Sunsets and Skyscrapers


There is a photo on my desk that people often ask about.  It’s a photo of a young, tall blonde boy, barechested in low-slung jeans and hiking boots, wearing leather cuff bracelets and a bear-tooth on a thong around his neck, playing guitar, his hair hanging in his eyes.

Most of my boyfriends get very jealous and weird when they see it.

But have you ever been lucky enough to meet someone who was able to show you an upside-down view of the world and make you a better person for it?  That’s what Tim was to me.  I keep his photo there not as a tribute to our relationship, but to remind me of the freedom he helped me find.  I believe that people show up in your life when you need them.  Tim was one of those people.  I sometimes wonder if he was even really real.

I was 24.  Working two jobs.  Sleeping…rarely.  A pre-med student specializing in neuroscience, planning to undertake four more years in a basement laboratory in order to: a) prove to myself that I wasn’t stupid; b) prove to my family that I wasn’t stupid; and c) hopefully, along the way, help others.

I wasn’t happy.  But I’d kind of given up on ‘happy.’

It was summer break, and my best friend and I were indulging in a rare night on the town.  We were stumbling up the hill toward our favourite alternative club, Birdland, when Keri grabbed my head and pointed it in his direction.  “Look at that guy!  He looks just like Leonardo DiCaprio!”

He and a friend, I would later learn was Darrell – also beautiful, with shoulder-length curly auburn hair – were busking with their guitars outside the Art College.

I was wasted.  I wanted to dance.  I could have cared less about Leonardo DiCaprio lookalikes.  But we went over and said hi.  And somehow ended up inviting them to join us at Birdland.  As we walked, we paired up – Keri with Darrell, leaving me to speak to Tim.

He was 20.  He had busked/hitched his way across the continent after spending time in the Mexican rainforests with nothing more than a tent, a blanket, a tin cup and a journal.

By the time we hit the club, Tim and I were in a full-out debate about life in general…and hours later, still at it.  We talked about the western part of the country that I had never seen.  He told me about the mountains I had never seen.  He belonged to another time – he was fresh air and earth, innocence and an old soul.

He moved in with me the next day.

That summer, this younger, much freer man drilled me about myself.  He was my mirror and I was his.  He had grown up the middle child in a middle-class family much like my own, but longed for more.  Unlike me, he had stopped trying to please others long ago.  He went out of his way, in fact, to test people.  In public, he deliberately acted like a jerk to try to offend people.  Later, we analysed one another and when I told him my impression was that he purposely tried to drive people away just to see if they would climb over his hurdles, he became pensive, and admitted I was the first one to ever point that out.  He constantly tested the limits of society.  I was fascinated by the strength of his sense of self; although alone, he was romantic and vulnerable.  When I asked about his travels, envious, “What colour are the Northern Lights?”, he paused for a moment, thinking, and then said, “They’re the same colour as your eyes – green and gold, with bits of blue.”

We read each other’s diaries.  We wrote in each other’s diaries.  He drove me nuts, because he would wake me in the morning, playing Velvet Underground songs on his guitar, singing at the top of his lungs, or he would storm out of bed, dragging the blankets with him.  When I followed, cold, with hands on hips, to demand what he was doing, he would laugh and hold his arms open, saying, “I just wanted to see if you would follow.”  He dug around in my apartment, scanning my bookshelves, pulling out long-abandoned paintings and demanding to know why they weren’t finished.


The moment that changed my life was the night we were heading out of town in my car, with friends in the backseat and Tim riding shotgun.  I was so used to the jaded ‘city’ mentality – keeping up with the Jones’, making fun of anything that wasn’t ‘hip’ and ‘of-the-moment’, that I didn’t get it when we drove past what was obviously someone of a very lower class – wacky wardrobe, slight stagger – and Tim muttered under his breath, “Oh – would you just look at that!”

A part of me shut down.  I was so disappointed in him.  I had thought he was above making fun of people for how they looked.  I shot him a glare from the driver’s seat and heaved a massive sigh.  He looked at me, mystified.  I began to explain my disappointment, when he said, “Come on – have you ever seen anything so beautiful?”

And I looked where he was pointing – and saw, beyond the skyscrapers, beyond the city skyline – the most gorgeous sunset, magenta and orange, filling the evening sky, that I had ever seen.  He hadn’t even noticed the person on the sidewalk.  That shame remains with me today.

He stayed with me for the summer.  His friend Darrell, after having a brief fling with my best friend Keri, headed off back to Alberta, but Tim decided to stay.  I was torn – I didn’t know how to resume my basement laboratory life with him in it.

