This used to be home, and yet today I feel like a stranger. My eyes and ears race to process the stimulation I’m receiving from all sides — clanging streetcars, mumbled bubbles of conversation, floating clouds of cologne, ridiculously trendy people rushing past with small dogs on leashes, smells of shawarma and coffee and wings drifting out of open doors, screaming firetruck sirens, water-filled pails with flowers blocking sections of the sidewalk, bicycles and cars fighting for road space. This is the east end of Toronto, mere blocks away from where I once spent four years of my life, but now it feels like a foreign land.
This is a disturbing revelation because I like to think of myself as someone who can slip easily between urban and rural worlds. In fact, there was a time in my life when I thought I’d been mistakenly raised in the wrong place. I had discovered my inner city girl during university and felt more comfortable downtown Toronto than in the forests of Muskoka. Once, I even admitted to my horrified parents that I felt a sense of relief when I returned to the city, when I left the endless forests and lakes behind and passed through the northern suburban limits of this vast city, approaching the lake and towering skyline while feeling excitement mounting in my heart. For so long, I truly believed I’d found my place…
…until circumstances forced me to leave, and now I love my small town life with such intensity that it’s hard to imagine going anywhere else. Ah, this is the painful consequence that comes with moving, travelling, discovering new places — and, perhaps, the price I must pay for opening myself up to those new places. There’s only so long I can remain untouched or unmoved by a place and, inevitably, within a few months, I will have fallen in love once again.
What worries me, though, is that my personal claim on urbanity will grow weaker if my associations with the city become fewer and far between. Over the three years since I left Toronto, I’ve been coming back less and less. I just don’t have the same reasons for returning anymore. Friends have moved away, or moved on, or been replaced by new and geographically-closer friends. We’ve localized our services and no longer drive to the city for appointments with the dentist or optometrist. The security of permanence in a new place is bittersweet, for with it comes loss.
Maybe I shouldn’t fear losing the city girl inside me because she’s probably not going anywhere. As long as I continue to love this wonderful city, even if I’m not living here anymore, those urban years that made such a big impression on me are undoable and permanently imprinted on my soul.