Writing about Toronto is hard. I haven't written about it much since getting back from my trip there back in October because—and I don't really care how dramatic this sounds—it all feels so raw. When I got to Toronto, within a day, it just felt like home. It has been six months, and I'm still struggling to describe the feeling beyond that. I wanted to live and die in this city. I fell deeply in love—fucking head over heels in love—with a damned city. I could talk about the density, the public transit, the people, the streets, the nature parks…but after thinking and writing privately about it for all this time, all that really feels like after-the-fact reasoning. Toronto felt like home in some wordless way.
When my plane started taking off to leave, I started weeping and sobbing. It felt like a break-up—one of those raw break-ups where you're still madly in love but you have to break up for reasons that are real but still feel like bullshit. I have been grieving Toronto for months. I sometimes find myself lost completely in thought, remembering some powerful sensory flashbulb moment—the tickle of a honey bee landing on my arm, the slight breeze of a streetcar going by, the taste of a Tim Horton's old-fashioned on my tongue, that feeling of motion as the train pulled out of the station—and I genuinely have to swallow a little to resolve the catch in my throat. I follow lots of photographers from the greater Toronto area on Flickr, and when I see photos from Toronto it feels like looking at an ex's Instagram feed. Toronto seems happy. She seems like she's in a good place. I wish I could move on.
I routinely berate myself for feeling like this. I was only in Toronto for a week. As Allyson sometimes reminds me, I was there on vacation, so I don't know how it would feel to be living there and working there, but when I sit at my desk in my open-plan office and I'm getting overwhelmed with the noise and the bustle, I catch myself imagining that when I glance out my window I'll see Queen Street instead of Second Avenue and that thought makes me smile a little. Why the fuck does the memory of Toronto make me feel this way? Why Toronto? Why am I feeling like this? Can I make it go away somehow? I live in Florida. My life and career are here. My wife's family is here. All of my roots are here. I'm forty goddamned years old. I've lived in Florida since I was six. Why doesn't this place feel like home? Why does a city nearly 2000 km away feel like home? I can't uproot my family. Why am I crying? Why am I still dreaming about walking around Toronto? What the fuck is wrong with me?
Writing about Toronto is hard. Feeling the way I feel about Toronto is hard. Sometimes in the morning, when I'm making my coffee, I stand in my living room and look at the large print of a photo I took of our hotel and the 504B street car in front of it, and I just feel this intense longing. Suddenly I remember walking down Queen to Darkhorse Espresso and reading the morning paper that was sitting out on the front table. I remember walking across the street to The Cannonball for a breakfast sandwich while Allyson slept a little longer. And then the realization that I might never be back there hits me, and I feel hollow. I feel homesick for a place I visited for a week. This makes no sense. Why does my heart feel like this?
In my dreams, I live in Toronto—maybe somewhere around Wellesley or Riverside. I commute to some job that I can't even be arsed to imagine properly via public transit. I always carry my camera in my bag, and I take street photos of the city, documenting the secret beauty and the moments that might otherwise pass quietly out of history. I photograph the street art in the alleys. In these idle imaginings, I am an unseen phantom, but here in reality, it’s Toronto and my longing for it that’s haunting me.
Writing about Toronto is hard because the heartache is still so raw six months later, and it makes so little sense. My grief leaves me feeling numb. I do my best not to remember because the memories make everything else seem unpleasantly grey here in Florida’s swamps and leave me dreaming of a home that was never mine.