As of today, I have lived in Canada for four years.
Before you ask, I’ve only been a Permanent Resident for a fraction of that time. I’m not a citizen, yet. I can’t vote here. I’m still getting used to the idea of parliamentary democracy, although I’m fascinated by the idea that there’s such a thing as a vote of non-confidence. As Jon Stewart said: “You guys can do that?!”
The person who sat at this desk four years ago to tell her friends and family that she’d landed here okay is much different from the one sitting at the desk now. I consider that a good thing. That other person was not okay — she was depleted, wrecked, hollowed-out. I had endured a moment not unlike a psychotic break, only I was painfully aware of every second of it. My first days in Canada — my first months, let’s be honest — were spent mostly in a little ball on the couch, watching broadcasts in languages I’d have to pay a premium for in the States. (Hindi movies! Chinese wu xia dramas! French cooking shows! And a lot of decorating programs in English!) At the time, I had no concept of how my life was going to change. I had no idea that three thousand miles was exactly how far I would have to travel to find exactly what I needed.
When I used to tell people I was American, they would blink twice and say: “Really? You’d never know.” Then I would tell them I was from Seattle, and they said: “Oh, so you were Canadian all along.” This year I went back to Los Angeles and saw the hospital where I was born, and the first homes my parents lived in just afterward, each situated close to the house where my mother and all her siblings grew up. “People used to stop on the street and tell you how cute you were,” my mother said. “Not much has changed,” my husband said. This year was his first visit to California. This year was the first time he saw the Pacific.
This year I also did a quintessentially Canadian thing for the first time: I went skating. I held tight to my mother-in-law’s arm as she guided me across the pond. (It was a real pond, with real water under it, and real kids playing hockey on it.) She used to be a skating instructor once upon a time, so she knew how to be patient with my constant clinging. “The others are saying you’re very brave,” she told me. “I have no idea why,” I answered, and whimpered a little as I teetered momentarily.
They have been a dense four years. Denser than university, in their own way. Not better or worse, or even more exhausting, but thicker. My temper is, if possible, even shorter. My patience is diminished. The hurt and anxiety that filled me when I first came here has been replaced by anger, and occasionally (like when my friends get arrested and beaten, for example) that anger catapults me back to that moment when I first came here — completely exhausted but equally stubborn, determined to stay here and spite everyone who’d ever told me I didn’t really have the right, or that I was doing it all wrong or that I could have made it easier on myself if I’d just been a little nicer, a little meeker, a little more patient or calculating or insert-your-value-of-choice-here. I didn’t get here because I was brave, or clever or strong. Sometimes I’m still not sure how it happened. But I know it wasn’t because I was smooth, or charming, or unafraid, or even nice. I suspect it has more to do with giving up on my pride. In that respect, it was excellent training for a career in writing.
Speaking of which: back to work.