Halifax, Nova Scotia
I’ve been torn between two lovers before, only I was in grade eleven, and neither was actually a lover. One was an athlete and the other a popular, cool-crowd kinda guy. Each vied for my affections with fitting teenage motivators—cuteness, driver’s license and cheesy affirmations of undying love.
Quite the angst-charged dilemma.
In the end, I choose the path of least resistance, passivity, leaving the more patient of the two as victor of my heart.
Not sure that was the best way about it since a month later, we broke up. And the one I then pined for was quite content dating my friend.
In my current life do-over, I find myself in a similar predicament. Only this time, I’ve switched out boys for Ontario and Nova Scotia, the two loves in my life that at some point, I will probably need to choose between.
Taking a cue from my grade eleven lesson, I’d like to get it right this time round.
My visit home was hard-core Waterloo/Toronto immersion. For the entire week, with cup of coffee or glass of wine in hand, I hunkered into couches, restaurants or dinner tables to soak up chit-chat.
Catch up included a kitchen-sink variety of interactions—good, bad and funny. One friend after another brought me up-to-speed with minutia updates of romances, on-time renovations, kid stuff and “nothing much new’isms,”co-mingled with the less welcome, but inevitable of fears, worries and sometimes, more scary things.
Each day held me in a perpetual state of happy homecoming and not because I was in cotton candy land.
And then, there was also some me stuff, the by-product of my life disassembly and rebuild, in the form of two ghosts I confronted while away.
The first ghost was easy enough to dispatch of, quickly obliterated in a half hour visit to the lawyer. The second, well, that one was complicated and more interesting.
Forty years ago, my mother moved my family, sans father, from Sudbury to Kitchener-Waterloo. Disoriented, discombobulated and dad-less, I entered grade seven at A.R. Kaufman School, mid-way through the school year.
Thirteen is a tough age all the way around, then and now, and I was a misfit. Cool in my lexicon meant I should put on a sweater. Heartbreakingly naive about the brutality of pubescent pre-teens, I found myself thrust out of Sudbury la-la land, forced to view myself through the eyes of others, for the first time.
Even I could see I couldn’t reach to the bar. Heck. I didn’t even know there was a bar.
Exacerbating the situation was my fixation on Donny Osmond, a penchant for all things creative, my complete inability to read socially acceptable behavioural cues, and naturally, the flattest undershirt-clad chest in the girls’ change room.
Giant buckteeth did me no favours either.
Such perceived disadvantages, true or not, made for a hard landing, particularly at thirteen. Let’s just say, I didn’t get off to a great “new kid” start with the in-crowd.
Enter Sandy Chapman.
Blond, teensy, popular, and very nice, she also had the nose I always wanted. Through my geeky eyes, I determined her to be the ultimate exemplification of grade seven cool and the absolute antithesis of me. And of course, Sandy and I continued in school together through to high school graduation.
I will blame what happened next on small-town living and the fact that reality either builds or chips away at memory. In the case of Sandy, it built on my unalterable adolescent recollections.
Life progressed on past high school with husband(s), kids, and divorce(s), and each time the rumour mill brought Sandy news or our carts crossed paths in the grocery aisle, I still filtered the anecdote through my grade seven lens, neglecting to alter my concept of perfection (her) to misfitedness (me). And somehow, forty years on, she retained her iconic status, at least in my mind.
And then I moved to Halifax where all bets on everything I’d ever thought were off, and I began to challenge my preconceptions. I reached out to Sandy when I knew I was going to Waterloo, and she said yes to a chat.
Last Friday, for the first time in forty years, we sat across from each other, as the 55 year-old women we are today, and had a conversation.
Wow. Facing your thirteen-year old self is a story far too big for this post, but it will come soon. Pinky swear.
I caught a Greyhound bus to Toronto straight from meeting with Sandy.
Through the window, I watched the Waterloo scenery pass by—Fairview Mall, the glut of Big Box stores where the expressway meets the 401, and then the last emblem of home, the Schneider’s sign.
Waterloo life chugs away without me, and for a second, I was surprised to realize the list of reasons why I felt I needed to leave was not near as accessible as usual.
Saturday in Toronto, nephew Spencer, son Graham and his girlfriend, Andi, and I met in for lunch in Kensington market at Mexican restaurant, El Trompo.
Andi did the ordering since she’s Mexican and speaks Spanish fluently. Me? I can say Oui (thank you Sudbury), ja (thank you Waterloo) and si (thank you KCI Spanish class).
A couple dozen tacos later, we moved on to Mexican popsicles, which Andi explained are very flavourful being made from actual fruit. Next, we consumed a round of churros.
Full, all I wanted next was a nap, but instead, we waddled our way to the, Ripley’s Aquarium. Much shark, stingray, octopus, fish and jellyfish viewing later, we all met up with son Cary and his fairly new girlfriend, Myra, at the restaurant where she works, Bar Hop, as a chef.
By 9pm, we were settled at a table, waiting on ou dinner of Pig’s Head Nachos.
“Myra, tell ma the story about the Tilapia,” said Cary.
“Oh, ya. The Tilapia,” she began. “Back when I first got into cooking, it was important for me to follow through on how animals become food. So my boyfriend surprised me with a live fish for my birthday.”
Thus it was, I heard Myra’s story about the decapitation and cooking of the fish. Interesting. A young woman who felt it important to pay homage to and appreciate the cycle of life that feeds carnivores.
Dinner arrived, baked pig head on a platter, and crackle started to fly. Soon, both nachos and edible pigs parts were consumed. Then came the game changer. Myra agreed to split and eat the eyeball with Graham, at his request.
Who would have thought? A woman who can kill her own food, eat an eyeball and happens to be tall enough for my son.
I tried to eradiate visions of tall, lanky grandchildren from my mind.
Sunday was hot, too hot.
Andi, Graham and I were lounging on his west-facing balcony. While the two of them were appropriately dressed for 20-degree weather, clad in my going-home-to-Halifax attire, I felt like Oz’s Wicked Witch of the West, melting into nothingness.
“Do you want to borrow a sundress?” asked Andi as she watched me wipe sweat from my face and listened to me whine about the heat for the umpteenth time.
Hmmm. Being at least three sizes smaller, I had my doubts on jamming myself into her clothing. But what choice did I have? So I took her up on the offer and went into Graham’s room to squish myself into her too-tiny sundress.
Mercifully, it was black.
When I walked back outside, self-consciously pulling fabric from betwixt my flesh folds, Andi did a quick double-take and said, a la Damn Daniel, “Daaamn Karalee, you look good.”
Whether or not her comment was aimed to get on my good side, I stood a little taller and swanned myself back outside. Far less melty, I collapsed back on the balcony, the San Pelligrino Andi picked up at the store for me in hand.
I took a sip and thought about something Graham had recently said to me.
“Ma, Andi knows how to handle me.”
Huh. Seemed she knew how to handle the mama too.
Visions of feisty, muscly grandchildren started dancing in my head.
Halifax, Nova Scotia
I’ve been home from Ontario for five days now, and I’ve noticed that re-acclimatization is feeling a little different.
I’ve been trying to figure out why.
Differences are part and parcel of a place’s DNA. I know that. When I decided to run away, I never expected of Halifax what I expected of Waterloo. And probably because I had no expectations, I was open to the city and people in all their glory. And I fell hard for Halifax.
But this last visit to Waterloo, I had no expectations. And what happened was the place and people seemed open to me, and I open to them. I think I might have fallen a little bit in love again, and it feels really nice.
Maybe in the case of my current lovers, Ontario and Nova Scotia, it’s not so much about making a choice between one or the other, at least, not right now.
I’m putting angst on hold.