One night, a month before my move to Toronto, I found myself with six of my friends, lying flat against the weathered stone of our favourite high school hangout. The ashy smell of one friend’s cheap, Peter Jackson brand cigarettes lingered as we discussed the night sky blanketing us. “You know, Krista, when you move to that big city, you’re never going to see the stars.” This was a statement of reality, something I hadn’t heard from anyone else. A week later, I found myself with the small outline of a star tattooed on my wrist, a reminder of my hometown and high school friends.
Three years ago, I traded in the salty splash of the East Coast ocean for the smoggy sting of the city air. It was a fair trade that benefitted my education and potentially my new city wardrobe. After packing away 18 years of my life into two Rubbermaid containers and three cardboard boxes, I was ready for the city lights. As I watched my father, childhood best friend and high school boyfriend wedge the boxes of my life into the back of the pick-up, I had the bittersweet taste of a fresh start in my mouth.
I had experienced a lifetime of “baking” mud pies, circling family campfires in the backyard, and jumping off cliffs, plunging to the depths of the Atlantic. As I grew older, these activities were replaced with night drives along Lawrencetown Beach, drinking at an abandoned clearing beside the lake and spending humid summer nights treading water with my friends. I invested 18 years in the friendships, fishing shacks and wholesome waves of my seaside community, Eastern Passage.
I had also met my classmates and first boyfriend in this small town; my first kiss took place outside the front door of my elementary school, overlooking a rusted playground and busy soccer field. While I truly appreciated the familiarity of my town and fellow community members, I longed to discover a new city, to embed my east coast lifestyle in a much bigger, brighter location. I had discovered a sense of shelter in the frigid Atlantic, and in the company of my best friends and close family members.
Never having visited Ontario before, my family’s road trip to Toronto was filled with sightseeing, visiting distant cousins and the usual backseat arguments between me and my sister. “Are we there yet?” was questioned hourly before we had even left Nova Scotia. When we finally reached our destination, my mother, sister and I were intimidated by the billboards and tall buildings, whereas dad was intimidated by the high-speed driving and pedestrian-littered streets. They dropped me off at the university and hit those streets once again for a tear-filled journey back to Nova Scotia.
My first window view was of Toronto’s less glamorous district: “hooker Harvey’s” and the Gerrard/Jarvis intersection. It wasn’t exactly the CN Tower and the sky-scraping buildings of the west end, but one thing was certain–it was love at first sight. My first couple weeks were filled with acquainting with the city, introducing my small-town self to the boutiques along Queen West, the Jays’ games at the Rogers Center and how Toronto lingo popularizes abbreviating all words.
Friendly greetings at the corner store were replaced with stern glances outside the Eaton Centre, and I found myself enjoying the anonymity that lies within each subway station. This city dares you to be yourself without any passerby’s judgment, a change from the know-all community of my hometown.
It wasn’t long before I started craving sushi rather than fish and chips and would call home to tell my parents about my day in Chinatown. “Oh no, I’m not losing my little girl to that big city, am I?” my parents would ask. The question made me reminisce about summer nights at the beach, winter afternoons tobogganing and four-wheeling along bike paths, a nostalgia I’m certain my parents were trying their hardest to trigger.
It’s simple to see now that some things can’t be packed away into Rubbermaid boxes–things like backyard campfires with my family and memories of nights at the beach with my best friends. But as most students do, I found myself surrounded by even more close friends. I met new people with similar interest in the boutiques on Queen West, sports games at the ACC and Canadian Press Style in this new city. It was then that I realized despite my fishing community upbringing, I fit in with the subway stations and bright billboards throughout the city.
Some nights I look out my apartment window to admire the city painted in front of me. And if there is a single star that manages to outshine the CN Tower and neon lights, I am reminded of that night in Lawrencetown with my best friends. The lingering scent of Peter Jackson cigarettes and salt water is fresh in my mind, returning me to the family and fishing boats of Eastern Passage.