For almost 3 years I’ve lived in Montreal and now that the end is just over the horizon, I can’t help but look back on all that I’ve done and experienced here. Everywhere I go there are memories connected to the parks and streets. All the stores and alleyways that I used to haunt contain the ghosts of my past. It makes me sad to think that I have to leave this place when there are yet so many things that I could do here, and now that Spring is here the city is coming alive with an unmatchable energy.
But still I must move on. I can’t get a job out here as a writer/media professional, so I’m stuck freelancing and I’ve made it clear that I really don’t want to do this anymore. I need to make some moves and change my career to something else more rewarding, and that something is teaching ESL. It’s a lonely existence being a freelance writer and living alone, and that is amplified even more when you live in a new city.
I remember the day I moved here. It rained cats & dogs in Toronto on the day I left, but by the time I was outside of the GTA and making my way down the 401, the rain stopped and the sky cleared and it was just me in the SUV filled with all the things that I could cram into it: my clothing, books, assorted kitchen stuff, various souvenirs and items for the home. It was a long and nerve-wracking drive, and when I arrived in Montreal I got lost trying to find my way through town to my apartment. I actually drove across the Cartier Bridge to Sherbrooke by accident, drove around and came back across the bridge, and then figured out where I was going thanks to my cell phone. I remember coming down Van Horne and passing Wilderton Plaza, the same plaza I have now shopped at so many times, thinking “I’m almost there.” My first night in Montreal, all I did was eat pizza and watch The Wire on my laptop because after a 6 hour drive I didn’t want to do much else.
I remember going to my first language MeetUp the next day and feeling completely stupid trying to explain to people why I moved here when I don’t speak French in what few words I knew at that point. If I went to that same meeting now, I would actually be able to participate in the conversation. At that time the city was still completely new and mysterious and boundless to me, but after that MeetUp I just went home on the same bus I took to the cafe, sat down on the couch and thought “Now what?”
It was late August when I moved here and in September it was frosh week which is a big deal because Montreal is a huge university town. I spent a Saturday walking around downtown checking things out, not with any specific aim, and then I came to the McGill campus. There was a massive frosh week party going on with a live band and beer tents. I thought about going in, but there was a lineup with security guards checking student ID’s so I knew I couldn’t. It was at this point that a dreadful feeling of not-belonging came over me. Here were all these fresh-faced students in the prime of their lives and they will never know another time as carefree as this. Anything is possible and the whole world is at their feet. But I stood to the side, watching them for a few minutes, knowing that I can never be one of them again. “It’s as though I never should have come here,” I thought. That day I went home feeling more alone and dejected than I ever had.
I had not known what effect such prolonged solitude would have on me. Shortly into my stay in Montreal I fell into a depression the likes of which I have never experienced before. In Toronto I have many friends. Old friends. Best friends. People who I’ve known for 10,12 years and have long histories with. There was never a weekend when I didn’t have a party to go to, or a group of friends to hang out with. But in Montreal I knew almost no one. All of a sudden, I didn’t have people inviting me out. I didn’t have a roommate anymore either, so if I went home it would only be me and those four walls of solitude, tormenting me. These problems were further exacerbated by the fact that I was completely broke almost all the time.
By the time Christmas came and I went back to Toronto to see family for the holidays, I was already determined to move back because I was having such a miserable time. I was so hard-up for cash that I tried working in call centers, the only job I could ever get here, only to either quit or be fired. Somehow, by the grace of God, I managed to keep up with bills and rent, although I almost never went out because I just didn’t have the money. But in the new year things started to turn around. I signed some new clients that ended up being good money makers, and for a time all was well. The winter passed, summer came again, and I was seeing what Montreal truly has to offer during my first summer here, 2014.
So why would I miss this place? It must sound like I had an absolutely miserable time out here struggling to stay sane and make ends meet. It’s true that the years here have been difficult, but they’ve also been a time of great growth. Getting away from Toronto to live somewhere else for a change showed me another side of Canada, and I feel as though I’m a better Canadian for it. There have been many lonesome days, but there have also been a lot of good times as well: nights spent at potluck parties or bars on St Denis, days spent riding my bike through city parks, evenings spent playing ultimate frisbee or in French class, afternoons spent reading at the BANQ and Instagramming what pieces of street art I find around town, live bands and artists at venues in Mile end and The Plateau, and of course all the cafes; the many, many cafes that I’ve frequented, ordered espresso, and sat in a chair with a book.
Montreal is a city full of art, and music, and life, and beauty. Although I will always look back on it as being a time marked by prolonged isolation, financial difficulty, and depressive lonely days and nights, I will also remember the good times and the beauty I found here. I will always remember the way it changed me, and put me on the path towards something else. Something new and better. Truly, I will miss Montreal.