Saturday, July 16, 2016

Displaced

The courtyard outside the North York Civic Centre is busy. People sit around the picnic tables scattered under the trees or on the metal benches that line the fountain in the middle of the square. Unlike the suburb where I spent the past three years, or the quiet street where I grew up, Yonge and Shepherd is a constant swarm of activity and noise and traffic. The relentless nature of it is overwhelming.

Today, however, it does not bother me. I am sitting on one of the benches, sipping my morning coffee. It is my first day off in a week. I have done my best to keep busy, but the truth is, I like my job. Working with special needs students -- be it in a group home or residence or camp -- is always rewarding. My clients remind me that it is in the simple things where we find the greatest portions of joy. And while I'm with them, for a while at least, I don't have to think about home.

But today I am not working. And I am home.

If only I knew what that meant.

I can tell you my physical address, can take you there and point to the room where I sleep. But I might as well be pointing to a bed on a stage. My condo represents my house. But it isn't my home.

A small brown and white puppy bounces in behind its owner, tail wagging, excited by its morning walk. His owner, a tiny woman in her mid-thirties, leans down to rub its face before continuing. I smile as the puppy twists the leash around her legs in excitement, and it is some time before the owner untangles them. My gaze drifts. Beyond the puppy, a ripped Wendy's wrapper twists and swirls in the wind.

I am still not sure how I got here. All displacement is hard, and all of us will deal with it a few times in our lives. Moving. Changing jobs. Deaths in our family. It is part of being human to see change and see it suddenly, so much so that the movement of "there to here" feels like a chasm.

In my case, the chasm is not only moving to a new location, but doing so without the one I thought was my life partner. And it is that part with which I struggle on a daily basis. The one that deals with home.

Before I moved here, the building never mattered. Neither did the address.

She was my home.

The wrapper flutters in the wind and sticks against the side of a garbage can. I stare at it for a while, hoping it will shake itself loose.

I take a deep breath and slowly get to my feet. An elderly woman walking a medium sized Pointer stops and lets me pet him.

Time is a wonderful healer, but it moves slow for me these days. I try not to think about her and what she's doing or what we could be doing together. I try not to think about home.

Sometimes I am successful.

And yet, I am lucky. I have friends who take the time to wade through this painful transition, friends who are helping me face the chasm behind me and pushing towards the future. Not everyone has this. I think of the homeless man that I spoke with the other night. He claimed to be a professor from Columbia. He spoke of how much he missed his family. I have no idea if what he was saying was true, but it was clear that he was lonely. Clear that he had no house. Clear he had no home.

What I face, and what so many of us face, is not unusual. It is painful and awful and isolating, but it is normative. At some point in our lives, we will all feel this loss. I have worked with many children who grew up without a home. Too many. And so while my days are long and filled with questions, I remind myself that I have been given insight into the hurt of others, an insight I do not take lightly.

I slowly head back to my building. I notice a man sitting alone on one of the benches. His pants are pulled up high, his face unshaven. He is muttering to himself. He rises suddenly and sits again, still muttering. It looks like he hasn't showered in some time.

Where is his home? Who takes care of him? Is he alone?

I walk the final two blocks to my building. A torn piece of newspaper swirls in front of me before sticking against the window of the convenience store. I think about the puppy, so excited at his new world. And I think about the garbage, abandoned and left to the wind.

I put the torn newspaper in the garbage bin.

Everything has a place.