Ontario-times ahead

2015 was an unusual year for contemplating some big changes, and then having some other (very unwelcome) changes dumped on me. One of the most disruptive was losing my apartment to a landlord conflict that took a lot of energy, made very little sense, and deposited what was left of me in a storage locker and the guest rooms of friends for awhile.

As unpleasant as it was, the situation became a lever for decisions I was becoming more ready to make anyway. After 8 or 9 years in Montreal, I had been looking for a change and a new place to settle.

My job at Automattic is digitally-distributed and comes with the luxury of portability, so it was really up to me where I wanted to live next. I had been considering the US, but the exchange rate and election make that unattractive for the moment. I travel a ton, so I thought about going nomadic and travelling while working for a year or so, but I am feeling a strong need to nest awhile before I head out again. It sounds silly, but I really want to know where my stuff is.

I made a list of all the things I wanted in a new city (not in Quebec, not Toronto, smaller, bikeable, music scene, green space and hiking, the possibility of having a window in every room of my apartment, airport proximity, near real water, close enough to drive to a great beach, near a larger city, a few friends and family nearby would be nice, etc) and did a bunch of research, made a bunch of visits.

Science! And a bit surprising. In the end, Hamilton Ontario was the only city that checked all the boxes on my list, and so that’s where I’m moving at the end of May. I’m from Nova Scotia, so apart from a less-than-stellar year living in Toronto in 2000, I don’t have much experience with Southern Ontario, and it’s going to be a novelty to explore.

I returned to Montreal after my last Hamilton visit, suuuuuper excited but wondering if the absoluteness of having signed a lease would make me Montreal-wistful, and it just… doesn’t. I’ve loved it here, I have so many good things to say about it, but it’s also a place with a lot of dead ends, where the things I’ve loved best are dwindling from age, experience, gentrification, or warming winters. I’m very ready to leave it and do new things.

All my anxiety flows from the idea of leaving people, I realize – the ones around me, and the ones who come through often because Montreal is a far more central hub city. I’ve been so lucky to have great friendships here and be part of great communities. It doesn’t seem possible to leave everybody and yet at some point, you just have to, or you end up cutting yourself off from new possibilities. I’m preparing myself for a period of sad transition, but I’m really excited to set up a new and different future.

‘Not the kind who protest in the streets / But in the classroom.’

‘Why are you crying,
if you didn’t even know them?’ Anna Humphrey wrote these poems about the women (one for each, by name) killed in the Montreal Massacre when we were all their age, or younger, more than a decade after it happened.

Anna Humphrey wrote these poems about the women (one for each, by name) killed in the Montreal Massacre when we were all their age, or younger, more than a decade after it happened. And every year on this date, I am amazed at (and grateful for) how she managed to make less of a mess out of all the horrible things we feel about it.

After more than a decade of us pestering/crediting her every year, she has licensed their use through Creative Commons, so please share if they mean something to you.

14, As More Than Just a Number

by Anna Humphrey

For Genevieve Bergeron, 21
Because you bled one week of every month.
Because you wanted to build bridges and towers.
Because you weren’t at home dusting the den.
Because, for no reason.
Because “The gunman suffered a brutal upbringing”
Because the world has gone mad, gone sad.
Because you were there.

For Helene Colgan, 23
At 5:30, the paper says,
on Dec. 6
he began to roam the halls
hunting humans
with two ammunition belts
criss crossed on his chest;
a semi-automatic,
and a knife
and his eyes – cold
and his hand – steady
And in the paper they quote,
“It was just like Rambo.”
But what would you say, Helene,
if you could say?
Probably just
that it wasn’t fair;
that Rambo
only shot
the bad guys;
that your gunman
was shorter,
much scrawnier,
and no kind of hero.

For Nathalie Croteau, 23
When he spat:
like a dirty taste
from his mouth
you were the only one who said ‘no’
You said, “We aren’t.
Not the kind who protest
in the streets.”
Probably your last words
Probably not quite true
Not the kind who protest in the streets
But in the classroom.
The kind who would challenge,
the kind who would speak up;
try to save thirteen women
and herself
when everyone else
had lost their words.
Brave Nathalie
in coffin #8.

For Barbara Daigneault, 22
Later, they talked about the men
and the guilt
He was smaller than me,
I could have jumped him.
Could have
Should have
Would have
Could have been the hero
Should have hit, kicked,
slugged him hard,
sprayed a fire extinguisher
in his eyes.
Would have, if only
I’d thought of it in time.
Could have bashed his teeth out
Should have thrown him through
the wall.

