This was my 2019 entry to CBC creative non-fiction contest, which as you may gather since it’s published here, did not make the long list. That’s fine, it will be in my book of essays I intend to publish in the not-to-distant future. This was an essay that took me a mere 15 years to write. Enjoy 🙂
With the power back on and the house officially mine, I could finally get the trailer of furniture delivered. This was a good thing because at the moment we only had a kitchen full of tropical plants plus a cage of renegade birds that had been exiled from the hotel we were staying in. We killed the time between closing on the house and the arrival of the furniture by painting the living room walls three different shades of blue.
The deadline for delivery was extremely tight – the movers had to drop off everything at which point we needed to jump in the car and drive back to Mississauga to make it for the appointment I learned was scheduled for the day after. When I was told of the appointment the date and time seemed reasonable if quite annoying but here we were. It was August of 2003 and my big move back to the Ottawa area was quite literally darkened by the great power outage of eastern Canada and the US.
That I was coming back was a bit of a marvel in itself. I had relocated to Mississauga in 1988 and 15 years later it seemed to me that coming home would be a bit of an impossibility. When I moved there it was after the discovery of my boyfriend being transferred to Toronto in six weeks who promptly proposed. Then it was a very quick wedding, a house hunting trip I didn’t go on, a pack and move of 2 apartments and 2 cats, a honeymoon in Montreal with its own power outage that lasted nearly a day and a bad case of the flu for the both of us.
This time it was two children, one ex and a new common-law spouse later. I was living in a townhouse in a co-operative that had the world’s best babysitter-slash-surrogate grandma on one side. On the other, a strange woman with 2 children who didn’t speak to me but took a shine to my fellow and had him building furniture and mowing the lawn for her. She wasn’t too fond of me though. That she would shovel one half of the single sidewalk paver width entryway and took offense if anybody stepped a toe on her lawn didn’t help me warm to her either.
It had been a long 15 years for me. My dreams of leaving my hometown and the civil service to go to university in Toronto didn’t quite pan out. We discovered a couple of days after arriving exactly how expensive this area was; looking at our combined single person credit debt foolishness we realized that even though this new job brought a better salary, his wouldn’t be enough. Full-time university got put on the shelf for me for what seemed like – and so far is – forever.
I swore I wouldn’t go back to work for the government again, that is until my dad told his boss I’d moved to Mississauga. They knew me from my previous job so no sooner had he mentioned that I was there, she said, “We need someone who knows how to run a warehouse! What’s her number?”
Well, there were thousands of hours spent staring at taillights on the 401 in the end. But I knew six months in that this wouldn’t be my forever place. Thirty-one years and two cities later I have come to ask myself: will I ever find a spot that truly feels like home, someplace I never want to leave? Something tells me such a place just doesn’t exist and that’s fine with me. I was born with wandering feet, though my feet are slower than some peoples’ are.
At this time and place though, it was a case of me saying I wanted to go back to Ottawa, and Ottawa needing my skills perhaps more than where I was. This was confirmed by means of a phone call while my partner and I were enjoying a bite at a restaurant. I hung up and I’m told all the blood had drained from my face. “We’re moving to Ottawa,” I announced. My dream had come true.
Be careful what you wish for, they say. In the end it was the right thing to do but my complicated life became considerably more so in the coming days. I had to tell people. That was one thing, but when you have children there’s the added element of schools and babysitters and friends. One of those children was on the verge of becoming a teen, the other still small and needing of a babysitter with patience for my little spitfire.
With the childrens’ father remaining in Mississauga there was the daunting thought that oh no, what about the weekends? Just the idea of driving that distance two ways twice a month freaked me out but it was something that was going to need to be done. One thing that would be helpful was that the kids spent their summers in the Maritimes so much of this would happen while they were away. That was a bonus.
It took what felt like forever to get the go ahead which meant a whirlwind house hunting trip and then an equally frantic packing and cleaning session. Before that I had to let my current employers know that not only was I serious that I wanted to go home but now I was actually doing it. That also meant a great deal of clearing up work things and explaining everything I knew about my field to someone quickly chosen to fill in and hand off things left in midstream.
