I was 22 the first time I moved across the country. I had lived with my parents while attending university and it was finally time for me to leave the nest. People were surprised when I announced my plan. I was pretty quiet and meek back then. I had never lived anywhere other than with my parents, and to some, it seemed like a big first move.
I distinctly remember my grandmother assuring me that there would be no shame in changing my mind if I decided I wasn’t ready for this. Mom told me the same thing. But I was determined. I was also gay and looking to create some distance between the claustrophobic motherland and me.
That day at the airport, my parents hugged me and handed me some cash while I gushed over a cute puppy to distract myself from crying. We said our goodbyes and I headed through security with my cousin, Melissa, who was on her way back to Calgary after a holiday in NS. It was nice to have family with me during this time of huge change.
Our flight included a stopover in Hamilton, Ontario. The first leg of the journey went off without a hitch, and we made it to our next gate in plenty of time. We boarded Plane #2, found our seats, and waited. We waited a while. I don’t remember how long it was; maybe an hour, maybe two. But eventually, we were all asked to get off the plane.
I should probably mention that this was August 14, 2003, a.k.a. The Northeast Blackout of 2003. It was a hot day in the Hamilton airport; the small building was crowded and the power was off, which meant no A.C. and conveyor belts that weren’t moving. Melissa and I stood in various long lines, chatting with fellow passengers, speaking to agents, collecting our luggage. My bag was enormous and heavy (packed tightly for my cross-country move) and from the moment we retrieved it amid the sweaty crowd, I had to drag it with me everywhere we went.
I hauled it through throngs of people as we made our way to bathrooms, and vending machines, and service counters. I was practically ecstatic when I was finally able to drag it through the exit doors. I caught a breath of fresh (disgustingly warm and humid) air, and then I wrestled my bag up the steps of the city bus we were directed onto. In the midst of this graceful process, I whacked my big toe, smashing the nail. It stung.
The bus weaved through dark streets in an unfamiliar city, eventually pulling up at a college dorm. Melissa and I ended up sharing a room with an older lady we had met on the plane. We had been advised to try booking new flights for ourselves by phone, but that was proving difficult due to the overwhelming volume of calls being attempted. So we slept (as well as we could in the heat) and the next morning we showered and cabbed back to the airport to try, once again, to nail down flights. This time, we were successful!
It was late at night when we finally landed in Calgary. Melissa’s family met us at the luggage carousel. We exchanged sleepy hugs, blinking and yawning as we turned our attention to the (functioning!) conveyor belt. We watched as bag after bag was awkwardly yanked down and away. We watched as the crowd of fellow passengers got thinner and thinner. Eventually, we were the only ones left standing there. My bag never showed up.
There was nothing to do at that point but head to Melissa’s to sleep, so that’s what we did. My aunt Colette (Melissa’s mom) made me an absolutely delicious sandwich that night (which just about made me cry, and led to me coining the phrase “sandwich moment”). I brushed my teeth without a toothbrush and then I climbed into their pull-out bed, still wearing the only clothes I had with me.
I had known that moving away for the first time would be a dramatic event, but I’d had no idea just how overwhelming it would be. I don’t know what I would have done without Melissa. We had seen at least one teenage girl crying at the airport. I don’t think I cried once during the whole ordeal, which seems strange when I think about it now.
That was my first cross-country move. I lasted six years in Edmonton before changing my mind. I had grown disillusioned by the crappy path my career was taking, and discouraged by my non-existent romantic life. Edmonton was turning out to be too much city for me, so I decided to retreat back to my homeland. I applied to NSCC, a community college in Nova Scotia that was two and half hours away from my parents’ house. I thought it would be good for me to shift gears and live in a place more my speed.
Michelle (my sister) drove me to the airport the day I left Edmonton. I held it together long enough to hug her and make my way through security. After that, it was game over. Tears welled up in my eyes, obscuring my view as I looked for my gate. I rifled ineffectively through my backpack, searching for Kleenex. Strangers were looking at me. That’s probably the only reason I was able to stop crying.
I don’t remember the actual flight. I’m sure it was the red eye, because that’s the one I always take, and I recall being exhausted when I finally made it to my parents’ house. Mom ushered me into her bedroom and insisted I take a nap. As soon as the door closed behind me, I resumed sobbing my guts out. I remembered being on Michelle’s couch the day before, snuggling Oscar (one of the cats), and feeling content. I wished I’d never made the decision to leave. It had been only hours and already I was miserable.
It was too late to change my mind, and definitely too inconvenient (and inconsiderate). So I stayed. But by the time school started a few weeks later, I already knew that I would return to Edmonton when it ended. Knowing that I would be returning to Michelle and the cats in a couple of years made it easier for me to relax and enjoy my time in NS.
I loved school. I made friends there. I saw my parents every few weeks, either at my place or theirs. Mike (my brother) and Cameron (my nephew) picked me up every second Tuesday to take me grocery shopping and spend the afternoon with me. It was great to see them so regularly. We had a good time.
Even so, I still knew I wanted to return to Edmonton after graduation. Mike and Cameron took me to the airport this time. We sat on a bench together to say a proper goodbye before I lined up for security.
This time, I utterly failed at keeping my composure. I sobbed, loudly, tears dropping in my lap as Mike hugged me and assured me that everything would be ok. His tone was soothing but sad. He was crying, too. Cameron looked at us with a mix of curiosity and dismay. He was only three at the time. I wondered if he would remember me after I left.
I made it onto the plane and back to Edmonton. Michelle let me move into her house for minimal rent so I could pay off my student loans more quickly. I lived with her for two years; just long enough to wipe out my debt. I moved into a studio apartment in October of 2013, one week after my first date with Kate.
For better or for worse, I’m about to do this again. Kate and I have bought a house in NS and we’re moving out there in December. I’m excited, but also torn, in the way that I’ve always been torn by these moves. I’ve got people on both sides of this country. Important people, plus sometimes cats. Everywhere I go, I’m not quite happy. I’m always missing someone. That’s the nature of life; I know that, but it still sucks.
This time, when I say goodbye to Michelle (and Tigger the cat), there won’t be an airport. I’ll do my sobbing in the passenger seat of our car as my wife does her best to console me. This will be the longest move I’ve ever made, duration-wise; even longer than that first, crazy one. With each kilometre, I’ll feel the weight of my decision as surely as I felt that hefty suitcase crush my toenail. I’ll feel like I’m missing something, just like I did in Calgary when my bag wasn’t on the belt. I’ll feel all the things, just like every other time. I’ll cry, and question, and maybe even regret.
That’s when I’ll turn to my left and look at Kate. And she’ll squeeze my hand for as long as she can between shifting gears, and I’ll feel better, because I’ll remember that home is wherever she is.
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