[This is a continuation of my account of my first days in Vancouver in May 2009. I think there’s one, maybe two parts left. Oh, and hey! Thanks for reading. I haven’t been posting consistently lately, which you may have noticed. Planning to post more in the coming days. Hope you come back. -Scott.]
As soon as I stepped off the plane in Vancouver, as soon as I set foot in the airport, I left some of the nagging 9/11 gloom behind. My shoulders, it seemed, were relieved of an invisible burden on this arrival. My posture began to automatically self-correct. I felt as if my skeleton was stretching itself out, expanding to its full height. Only minutes into my new life in Canada and already I stood taller, felt stronger.
I was not a visitor here this time. I was, presumably, here to stay. I had a job. And I had immigration paperwork, making it official.
Once I’d finished with immigration, I exited the Vancouver airport and stood on the curb with my two cats, still tucked safely inside their carriers. I filled my chest with Canadian air: inhale, exhale. Despite the nearby line of idling cabs, the air tasted cleaner and earthier to me. I could smell lilies blooming somewhere nearby. Only moments into my new life here and already things seemed less dangerous, less complicated, and more livable.
It was then that my eyes began to water. I didn’t expect this at all. I used the sleeve of my jacket to dry my face.
As I waited in the taxi line, my idle brain questioned why I was in Canada.
But wasn’t New York great? You loved it there!
Yeah, it was great. I loved it so much.
So why did we leave again?
Because it wasn’t safe there. We thought we were going to die there.
Oh. That’s right. Now I remember…
If we went to pick up milk, we thought we were going to die. If we went to fetch dry cleaning, we thought we were going to die.
That was awful.
Yep. Pretty awful.
An eerily silent taxi (a Prius, of course) sped me and the cats to the new apartment, in a neighbourhood known as Gastown. I sat in the backseat and opened up the local map on my phone. With a series of finger-pinches and swipes, I found New York. I was 2,900 miles away from it now. I found a webcam on the Internet overlooking midtown Manhattan. Thanks to the time difference, it was almost dawn in New York.
The city looked lonely and gargantuan. Despite the pre-dawn hour, it was still twinkling like mad, as usual. New York, it seemed, could still twinkle without me.
I’d hired a “relocation specialist” to get the new place set up for me, someone who runs all the errands and pulls everything together for people making transitions like I was making. When I arrived at my place on Beatty Street, I took the elevator up to the eighth floor and unlocked the door. I found a bed, sheets and a comforter, some dishes, glasses and silverware, a few new towels, and some rudimentary groceries—all thanks to a woman named Connie, who’d left her card on the counter.
I got the cats set up with their litter box, and gave them some food. Then I got into bed, pulled the comforter (which still had the price tags on it) over myself, and tried to sleep.
Whenever I move—and I’d moved a couple times in New York before this—the cats are usually mildly traumatized by the experience. That first night in Vancouver, they did what they always do on first nights: they wandered from room to room like ghosts in A Christmas Carol. Instead of rattling chains, they meowed relentlessly.
I couldn’t sleep that first night, not because the cats were making a racket, which they were, of course. I couldn’t sleep because I was nervous about my future here. I was lonely. I’d left my New York friends behind, which meant that I’d have to make new friends here. In fact, I’d have to make new friends for the first time in 15 years, which I somehow hadn’t realized I was going to have to do. To top it all off, I’d have to make friends with Canadians. Would I like them? More importantly, would they like me? I’d have my answers soon enough.
That first night, lying in that unfamiliar bed in that unfamiliar apartment, listening to the cats yowling in the other rooms, I suddenly remembered that, on top of everything else, my heart was broken. In the flurry of packing and last-minute errands—doing all the things that one does when moving from one coast to another, and one country to another—I hadn’t had time to think about Jill.
Lying in bed that first night, blinking up at the ceiling in the dark, I thought about Jill. I remembered how, when we were falling asleep, she would put a hand on the back of my neck. She’d hold the hand there, gently. This always calmed me down. It always made me feel loved. It made me feel safe.
I put my own hand on the back of my neck. I held it there, gently. That’s how I fell asleep on my first night in Canada.