An Open Letter to Edmonton
I have recently come to realize that as of this coming September, it would have been nine years to the day since we first met intimately. Previously I met with you in passing, and all those memories from back then were glorious glimpses into what I felt would be my future. In 2004, this future became my present: a fully realized whorl of emotions, adventures, memories, happiness, sadness, excitement, boredom, my biggest dreams accomplished, my biggest nightmares turned to reality. The past nine years has been so amazing with you, Edmonton. Despite our ups and downs – despite the patchy sordid journey of my loves, the Edmonton Oilers each disappointing season after the next; despite the potholes; the endless road construction; the mosquitoes; the harsh (and I mean harsh) winters; and questioning whether or not we’d ever see a new arena in this city, we’ve shared the best years of my life and in a lot of ways, the best years of your life as well.
When I first moved to you Edmonton, I remember walking downtown and facing boarded-up store fronts and after 5 p.m., a deserted downtown core. Today, I live downtown like many other young professionals, and I can see thriving hip bars and restaurants, cosmopolitan little corners of local fare, the revitalization of 104 St. and 124 St. and everything else beautiful and bright and wonderful that you’ve become. I predict Edmonton that you will keep getting better with age. You will continue to change into something that comes from the ground up; you will continue to allow your citizens to make memories within your boundaries and you will certainly continue to prove you’re one of Canada’s best kept secrets, and I’m always waiting for the secret to get out. A part of me wants to so I can stop defending you; and a part of me doesn’t because it’s Edmonton’s locals that have created the culture of this city. And it’s a culture of belonging, community, togetherness, bonding through Oilers wins and Oilers losses, of complaining about the weather, of going for a river valley run and passing someone else doing the same while you both give one another a friendly head nod that seems to say, “We are both Edmontonians today, going for a run in our river valley, one of the best-ever places to go for a run.” This is who you are, Edmonton. And this is who you’ve made me. And we have each other to thank for what the last nine years have brought.
I am sorry then, to tell you with a heavy heart, that I have to leave.
I think of the life I’ve created with you and how meaningful it’s been to be here. For years of my life, I’ve woken up in simple disbelief that I ever managed to go this far and make it to the ‘big city’. I was naïve then, but I still try my best not to take for granted how much I’ve loved every minute of being here, even when I didn’t; even when I was pushing my way through deep, impenetrable snow banks and it was -44 with wind chill and no pair of winter boots could ever be warm enough. Even when non-Edmontonians broke my heart. Even when the Oilers lost. And lost. And lost again. Despite pitfalls and emotional roller coasters, life just kept getting better for me here, and I’ve bettered myself. Because of how much I love you.
But now, I am leaving. I am moving west, like all great literary characters do. Moving west was not an easy decision for me. I will confess that it was at first. I wanted to leave you. And not because of you, but because I’ve begun to realize that I’m the kind of person who doesn’t like to stay in the same place for too long. Everything starts looking and tasting and feeling the same. I’m non-committal. Moving west is a part of my lack of commitment. I’ve wanted to move westward for a long time.
But lately, something happened. I made the decision to leave Edmonton; I even booked movers, picked dates, and I’ve been working out the complicated logistics of transporting a very stressed indoor cat by car, plane and sky train to my final destination. All this started happening and I realized something valuable: I like my life here.
I like waking up in the morning, throwing open my ugly hotel room curtains (I live in a hotel – yes, I do – and kept the curtains up), and seeing the Crowne Plaza, sections of the burgeoning downtown on one side, and the ever-present, strong silent North Saskatchewan on the other. I love seeing rooftops and tree tops and river bends and cars and runners and all things Edmonton from my eleventh-storey window. I like walking to work in the morning and seeing people I don’t know but feel like I should, since I see them every day. I like coming into work and seeing the friendly Edmontonians I work with, and chatting with them about Edmontonian things. I like knowing that we’re a major shopping destination. Because I’m a shopper, and so that works out really well for me. I like triumphant runs across the High Level Bridge at sunset, feeling bathed in this immense, almost holy sky that is so full of tones of amber, marmalade, pale violets and soft crimsons and dusky roses. The sunsets are my favourite part of you, Edmonton. I’m from the mountains and when I moved to the prairies and saw an Edmonton sunset for the first time, I was absolutely in awe at just how incredibly magical it is to be able to look out and see the slow decline of the day spread like wings across the whole horizon. I like my very own 600 square feet. I like sitting on my balcony with my laptop letting the summer breeze cascade across my feet. I like smelling the 104 St. farmers’ market on summertime Saturday mornings. I like ordering a pint of Yellowhead on weekends like it ain’t no thing. Life in Edmonton, is beautiful.
I think disliking your life is a terrible reason to move onto the next one; I think loving your life is also a terrible reason to move onto the next one. But I think liking your life, and then moving on, is the time to do it; you’re not running away, you’re not completely satisfied. Rather, you’re satiated. You have something you could love and cherish and come back to if need-be. You have just enough unfinished business, just enough stones under which you have not peered. And yet, you’ve already achieved so much. In the immortal words of Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie: “And if you feel just like a tourist in the city you were born, then it’s time to go.”
So Edmonton, let me just finish by saying truly, how much I love you. And let me say how much I owe you for what you’ve given me: a sense of belonging, of accomplishment, friendships, community, familiarity, first loves, amazing feelings of joy, incredible feelings of sorrow, and some of the best memories a girl in her mid-twenties has ever had in the history of girls in their twenties. You’re more than a city. You’re a family. And you’re beautiful. Don’t let anyone tell you differently. When I move on very soon and we leave one another, just remember that it’s not you; it’s me.