It’s a transpacific kind-of day; it’s a hop-on start up shoot out, no-sleep schedule on my rocketship out East. And what am I leaving behind? What’s really happening when the close is so final, so airtight—packaged, sealed, delivered? What happens with me and Vancouver once I set foot in Japan?
I’ve had no time to be sentimental. Sentimental’s for those long summer weeks before the next big leap, when you’re riding aimlessly on your bike and counting down how much longer you have left. (Those were the Winnipeg summers, and those are so long gone now they’re barely a daydream anymore.) It’s not for when you’re in a constant circuit of running between work and friends, only packing at different two-in-the-morning’s like it’s a seedy night trade: not when your last day consists of taxiing across the city to achieve the impossible and be in two places at once, only to come down with heatstroke sprinting up a hill in a suit when the weather passes 28 degrees.
I’ve had no time to be scared. Scared’s for those who have had time to imagine what living in Japan will really be like, for those who consider how impossible it was getting by in a French country when Japanese exists on entirely new levels of complexity; for those who shuddered about French bureaucracy but then can’t begin to understand what it means to be polite in Japan. Yeah, all of that would terrify me, had I the time to properly think what the hell I was getting myself into. It would probably keep me up at night, if I slept at all by this point.
That’s not to say emotions don’t stop coming: nope, no, those damn assholes announce themselves uninvited to your doorstep when it’s always least convenient. And so you’re trying to make a meeting but all you can do is look out on the mountains that suddenly don’t seem so stalwart and impervious to change, and so you’re trying to finish a spreadsheet for your boss but can’t stop crying because that ol’ Beach House song showed up on shuffle.
This fever pitch is probably what I’d been angling for when I half-planned my summer this way: when you’re too busy to think, the reality of what you’re leaving behind never fully settles at a bone-deep level. But when the last week closes in like this the whole affair takes on degrees of unreality. Sometimes, staring down my street, it’s like I’m already standing in a memory: the hyper-sentimentality bordering on nostalgia, the sense of loss, the need to take in every scent every touch every corner before it fades.
The countdown started in September on that big ol’ Last.First.Day, was ticking away before I even knew where I was going or how I was getting there (at the time, the bets were on China). Because I knew by then that Vancouver was always meant to be my ‘university city,’ and that to give it more than that would be to short-change the rest of the world. Hell, I probably knew Vancouver was temporary when I heaved my suitcase into Res three years before that. But anticipating does nothing for when this last week actually appears, full fledged and dragging you by the heels: life’s always grander and a little stranger than the image you play out in your mind, and there’s never enough time to soak in what might actually be happening.
It’s impossible to prepare because I’ve never had a city be a city to me like Vancouver. Vancouver is the first home I ever made. Winnipeg is where I grew up and Paris is the first time I truly felt like I belonged, but I’ve come to believe now that, as far as adulthood is concerned, a large degree of agency is required: you have to make it your home, have to give a part of yourself in order for the city to give back to you. Winnipeg, I never had to lift a finger with my wonderful parents around; Paris was more like this magician eager to flash tricks across my face for those fairytle four months.
As far as UBC and Vancouver is concerned? Man, it’s been nothing but a fight. It started before I arrived, when everyone—everyone— decided they needed to give their two-cents as to why this was such a bad decision. In Winnipeg, going away for school for an undergrad (for an arts degree, no less) was tantamount to madness, and it even went so far as to have one guidance counselor bring me into his office for an hour trying to show me how stupid I was being (yeah, I’m pretty sure that wasn’t exactly within counseling boundaries, seeing as he wasn’t even mine). But I fought for it because I knew I’d shrivel up if I stayed any longer in Winnipeg, counting my pennies, and getting here I fought for the gold star uni-experience, joining every club and attending every party I could, getting all the grades just to prove this had been the right choice. That manic energy carried me through to 3rd Year.
But I’ve never fought like I did at the end of third year. Losing Paris—never feeling like I deserved it in the first place—coincided with the utter uncertainty of what my degree would actually get me (if my degree would actually get me) and that ate at me over the four months. Ate in through the days of gray monotony that seemed like a ghost remix, half-life of my second year self. That stress escalated to the point of waking up in my own blood when none of the jobs I applied for (hanging around 20) got me even an interview. I don’t think I’ve ever been so scared in my whole life: scared of myself, scared of the bitterness that made me grind my teeth together when I wandered to class those bleary-eyed mornings.
