Goodbye, Ottawa: A Novel

Back in November, after a night of drinking and wonderful socialization, I found myself home in what was only to be my apartment for one week longer, and I sat down, and I wrote. I wrote something that I could share when I was moving to London, assuming what I was feeling then would remain true. I’d spent the evening with many of my favourite people on the planet, after all. My emotions were running rampant, and I thought it best to capture them as they were right then.

Strangely enough, reading over that note a few times since, it’s remained quite true. Certainly it was very genuine, and very honest. There was a while where I thought, alright, one less thing to worry about in the future. But here I am, about to leave, and it feels somehow cheap to use that old bit of writing to capture how I feel now. I owe you something written right on the verge of leaving. I owe myself that.

I’ve lived in Ottawa my entire life. For many years, it seemed the best possible place to live, because it was all I knew. There was a time where I’d get incredibly defensive (not you, Leslie!) when anyone I knew would say anything remotely insulting about the city. It seemed to be all I needed, really. I’d lived in Barrhaven for the first few years of my life, and spent the next many so grateful to live in something classified as a city that nothing else really mattered.

High school brought with it my first group of friends and my first great exposure to downtown. I had my regular haunts: Chinatown, Rideau Centre, Rock Junction (to add to my growing collection of Beatles t-shirts; I side-eyed all their other merchandise and walked past nervously), occasionally the Market. Those were giddy, glorious times, the days before texting, where if you didn’t solidify your plans and follow them to the word, attempts at hanging out would most likely fail. I’d been lonely a fair bit of my childhood, so to have real people to hang out with seemed like such a prize, and I strangely dreaded graduating because I knew things would change. I hated change.

And change they did, and then I went to college. Stayed in town, resented other places for taking my treasured friends away. We drifted apart, because that happens. I made friends with some of my theatre classmates, but never fully felt as if I belonged. I had moments where people were tremendously nice to me, but mostly I was insecure, felt lonely, and made myself lonelier by not engaging with many people. I certainly accomplished things that made me proud: I directed a one-act play, for instance, which seems a fairly major achievement even now, but mostly I was at a loss. Then I was nineteen and I graduated and I had to face up to being an adult because I didn’t know what else to do.

Not that I’m claiming I’ve ever quite accomplished being an adult.

It was in the summer following college, having fallen gradually more and more in love with British culture, that I decided I really wanted to visit London. It was some combination of Doctor Who and Little Britain that sparked it in my brain, to be honest. I asked a couple of my closer friends if they’d care to join me and, as it became clear that nobody could, I decided that I may as well just go alone. It seemed like an absolutely insane idea; I’d never even left North America. My parents were tremendously supportive, however, and my grandmother gave me a very generous amount of money to make the trip possible.

Just like that, I ended up spending my twentieth birthday seeing Little Britain Live, and later laughing hysterically in an elevator when it sunk in that I’d just met David Walliams and Matt Lucas. London, it seemed, was a place where anything could happen. I knew it from the first moment I stepped foot in the city, one that felt so normal and yet so surreal in all the littlest ways. Cars on the other side of the road! Flashes of red everywhere! People speaking in funny accents! I was in love, completely and entirely.

An American girl staying at my first hostel there was in the process of moving, and was looking for somewhere to live. Part of my jet-lagged first day across the ocean from home was spent looking at a flat with the American and an Australian girl from our dormitory, and all I could think was how badly I wished that it was my adventure. I’d never really wanted to live anywhere besides Ottawa, and all at once I’d found a city I could see myself calling home. And two adventurous weeks later (during which I certainly felt homesick, but for the people rather than the places), I had to face up to reality and fly back to my real home. It never seemed quite as good after that. Suddenly I understood why my more worldly friends had occasionally chided our hometown.

However, the next five years were hardly spent pining for London; certainly they started that way, with me getting my first proper job at The UPS Store and constantly telling my bosses about the adventures I’d had not so long before (to the point where they told me that was all I talked about, which was true), but gradually I fell into a routine… then was pulled right out of it. Because suddenly I started to make friends! And I started to have a social life! This came as a shock to me, let me tell you. I’d been admiring a number of my brother and sister-in-law’s friends somewhat from afar for years, knowing that when I tried to talk to them, it came out an awkward mess. But then I met friends-of-those-friends at parties, and then I had people who were mine, too. Every weekend brought with it something glorious and more fun than I’d ever known, and I had great fun getting dressed up and taking photos. I didn’t like myself all that much, really, but these excellent people saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself, and I wanted to be around them always. I couldn’t shake the thought that eventually they’d realize the mistake they were making… but they didn’t, and on and on we went.

I moved out of my parents’ house and in with one of these new friends, and learned how to better take care of myself, and over time I started to actually discover what it was like to be confident. Eventually, I felt consistently comfortable for the first time in my life. It was unbelievable, but even still, I pined for London. One night in that apartment, at the beginning of January 2009, I declared that I was going to move to London in a year’s time, dug out my guidebook and a notebook, and I started making notes. But then I couldn’t find a job, and that dream gradually fizzled out. One day, I reminded myself, but just not now.

