Stopping by the old neighborhood on a winter afternoon

I have a peculiar affection for Belsize Drive, here in the city.

It’s a residential street, longish as they go. Very pretty; just young and unkempt enough to avoid being too old and grand. Bisected for two long stretches, for some blissfully random reason, by parkland. Not an avenue — no bricks or plaques — just worn grassy centre strips where the locals walk dogs, bike with their kids, play touch football. I stood and watched them rescue a kitten from a tree, one afternoon.

In my decade in Toronto, I have always had the good fortune to live near enough that a walk down Belsize didn’t require excuse. The delicate wonder of this never quite wore off, not even in winter. There is a spot, on a hill just above it, where when the trees are leafless you can stand in the parking lot of an old church and look down on an entire vista of lovely, snug neighborhood streets below — my neighborhood. If I did not achieve all or even most of my dreams, at least I had found the best place possible to dream them in.

These are the sorts of things you think about, on your first real walk out after a) deciding to move away and b) being confined to bed for four days with a bad cold.

And as you look around you further realise… all those things that brought you here, caught your eye, that you’d mentally ticked off as having ‘done’ and over with… you haven’t actually done in awhile, have you? Here you are on Mount Pleasant Road for the umpty-squillionth time, and within a dozen yards are a bunch of things that you’ve been planning on ‘doing’ for some few years now. Little things, like that fish-and-chips shop supposed to be the best in the city, but still… Suddenly the entire urban landscape, familiar as Gramma’s wallpaper, springs to crisp, questioning life.

You start to understand that moving on may be more complicated than you thought. 

Then, of course, you get a grip. Remind yourself that while daydreams may be free and easy, achieving them in real life is emphatically neither of those things, not in the city anyway. That the best you’ve actually managed, in twelve years, is to hang onto a mid-level admin job — sometimes by the skin of your teeth — that just about affords you a nice apartment in a nice, practical location. If there is no longer a hill, there is at least a sunroom on the fourteenth floor.

I am a part of all that I have met. And I tell myself that I am not moving away from anything; I am moving towards the centre, physically and psychically, and from there experience can radiate out in any direction I want. If for no other reason than I will no longer be spending hours out of most days trapped on a highway commute.

But none of that changes the fact that when I next look down from the hill, what I see will no longer be mine.

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