Mid-Tuesday afternoon, I wasn’t so keen on interruptions. Memories of my morning run, in unseasonably balmy spring temperatures with the sun bouncing off the Atlantic, were terrible temptations that were right outside my door. Focusing on work had been no easy task, even with my office stuffed in a hallway.
It had to be my landlady, Janet. The day before, we’d exchanged emails about the cave. I’d wanted to know if there might a flat available in the building that came with sunlight. If so, I might consider re-entering the land of surface living. After all, I was going to be in Halifax for a second year, which made it almost possible to stomach another move. May as well be as comfy and happy as possible, and Janet said she would pop over to chat on what might be available this summer.
Guessing it was her knocking, I got up, left the hall office and opened the door.
“Hi,” said a young man standing on my stoop.
I stared. This wasn’t Janet. And did I even know this dude?
He looked so familiar, but that could have been the East Coast hipster look I’ve grown so accustomed to that makes me mix up all the males I meet—tidy beard, neat haircut, skinny pants and Blundstone or Blundstone-like footwear, and of course, massive smile and friendly greeting. They all seem to look the same.
While wracking my brain in an attempt to figure it out who he was, I was relieved to be saved.
“I’m Josh. I used to live in this flat.”
Not what I’d expected to hear, but I gave a big smile right back at this former cave-dweller, who’d apparently popped by, for some reason.
“I have some important pieces of mail that might be coming here,” he explained, “so I thought I’d drop by and let you know.”
Ah, there it was. Since being in the cave, I’ve been getting mail from multiple prior tenants, pretty much every day. Initially, I’d let it pile up. But when no one ever came to retrieve any of it, I got into the habit of scribbling, “Return to Sender,” and then popping the envelopes back into the mail. But Josh? I didn’t recall getting much, if anything for a Josh.
“I don’t have anything for you. You must have done a good job forwarding your mail. Now, Cavin? I get lots of mail for Cavin.”
“Oh yah,” laughed Josh. “He was my room-mate for the last six months I lived here. But mostly, I was here on my own. I live over on Creighton now.”
Creighton is a few streets over from mine, but still in the North end. Turned out, Josh had decided he needed a change of scenery and moved from our mutual, teeny two-bedroom subterranean flat to a 900 square foot loft. It was thanks to this move that that I got the cave.
Oh, the cave. Every now and again, I get invitations to visit with Halifax house-dwellers. And it’s only when I walk into their regular sized-homes that I remember what it felt like to have ceilings higher than eight feet or a room big enough to lay out a yoga mat, without moving the furniture. But a 900 square foot loft? I couldn’t even imagine.
I grilled an unsuspecting Josh about his new place, getting all the delicious details of life post-cave. Sounded like he now had the space, windows and sunshine I’d been jonesing for. If I moved, I might have some of those things soon enough myself.
I invited Josh into the front hallway, so he could jot down his contact info, just in case some errant mail did turn up. As he got deeper into the cave, he glanced into the one room containing couch space, dining room and kitchen, and his eyes softened. I could see nostalgia seeping into his face, and his memories jumbled out.
“I lived here for four and a half years—I loved this place—Bonnie and Dan, upstairs, are great, aren’t they? I had the place done up just so, all warm and cozy—How do you like the concrete floors, anyway?”
As he talked, his eyes darted about, and I sensed he was a bit on the hungry side for a full check to how I had done up the place.
Been there, and I get it. Through the years, I’ve managed to revisit many of my old abodes. And I’ve knocked on doors of my past homesteads too, asking, cajoling or begging the surprised residents for a look-see. Once inside, I would always fall away to another time.
What is it about place that triggers memories, long tucked tucked away and forgotten, to rush up and resurface?
I spared Josh having to ask me to look around.
“Would you like a tour?”
His response was an enthusiastic, “Yes!”
We made it a long version expedition, dragging the ten steps it took to walk through the cave into a slow, leisurely stroll as we traded tales of how we each felt about living underground. Soon into our chat, I discovered Josh happened to be on Day Two of his recent decision to go away for an adventure. In just over a month, he was planning to swap out Halifax for Toronto and the job of his dreams.
Geez, that was some kind of a weird Twilight-Zone coincidence—cave to receive new tenant for Halifax adventure, and then cave to send off old tenant for Ontario adventure.
What was this cave—a magical force of change or something?
As we kept talking, I’d like to say our chat took a turn for the normal. But no, I can’t say that. I live in Halifax, and things don’t roll the way the do in Ontario. What I mean is that people in the East Coast seem to live in each other’s back pocket, interconnected in some intricate manner. My little North End neighbourhood was actually Josh’s turf.
He worked at a restaurant, Field Guide, on Gottigen Street, which is right around the corner from the cave, and I’d been meaning to try it out for ages. I then found out that he’d grown up on Gottigen and made his life as an adult, living and working in the North End. He also seemed to knew bits and pieces about both Warren and me, simply from living in and knowing the neighbourhood. That was a bit of a shocker. Both Warren and I thought we were virtually invisible, living deeply beneath the Halifax radar.
Working our way through the flat, Josh and I reached my little office, where I’d been so busy typing. He gazed at the photos of my sons on the wall and asked their ages. At 30, Josh was just a couple years older than my oldest boy. Looking at him, it was hard to believe I had a son almost his age or that I was ever even 30. At that age, I was married, with two young sons and one on the way. The most I could remember was that I’d felt so young and so old, both at the same time. Oh, the things I wanted to say to Josh about life, but I didn’t. It had taken me all this time to figure out I never did have to give up on adventure, and he already knew that.
By the end of what turned out to be almost an hour-long yak, it was time I got back to work.
As Josh was leaving, I made a promise that I’d be coming by Field Guide for a drink and more chat and that he must come back over for a last beer in the cave, before he left for Toronto. He agreed. And then, just as he was about to go out the door, he turned and said the nicest thing ever: “It’s good to know a nice woman is living here now.”
I did. I said it out loud. “Awwwwwww!”
This morning, Janet got back to me in an email. She had been by yesterday and had knocked on my door, but somehow, I’d missed her. Maybe she’d come over so early that I’d still been out on my run, or maybe I was in the shower or even blow-drying my hair. Whatever the reason, I never heard the knock.
I’m thinking that missing her, maybe, was a little because the Halifax stardust was busy doing its work, crossing my path with Josh’s. Seeing the cave through his eyes and hearing the memories he had of this place made me realize something. There’s no reason to leave the cave for elsewhere. I am already comfy and happy, right here and right now, having my adventure.
Message received. This subterranean paradise is an important part of everything. And what could be a more perfect place to write a book than in this magical cave?
Crazy Music Choices by Spencer Clerk
Harry Belafonte – Day-O
The Rolling Stones – Rocks Off