In late August of 2013 I moved to Montreal. It happened suddenly, and many people were perplexed by my decision to leave my hometown of Toronto. I was determined that it was the right idea because all great writers see the world, right? All great writers experience different culture, different countries and cities, and I had only ever lived in Toronto for my whole life. The way I saw it, I was at the cusp of a turning point in my life and living in a new city was just the thing to tip me over into a new world of possibilities and greatness. I was a freelancer, so I didn’t have to worry about finding a job. My work travels with me! I can go anywhere as long as I have an internet connection and my trusty laptop!
It may have been hasty and ill conceived, but I did it anyway becuase it’s always been my nature to become stubbornly determined to follow my own ideas no matter how outrageous or likely to backfire they might be. The day I packed all my things into a rental SUV and drove six hours up the 401 to my new home, torrential rainfall pounded the city of Toronto and continued to fall for the first couple hours of my journey. I didn’t want to think at the time that the weather was a grim portent of what lay ahead; a sign that the ensuing years would be the loneliest time of my life.
I wasn’t going to school, nor did I have a job waiting for me in Montreal. I only had two friends in the entire city, and I didn’t know my way around at all. In fact, when I finally entered the city that day I got lost, took several wrong turns, and drove back and forth over the Cartier Bridge. Thank God for Google Maps or I may have been lost for hours. Eventually I figured it out and arrived at my new place: a furnished half-basement bachelor. It was, if I am being honest, a total dump.
It was a dump, but I was in a new city and there was so much to see. Even still, without a social circle or a venue to meet new people like work or school, I was left entirely to my own devices when it came to creating a social life and staying sane. That is no easy task when you live in a new city and are fraught with challenges on all sides. I thought being in a new environment would force me to open up and expand my horizons, and it did, but not without many periods of extreme isolation and loneliness.
Montreal is an amazing place with lots to offer, full of life and music and art and love, but I will always remember my days there as being marked by profond loneliness. Living alone, and working alone as a freelancer, in a city where I knew very few people was terrible for my mental health. I became severely depressed just a couple months into my stay there. I was so down that I lacked the motivation to do basic household chores. Even just getting out of bed felt like a monumental effort sometimes.
It was like Paradise Lost, in a way. I lived in a city with the most vibrant night life in Canada, and an amazing place to be a young single gentleman, and yet I spent so much of my time alone, being a hermit, too depressed and unmotivated to really take advantage of all the city had to offer. I don’t regret moving to Montreal, but I do regret all those wasted nights and weekends when I should have been out enjoying life in Canada’s most culturally vibrant city, but instead chose to mope in my loneliness.
If I could do it all again, I would do it differently. I wouldn’t live alone, for one thing. I would find some roommates, creative people like myself, to live with. The isolation I felt was a product of the prolonged periods I spent alone working on my freelance business, or sitting around getting stoned on some weed I bought at Parc Mont Royal.
I would absolutely live in Montreal again, but I wouldn’t do it the same way. I’ve always said that if I ever decided to go back to school for my undergrad I would move back to Montreal because tuitions there are so much cheaper. Then, of course, there’s the fact that rent, hydro, and public transit are also a lot cheaper than here in Toronto. With so much less going towards living expenses, I had more money to spend on fun stuff like bar nights and shopping. I could count on one hand the number of bar nights I’ve had since moving back Toronto almost a year ago!
Montreal is a special place, but my time living there will always be remembered as the loneliest time of my life. I never want to be in that situation again. But every dark cloud is limned by silver, and I have become a more mature and seasoned individual for it. I can speak French now, and whenever I notice people in Toronto speaking it I’m quick to notice. It was a growing experience, and through it I learned a great deal about myself. The fires of solitude tempered my iron and now I stand greater, more resilient than ever.
I never want to live that way again, but I’m still glad that I did. I’m glad that I can look back on the negative, and also see the many great things that came out of it.