Location, location, location—that’s what they’re always talking about. You know, the people.
And I think they’re onto something, personally. Almost every time I’ve gone somewhere to outrun my problems, I’ve succeeded. I’ve also created other, newer, problems for myself, but that’s okay. New problems are preferable to old. They just have a freshness to them that old problems lack.
By the time I’d reached high school, I knew that I wanted to leave Manitoba. I was sure everyone felt the same way as I did and that we were all just waiting for graduation to scatter off like ants from a frigid little anthill. I was surprised when that didn’t happen and disappointed when not even I was able to make my escape for many more years.
I have no regrets about staying in the city I was raised in until my late 20s. While I was always jealous of people who were travelling around the world or had moved somewhere new for school, I could also appreciate that there was something to being surrounded by familiar faces while I took my first shaky steps into adulthood.
I didn’t have to worry about making friends while I also started my first real job as a journalist and came out as queer and navigated the odd juxtaposition of being old enough to rent an apartment but apparently not old enough to keep it clean.
There was a lot of good in staying that I knew that people abroad and away were missing, like weekends at the cabin and big group camping trips and the sometimes-comforting sense of knowing every person at the Good Will. I made myself focus on the good things because I didn’t know where else I would go, even though I knew I wanted to leave.
I made my little escapes.
I spent a summer working at a fishing resort and came back pregnant. I went to Asia for two months and came back with a new phone because my old one had been stolen. New problems for old.
When you know it’s time to leave, you wonder if it’s true that you can’t run from your problems or—maybe what you’re really hoping for— yourself. And you think, damn, wouldn’t it be a waste to sell my furniture and drive across the entire country or fly over an ocean only to get there and realize that, while the view outside has changed, not much else has?
But, of course, that’s not possible. You can’t walk down different streets every day and stay the same person. You begin to change whether you planned on it or not. I always knew I wanted to leave, and I was right about it. So right that everything around me seemed to conspire to bring me to the west coast when it was time. The things that are supposed to be hard about moving, like jobs and apartments, fell into place easily. It was finally time to do what I’d been dreaming about since I was a teenager.
For me, the easy part is leaving. I learned it early in life when my family got a plane that took us from Ukraine to Toronto. I was sad to leave behind the people who were staying, but it seemed inevitable and necessary. If life could have been the way we wanted in Ukraine, I guess we would have stayed. Who wants to uproot everything they know just for the hell of it? Certainly not my parents. But I don’t really see a problem with it.
So, the hard part is staying. I always seem to have one foot out the door and a suitcase hidden just out of sight. Even as I watch the plants in my apartment grow and bloom and put down roots, I find it hard to follow suit. How do I know this is the place for me? How do I know there’s nowhere else I’m supposed to be? And the answer is frustratingly simple: if I were supposed to be somewhere else then I would be there. But having spent most of my life ready to hit the gas, it’s a hard habit to shake.
Last December marked the one-year anniversary of my life ending and beginning again. It was the month I moved into my own apartment and began the long and painful process of looking at everything that had gone wrong. And when that anniversary loomed, I felt like I wouldn’t be able to stand it, so I booked a flight to London.
I left for five weeks and wandered famous cities that I had always dreamed of seeing and felt that I had, in some ways, achieved my goal of running from past ghosts. But even as I took photos of the Eiffel Tower and ate schnitzel in Berlin, I could feel it—all the things that I thought would be left behind when I locked my apartment door and went to the airport.
If you’re going to be sad, you might as well be sad in Amsterdam, and I’m still glad I went. But I didn’t go to Europe. I ran from something else. And coming back was hard.
At least once a month, I wonder why I’m not just roaming the world and being as aimless as I often feel. What do I have to keep me here? But the answer to that is a long list of things. When I want to crawl out of my skin, I can jump in the ocean instead. When I feel burdened, I can walk through trees that have lived 20 of my little lifetimes and remember how small I am. When I’ve been alone and serious for too long, I can walk half an hour and laugh with someone I already know.
I make no promises about staying forever, but I am starting to put down roots here on this little island. And as fall begins to creep into the colours of the leaves and the air is weighed down with mist, I have a feeling that I’ve only ever had here: the odd suspicion that I might be home.