(This letter comes to you in three parts)
[ I ]
July 14, 2016
A TRAIN, NEW JERSEY
I’m travelling again.
This morning, under the wide-grey sky of America, I felt lost. I feel this way when I travel sometimes, like I’m displaced—like I’m not sure if I’m leaving home or going home. It’s not a bad feeling. It's just a sort of in-between feeling. And now, whenever I go back to Toronto I can’t help but think of my lives: my life here, my life there, what it means to be home. It's this kind of shit that train stations and airports make me think about. In-between thoughts for in-between places, I guess. Anyway, this is where my mind is now as I’m writing you from a train rolling through New Jersey, staring out the window and drinking my distinctly American Dunkin' Donuts coffee, with seventy-five distinctly Canadian dollars in my wallet, tucked in next to my New York MetroCard.
The other two things on my mind are the two thoughts every traveler has: where can I get something to eat; and, I’ve gotta piss.
I think this is my station. Yeah, there it is—I can see it. Newark in all its Jersey glory. I’m going to cut this one short, but I’ll write again soon as I’m through security. I’m really early.
[ II ]
Gate B51, Newark Liberty International Airport
Well, it turns out arriving super early to the airport worked out. I arrived with plenty of time to spare, so much time they offered me a seat on an earlier flight. As much as I was really looking forward to sitting around the airport for the next few hours—something I genuinely do enjoy—I took the earlier flight. I can sit around in Toronto.
I know it sounded a bit like I was complaining in my earlier quick letter, but I want to be clear: I do—in the broadest sense—enjoy travel. Or rather, I like specific parts of travel. For example, I really like being here in the airport, even though it’s boring. I really feel content waiting here. I also like how grand and exciting travel feels. Even though flying is really nothing like this anymore, I can’t help but to think about the early days of Pan Am and jetsetters and people roaring off all over the skies on big adventures. That’s another thing I like—the people! Airports are unique in that unlike most other places every single person here is going somewhere. I find that exciting. I like watching them. I like trying to figure out who is traveling for business, who is about to leave home—and who, like me, is going home. Airports are full with this kind of charged purpose, as everyone waits to go wherever it is that they’re going. I like being in the feeling.
Also, I like that there is free coffee here. And free shortbread cookies. Real quality ones. They taste like butter and Christmas and going home, and they make me happy.
[ III ]
My childhood home, Toronto ON
When I was a boy I had a treehouse. I built it with my mom and two friends. One was a girl named Emily, who was probably the first true love of my life. The other was James. The treehouse itself was a marvelous piece of architecture. It was fairly large, and built so that it stretched between two maple trees. It had a low, slanting roof and windows that opened, and a trapdoor in the floor through which you could enter and leave by means of a ladder. Like any proper treehouse it of course had to have a ladder.
Emily moved away the summer before forth grade, just before the treehouse was finished. But she stuck around long enough to see the construction of the floor and some of the frame. She was also there during the few first trips to the hardware store with my mum to buy sheets of plywood and 4x4s.
After it was built I used to camp out in that treehouse all the time. When we were still kids, James and I would bring my box of Lego up there, and we would build stuff and tell stories and play Pokémon. And when we were a little bit older, we'd tell each other the dirty jokes and the dirty stories that we’d heard from older kids, (usually his seemingly worldly, sexually active, 16-year-old cousin). Sometimes I would run an extension cord from my house to the treehouse, and up through one of the windows. That way we could listen to CDs and even have an electric light when we were out there. This treehouse was the shit, believe me.
One summer, while I was up at the cottage, somebody broke into the treehouse. I must have been twelve, maybe. Whoever broke in stole all our junk; nothing of any real value, except for a porno mag I’d stashed up there. I was spectacularly afraid if we ever found out who had done it, they would tell my mum about the magazine and I'd get in all kinds of trouble. We never did find out who the thief was.
In the eighth or ninth grade James hotboxed the treehouse with a boy called RJ Roth, while I wasn’t there. RJ was the kind of broken-home bad-kid that every neighbourhood has. And he used to deal really crappy weed. I remember yelling at James and being so mad. Shit, I don’t even know if I was mad cause he’d smoked a bunch of weed or cause he’d done it without me. It seems so silly now.
Round that age, he and I used to write the names of girls we liked on this one wall up there. The wall was unfinished plywood, perfect for writing names in black sharpie. Near the end of high school we took the treehouse down because it was becoming a bit dangerous, sitting on a slant between the two maple trees. They’d grown all uneven. We’d grown too, and by then we were way too big for it anyway. For a few years I saved that piece of plywood all covered in our names. But, like everything, eventually that board got lost.
I came home this afternoon, after flying into Toronto and then taking two subways out to Scarborough, and I found one of the maple trees had been cut down. There was just a big black patch of new soil where our tree had been.
I think I knew it had been cut down. I think my mom mentioned something to me a while ago. I think remember something about the tree being sick. But if she actually had told me, I honestly didn’t remember when I got home just now. There I was, bag-in-hand and travel-tired, and I was shocked. I was shocked to find a big emptiness where this enormous tree had been for years. I can't express it better than that. I wasn't exactly sad, or angry, or anything really. I was just shocked. I’d come home and things were different.
Maybe I shouldn't have been. I mean, I have changed a lot in the year that I've been away. I suppose I shoulda figured that home changed too. Still, we never imagine home changing without us, do we?
Well, I don’t at least.
Anyway, I’m in town for two week. Lets grab a beer and catch-up.