20 years from Ontario

Two decades ago today, I did something immensely stupid: I left home. Literally and figuratively. Twenty years ago, I was still sleeping in my room on Gatestone Avenue in Oakville. While I had lived on my own at university, and while I was on my co-op work terms in Ottawa, staying at home was … comfortable. And as my parents didn’t object, it seemed like a good idea. Literally leaving home wasn’t the problem — I’d already done it a dozen times.

Figuratively leaving home — notably the familiarity of the Greater Toronto area, but Ontario in general — was another matter. I’d not really lived abroad, where going to my parents’ house was something I did in an afternoon. I decided to throw myself into the world without any plan whatsoever.

Twenty years on, it was the smartest move I ever made.

Toronto is often derided as the “centre of Canada”. It’s the largest city, and the Greater Toronto area has around six million people, roughly one sixth the entire population of Canada. It’s a massive economic base — most of the banks are headquartered there — so there’s a significant amount of perceived power … and utter disregard for the Rest of Canada.

This is the mentality I grew up with, and the one I carried with me when I moved to Vancouver. Until that point, I’d only visited Vancouver twice: both times in the prior five months to moving away. I’d experienced only a brief glimpse of Vancouver and what it would do to me.

So why did I move? In a way: complacency, though I didn’t really recognize that at the time. I had a job in Toronto, I had my family, I had my friends. What I didn’t have was … something. To this day, I genuinely don’t know what it was that I was missing, nor do I think I’ve found it in the 20 years since. But I knew that I wasn’t going to find it in Toronto.

In the span of only a few weeks, I packed up what little I considered as “my life”, threw it in a bag and a couple of boxes, packed myself into a cramped Canada 3000 plane, and soon found myself wandering Granville Street asking myself: “Now what?”

No plan, no expectations, no worries. And at a mere 25 years old, I had enough education and experience under my belt to know I’d find a job (though I didn’t know where), I’d find a place to live (something I can definitely say would be a problem if I were doing that today), and things would somehow figure themselves out. Oh, the wonderful naiveness of my youth!

Twenty years on, I have a family of my own. I’ve been many places, I done many things, and yet — to quote U2 — I still haven’t found what I’m looking for. I’ve had to create a plan (several, really), and I have to set expectations (both with myself, and with others), and my worries … well, I think I’d terrify poor 25 year-old me. Relatedly, to answer the question of “what would I tell a younger me, if I could”:

You are coming to a lot of mountains. Some you will have to cross over, some you can travel under. But you will always get to the other side, and there will always be loved ones there for you.

Yeah, I know, it’s wishy-washy. Why not tell myself the truth? Because I love my life. For all the hell I periodically go through, I can’t imagine it any other way. It’s a classic science-fiction trope: one little change in the past could dramatically alter your future. Could be for the better, could be for the worse. I like what I have, and I’d like of like to keep it that way.

Actually, slight correction: I like what I have, but there are many days when I long for things of the last. People I miss, places I’ve been, or in the case of earlier today, when I didn’t have to cook or clean the dishes in the carefree days of my youth. Right now, Monkey and Choo Choo are playing in the room next to me with their LEGOs, and I miss those days. Responsibility weighs heavily.

And while we’re at it, exactly who left me have my own kids, anyway? I mean, my wife is a fairly significant part, but anyone who truly knows me will wonder what reasonable agency allowed me to reproduce. It’s been a decade of that, and I still have this strange feeling that some strange agent will appear at my door, saying I broke some kind of law.

Until that day, I’ll just take the things I could have told my younger self … and tell them to my kids. They haven’t had their futures yet (barring the presence of time loops that haven’t made themselves present), so hopefully I can impart some of that wisdom so their mountains aren’t so tall, the snow drifts aren’t so deep, and that they know what’s waiting for them on the other side before they even start climbing.

If they listen, that is. They’re definitely my kids: know-it-alls.