Most of my life has been filled with great anxieties and fears.
In my final days of Montreal, I filled pages upon pages of my travel journal. This was partially due to the fact that my computer had crashed, but also because I was completely unable to sort out my mess of feelings. I loved Montreal. I hated Montreal. I wanted to go home. I never wanted to leave! My friends accused me of being manic. I cried with the frustration of nobody taking me seriously.
I came to Montreal for two reasons: 1) Because I had fallen in love with the city in 2011; and 2) I needed to challenge myself. For years I’ve been avoiding travelling to big cities alone. I’ve always needed a friend to rely on, or a link already there.
I’m not very brave. I’m anxious about 80% of the time. There are times when I don’t leave my house for days because I don’t want to deal with being in public. When I do step out, I haul on the hood and wear my darkest sunglasses. This might be a hard concept to visualize, as I’m one of the most social people going –- I thrive off of new relationships, and I could never live without a wide friends circle.
But I grew up in a small town, where I was once bullied and teased daily. There were no stoplights, never mind public transit. I graduated with 19 people in my class. The idea of attending university in the GRAND metropolitan city of St. John’s (pop. 150k) was so terrifying that I opted for the smaller campus of 2000 students in Corner Brook. Even then, I practically had a nervous breakdown when my parents dropped me off at the campus. They left me in a sobbing, disheveled mess. My poor father reputably sat by the window of the hotel all night, smoking cigarettes, worried about me all alone in that crazy dorm.
Every time I go somewhere new, it takes a great deal of convincing. If you were going to hand me my dream travel gig tomorrow in Greece, I’d still hem and haw over the details and worry myself sick. Would I fit in? Can I ask people for directions? Will people mock me?
Hence came my sudden need to move to a city where I knew NO one. Where I had no thread to pull on, and no comfortable familiarities. Montreal was it.
I cheated at first. I lived with two friends for two weeks before breaking out on my own, living in a hostel before moving into a new place. I refused to take public transit from the airport, and grabbed a cab instead. I could have paid $8 for the public bus, rather than the astonishing $50 I forked over. All because I was too self-conscious to figure it out.
I didn’t leave the apartment for two days. I was overwhelmed, by everything. The traffic. The chaos. The concept of having to find my way around. To get groceries! I did NOTHING. I tiptoed around the apartment and made up excuses to my roommates about being too busy to get out and explore. The day I did leave, to find a gym, I panicked every time someone even spoke to me on the street. I remember one guy lurching towards me, holding a book, speaking to me in French. I blurted out, “SORRY!” and took off before I could see the hurt look on his face. I don’t even know if he was a bum. He seemed nice.
But finally, in little spurts, I settled down. I made some friends, Adam and Blair. We had Saturday afternoon rooftop swim sessions with boatloads of wine. Then I moved into an apartment on Saint-Laurent with two amazing fellows named Andrew and James, and like true gentlemen, they started introducing me to their friends.
I took the Metro for the first time, alone. Gasp!
On two separate occasions, my friends April and Leila came to visit. I led them all over town, showing them my favourite streets and pubs and nooks and crannies. “You belong here,” Leila once said. “You already know this city.”
I can’t tell you how proud it made me, dear readers. To take on this whole “city gal” persona. And yet, whenever I express my nervousness over flying and taking public transit, I’m still greeted by disbelieving exclamations: “But you’re a travel writer!” I’m also human. And sometimes I’d rather sleep on a bench then ask someone for directions, just for the sheer worry that they’ll point and laugh at me.
I can’t be thrown into the madness. I must be eased in like a ship at port.
My last few nights in Montreal were pivotal. On Sunday, while I was working in my sweats, James came home to announce that a bunch of people was coming over to barbecue. The apartment was filled with a melee of young folks, from France, Belgium, the US, and Scotland. We drank boxed wine and tequila, and snuck onto the rooftop of our building where an abandoned bar still had its tables left behind. I sat cross-legged on the floor with a lovely Quebec gal and we talked about the openness of Montreal, its willingness to take you as you are, even if Quebec doesn’t always.
James and I went for cocktails atop the highest building in Montreal, the Altitude737. We walked through the chaos of Saint-Catherine, where aliens danced in the street. Literally. Food trucks doled out everything from poutine to tacos, and college kids walked around freely with open beer.
I had a neighborhood. The toothless guy who worked at Tabagie will probably miss my frequent pop-ins for half cases of beer. I visited my bookstore once a week, The Word on Milton. I shopped for groceries at Les Trois Frères.
And oddly enough, when I landed in St. John’s…for the first time in my life, I felt unhappy to be back. Unfinished. My new loft bedroom remains completely unpacked. I look at the boxes upon boxes of belongings stacked in my room, and I think, who needs all this crap? I’ve been living out of a suitcase for four months.
I love Newfoundland more than anywhere in the world, and always will. But returning home was something like culture shock. Montreal…man. Montreal is a verb.
The point is this: I force myself to do it. It’s terrifying. I force myself to speak in public, to get out there, to face my anxieties. I forced myself to live in a freaking city of 3-million people, which is literally 20 TIMES bigger than my home for the past six years.
So when you ask me incredulously, “But you’re a travel writer?” Please keep in mind that I had never even left my HOME province until five years ago. Keep your sass to yourself.
I haven’t ridden a horse across Mongolia, or hitchhiked my way around Australia. But I slept nightly on 3-inches of foam in an overheated apartment in the middle of Montreal, sampled my fair share of poutine, and once even had a semi-French conversation with a Quebecer. I found personal triumphs in everything from taking the Metro alone to finally using the bus to get to the airport and back.
And that’s how I know every experience matters.