I once loved the anonymity of the city. It was easy to lurk in the shadows, to live somewhere between this world and the one that existed solely in my mind.
Like a ghost I stalked the concrete jungle, comfortably aware that daily I slipped past strangers who didn’t know or care I existed. It was a safe place for one who lived with the inner darkness.
But that was the old me. The new me enjoys the solace and serenity of the small northern town I have called home for more than two decades. The lakes, the trees, the wildlife and yes, even the people, comfort me in ways I never thought possible.
I still live somewhere between the real world (or what some consider the real world) and the one in my mind. But I am no longer a ghost.
On this day, as I walk the longest street in Canada, I am a bit agitated. Back in the big city for a small event that got traded for a far bigger event, I decide to venture outside my hotel and go for a walk.
On the outside I am steel, expressionless, void of emotion, much like the thousands of other people who trudge past like robots.
Look slightly annoyed and act like you don’t give a damn, and you fit right in in downtown Toronto.
T.O. The Big Smoke. The promised-land for some; home to the Championship Raptors and the always-on-the-brink-of-a-return-to-glory Maple Leafs. The cultural melting pot of Eastern Canada.
It has been years since I last walked in downtown Toronto. It looks the same, but it’s not. The place is as dirty as ever, the people as cold as the breakfast sandwich I had a Tim Horton’s earlier. It seems like half of Yonge Street is under construction.
Even if I feel agitated and a little uneasy, I am thankful for the brisk and lengthy walk. It gives me a chance to clear the tired from my head; the slight fog from the previous night — dinner, drinks and laughter with friends.
Although I only had three tall cans of beer and one glass of wine, I felt a little tired this morning when I woke up. Must be my age. Could also be the fact that I rarely drink (and never more than two of anything).
The sun is out on this crisp October day, but the wind forces me to flip the collar up on my jacket and zip it right to the top. Left my toque in the hotel room. Good thing I brought it on the trip. The wind doesn’t seem to bother any of the other ghosts passing by on either side.
It’s like the city never changes. The people are as glacial as I remember I once loved to be when I lived at different times in both Edmonton and Calgary, Alberta. Does anyone ever smile? I’m sure I remember a few smiles back in the day. Maybe not.
I walk as far as the Masonic Temple (the concert venue), turn around and head back towards my hotel. I walk past the hotel and keep on going. I decide to slip into the Eaton Centre, which resembles every giant mall I have ever been in.
The perfumes and sweet odours stir my stomach and make me a little queasy; I never much cared for shopping or the smell of a mall.
I walk along briskly, trying to get a little more exercise before heading back to my hotel for a nap before tonight’s big concert (Bob Seger taking his final bow at the Scotia Bank Centre).
Out of the corner of my eye a woman catches my attention. It’s not striking beauty that pulls me out of my forward motion. The lady I see looks like my late mother.
The sight gives me pause. I slow down to get a better look. She is shorter and a bit thinner than my mother (who will have been dead three years in less than two weeks), but she looks just like her.
I keep moving, but now I stumble ever so slightly. I feel a sting of emotion in my heart. I turn around for one more look as the the lady disappears down an escalator. I gather myself and continue on my way.
Back outside, my senses are overwhelmed by the stench and the noise of the city. There are more people than when my walk began earlier. Everyone is in a hurry. Street vendors, panhandlers and the mentally ill accost the foot traffic.
One man begs for help, shouting loudly. No one hears his cries (or maybe they do). Another man yells violently at the air, fighting a battle with some unseen demon, while yet another tries to hand or sell me a pamphlet on Black History. I just want to get back to the hotel.
Once back at the hotel, I ponder my long-ago love for the city. The anonymity I so craved back in those days seems so far removed from who I am today. I begin to wonder if I ever really loved anonymity at all, or if it was simply self-preservation, a way to navigate the darkness.
I pull out my laptop and write for a bit, then doze a little.
As I get ready for the evening’s concert, I stop to think about how lucky I am to have survived the dark world I inhabit in my early twenties. I take a deep breath, thankful I will soon be back in my northern town, far away from the madness of the city.