Days before I was set to leave I get a phone call from the City of Toronto. Somebody had given them my name and they said, hey, would you like to try for a job? It was in my field and paid $30,000 more. I sighed and explained I was moving in two weeks and asked: where were you three months ago?
House hunting was fun; I fell in love with a place half an hour out of town that sadly turned out to require a complete electrical upgrade from spool and wire; another was very much like walking into a museum. The voices we heard talking in an empty upstairs room were a little disconcerting. One townhouse was close to my family but had no backyard, was expensive with condo fees; then lastly on the final hour of an open house we walked into a cottage style 80 year old house in Arnprior.
It felt like home, had a big back yard and a two-story garage – we were hooked. That it had character and was detached with more than a Brazilian landing strip of grass sold me. No more neighbours calling the police for young child temper tantrums at midnight for us!
The quiet lifestyle and relaxing fields of cows on the way into town were added bonuses. Not minding the dire warnings from my family of having to drive forever each way, I signed on the dotted line. Thing is, until you’ve been eight months pregnant in summer in a car with no air conditioning on the 401 after a truck has rolled over trapping you there for three hours until you reach your off-ramp you can’t understand how 45 minutes of cows with 15 of those being city highway traffic seems easy. It’s not for nothing that people in Toronto drive with empty bottles under their seats just in case.
Anyway I soon discovered that my delightful co-op gleefully rubbed their hands at my relocation. This would mean an inspection and that townhouse better be spic and span with not a hint of dirt or damage or there’d be hell to pay. Or maybe just the first and last month rent deposit.
I painted, I cleaned, I shampooed the carpets. They did an inspection the day before the move that had me painting the hallway again. The inspection days after I moved was the hell that cost me the deposit in order to replace a damaged carpet that I found out later was never removed.
My last day of work was both touching and silly with the gift a gigantic bouquet of flowers which, had I not been moving 500 km away would have made me so happy. At this point all I could think of was how the heck am I going to bring this with me? My two vehicles were already packed to the brim but after 15 years working there those flowers were coming with me. I put them in the back, hoping my allergy medicine would hold out for the whole trip.
Moving day came with movers who needed to put stuff on the lawn while loading the truck. Lady next door comes flying out complaining. Something was on her grass! This went on several times until late afternoon when a bicycle and a few choice words were tossed and she marched off to the manager’s office. One of the last things left in the house was the phone which I promptly unplugged when it started ringing a few minutes after she left. With hugs and a few tears we said goodbye to our special friends on the other side and we were off!
One quick night in a hotel and the next morning we headed out. Nothing could stop us now! Except for the rain that is. I got a little worried when it got hard to see, partner following behind me got worried when I’d slowed down enough that I should have had my blinkers on, and on top of it all my phone kept ringing.
Just outside of Kingston I answered what turned out to be my doctor’s office. The results of my mammogram meant I needed to have an ultrasound in a week. Damn. Now add me shaking from that on top of the shaking I was already doing from the heavy downpour. Nevertheless we made it in time to check into the hotel mid-afternoon.
Our birds were settled on the dresser beside my bouquet of flowers in this animal-friendly room. We ate, had a nap and were watching t.v. when … nothing. The power was out. Our battery radio told us that the hydro was down all over the east.
The next morning we knew two things: that we couldn’t close on the house, and that the only place we could find to eat that cooked with gas was a pizza place downtown. So pizza followed by a bicycle ice-cream vendor cone was our treat for that day.
We were able to close the day after the power came on but not before the movers had had to put the trailerful of stuff into storage until they could retrieve it. By this time a visiting baseball team at the hotel had complained about us. It seems our chirping was more disturbing than their yelling up and down the hallways and the birds were asked to leave. Fortunately we weren’t asked to leave with them so they graced the kitchen in the new house while we got rid of all of that pink paint which is not one of my favorite colours from the living room walls.
As the sun started to set on our moving truck a few days later we hopped into the van and back we went, me worried about getting to the appointment on time. That we couldn’t get the doctor’s note when we got there because the office was closed was nicely solved by my near tears and shakingly told tale of the move.
In the end I was fine. I’d escaped the family cancer scourge this time thankfully and headed back to continue our latest adventure.
Home again. For now.
Catherine M. Harris