Or following rules for that matter. There has also been, for most of my life, a deep feeling of restlessness followed by an unshakable feeling of loneliness – sometimes mild, and sometimes strong – that perhaps stems from never having deep roots to a single physical location.
Today I read something that hit home for me – wherever that home may be. I came across it randomly and unexpectedly, as most important things are found. One of my Facebook friends, Jesse Scott, wrote a brilliant post about life through the eyes of a “restless wanderer”. And I saw in it many of the qualities and thoughts that I have failed to put into words for myself.
I should know how to write about this.
I’m a journalist, after all. I describe emotions and circumstances like these for others, but when I try to describe what restlessness feels like for myself, my mind wanders. It’s ironic.
But I want to try very hard to do it here. And the best way I know how is to pursue Jesse’s idea of Home. He writes:
Spurred on by the notion that Home isn’t the place were I keep my possessions, but the place that beckons me with feelings of comfort and security, even if it doesn’t have an address. That place for me at this point in time is without walls or a roof. In this time where security is absent, we find comfort in ourselves instead of our surroundings. For me, Home is where the restless feeling subsides for a while.
I have had countless addresses. Many of them are blurs, some spanning over only a few weeks. But I believe the key to explaining myself lies in the cobweb-filled memories of these addresses. What they meant to me. And what they didn’t.
Address #1. San Salvador, El Salvador.
This is where I was born. But I didn’t stay there for long. It was perhaps appropriate to my nature that my parents uprooted me for a very exciting and very illegal journey north before I even had a chance to form memories.
My dad always told me that he married my mom under a tree. I learned years later that this was a nice way of saying that they fucked in the woods before they were married and had me by accident. They were both 18.
My grandmother took care of me while my parents tried to become adults very quickly. And the most adult thing they could think to do was to cross a border or two, to give me a fair shot at growing up and telling this story.
When I was two years old my parents passed me off to another family. I was to cross into the United States, and later into Canada as another family’s child. My parents had rougher journeys that involved multiple jail time and being piled into the trunks of cars. When I was 3, I arrived in Canada and was reunited with my mom. We had to wait for a long time for my dad to make it over to us. By the time I saw him again, I didn’t recognize or know who he was.
I don’t have clear memories of this time, so maybe it didn’t affect me. Or maybe I learned from before I could read that the only constant thing in this world was change. Different parents, different families, different homes, all before the age of 5. Maybe I learned to always keep moving.
Address #2. 8 Vendome Place, Unit 41.
Government housing. We lived in a very enclosed and very dangerous townhouse complex. This was the first childhood home I remember and I went through a stage where I always felt the need to mark my territory. I had stickers that said “Property of……”. I wrote my name on them and stuck them on everything. Our townhouse was white brick and by the back door I etched in crayon: VANESSA’S HOWSE. It was my first home.
But the restlessness didn’t subside. I spent very little time indoors. After my mom died, my dad wasn’t really aware of our existence. So I’d spend day after day exploring the neighbourhood with my sister. Kicking away used heroin needles to get to playground slides. Picking piss-smelling dandelions and thinking they were beautiful. I was happy as long as I was moving and discovering new places.
Address #3. 20 Carluke Crescent.
My dad remarried and we moved into an apartment. I had never lived in an apartment before and I found it suffocating. It was much smaller than our government housing townhouse complex, and I couldn’t understand why we were moving to LESS space instead of more. Asphyxiated, I would feel like the walls were closing in on me. But it didn’t take me long to find a new escape – my mind.
I’d lie on my bed and read obsessively. I’d get up in the middle of the night to read or write. I’d keep journals of all the places I wanted to be and the people that I wanted to meet. I planned my future – career, life, family. Hundreds of different paths. And it never really occurred to me that I wouldn’t have enough lifetimes to complete each one.
Address #4. Firgrove Crescent.
My parents bought a house in what was considered a shady area of Toronto – Jane and Finch. Moving back into a house was like a sigh of relief for my soul. And I again spent very little time in my room. It was during this time that I discovered biking. My boundaries became bigger, and I’d ride my bike with the same awe and exploratory spirit that I had in Vendome Place. The world was mine to discover, and there was nowhere that I couldn’t go.
Address #5. Mendoza, Argentina.