For Anne-Marie Edward, 21
21 is very young
only 17 + 4.
21 should be camping in the Gatineau
Backpacking, hitchhiking,
meeting the man of her dreams
21 drinks cold coffee and works
late into the morning, on drafts
of a paper
she really should have started
last month.
21 drives with her music
turned up loud
and worries where
she’s going
with this life of hers
and whether or not
she can pay off
the phone bill
21 thinks often of a house
in a quiet neighbourhood
and a wedding dress
with a nice head piece
or veil
not too fancy,
and not too soon,
but not so very far off either.

For Maud Haviernick, 31
(Quotes taken from the Ottawa Citizen)
“The man who killed 14 women on Wednesday had trouble relating to women and couldn’t keep a steady relationship.”
“No way,”
you might say.
“Well, then… it’s okay.
Was he beaten as a child?
In high school, was he wild?
Was he reckless? Was he tough?
Did he just need more love?
Or was he bullied? Did they taunt him?
Did they pants him?
Did they punch him?
Did his mother make him bad?
Was she absent? Was his dad?
And how is it no one saw it?
no one caught it?
no one thought it?”
“He had difficulties in expressing his need to love and be loved. He was a very troubled individual, who suffered a brutal upbringing.”
“No way,”
you might say,
“well then…
it’s okay.”

For Maryse Leclair, 23
It didn’t seem any different
when his alarm went off
at 6:30
like every morning
just like it does
every morning
And when your father
read the newspaper,
put on his uniform-
when he secured his gun
in the leather holster,
how was he to know
he would walk
through his daughter’s blood
towards her killer
lying shot through the head
in a third floor classroom?
All in a days work.
All in a days work.
All in a days work.
Not today.

For Anne-Marie Lemay, 27
You were just an Everywoman.
Nothing personal, Anne-Marie.
You were Everywoman
who turned her back,
Everywoman who wouldn’t let him
buy her a drink,
take her home,
take her in his arms.
Everywoman on the street
wearing a business suit
and heels
Each one he thought
was laughing at him.
If he’d known you were one woman
One woman who liked
to ride her bicycle in the spring,
who sometimes woke up
late at night
with cravings for sea food,
who wore red
Converse running shoes,
who liked to bake
and sometimes
liked to hike…
But it was nothing personal,

For Sonia Pelletier, 28
Your body was found underneath a cafeteria table,
trying to hide
just like you used to duck behind the sofa,
conceal yourself in the closet
with your feet in a pair of boots
and a jacket wrapped tight around you
Ready or not
here I come
like you used to hide your tooth brush
so when eight thirty came
and you wanted to stay up
you could waste time
then ask for a glass of water,
another kiss goodnight,
one last hug.
Exactly like they told you to do
in event of an earthquake.
“Sit in a doorway,”
they said,
“or under a table.
While the floor shakes
and the drywall cracks
around you
you should be safe there.”

For Michelle Richard, 21
Sort of like grade school picks
for baseball,
or a dance
with the boys on one side
and the girls
on the other.
And for awhile you thought
it was a joke,
some trickster;
some friend of someone’s
making an ass of himself
because it was the last
day before Christmas exams
and time
for some fun.

For Annie St-Arneault, 23
On Thursday night
they brought in
the maintenance crew
to paint over the bullet
repair the walls and
scrub away the
blood and bits.
And Friday morning,
were you to walk through,
you’d never guess.
You’d never even guess.

For Annie Turcotte, 21
Probably not how you imagined
your funeral
On an icy day with
3000 plus in attendance
And 14 hearses
gliding past
with white numbers on their sides
and all in a row
1 and 2, 3, 4
And a sunken-cheeked woman on the street corner
holding her daughter’s hand
5, 6,
7, 8
and the daughter not understanding
9, 10, 11,
saying to her mother,
‘Why are you crying,
if you didn’t even know them?’

For Barbara Marie Klueznick, 35
A three page letter,
dated, ‘Wednesday’
signed, ‘Marc’
meant to explain
meant to make it
make sense
and we could call him crazy,
and try to forgive
and we could call him ‘full of hate,’
and hate him right back
and we could fall to the ground
and cry ourselves to dehydration
and we could start a candlelight vigil
and we could be afraid
and we could learn self defence
and practice kicking a man in a marshmallow suit
and yelling the word ‘no’
We could, and we will
but it will never
bring you back

For Maryse Laganiere, 35
and the flags flew
at half mast
and the city was in shock,
and the country
and the men
were afraid
for their lovers
and the streets
were a little quieter
while your family
and your sisters
looked everywhere
for why’s.

(Illustration generously shared by Evan Munday)