named Sally. She had a room in her house which she offered to us in exchange for help on her land and in her studio. Six weeks later, after a tearful goodbye, I hopped on a plane to meet up with my guys.

Pottery Lane, Halifax, Nova Scotia
Fall 2003
Soundtrack: Björk – All is Full of Love

Journal entry, October 2003:

Since I’ve arrived, I’ve witnessed the effects of Mother Nature going on a bender and savagely yanking trees out of the ground like carrots and flinging anything she could get her hands on.  I sawed through countless fallen trees and found the most unusual treasures washed up on rocky shores.  I learned from a 4-year-old boy named Noah that all of the beautiful pieces of ocean-sanded beach glass that I’m collecting are called mermaid tears.

I now have a bowl full of tears.

On the morning of September 28th 2003, my flight landed in Halifax. That night, at 12:10am, hurricane Juan hit the coast of Nova Scotia with fierce winds of 147km/hr and gusts up to 173km/hr, hailing meter-high water surges and bringing mass destruction unseen by Haligonians since the great explosion of 1917. It was the most powerful and damaging hurricane to ever hit Canada.

And that is how my journey there began. In a whirlwind.

I slept right through Hurricane Juan, strangely unaware of what was happening outside, all around me. However, what I woke up to the next morning is a sight I’ll never forget. Half of the trees on Sally’s wooded lot had been blown down, her dock had been washed away, the ocean had ripped the shoreline apart and thrown up debris all over what was left of her back yard. It looked like a war zone. It’s amazing that there was little damage to her house.

My first 13 days in Nova Scotia were spent without electricity, running water or, for that matter, any way out of the cove as our car (and Sally’s long driveway to the outside world) were buried under a tangle of trees.

Luckily she had a propane stove, a freezer full of food that had to be eaten lest it spoil and access to water. The bathroom rule was if it’s yellow let it go, if it’s brown flush it down with a bucket of rain water. For bathing, we walked 20 minutes down a wooded path to Purcell’s Pond. It was bitterly cold – October waters sting like a thousand tiny daggers – but it did the job.

As catastrophic as it was, I was amazed by how our small community pulled together to clean everything up. The army was busy in Halifax and it would take a while for them to make their way out to the cove. The days after the hurricane were sunny and warm and you could hear the sound of chain saws calling to each other from one side of the bay to the other like irate crows. Every single person in the community was outside, sawing through trees, raking debris, fixing what had been broken, sharing food and stories. Neighbours, people I’d never met before, offered me hot coffee with every wheel barrow load of broken branches that I dumped at the top of the road. They fed me blueberry muffins, blueberry pound cake, blueberry loaves, blueberry pancakes… until all the blueberries had been picked and consumed. I witnessed, during those first few weeks, the friendliness and hospitality that Maritimers are renowned for.

What I didn’t know was that another hurricane was about to hit…

On our first night out of the cove, K and I went out for dinner and a movie. After dinner, K parked the car outside of the cinema. I could sense that something was wrong. Something had felt wrong ever since I’d arrived. I chalked it up to the whole crazy-ass hurricane thing. But then he said those words that nobody ever wants to hear “I have to tell you something” and my immediate response was “No, no, no, NO, God damn you NO”. He’d cheated on me when he first arrived in Halifax with some girl he’d met on the night of our 8-year anniversary. On our anniversary night? Dude, are you fucking kidding me?

It hurt. It hurt bad. It hurt long. A million times I wanted to go home. A million times I stayed. I was so disillusioned by the whole affair that I thought, well, if he could do it, anyone could so I might as well stay with him.

She called. I told her to never call again. I then bumped into her along a path in the woods outside of our house. My woods. How dare she come to my sacred place, the place I came to escape the whole thing? I told her to go find her own damn woods. Actually, what really happened was that I hardly acknowledged her and then spent the rest of the day alternating between crying and mocking her pig nose. I wanted someone to hate. I needed someone to blame. Because if I blamed him and yet stayed with him, what did that make me? It made me the weak one. And so I directed every ounce of anger that I had towards her. The anger kept me from falling apart.

Eventually, I healed. The pain was acute at first, became chronic for a little while, then dulled over time. Months later, I bumped into her at the farmer’s market and maybe her nose wasn’t so piggish after all but that was the extent of the energy I’d put towards her. A year later, our anniversary came rolling around and I was reminded of that day, the day I thought I would never recover from. What a difference a year makes. The hurt had gone and so had the anger, leaving but a small scar for trust. The trust, you see, would never fully recover.

But I’m getting way ahead of myself. Before that healing could happen, we had a long and bumpy road ahead of us. And so, of course, we moved again.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Megsie permalink
    November 4, 2016 1:12 am

    Oh, how I love your story…I can’t wait for more!

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