He asked me to come back out west with him.  He said, in his middle-child-afraid-to-commit way, “We should get married on a mountaintop in the Rockies.”

I couldn’t.  I had responsibilities.  I was committed to finishing school.  I was a grownup.

One morning, I awoke in a blaze of sunshine and he was watching me.  He said, “I think today is a good day to hit the road.”  And I knew it was the right thing.  I was sad, but it was time.

So we said good-bye.

I’ve never really regretted not going with him…because Tim taught me to accept that there is a part of me that can never tow the line, resign to the status quo, be happy with city skylines.

A few weeks after he left, I covered my car with painted flowers.  And I did the drive west that we had talked about.

I finished my degree, but opted to defer grad studies.  I had things to do first.  I needed to see the Northern Lights for myself.  Now, I’m pursuing my art for real.

And you know?  The men who come into my life have nothing to fear.  That photo on my desk is not a symbol of my regret.  It’s a talisman, a reminder of who I really am – a reminder to look beyond the skyline and not lose her again in other people’s dreams.

Upside/Down In The Small Town

From the city...

From city... small town small town








I’ve been catching a crapload of crap from my nearest and dearest lately for leaving the City. 

You have to understand – I was a City girl all my life…even when I wasn’t a City girl.  Born in the City, raised in the boonies, I spent most of my teen years scratching the days into the wall of the cell my parents liked to call a bedroom, dreaming of returning to the City of my birth and never coming back. 

And boy, lemme tellya – the day I graduated, I hit the ground running.  I was 17 and on my own – WOO HOO!  (Well, unless you count Student Aid…but that’s a whole ‘nother story altogether – one that involves numerous undercover identities, artificial accents when answering the telephone, and a possible future one-way trip to Mexico.  Because imagine my delight when I discovered you could get financial assistance from the government to study acting! )  Oh, yeah – I held the world in my hand, I did.

So I moved to the City.  And there I took root, made friends, got a fabulous – if convoluted – education, found love, partied HARD.  Until one day, those roots were torn up (by – what else – a guy) and I was whisked away on a cross-Canada adventure that wound up landing me, like a backward Dorothy, back in my hometown.

Well, after an adjustment period that only took about, oh, five years or so, it turns out I kinda dig it here!  Colour me stunned. 

Now I’m gonna tell you why and you’re all gonna stop bugging my ass about it, ‘kay?  Listen up.

Living in a small town:


UPSIDE:   Traffic – the lack thereof.  With the exception of the 10 minute period around the shift changes at the local tire factory (yeah, I know…see ‘Downsides’ below), you can run out to the store to buy chips and be back before the ads are over.  With gas prices the way they are and my patience being what it is, this one really rocks!  I mean it.  Last time I was in the City, it took me 45 minutes to get from the highway to my friend’s house four streets over.  I was transformed into a 5-foot-tall bucket of road rage in a peasant blouse…which really fucked with my whole granola persona.  Nothing pisses me off more than letting myself get pissed off.

DOWNSIDE:  Yeah, no – there really is no downside to this one.  Sorry, I tried. 


DOWNSIDE:  No fancy, expensive hair salons.

UPSIDE:  The first time I got a haircut here, I was really nervous…though it’s only hair, a renewable resource and all that…I wasn’t sure what to expect.  But…I was thrilled with the result and went to pay, pulling out my credit cards, not caring how many years it would take me to pay it off because I looked so damn fine.  Guess how much?  Come on, seriously, guess.  ELEVEN DOLLARS.  *stupified gaping stare*  I was expecting something like three hundred, like I paid in the City.  The poor hairdresser kept trying to give me back the change from the fifty I gave her because I was so friggin’ thrilled at the bargain I was getting.  It totally made both of our days.


DOWNSIDE:  People here have never heard of organic produce.

UPSIDE:  That’s because it’s ALL organic!  I buy my produce at a local farm market, where 10 bucks gets you a carload (I am NOT kidding) of the most delicious, pesticide/herbicide-free fruits and veggies you’ve ever tasted.  And the family that run the farm are super-nice.  When I was there yesterday, they were giving out slices of watermelon for the road.  Who does that???  And I buy my eggs for 2 bucks a dozen from a lady who delivers TO MY DOOR.  Sometimes the eggs are still warm…from hens that I know for a FACT actually ARE runnin’ around happily in a yard, not cooped up beakless in a wire cage somewhere.  And you’ve never tasted eggs like these – they are like butter.  They’re responsible for making me the crappy vegan that I am. 


DOWNSIDE:  Fewer banks to choose from.

