A couple weeks ago, I noticed several thousand extra dollars in my bank account. For a split second, I thought maybe there’d been a happy accident, and wondered about ways to ethically keep the money. Then I realized it was actually mine, from the sale of my condo. I’d been so consumed with the hateful task of moving that I’d forgotten this detail!
Even though I’ve been waiting for this sale a long time, I was also really sad to leave my apartment. Not only did I love the neighbourhood, this was home during an assortment of personal ups and downs, a career change, and several travel adventures. Fortunately, the new owner seems excited to be taking over, and I hope she makes great memories there.
But speaking of memories, this whole process got me thinking about how everywhere I’ve lived has been a backdrop to significant events. Below are some examples, and maybe my list will invite you think through your own “if these walls could talk” moments.
510 7 Avenue: My first address was, among other things, where I first became a big sister, and where I first had to consider death – I still remember the phone call my family received when my younger cousin passed away after an accident.
715 7 Avenue: In my hometown, many people lived in company housing. So, the first time I moved it’s because my dad got a promotion, and a “supervisor’s house” to go with it. I was 7, and was allowed to choose decor for my room. I picked pink and white wallpaper, and a lot of unicorns. I remember the excitement of it going up, and the frustration of trying to tear it down a few years later.
Holly’s house: When my parents separated, my mom struck a deal with a woman named Holly. We’d rent Holly’s house and much of her furniture, because she was experimenting with living on an acreage – in a converted grain bin. She was one of the first serious examples I saw of someone doing their own thing without giving a damn about what people thought. But granary living didn’t last very long, and we had to move again when Holly came back into town.
The trailer: My mom’s employer also had company housing: exactly one mobile home. Its carpeted bathroom, flimsy walls, and many ant colonies were a humbling experience. I was at my prime here as a moody, selfish teenager…and made my feelings about the trailer very clear. As an adult, I’ve felt awful about how difficult I must have made that period on my mom.
Mr. Chichak’s house: Another thing about our town was that people often referred to houses by a previous owner’s name. And when my mom was able to buy into the real estate market, she bought a house from my math teacher, Mr. Chichak. From this house, I was only a few doors away from my best friend; we walked to and from school together every day, and “downtown” in our spare time – a trip that could have taken 20 minutes but always stretched into hours.
715 7 Avenue: If you noticed this address on the list twice, good eye! By the late 90s, the price of oil had fallen and employers sold their company houses to employees. My dad had bought his, but later decided to move to Grande Prairie. At that point, my mom sold Mr. Chichak’s house, and we returned to our old place. These years felt big: I was old enough to stay overnight alone; I learned to drive; I got a job at Subway; and I joined way too many extracurricular activities. I also felt pretty grown-up in my new basement bedroom, but was not so grown-up that I didn’t suffer consequences on the mornings when I tried to sneak downstairs without my mom realizing I hadn’t been home yet (I like to blame those nights on the women’s hockey team – I never got very good at puck handling, but I learned a bit about drinking.)
University residence: For the first couple years in university, I had rooms in the dorm-style buildings at UofC, and began to realize the range of different experiences people grow up with. Later, I moved into apartment-style residence and learned how to live with roommates – both the human kind and the mouse kind. Rodents aside, some of the people I met in these years became lifelong friends.
Exshaw Road: When one of my roommates and I finally left residence, we walked a few blocks east and signed a lease for the main floor of a house. We had a good feeling about the landlords who lived next door – and for good reason, as they came to treat us more like daughters than tenants. The house also had a basement suite, rented by a graduate student from Iran, his wife, and their young daughter. From them, I learned five-year-olds can scream really loudly no matter what country they come from, and there are a lot of ways to learn English, including by watching too much Barney.
Windsor Park: After university, I had a few months to spare before backpacking through Europe with a friend, and decided to spend the time with my much-older boyfriend. Here, I quickly realized that moving in with someone means you have nowhere to go when there’s a disagreement, and I began the long (ongoing) process of learning how to do conflict better.
My backpack: As I said in one of my first blog posts, I was terrified of backpacking. I was convinced I would get pickpocketed, or that someone would plant drugs on me. But neither of those things happened. And instead, I fell in love with eating gelato, seeing new places, and sounding out new languages. I also got a parasite, never did figure out maps, and became briefly trapped in a scanning machine at a nuclear plant.
Hammersmith: When I got tired of my backpack but didn’t want to go home, I lived and worked in London. I was lucky enough to live with fantastic flatmates from a variety of countries, but even luckier when my boss later needed a house-sitter at about the same time as the flat’s slumlord refused to fix an electrical socket that spouted water.
Back to Calgary: When I returned to Calgary, my dad, stepmom, and little sister had moved to the city. I stayed with them until finding an apartment downtown. During this time, my sister was 4, and hit me with a constant stream of amazing questions. From the downtown apartment, I started to acquire furniture, took on my first seriously stressful job, and became a regular at yoga (maybe not a coincidence). When my landlord decided to sell this place, I moved to the Kensington neighbourhood.
Gladstone Road: My modest little apartment in Kensington became home base for buying a car for the first time, getting through a breakup with the first person I seriously thought I’d marry, standing by as my stepdad was diagnosed with – and later beat – stage four cancer, and working way too much work during “Canada’s largest merger” (a phrase that can still spark a shudder). When I left Kensington in 2010, it was because I had bought my first home: the condo I’ve just moved out of.
It seems unbelievable that my condo was home for longer than anywhere else. And that’s not just about the quantity, but also the quality. I think the last decade has been the most difficult of life so far, but also the most transformative. As I try – and fail – to come up with a closing line about what comes next, all I’ve got are clichés. Honestly though, I’m hoping for something a little more settled and routine. We shall see.