I don’t know how long it takes to make a home, but I know it can be done in eleven years.
It happens slowly, in small ways. As you rush to catch the last eastbound subway train of the night after a few too many beers on a patio in the Annex. As you walk down to catch the sun set behind the CN Tower from the sandy expanses of the Beaches. As you walk the length of the Danforth, caught up in the flow and energy of the people. As you shop for fresh chorizo and empanadas and pastries in Kensington Market. As you drive the Gardiner at night and it lifts you up into the canopy of condo lights that welcome you back to the city.
These small moments are imprinted over time, slowly worn and made comfortable like a pair of jeans, through the mundane repetition of life lived. Each green glimpse of the Don Valley as the subway train crosses the viaduct, making you look up from whatever you’re reading as you pass over. The worn bar stools where they know your name and you always chat with the regulars who sit at the end of the bar until you realize that you’ve become one of the regulars. The walks along Taylor Creek that are marked by the seasons: violets and ramps in spring, sumac and wild raspberries in summer, wild apples in fall, nothing but crisp air and sparkling snow in winter. The evenings at the baseball diamond for my son’s games, watching the planes taking off from Pearson, bank, and redirect towards their final destinations, glinting in the pinks and burnt oranges of the setting sun. The trips across the city for gymnastics practices or play groups. Each spring waiting for the small florist on the corner to flourish into the largest selection of vegetable seedlings in the area (until it burned down). The friends you gather with each and every Wednesday evening to share dinner with. The personal list of places that serve the best shawarma in the city, built through tasting endless plates and pitas loaded with spiced meat, pickles, and toum.
This becoming also happens through change: as you notice new rhythms that direct your days, as you can look back through the years and feel the growth and age and residue of a city that’s always renewing itself. There’s the Beer Store that’s torn down for a new condo, bringing a smothering afternoon shade that bounces the heat and humidity off the street in the summer. There’s the class you teach that takes you, winding, through new reaches of Scarborough, reminding you that the city never ends and there are a million stories of what life in Toronto looks like, depending on who you ask. There’s the tree in our backyard that came down in pieces during various wind and ice storms, taking out a fences each time until the only safe thing to do was cut it down, opening up our yard for vegetables to finally grow and ending the nightly parade of raccoons. There’s the hurt, both from the years of attachment but also from cutting them loose, that makes you alter your route just to avoid walking by that building. The nights where patios swell in the heat, spilling into the streets and THAT NIGHT when we won the ‘chip and people gathered to sweat and yell and just BE with each other in their joy.
It’s a montage of beauty, of pain, of connection and loss and reconnection, of love, of joy, of days and moments skipping across the surface of the city until they blur and eventually sink into it.
All of that can happen in eleven years.
Thank you Tkaronto/Toronto for being home, for letting my family build love and connection and comfort here. This is one of the things you do best. My kids were born here, our family was built here, and the roots we’ve grown here will hopefully allow us to flourish elsewhere.
Thank you to those who taught me what it meant to live in Tkaronto as a settler, as an uninvited guest in this place. I learned what it meant to live under the Dish with One Spoon treaty. I learned from the land, from the Wonscotonach and from Niigaani-gichigami, and from the ways you cared for them, for this place, and for me. You showed me what the future looks like as I learned the history of this place.
Thank you to the people who have also become a part of our family here: we arrived in a new city, one larger than we’d ever lived before, without knowing a single person. We planned on being here two years and then it became maybe five more and then… Well, here we are. We leave fuller, richer, and loved. Just thinking of leaving makes me miss this place and the people here, which is an odd feeling to have. It’s a sort of emotional dissonance because we’re both here and missing here at the same time.
COVID has also made this ending a strange one too, an almost out of body experience where the daily routines and motions are still being enacted but you don’t feel connected to them, the places, or the people in the same way. We’re distant, hovering over scenes that are both familiar and foreign. How do you say goodbye without a hug or without a gathering of people you love in places you love?
Toronto will always be home. For me, the son of parents whose suitcases were always packed and ready for the next place, Toronto was where I learned what it feels like to sink into a place, to grow roots, and to live in a place long enough that you grow tired of it and then fall in love with it all over again.
Eleven years. You blink and it’s gone, but you feel it forever.
Soundtrack: Ian Kamau’s “Vol 3: Love and Other Struggles.”