“Five Hundred Miles Away from Home”

It’s been a strange few weeks… Flood clean-up and damage control, mud everywhere, and the constant sound of machines at work as people cleaned out their flooded houses and apartments and trucks filled with ruined stuff overtook my neighbourhood. A week after the flood, I was back at work, shelving books, planning events, processing orders. Several people emailed the store and/or came in to see that we’d survived or to just escape the devastation a few blocks south and east. It was quite touching, how one single bookstore could mean so much to an entire community. Other stores were less lucky. A little place nearby, Tom’s Books, was destroyed. The pictures from Tom’s store were heartbreaking – all those books, some original editions from the 1800s, were completely wrecked. It occurred to me that this was the place I was supposed to go. Last summer, over drinks with some professors from the University of Calgary and some from my undergrad days at UWindsor, one of those profs from undergrad told me stories about my neighbourhood, who lived where when he was doing his MA here 20 years ago. He started describing this little bookshop in a basement, all the treasures he used to find there, but he couldn’t remember what it was called or where exactly it was, aside from the general location of 17th Ave & 4th St. That was the store. And I never got the chance to find it, to go in and look for treasure. Now it’s gone.

A few days after returning to work, I packed my bags and headed home. It had been a long time since I’d walked down Windsor’s streets or drank a cup of strong coffee at my favourite downtown café. Sixteen months, to be exact. There’s something cathartic about going home, particularly after something like this flood. I had been planning the trip home for a while, booked my ticket a month in advance, but after the flood, it became that much more important. I needed to get away from this place, this mud and mold and the smell, the constant (digital) cries for help. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to participate in the cleanup, because I did. I just needed to get out of here, go back to a place that makes sense. So, on July 2nd, I got on a plane and I went home.

Flying out over Lake St. Clair.
Flying out over Lake St. Clair.

It was a short trip – a little more than a week, when you don’t count the traveling days. But so worth it. For that week, everything made sense again. I spent a lot of time just sitting outside, breathing in the humid air and feeling the rain, and fitting the puzzle pieces together in my head. I had been so homesick lately that I worried I wouldn’t be able to force myself back on the plane to Calgary. I considered just moving home, where I know people, where everything is easy to find and I can see my family whenever I want, but that’s the easy answer. The impractical, easy solution to a problem that doesn’t have any practical easy solutions. Going home was exactly what I needed because it made me see that I can’t just move back there. It isn’t practical – there are no jobs. By the time I got on the Calgary-bound plane, I had a plan, and a wider search field for meaningful employment. I love the store where I work – don’t get me wrong. I’ve learned a lot, not just about the publishing industry and writing culture here, but also about myself and what kind of worker I am. A lot of that is from my dad, however unintentional the lesson might have been. He worked steady midnights at Chrysler for many years when I was in school, and the only time I saw him was in the morning, when he came home from work. He’d drive me to school, and then go home and eat dinner at 8 in the morning, and he’d be sleeping before I got home again. He rarely took a day off, even when he was sick. It wasn’t always a fun job for him, and he didn’t always look forward to going to work, but because he did, we had a house and food and clothes, and we took a few vacations. He always said he wanted me and my sister to have more than what he had. Not in terms of possessions, but just in life. He wanted us to go to school, to get good jobs, to be able to fend for ourselves. I like my job, and I take it seriously, but there are days when I just don’t want to go, for whatever reason. Sometimes because I’m sick, sometimes because I worked late the night before and just don’t have the energy to get up early and open the store. But I go anyway because people are counting on me, and I get the work done. That’s the kind of worker I am.

Anyway. It was nice to be home, and to get a little perspective. I also got to see some friends I haven’t talked to lately, which is always fun. And as a bonus, I learned that I have a stalker. Not a real one, not the kind that requires police intervention. While out for coffee one night, the friend I was with mentioned that she’s been stalking me for a while, and has read all of my blog posts. That’s the kind of stalking I can totally get behind (and am totally guilty of myself). I mention that because the next post would make absolutely no sense without that bit of context.

It was nice to go home, but it’s also nice to be back in Calgary. I went to Stampede the day after I got back, which seemed very appropriate. I’m not a big ride person, and I don’t play the carnival games or eat the carnival food, but I like Stampede anyway. It reminds me of why I fell in love with Alberta in the first place – jeans and cowboy boots and country music and that western culture. And horses. Last year, there was a horse who loved me so much, he kept sucking on my shirt and dumping his water bucket on my legs. This year, there was Ace, a beautiful, enormous, 7-year-old Belgian horse who was so incredible. I could have just looked at him for hours. He was standing near the back of his cage and I just started talking to him (yeah, I know what you’re all thinking – Stampede means animal cruelty and it’s horrible to keep these beautiful creatures in cages, etc. I see all your angry postings on Facebook). He came up and let me pet him, but shied away when other people tried to touch him. He kept trying to jam his face through the bars so I could pet more of him – his head, his ears, his jaw. This horse was so incredibly beautiful. And I find it kind of hilarious because most animals hate me. They run when they see me coming. Horses, however, love me. Which is awesome. So I go to Stampede to see the horses, which seems appropriate. Knowing me, I’ll never be one of those people who saves up to buy a house in the suburbs with a little dog – I’ll be the one saving up for an old farmhouse in the middle of nowhere, with a big old veranda and a red barn, and a really big horse. Jeans and cowboy boots will, of course, be required clothing upon visiting said house.

Teepee at Stampede.
Teepee at Stampede.
Ace
Ace
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