UPSIDE:  My bank serves cookies.  Every day.  I kid you not.  And coffee.  Free.  On warm days, it’s lemonade.  On busy days, like pension-cheque day, they get fancy with little petit-fours from the local bakery.  And they put all this on a long table that runs alongside where people line up, so you don’t even have to go out of your way for a treat. 

It’s also pretty sweet that when you lose your bank card (okay, when I lose my bank card), I don’t even need to show ID to get a new one, because they already know who I am (and not just because of my student loans).


DOWNSIDE:  My best friends’ boxy, white, but very expensive apartments are very, very far away.

UPSIDE:  I have a charming flat in an old Victorian mansion, with a fireplace, hardwood floors, bay windows, a deck overlooking the water, free parking, a huge garden-filled yard with an old-wood forest in back that is full of amazing wildlife, where I am allowed to paint the walls any colour I please and have as many pets as I want.  All this for less than I paid for a bug-infested room 20 years ago as a student in the City.  And I was only required to sign a one-year lease (“Just until we get to know each other,” my landlord shrugged as I signed).  That lease expired two years ago and I’ve never been asked to sign anything since.  

The view from my deck

The view from my deck


DOWNSIDE:  Everyone knows everyone.  You can’t sneeze without everyone knowing about it.

UPSIDE:  Everyone knows everyone.  You don’t screw with people, ’cause they know where you live.  (And if they don’t, their uncle/cousin/mother’s minister’s niece does.)  This has a direct effect on the crime rate – people don’t lock their cars or their doors around here and my bike has been sitting on my deck for months, unlocked.  I had four bicycles stolen when I was in the City.  (Though seeing that in writing kind of makes me embarassed to admit that.  Perhaps I should have reconsidered my security measures a little harder…but anyway.  Shut up.)


DOWNSIDE:  There is nothing to spend your money on.  Restaurants are all dark by 9 pm.  I have to drive at least 100 km to get a stinking falafel. 

UPSIDE:  There is nothing to spend your money on.  And this means your cost of living is waaaay less.  Your car breaks down?  Dude up the street’ll fix it at a discount and tax-free…if you pay cash and don’t need a receipt – “Just the right amount to take the missus out tonight for fish and chips like she wanted.”  That is, of course, if buddy next door hasn’t already noticed the car was making a funny sound when you drove it in last night and took it upon himself to ‘take a look’ this morning before you got up.


DOWNSIDE:  All the men in town with jobs seem to work at the tire plant.

UPSIDE:  Cheap winter tires.  Duh.


DOWNSIDE:  You have to get your car rust-checked more often, because of ALL.  THE.  FRESH.  SALT.  AIR.  (Yeah.  Bummer.)

UPSIDE:  Do I need to say it?  *sigh*  Alright.  BEACH!!!!!  Right over there!!!  (And there is so much OXYGEN!  I had no idea that air could taste so good!  I didn’t even realize I’d been breathing smog ’til I moved away!)


DOWNSIDE:  The town is so smaaaaalllllllll!  There’s nothing to it!

UPSIDE:  You can walk anywhere you want in 20 minutes or less.  Don’t wanna walk?  Six bucks’ll get you a cab ride anywhere within town limits.  That includes the tip.


DOWNSIDE:  Hardly any metered parking.

UPSIDE:  That’s because there are huge FREE parking lots everywhere you look!  In the City, I paid damn near as much for parking as my hourly wages.  Which meant, most of the time, leaving the car at home and taking *ugh* public transportation.


DOWNSIDE:  The nightlife/club scene?  BAAAHHAhhahaaaahahaahaa!!!  Country music and tube tops.  ‘Nuff said.

UPSIDE:  The night life.  Stars.  You can actually see stars at night.  Swear to god.  When I first came back here, I would stand for hours like a mouth-breather in the middle of my yard staring up at the sky going, “But…what are those tiny lights in the distance?  They seem familiar somehow, yet….”



So yeah, okay – I miss ethnic food.  I miss racial diversity.  I miss art, films, dance, music that isn’t karaoke.  I miss my City friends.  God, I really miss the food…did I mention the falafel situation?

But the point is – suck it up, guys.  I’m not coming back to the City until you all stop whining about your outrageous rents, the traffic and the noise.

Of course, a girl’s gotta get her ya-yas out from time to time and the City really is only an hour away, so I am encouraging all of you to remain there so I have a place to crash when said ya-yas come callin’.  Please have falafels and blender drinks ready.

I have to go eat cookies do some banking now.

Published in: on August 26, 2008 at 12:11 pm  Leave a Comment  
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