You moved to a city in 2004 when you were 17 years old and donned ridiculous teenager tastes in boys, music, clothing, movies and radio stations, and you have never ever lived in a city before. In fact, your hometown was so small, so devoid of artificial light, so quaint with its 4,500 person-population and wooden signs hanging endearingly from awnings outside little souvenir shops, it made the Edmonton downtown skyline, which you could see from across the mighty old North Saskatchewan River, look as dazzling, mysterious, adventurous and brimming with beauty and possibility as Manhattan did to you the first time you visited New York.
You remember the first time you ventured to the thick of this place of glass-walled skyscrapers and city buses and cable cars and traffic; you were alone and hapless and lost. You were scared. You were talking to yourself inside your own head praying you would find out how to get back because you had ventured into an unknown territory that forced you to traverse through this foreign concrete jungle, that seemed so big to you, you were David facing Goliath. But your thirst for urbanity allowed you to keep walking. Eventually, when you found out where you needed to be, you were more than grateful; you were proud.
Because you grew up in the mountains, prairie sunsets were never something you were privy to growing up. Studying in a friend’s room one day, you couldn’t help but be distracted by the room’s dissipation of brilliant, warm marmalade light. It slowly filled up every inch of the space where you sat. You looked outside and you could see the sun, huge and fiery, sinking down into the horizon, tinting the river, the valley, everything in its immense path with deep gingers, pinks, and reds, until the city fell quiet, cool and blue, and the last strip of sun flickered out like a match, allowing each house and building and passing car you could see from her window to resemble its own constellated sky. You have never forgotten what it meant to you to look at something so beautiful for the first time. You grew up in an incredibly beautiful place but took it for granted and you realized that this sunset meant more to you than snow-topped Rocky Mountains and the scent of pines and wood smoke on Christmas morning.
You are standing on the steps of the Alberta Legislature in early December of 2004 and everyone is holding a candle in a coloured holder: translucent reds and greens. As everyone’s wick is list, the crowd watches the premier talk about energy-efficient Christmas lighting and being grateful and loving one another. You silently roll your eyes. When the cue is given, the Christmas lights across the entire Legislature grounds is lit up, and it is brilliant. As the vague warmth of the candle flame warms your chin and cheeks, you watch every light in every colour sumptuously and vigorously touting Christmas spirit. You are standing with your close-knit group of girlfriends – the best friends anyone ever had, or could have – and listening to the choir’s Christmas soothing and uplifting renditions of your favourite holiday songs, and you realize you cannot remember the last time you felt so a part of a community.
The community just kept growing; through pitfalls and shortfalls and all of life’s victories, no matter how small or large – whether it was your victory or that of the Edmonton Oilers, or a friend, or a family member, each small step in my life moved toward something much grander than you perhaps expected; you were moved from a displaced teenager from a small town, to a young woman living in a city that allowed you to make something of yourself that you were not certain could have been possible when you showed up with your modest belongings, your photos from high school, your soft butter-yellow gingham bedding.
Almost a decade after your move to this place where you grew up and became a real adult – a young lady with a one-bedroom apartment and a car – you have decided that it is no longer enough. That the glitz you felt the first time you walked out of Penn Station and saw Madison Square Garden and Macy’s and Times Square all before you in great, vibrant fervor, needs to be re-lived. That feeling needs to be more, better, stronger. That you realize you have not truly felt anything, in years, except for those magical times you were fortunate enough to leave the city behind. You have told so few people this, it feels like a secret that’s too good to share. You share it because sharing something sometimes makes it real.
You pack your things into boxes, you protect them with clothes and gingerly crumpled old newspaper pages and tape them up at the top, marking each one ‘FRAGILE’ in black marker; each time you write this, you’re reminded of how these things of yours will truly be taken away and transported, and you won’t see them for days until they arrive at your door – your new door – the one you aren’t yet aware of or familiar with. You’ve lived on second floors, sixteenth floors, sixth floors, short jaunts up staircases, stairwells that were an achievement to walk because they were so long and steep. You’re not sure where you will live next. You can’t even fathom what your new home will look like, smell like, feel like to embody. You are certain though, that it will never feel like this – all this – again. At least, not for another nine years when you strive to create a ‘home’ full of friends and belongings and new views, new experiences, new memories.
As the days approach, you pay more attention to the little details of your life; you recall three years ago when you pronounced that this would be your “last Edmonton winter” yet you have survived three more. And what’s more is, the last three winters were certainly survive-able. You remember on your last birthday when your three best friends and your sister and her boyfriend occupied your living room and all of you drank Dom Perignon and listened to pop music from the late 90s and your friends and you all wore ‘Birthday Girl’ buttons you purchased from the dollar store and took pictures. You remembered the day when you first moved downtown and closed the door on your life on the University campus, and it felt like the finale of a long-running series. You walked through the hallway of your last apartment one last time and everything echoed, everything was newly cleaned and there was no evidence that you had ever been there at all. You tried to picture someone else’s belongings and bed and memories being made in the place where you spent three happy years, and it was bittersweet. You felt overcome with emotion that only accompanies the sudden feeling of nostalgia, the reminder that bygone times will not return, and now comes the next step, the next chapter, the next big thing.