Back to the Mountains
July 2017. Vancouver, BC, Canada.
"That's my best friend's house", I told Kieran as we walked through my old neighbourhood in North Vancouver. The Weaver family always had an immaculately mowed lawn and beautiful garden, and their house was still just as stunning as it had been the day I left. I could almost see myself, 20 years ago, running through the sprinkler on a summers day with Harry, hitting each other with sticks. I suppose that's where my fascination with the medieval and fantasy started: Harry and I spent years obsessed with Zelda, dressing as werewolves and witches and fighting each other with whatever weapons we could find. "No guns," our parents would always say, but swords were fine.
Vancouver has become a place that I only really see in movies and travel books. I tell people it’s my home town, but when I think of it all I can see is a strange caricature of a city I knew in my childhood. To me it’s a town of kind memories, full of faceless people who have aged, moved on, and who no longer even live there. When I see it on television my heart skips a beat, those images of misty forests and clear mountains evoking a thick sense of detachment, sadness and sweet nostalgia. "That's Vancouver!" I’ve told Kieran dozens of times during binges of Riverdale and Legion. I still don’t know why it makes me so excited.
I remember being angry about moving away, I felt like a part of me had been stolen. I wasn’t upset at my parents, though, I was upset at myself. I loved the idea of moving half way around the world, and encouraged my parents to make the move, because I somehow thought I would be different. I thought that a fresh start would allow me to emerge from my cocoon of depression some kind of happy butterfly. Disappointingly, I was still just me… just in New Zealand.
After getting there and finding myself to still be a drastically unhappy 16 year old, I remember romanticising Vancouver as the answer to all of my problems. I expected that the next time I saw those mountains they would bring a sigh of relief to my soul, and I truly believed that that something would click and I would suddenly relax, home at last. But, when I finally did return a few years later, the buildings stretched up at me from the plane window like braille. I wanted to reach down and touch them, to feel the skyline, to understand who they were and how they were a part of me. What I found instead was a vacant sense of loss, and the mountains were just like pictures on a post card. I felt nothing. It was no longer my home. The issue I would come to discover was that it wasn’t anything to do with Vancouver, it was everywhere. Nowhere ever felt like home to me, even Melbourne.
Taking Kieran back to all of my old haunts, 10 years later, was incredibly therapeutic. Something about showing him, my future husband, all of these fragmented parts of me helped me feel like a more complete person. I’ve always struggled with the concept of home. “This is me,” I would tell him in Matapouri, a beach in Northern New Zealand when we visited in June, “but this is also me,” I would continue a few months later in Vancouver. Despite growing up in the same house his whole life, he understood. Sometimes, you leave parts of yourself in places.
On the way home after dinner, Kieran and I walked by the house I grew up in. It barely looked different than it did when I left in 2008. On the outside it still matched what I saw in my memory - my parent’s gardening had stood the test of time. They would sit out in the garden every weekend during the warmer months, digging through the soil together until dinner time. My mom helped me plant pumpkins that would grow in time for Halloween (though I can’t recall ever harvesting them) and that sunflowers would follow the sun, and that you can grow herbs you can use in your kitchen. I think that’s one of the reasons I now associate gardening with happiness and home.
It was a clear night, and despite being close to the city we could see the stars peeking out from behind Grouse Mountain. “Yeah I’d live here.” Kieran decided. “It’s alright”. I agreed, honestly uncomfortable at the idea of living in Vancouver again.
Two months later back in Melbourne, I spent a whole week in our back yard, pulling out weeds, fertilising the soil and planting vegetables and flowers. It finally occurred to me: why did I ever expect it to feel like home if I didn’t have a garden? We’ll see what grows.