Douglas Coupland wrote, in Shampoo Planet, that home is where you dream, that it’s part of your brain’s hard drive. That we’re all hard wired for our dreams to be set at home.
I’m not terribly sure where I dream these days. Many days my dreams do exactly what they should do, and parse through the mundane things that have happened to me each day. Some days, they are pop culture references – TV, movies, books. And then other days, I dream of my own home, of that corner of British Columbia I grew up in, took for granted and left. I dream of Victoria.
With no close family left in BC, I’m unlikely to return, even for a vacation, because I know I’ll always prioritize the rest of the world over returning to that corner of it I know by heart. And yet, every day, I think of random places and it catches my breath in sadness. I’ll be caught by a random memory of Oak Bay in summer, or I’ll look at a street in Manhattan and see the West End. It is forever and ever part of my permanent memory, my own hard drive.
For the past year, since I said goodbye the last time, since I wept my way back across Canada on a red-eye flight back through Toronto last November, I have been trying to push back those memories and focus on my actual present in Brooklyn. I love Brooklyn, after all – I love New York the way I loved Vancouver. This is the most Vancouvery place I could have settled with my family, after all, with its hippie food co-ops, overpriced real estate, bike lanes and beaches. New York City is ten times the size of Vancouver and yet I get it because I lived there. And I chose to be here, and I work every day to stay here and I love it here. And so, rather than focus on the past, I chose to push it away. I thought that would be the smart thing to do.
The problem with the past is that it won’t be pushed away. It’s been half a lifetime since I lived on the Island, a dozen years since I left Vancouver, and yet I still dream of home. It’s taken me the last twenty years to realize that not everyone feels homesickness like I do, and not everyone has the emotional attachment that those of us born in the Pacific Northwest do to our homeland. Maybe I should be celebrating that and shining that light into my own memories instead of drawing the curtain on them. Maybe I should choose to follow those memories for a few minutes each day – not enough to be lost in nostalgia, but enough to accept the sorrow and the joy that comes from spending the first twenty years of my life in a lost English colony on the edge of the world.
And so, I’ve chosen to spend a few minutes memorializing my own memories of Victoria. The neighborhoods and streets are still there, and many are actually protected by heritage and building laws. The Victoria in my memory is frozen in time between 1988 and 1998, in an era before the Internet had pictures, a time between when the natural resource industries crashed and the tech industry started, yet it doesn’t look much different than the city I said goodbye to in 2015. There will never be skyscrapers in Victoria the way there are in Vancouver…but there will be condominium developments, and there will be growth, and there will be big changes yet to come. When I remember places – a half-finished Songhees walkway, Vic West of abandoned industrial zones, an Oak Bay Marina with Sealand of the Pacific (yes, of Blackfish fame) – they are memories of places that no longer exist except in memory.
I have pushed back memory because I am afraid of homesickness, of the addiction of nostalgia and the past. These are terrible temptations in stressful times. I have questioned many times since I left the Island if my desire to go home was pure homesickness or just a longing to return to a time that was less complicated. After all, wouldn’t everyone like to have the responsibilities of their nineteen year old self for a few days instead of the responsibilities of their thirty-eight year old adult self? So it is with the fear of addiction that I risk reliving memories of British Columbia and choose to describe them.
So. I remember Oak Bay, Victoria, the Island. I remember Vancouver, the Lower Mainland. I will allow myself to revisit the place I know by heart. I will trust myself to accept the strange mix of loss and comfort that is growing up someplace that borders on the unreal in sheer beauty, and then having chosen to leave it, as every small-to-medium town kid does, to See the World. After all, being able to call one single place home means that, as long as I live elsewhere, I am forever on a journey.
When I am self-pitying, that is when I tell myself I’m living in exile Off Island.
When I am hopeful, that is when I can see that journey as being a lifetime of adventure.
And living in Brooklyn, that is exactly the adventure I dreamed of as a teenager in Victoria. I do not need to convince myself of the sheer awesomeness of my present, I just need to come to terms with the contrast it has with my past.