After my parents were separated and later divorced, Firgrove was no longer a place I wanted to come back to. So I got married and left the country to live in Argentina. Just like that. At no point did I feel any stress about uprooting and starting a completely new life. On the contrary, I was excited. And I was finally traveling, just like I had always wanted to.
Argentina for me turned out to be a tiny oppressive room from where I could barely leave. It meant never being able to go anywhere alone. And being married meant submission and obedience and following rules. I lasted three months.
Address #6. Hotels.
I didn’t have a home to go to when I came back to Toronto from Argentina. So I stayed at various hotels and moved around until I could gather my thoughts. Moving for me was what kept me focused. I could see a goal ahead as long as I wasn’t standing still.
Address #7. Etobicoke, Maria Diaz’s house.
There was an old church lady that let me stay in her spare room for very little rent. I didn’t have much choice at the time, so I moved myself in. Her apartment smelled like a putrid blend of cinnamon and despair. She was a miserable lady.
My room was not anywhere I should have been expected to stay. It was like asking a wild animal to live in a closet. But she resented my restless nature and felt it was improper for a young lady to move around so much. So I left.
Address #8. Etobicoke, Wilton Drive.
I didn’t know the old lady I rented this room from, but she seemed nice and I wanted to immediately leave the Diaz home. So I moved in. There was another girl who rented another bedroom from her – a morbidly obese girl from the Philippines. She had a dead end job and no social life, much like the old lady herself. So they were good friends.
For a few months I was confused about why they seemed to hate me so much. Then one day the old lady snapped and spoke her mind. She wanted me to be home for dinner. To talk to her about my shit. To spend entire weekends with her like Fat Girl. So I split.
Address #9. Landsdowne & Bloor.
This is the kind of intersection where you can buy drugs as soon as you step off the subway. It’s dark and dirty and people are afraid to go there at night. The room I rented was a retrofitted house. There were 8 bedrooms and only one bathroom. The other tenants were mostly drug dealers and pimps, very mobile individuals. I was the only girl.
I remember that in the winter I would freeze and in the summer I would scorch to death. I also remember people being horrified when they found out where I lived. But for the first time I didn’t have a single soul breathing down my neck. I could come and go as a pleased. And I mostly wanted to go.
I practically lived on my bike during this time. I would wake up in the middle of the night and pedal like a mad woman down to the lake – where all the roads would end. I’d dip my feet in the water, or just lie on the grass for hours until daylight. There was no sense to my wanderings. I simply went where I wanted, when I wanted. And life was good.
I quickly learned not to talk about my adventures, which were constantly met by shock and horror. It wasn’t fit for a woman to crave wandering in shady neighbourhoods at night. To hop fences and dip under bridges. People felt that I should have been more afraid. But fear was never really my style.
I soon developed an extensive inventory of secret places and wonderful memories of spots that became all my own. Places I visited by myself. And corners where, had I died there, my body to this day would still be undiscovered.
Address #10. 78 Pembroke Street.
By no means an attractive residential area, but I always bless this place because it was where I first started to run. In the heart of downtown, I would very literally leap over sleeping bums on the street at 5am. I’d run through the big business districts and never see them so empty. Running made me feel like the entire city was my playground. Exhilaration is probably the closest word to describe what I felt.
Address #11. Yonge/Sheppard.
This is where I live now. It’s the first nice place that I’ve ever lived in, and the first home I have ever owned. It’s an amazing location. Close to the subway and some decent green space nearby. But what sold me on it was the view. Floor to ceiling windows along the entire back wall. Winter or summer, I feel like I’m outside.
I’ve tried to build my nest here. For the first time, I’ve painted walls. Bought furniture. Worked to make my space welcoming and liveable to all.
But I still crave the outdoors. I often miss the wind (cold or hot) blowing through my hair. Rain against my face. Mud between my toes. I think this is why I run barefoot in the woods like a crazy person. I still look for secret spots. I still wake up in the middle of the night to write about my travels (see: this post).
When I’m in the woods, I can be in completely unknown surroundings and still feel like I’m home. A tree will always be a tree. Earth and ground and sky – these are the constants in my life. Snow and rain and sunshine are recurring events that I can count on year after year. My traditions are the passing of time. The changing of seasons.
And like these things, I am always just passing through.