Everyone has “special places” in their lives that they think of during difficult times. I’ve felt displaced so often in the last year and a half, that finding those places again has felt like clinging to a cliff face desperately trying to keep a hold on some solid ground but constantly feeling like I’m falling. I haven’t felt ‘at home’ in a ‘place’ since I left Vancouver in the summer of 2015. It’s been a long road home since then; so long I don’t really know what “home”, or the concept of “home” really looks or feels like anymore. I’m just kind of floating through space and time wondering when that feeling of comfort will take me back in again from the rainy doorstep on which I stand.
But lately I’ve had the fortunate opportunity of visiting old places again. I’ve been back in areas of Edmonton where I used to live, the gym I used to hold a membership for, the apartments I once lived in, and everywhere I look in those places, I see ghosts of former homes that were once mine, lifetimes and lifetimes ago.
Some of those places include:
The Don Wheaton Y.M.C.A. In 2010-2011, I lost almost 80lb and actually, I have kept most of that weight off. The Don Wheaton YMCA was my first gym; it was the first time I had ever stepped onto a treadmill or a bike, the first time I had ever done a fitness class, the first time I ever realized that much of my potential, my efforts, my self-esteem could be so vastly planted and grown. And it was, in this building. Sometimes, despite that it’s a $15 drop-in fee, I’ll still choose to work out there.
The University of Alberta. I continuously tell my students that my years at University of Alberta were the absolute best five years of my life. University is so much more than just a great education; it’s diversity, truths, learning who you are, what you believe, how you think, how you cope, how to pick your poison, and how to (and how not to) fall in love and make friends. The U of A is so much more than just a school. It for me, was home. Haven. Safety. Fun. Adventure. Loss. Love. Stress. Rewards. Every building of that campus holds a significant memory for me; Wednesday and Tuesday RATT nights, where we tried to bribe the bartender to be on the regulars board (RATT was also where I had my horrid first-ever kiss); HUB mall where I would see my first love and chit-chat before class and I’d be blushing and trying not to make an idiot of myself the entire time; the Central Academic Building where I used to skip my introductory Anthropology class just so I could have lunch with three of my best friends from my floor; the Education building, where I also used to meet my friends twice a week for epic lunch dates with those epic, epic sandwiches; Biological Sciences, that ugly old hot mess of a building, the source of many of campus’ urban legends and stories and lore — before I ever even went to campus, I knew about Bio-Sci. And the one or two times I had to venture in there, I found much of the stories to be true, at least in a minor capacity. The University of Alberta was, is, and always will be a home for me. I wouldn’t be me, without the green and gold part of me.
Blackbyrd Myoozik. The first time I ever set foot in a record store, it was this one, back in 2005. I had $50 in the bank and spent $35 of that on “Cold Roses” on vinyl and I never regretted it. This object with its embossed gatefold cover, those shiny black grooves and sunset-coloured label. It was my first vinyl and obviously not my last. Whenever I’m on Whyte Avenue, I just enjoy spending time in this place. It is what I consider to be my first record store, one of the best record stores ever, and a staple of my Edmonton life and what ended up being my identity by the time my twenties were over.
My first real apartment. Back when my two friends and I first rented an apartment that wasn’t a residence, we all shared this reasonably sized, clean two-bedroom unit right behind Whyte Avenue with a balcony. It was $750/month, split three ways. In that apartment I discovered what it meant to ‘adult’ – to cook, to clean, to share, to compromise, to get annoyed with people you live with but love them anyway, to put up with shit, or not, and finally when I left I was ready to go because sometimes roommates and friends are different things and if you’d like to preserve the former, the latter has to be finished. I’m still friends (VERY close friends, actually) with the two friends I shared my first real apartment with.
O’Byrnes Irish Pub. Dancing, getting drunk, making out with sketchy randoms on New Year’s Eve, requesting lame songs from the 1970s and 80s, meeting a guy I went on a date with who never called me again, finding out about a friend of a friend’s illegitimate child while we all squealed about the amazing piece of gossip we’d just come upon, the bar where my sister and her husband had their first date, the bar where a former friend betrayed the shit out of me by going on a semi-kind of date with the guy who smashed the shit out of my heart, the bar where they have the most amazing fries and curry dip, the bar where I had my first Guiness, so many St. Patrick’s Days, Halloweens, birthdays, sing-alongs, random makeouts, wild nights that didn’t end until 3 a.m… O’Byrnes is the bar that for me, holds the most memories. In many ways, it was my Central Perk, by McLaren’s.