But when Mom kept telling me I should go home for the summer, something in me knew that wasn’t right. As much as I hated Vancouver, I’d hate Winnipeg even more (and talk about walking in circles!). But it reached a point where I couldn’t live in the limbo anymore, and once school finished for the term, I had a choice: leave or thrive. I started making things up as I ran, talking my way into an internship that transformed how I saw Vancouver (unveiling the vibrant, fluid, mean side of the city, the activism the oil the people), and working enough hours in a factory line-style coffee shop to make it work.
Now, don’t get me wrong: I know I’ve had it incredibly easy, and that many more my age have had to work much harder for much longer. But what’s important for me here is that, when I think of it now, I might just be able to call that the first adult decision of my life. I could love or I could hate, and there was nothing no one else could do to influence that decision. And once I realized that—once I forced myself to do it even though I didn’t believe it yet—the city became all I ever needed it to be. And then that summer was the best one of my life.
And when those long months in Tottori begin to drag on me, I’ll think about Vancouver in the summertime. Less so when I was starting out, stumbling all the time, and everything was so new, much more when I finally began to understand this city and in the process understand myself. I’ll think about the days the sun would stretch its path across the beach, about those festival days when the city would finally come alive, and about those days when all I needed was a U-Pass and I could go—riding the rails to the distant nowheres everyone else thought made no sense to see (and they were beautiful; those places always turned out so beautiful).
So how do you leave the place that made the mold to figure who you’ve become? In short, the place that’s made you you? To consider what life would be like had I chosen Montreal or Toronto for university instead is basically a moot point by now, because if I’d chosen somewhere else I’d be such a different person there’s no point in grand hypotheticals like that. Sometimes I wonder if I became best friends with those I did not so much because of shared interests, but because they were the most wonderfully lovely people I’d ever met, and in being friends with them wanted to be more like them. When I go to Asia I’m bringing them too: they’re so much a part of me now I’d be unable to reroute the edges and emotional fault lines of where I begin and where they end.
And the big conclusion is that I’m proud of who I’ve become. Proud in a way I’ve never been before: proud of how I’ve made the most of my degree in all the ways I think were worth making, proud of what I mean to people and what I’m now able to give, proud of making a mark in my own small way in the city that so changed me—and excited as all fucking hell about what’s to come. All of this because of this city and the people in it: everyone I met in these four insane years. So, a thank you for that.
And of course that last evening was so delicately perfect—nothing bombastic, nothing crazy, just a normal night with friends stretching out, this time, into the dawn. A night at a couple bars and a night on the beach: those kinds of nights I always fought against for on weekends: weekends are for adventure! I’d say, where’s excitement in a guitar and a fire? The kinds of thoughts that’s put me on this Trans-Pacific Jet plane in the first place. But that night, everyone came out (even a few from Seattle), and many stayed until the bright and shining end. We never needed anything else.
And when the sun came rushing golden clarity down through the valley, I looked out on the bay and just watched the rocking of a schooner. Its motion like a reassuring gesture, its riggings dazzling in the sun. And when your body is so wracked by exertion, stress, and alcohol, that final wall comes crashing down with a great heave and a march of rubble: I finally realize, I’m actually leaving—this is a thing, this is life, and I’m about to say goodbye to the view that always left me breathless, kept me knowing that this planet was always worth fighting for no matter how fucked us humans are making it. And from that moment to the end of the long walk back that morning (before grabbing my stuff and getting on that JETplane), the crying didn’t stop, and I tried saying goodbye to every tree every streetcorner and every bus station that I’d grown to know, as if staring carefully at all that surrounded me could stop the clock. One friend tried to get me to stop crying, tried to rationally tell me not to be sad, that we’d all meet again, and it would all be okay.
But I was happy, happy in a way that only a complete and utter emotional breakdown can express. Because in the end of it all, if it hurts this much to leave the place I thought—only 18 months ago—I despised, and if it all turned out to actually be the greatest times with the greatest people, well then, that’s pretty amazing right? And being grateful is the only response that makes sense by this point, on this the longest day of my life. I’ll never forget it.