Suzey Ingold

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A place to call home?

It doesn’t hit me until I’m standing in the hallway of a three-story, five-bed house in the Annex, flanked by an assortment of the house’s current roommates and two other twenty-something girls. These girls could be my twins, except they have one thing I don’t – a Canadian credit score.

And so it begins. That’s hurdle number one and, in all honesty, maybe not even the largest in the veritable Hunger Games that is the search for a rental in Toronto. I have memories of flat hunting back in the U.K. and none come even close to the time, energy, and money that I’ve already put into trying to find somewhere to live. (Spoiler alert: I’m still looking.) I remember piling into a taxi on a bitterly windy day in Edinburgh, some five and a half years ago, the three of us making frantic calls to parents as we raced down to the letting agent to sign the documents for our first flat. I remember the process being somewhat tedious and competitive, sure, but nothing like here. Or maybe it just seems easier in hindsight, cast with the favourable glow of times gone by.

Some days, I see one place. Some days, I see three. I see basements and high-rises, I see condos and beautiful little houses on leafy green streets. On average, I spend about forty minutes getting to and from one viewing. Of that, I’m inside the apartment for maybe five minutes – occasionally a little longer, much often less. I see good places and I see bad places. I see places that look like they’re owned by the Addams family. I see places I fall in love with straight away and suffer the heartbreak as heavy as any when I don’t get it. I construct Ikea flatpack in my mind as I fall asleep and think longingly of the day I can actually unpack.

I learn a few things along the way. I learn how to get rid of potential flatmates who want me to lie to their parents. I learn that “420 friendly” means “everything in this house smells of weed”. I learn that a den is a nice word for a walk-in wardrobe with a curtain that’s going for $1000 a month (plus utilities, of course). I become skeptical of anything that’s below $600 a month. I learn what areas to avoid and to search every address on the bed bug reporting website. 

I’m exhausted.

And then, comes a breakthrough. A thirteenth floor one bedroom, available for the whole of September. I cross my fingers and, a few days later, it’s mine. And I can breathe a little. 

Moving on up – bye, bye lovely HI Toronto 👋🏼

Moving on up – bye, bye lovely HI Toronto 👋🏼

I move out of the hostel. I have a night to fill before I can get my keys and Toronto is full to the brim – incoming students, Labour Day weekend, whatever it might be. I book an Airbnb and deposit the majority of my stuff with a generous friend in the city. (Note: this will become important.)

I pick up the keys to the Airbnb from friendly door-staff and trek up stairs with a few, smaller bags in tow. I’m already sweating from my cab ride across town and my backpack is etching marks into my shoulders. I turn the key in the lock and push the door.

Nothing.

I try again. And again. And again. My hands are raw and the key won’t budge any further. The building staff take a look. The super takes a look. The maintenance guy takes a look.

“Going to need a locksmith for that,” he says with a shrug. “Sometimes, they just go.”

I sit in an empty hallway for a while and stare at the wall. 

Okay.

Back downstairs, deposit the keys, text my host. (You see now, why it’s so important that I dropped most of my things with a friend?) Find a coffee shop, find a hotel. But every coffee shop in the near vicinity is filled to the brim with cosplay-clad figures for the Fan Expo nearby.

Right.

Onto the streetcar, back to the hostel. At least there’s wifi, there’s a seat for me for as long as I need it. Every hostel booked. Airbnb promptly shuttles me over a refund and an offer to help me find somewhere new. 

F*ck it.

I book myself into the cheapest available hotel for that night – which just happens to be right around the corner and one of the fanciest hotels in the city. It’s 1pm. Check-in is at 2pm. I smile. I reckon I deserve this one.

(In a few weeks’ time, I’ll look at my credit card statement and wince, but what’s done is done.)

A decadent night at the King Edward

A decadent night at the King Edward

I treat myself to a bubble bath, a glass of red wine, and starfish across a king-size bed in a monogrammed bathrobe. For a moment, I’ll pretend – just until the morning when I drag my bags over marbled floors and out of the hotel, scuffed trainers squeaking on the splendour. The staff don’t comment – I suspect they’ve decided I’d done an abrupt runner on a poorer-half, and I’m happy to leave them to their assumptions.

And so, up, up, up, to my thirteenth floor. I push past the part of my brain that wants to scream about the unlucky number. It’s a bed, and a home, with a kitchen and a bathroom that is entirely mine, for the next four weeks. I unpack, I buy groceries, I stare out over the skyline as night falls and the lights of the CN Tower etch into the darkness.

Apartment #1

Apartment #1

That was two weeks ago. In another two weeks, I’ll once again have nowhere to live. I’m exhausted. I’m disheartened. I think, more than once, whether this was all a mistake. But my body roots itself into the ground and disagrees. Difficult doesn’t mean impossible. Difficult means you keep going. And with every day, this city feels more and more like home, roots sinking in between the concrete and weaving into the fabric of the land. 

I couldn’t leave you so soon © Sara May

I couldn’t leave you so soon © Sara May

On Monday, I’ll have been here a month. It feels so much longer, every week stretching for months in my mind. I sit, tonight, a soft breeze coming in through the window into the stagnant heat of my bedroom. The CN Tower glows a reassuring blue in the distance, the shapes of the financial district spreading off to the east. Down below, closer by, I see figures in windows, I see cyclists zipping through dark streets under the cover of the trees. 

The flatpack will have to wait. The photos I brought from home remain tucked in an envelope in a drawer. Home is much more than four walls, anyway.

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Started from the bottom now I’m here (and back again): the first week

FRIDAY AM

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?” 

FRIDAY PM

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.

SATURDAY AM

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?

SATURDAY PM

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.

SUNDAY AM

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.

Bloor and Bedford (18/8/19)

Bloor and Bedford (18/8/19)

SUNDAY PM

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.

MONDAY

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.

TUESDAY

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. 

WEDNESDAY AM

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. 

WEDNESDAY PM

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. 

Drake @ Scotiabank Arena (18/08/22)

Drake @ Scotiabank Arena (18/08/22)

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.

Post-Drake photoshoot

Post-Drake photoshoot

THURSDAY

Sleep in. Trek around the city to view more apartments. No luck yet. 

FRIDAY AM

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.

FRIDAY PM

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.

Toronto at night (18/08/17)

Toronto at night (18/08/17)

SATURDAY

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.  

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