My roommate started dating one of our other friends and, eventually, they decided to move in together. I needed a new apartment, and another friend told me of one opening up in her house. Suddenly I had my own place, this tiny thing composed of long hallways and funny angles. My parents painted it for me while I was at work, all lime green and fuchsia and teal. It was perfect. Here I felt more myself than anywhere else, and I felt comfortable taking on silly little artistic pursuits. I drew and I painted pictures, things I’d given up on years before due to lack of talent. Suddenly I didn’t care if I was good at things, because it was the process that made me happy. Here I was happy, both on my own and when people would come and hang out, drink wine and listen to records. I told myself that, were I to move to London temporarily at some point in the future, I could sublet this place and be just fine, have somewhere to come back to. The house became gradually more perfect as my best friend moved into the apartment next to mine, like having a super cool roommate but still living alone. It was magic.

I started working full-time at a coffee shop, and because I was making money, I was able to start saving. I’d talked to my best friend about maybe taking a trip to London together in the future, and I’d talked to a dear friend across the country about the same topic. I realized that probably I couldn’t afford to do both and move to London at some point, still something that popped into my mind quite often, so I nervously asked both of them if they minded all going together. Both of them were into the idea, it turned out! They became friends with each other through further communication, and we started planning. Since I’d turned twenty in London, I thought it might be kind of neat to turn twenty-five there as well. We decided we’d rent a flat for a month, and opted for one in Islington. This month seemed like the greatest, most exciting prospect ever, and it did not disappoint in the least. There was a niggling fear at the back of my brain that maybe London was no longer the place for me, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. The joy I felt every morning when I woke was incomparable. A whole city to explore! No time to feel blue about anything, because London was outside, so what could possibly be wrong? Certainly every moment wasn’t perfect, but an awful lot were. And, somehow, I felt more like me than I did anywhere else, at home in a way that I’d never quite felt elsewhere.

It was clear that one trip every few years wasn’t enough. As the days flew by, I felt sorry that time would eventually run out. I made friends with some amazing individuals who’d moved to London recently, and asked them how they’d managed it. One night, out for drinks with these girls, I declared, “I’m going to move here.” Certainly it’d been my plan for a long time, but it felt more real, more desperate. The idea of spending the rest of my life pining for what I was feeling right then, gazing out a window onto Camden High Street, seemed absolutely tragic, and I wanted no part of it. I’ve had my fair share of unrequited love in my life, but I loved London and, in whatever way a city can manage, it felt like London loved me back. That was something worth exploring.

My two travel companions and I were sitting in our spots at the little wooden dining table in our flat-for-a-month the next night when I started to look into what it’d entail to get a visa. And, like I do, I soon told Twitter my plans. I was going to move to London in early 2013. The support I received immediately from friends back home was lovely. I cried as I was falling asleep that night, because I knew it’d be incredibly difficult to leave behind the wonderful life I had in Ottawa, and I knew I’d regret it if I didn’t. No matter how much I’d gotten distracted, it’d been my dream for years to live in London, ever since that day in 2006 when a virtual stranger had been welcoming enough to invite me along as she looked at a flat, and I was going to go through with my dream.

And here I am. Early 2013. It’s been an absolute emotional rollercoaster, this past year-and-a-bit. I’ve been reminded time and time again of everything that makes me want to move to London and everything that makes me want to stay right where I am, cling to everyone here and never let go. I’ve kept myself going with constant reminders of what stories I’ll have to tell you lovely folks when we speak, and how much I’ll regret it if I don’t go. And it’s only now as everything is falling into place that I’m starting to remember where I’m going, and that feeling that’s so distinctly London is starting to sink in. It’s getting exciting now.

I’ll miss the hell out of you, my darlings. I’ll miss the unexpected all-nighters, all the laughter, the insane conversations. I’ll miss your gorgeous faces, and I’ll miss the warm feeling I get when I hang out with you. That I’m part of something. That you accept me for who I am, for all my quirks and outright weirdnesses. That you share a lot of those with me. I’ll miss everything about you, but I promise I’ll keep in touch.

I love you all more than I can possibly describe. I don’t say it enough, unless alcohol is involved, or I’m on an exhaustion-fueled Twitter binge (then I never stop saying it), but it’s true. You’ve made my life amazing, and I hope I’ve made yours pretty good too.

This isn’t the end of anything. Quite the contrary: it’s the beginning of something. I’ve had weird moments where I’ve thought it might be easier not to have friends than to have to say goodbye to so many people I adore, but I know now how stupid that thought was. I could never have embarked on an adventure like this without your constant support, and I thank you so much. I thank you endlessly for everything. I wish I could write each and every one of you several page long letters to tell you exactly the impact you’ve made on my life, exactly what I love about you, exactly what you mean to me, but that’d be 1) incredibly difficult to pull off; & 2) pretty creepy, really, so this blog post is what I have to offer. That, and whatever random declarations of love I send your way. And oh, those will happen…!

I’ll be back to visit, of course. This is my hometown. And, most importantly, this is where most of my favourite people in the world live.

And you should come visit me. And we should Skype. And and and and and…

And I love you, okay? See you later. xxxxxxxxxxxxx

Photo on 2013-03-14 at 22.13

One Reply to “Goodbye, Ottawa: A Novel”

  1. Pingback: On being thirty |

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