We stood still, solidly planted in our little neighbourhood, while our school friends left for exciting and foreign places. Words like Petawawa, Thunder Bay, Esquimalt, Valcartier, Diepholz were bandied about, so exotic sounding to my primary school mind. I wanted to go some place new, while my friends wanted the solid foundation, the strong underpins, that held us steadfast in Chilliwack. The idea of living in one house for the whole of their childhood, and not being sent across country or continent, to make new friends and set-up roots – only to be disturbed, dug-up and re-rooted again several years later, was ideal.
I wanted to go. I wanted to leave. I wanted to be free. I wanted to be that army brat, being dragged out of the comforting smallness of a dreary little town in the middle of nowhere Canada (little did I know that we’d likely be sent to another little nowhere town in Canada, but that wasn’t a part of the fantasy). Think that the desire to travel really started in the seventh grade, when bullying was at its worst (it was a really bad year, one that shaped who am I today, but that is a different story altogether).
I’d dream I could fly, under the power-lines, over the fields, past the river, over the mountains, to the prairies, past the centre, and over the Atlantic. Sometimes my dreams would only take me as far as Vancouver. I never crossed the Pacific. My dreams always took me east, and the desire to adventure was terribly strong.
In the eighth grade I begged my parents to let me move to Vancouver, and to allow me to live with my aunts. A request that was more than ridiculous, but I kept at it until the ninth grade. Then my aunts moved away from Canada (yet another reason to travel), then I wanted to go to England…even better than Vancouver.
It wasn’t that I wanted to be away from my family. I just wanted to be away from the routined familiarity that is bred in the suburban-country life. There were museums, art galleries, live music, theatre, and endless possibilities in the city. To be in Paris, London, Rome, Berlin – to go anywhere – I would even take Montreal or Toronto, it didn’t matter, I just didn’t want to be where I was.
If I could leave, I could be myself – not the person that people had decided I was, the person that I thought I needed to be for them. By the end of grade nine, an opportunity opened to go to the other high school in town, and I grabbed it. There I would be anonymous, no preconceived notions of who or what I had to be, I could be myself. I cut my hair, started wearing black, bought my first pair of Fluevogs. But it wasn’t enough. Sure I was nobody, but the place was inherently the same, dreary and normal.
By grade eleven I could barely stand it. Any of it.
It was then that my parents allowed me to go away. It was my first real taste of travelling. One month in England, Scotland, and France. We were not wealthy. It was likely more money than my parents readily had available. Of course, I didn’t think about this; being a teenager, things like family finances were beyond me – there probably wasn’t much other than myself that I really thought about (maybe reading, soccer, and my friends, but just a little).
The trip wasn’t a free-for-all bohemian dream. It was organized, planned, and arranged. I didn’t go alone — that would have been too much. I went with a boy, a boy I barely knew, but a trustworthy person, a lovely person. He was someone else who needed to leave and go on an adventure (a pretty safe adventure – but an adventure nevertheless). Our parents spoke, they made the arrangements, I didn’t really get to be much of a part of the plans. I don’t really remember – maybe the excitement of the trip was tantamount and all else fell to the wayside. My memories are not clear on the plans prior to the travel.
The day my passport arrived, was pretty awesome. It was then that I knew that my dream of leaving was really about to come true. We drove out to the airport. I can’t remember saying good-bye to my parents. I was so excited.
Love Shack played during the airplane ride, it was the ice breaker. I think that the realization that we barely knew each other had set in, but we had a laugh and sang a little, nervous of the unknown, but excited all the same. We were going to be spending the next month together, I could barely make it through a month with myself. All I can think now is poor Michael. It couldn’t have been easy. I wasn’t an easy person.
We took the train from London to Scarborough. We ended-up in the seaside village of Robin Hood’s Bay. The place was smaller than small. My aunts opened a home for the aged, and I finally had my dream of living with them, albeit, for a short time. Michael and I walked the cliff edge pathway to Whitby, ate picnic sandwiches in the graveyard, went for English horse-riding lessons (sorry Mike), toured the countryside. We went to places like Goatsland, Boggle the Hole, Skipton, Filey, Pickering…this list goes on. My aunts were good sports. They took us all over the Moors. Showed us the Roman roads, the ruins, the abbeys, and told us stories and legends of the area.
We took the train up to Aberdeen, Scotland. We almost didn’t make it. I brought the wrong ticket with me (the plane ticket looked the same as the train ticket), and we had to turn around and go back to the bay to get the ticket – an unplanned trip, and one that my aunt wasn’t going to let go lightly. We arrived safely in Aberdeen nevertheless. We went to the fair with my cousins. Watched a movie at the theatre (something I never, ever got to do at home – which seems so strange now). We toddled about, admiring the deep grey granite city and washed out sea beyond.
After our northern sojourn we went down south and met-up with a group of students (some from Chilliwack, some from Orlando, some from I don’t remember where). We went to Oxford, Stratford and London. Our tour guide was Richard. He was a student from Oxford, his supposedly spoke French, we all doubted his posh accent would translate into fluent Parisian. We shot over to Paris together. Explored the Louvre, went up the Tour Eiffel, took snap shots of Notre-Dame. I’ve lost the photos, and the memories are scattered. It was a whirlwind of a trip. So different than our weeks in the North.
What I really remember, is how much I loved it. Even the times that weren’t as enjoyable (and there were tears), were so much more full than the life I had at home. From the moment we boarded the plane to come home, I knew that I’d be back. I remember waiting for my parents at the airport. Everyone else’s families had already arrived to pick them up. My family was nowhere to be seen. I was almost in tears (was I in tears, possibly), so excited to see them after being away, so heartbroken that they’d forgotten me (they hadn’t, but got lost on the way to the airport). It was such a relief when they finally arrived at the airport, think it is one of those times as a teenager, where I really learned how how much I depended on and love my family. (These were the days before cellphones and email…things were different then). Even though I loved my family, the anti-climactic nature of returning after the month away, well, it really reinforced my desire to leave. Ah, teenage angst reaffirmed, man I do not miss those days.
Anyhow, I immediately started making plans, from that moment on, all I thought about was Europe. Only one year of school remained, and then the world was open.
Graduated from high school, worked the nightshift at Tim Horton’s and split the dayshift between Sooter’s Cameras and Shell Gas Station. I left for Europe in the autumn of 1991, I was 17 years old, and had roughly $500 to get me started (laughable now, it is hard to believe that kept me going as long as it did). I met-up with friends in England, and we started forging our way through life, it was a bumpy but brilliant journey (in hindsight, I would have done so many things differently, but all-in-all, I learned a lot along the way…some things I rather wouldn’t have experienced, but I survived).
During that last year of high school, I really enjoyed my time in the dark room. I developed and printed these photos of my first European adventure. They were in a box for many years, shuffled from from place to place. They are a reminder of the adventures I had, but also the adventures that are yet to come. Those times of innocence, freedom, and hard lessons. Even though it has been years since boarding a plane, the dream of travel remains strong. I still dream about sitting in the airport, waiting for that ever-delayed flight.