Started from the bottom now I’m here (and back again): the first week
Don’t know how to feel. Tossed and turned most of last night – not sure if nerves or excitement or both. Mildly nauseous as we hurtle through windy roads outside of Glasgow towards the airport, but that could be the full Scottish. Say goodbye to parents before security. Dad in tears, mum in tears. I’m in tears. Get some real funny looks off the security officer. “Cheer up, love,” he consoles. “Any liquids?”
Glance out of the window somewhere over Greenland and am amazed at the sight below me. Never seen it so clear – giant dark mountains with razor-sharp edges, icy rivers of water winding between. It’s almost too bright to stare for long but I hold the view as long as it lasts. Land into Toronto Pearson (only a little late) with Fleetwood Mac blasting into my ears. You can go your own way. Can’t knock the grin on my face.
Grin fades when I see the size of the immigration line. Start to panic – what if I’ve forgotten something? What if they send me home? Everyone ahead of me sees to have a binder full of their entire life histories. I have four pieces of paper. By the time I reach the front of the line, most of the panic has been overtaken in my brain by persistent backache and mild dehydration. Work permit in one hand, passport in the other, I go on a hunt for my luggage which has ended up in a quiet corner of reclaim during the two hours I’ve been in immigration. ‘Bout time, they seem to say. I kiss goodbye to a handful of cash and opt for a taxi. The rain doesn’t dampen the view coming into the city, the CN Tower rising above the skyline as we hurtle down the Express. Mentally revise my earlier plan to learn to drive in Toronto.
I wake up early, predictably. Laze around a while and then take a walk around the block. My feet slow on the junction of Yonge and Queen. My head turned up to the skyscrapers, I swallow. Made it here. Now what?
Have struck up a fast friendship with one of my roommates, recently moved to Toronto from Vancouver. We end up in a British-themed pub for dinner but I don’t mind – the company’s nice. We commiserate over the rental market in downtown Toronto and manage not to get lost. Feels like an accomplishment.
Meet a friend from university for brunch. Toronto feels friendly at the best of times, but no more so than sitting across from someone I know so well in a place that is, as yet, unfamiliar to me. We walk down the middle of Bloor, pedestrianised for part of the day, and I smile. I may be a little lost here yet – but there’s nowhere I’d rather get lost than Toronto.
Despite previous night’s conversation, have my first real experience of just how tough finding a room in this city is. Attend a busy house viewing and realise I don’t stand a chance, not least without a credit score or a job. Gulp. Go to bed with a headache.
Clock out from responsibilities for the day. It’s cloudy but the beach is pleasant – predatory seagulls aside. Meet roommate for dinner and am again grateful to have someone in the same boat as me.
Remind self to get on with adult responsibilities. Make an appointment at the bank and get a social insurance number. Tick, tick. Reward self with over-priced fresh orange juice from the mall. Free dinner at the hostel and lose spectacularly at trivia night. Half a bottle of wine later and have booked tickets to see Drake tomorrow with roommate.
Don’t regret the tickets – we’re excited all day. Makes bank trip and other errands more bearable. Crash out mid-afternoon and watch videos of Justin Trudeau for a while. FaceTime with my family and feel my heart swell. Even so far away, they feel close – it’s comforting. “I can smell her perfume,” says my niece, leaning close to the screen. Heart bursts into a million pieces.
Rock up to a volunteer induction meeting in full glam ready for the show later. They’re a friendly bunch and no one questions it. The movie theatre is old-school and nostalgic in the best way and I instantly feel at home. Meet roommate outside Scotiabank Arena. Drake puts on a show – O barely blink for two hours between the production value and the energy the man himself exerts, bounding this way and that across the stage without missing a beat. Seems fitting to see him here, now, like this. “This is how the world should be,” he says of Toronto. Only been here five days, but I agree. He says to love those we came out to the show with, be they family or a best friend. Roommate and I scream and hug each other. Only known each other five days, but we agree.
Think a lot over the coming days about why I chose to move. It’s a question I’ve had a lot since I got here, frequently from locals. For a change of scenery, I say. For work and the opportunities I can get out here. By chance – applying for the visa wasn’t a mediated decision, it was just taking a chance on something. Sometimes I add, with a light laugh, “well, the U.K.’s kind of on fire right now so I thought I’d leave them to it for a while.” I laugh but it’s not exactly untrue.
But my head’s not there as we head out of the arena – I’m too busy thinking about the fact that I saw Drake in the very city where he started. We buy t-shirts (of course) and set up a photoshoot in the hostel kitchen (of course). We eat cookies until one o’clock in the morning and call it a night.
Sleep in. Trek around the city to view more apartments. No luck yet.
Rest of the hostel room is up and about and off by mid-morning. Roommate and I set up in our bunks, half-working, half-watching Youtube. Pull ourselves outside for lunch and return to our bunks.
Our room bathroom isn’t equipped for three of us trying to get ready at once. We laugh, working around each other, eyeshadow and straighteners and perfume flying this way and that. Pile into a cab – me, roommate and a girl from our dorm who’s just visiting. Didn’t even know what Hawaiian food was until tonight but it’s incredible. We sip cocktails out of coconuts but we don’t need to pretend we’re on a tropical beach – Toronto’s enough for us. Back towards the east to Drake One Fifty. A few drinks down and we’re ready for late night truffle butter fries. Cram into the photobooth before we leave and then it’s out into the Toronto night.
I look up at the skyscrapers as we walk east on King. “All my life, I’ve dreamed of living in a city with buildings like this,” I admit. It’s only been a week. It feels much longer and yet it’s so little time. The city is already such a huge part of me. It’s a city that makes you want to fight to stay, even at the hardest times.
The inevitable slump. Roommate heads back west to wait out paperwork processing. Dorm is quiet without her. It’s overcast but humid and sticky as I head this way and that to more viewings. Find a great room and don’t get it. Lovely dinner with another friend from university but late nights and stress have caught up to me. End up curled into the corner of one of the public washroom cubicles on the third floor silently screaming and staving off a panic attack. In six days, I’d have nowhere to live. Friends back home all asleep or drunk, can’t call them. Can’t let parents worry. Calm self down after a time and hike back up to the ninth floor. Curl up into my bunk and force myself to sleep. Booked a shoot tomorrow – it’ll be good to get back to work, if only for the distraction.