Family Lines

stories for you

Tag: Ryerson University

Okay

I went to Ryerson University in Toronto for my journalism degree. I was taking a course on non-fiction writing and one of our assignments was to write about a recent experience. The following is a story I wrote about an evening in 1995.

 Okay

I was sitting on the subway. Feeling fat, loveless and cranky. On Feb.14.

It was late at night, around 10:30. A woman and a little girl got on the train. I wondered what the girl was doing up so late on a school night.

People were scattered everywhere in the car. There was a man with big glasses sitting across from me. My roommate reading a book beside me. The mom and girl sitting a couple of rows down. But I didn’t turn to look at anyone. I didn’t want to see them.

I was drowning in the hum of the subway and the problems of the world. With me in it. How the ozone layer is dying. How children are starving. How humans are killing each other. How Valentine’s Day is just one more day to make money out of something that I can’t even get for free. How far away I feel from home. My real home in Nova Scotia with a dog and cats and warmth and family and friends. How cold the bright lights of the underground are. Making everything harsh. Making the blemishes stand out clearly. The red pimple on my roommate’s nose, the greasiness of that guy’s big glasses, dirt and grime and grossness.

Then I heard someone singing. And I turned around.

All I could see was the top of a beret further down the train. I stood up. Looked.

A woman, sitting alone, was singing. She was singing “Everything’s going to be okay. Everything’s going to be all right.”

I recognized the tune; a Bob Marley song. Other heads turned. The woman with the child smiled. The man with the glasses picked up his head. My roommate put down her book.

For a moment, the world stood still and I actually believed the minstrel. For moment, I believed everything was okay. Everything was all right. For a moment, everybody listened and everyone heard.

Golden moment

two dogs.

Two of my family dogs: Jasper, the golden retriever grandpa, with Kola, a cute fuzzy and energetic puppy.

It was 1996 and I was going to Ryerson University. I was in the Journalism for Graduates program and I had to write a non-fiction story for my course Magazine Fundamentals. The class was taught by writer David Hayes and he asked us to write about a “golden moment.” I wrote about my family dog, Jasper. He died not soon after I wrote this piece. I’m glad to have these memories of my old friend.

He walks crookedly. And he is big and red and he loves me. It’s just me and my dog. We chase Sasquatches and bears and run away from bees. We like to go fishing and swimming and diving for rocks. We used to go on bike rides and he would follow me everywhere. But now he’s too old.

Sometimes he’s bad. He once ran away from home for a whole week. It was a very long week. I called his name and looked up and down the lake and searched the cow corn fields. The morning he dragged himself down the driveway, hurt and scared and hungry was a blue sky day. For the next few weeks he had to wear big casts on his front legs. He looked silly. He looked like he was wearing oversized sports socks.

We watch TV together. He lies on the floor and I put my head on his stomach. I can hear him breathing. I always try to match my breath to his but he is always slower.

He can’t see well anymore. He won’t go through the kitchen to get to the music room. I think the glare of the floor tile is too bright for his eyes. I put him on a mat and drag him into the next room. He thinks it’s a lot of fun. He thinks he’s surfing.

When we go cross-country skiing he messes up my trail. I break two perfectly narrow tracks in the deep snow. Perfect so I’ll be able to go faster on the way back. He gets lazy and walks right in the middle of my hard work. His feet get balls of snow tangled in the fur and so he lies down in front of my swishing skis. As he chews off the snow, I have to wait.

I saw him kill a rabbit. He was savage and he scared me. He bit the rabbit’s neck and spit on its fur and looked crazy. I tried to save the rabbit. I put it in a wood barrel but it started to convulse and scream and its eyes rolled up into its brain.

Jasper thought it was funny. I saw him laugh. I know when he laughs. His lip curls up on one side. He does this especially when I’m around and he’s happy to see me.

Jasper is all my golden moments. When I think of my dog I can see the woods we walk through, the streams we wade through, the snow we trudge through, the stars that fall, the flames that wave to the sky and my best friend.

Floppy disc discovery

floppy disc.

Floppy disc driving at the Calgary Public Library.

While home for the holidays in Nova Scotia, I found a treasure trove: some old, old floppy discs. Not those round ones that look like records but the hard square ones. I brought them back to Calgary and wondered how to get the data off them. Who has a computer with a floppy disc drive anymore? The Calgary Public Library.

I went to the third floor and asked for a floppy disc drive and plugged it into a port. Then I popped the first disc into the drive and it spat and whirred like an ancient engine being turned on for the first time in 100 years. The noise was loud and I was hoping no one was going to “Shhhs” me. It is a library. You’re supposed to be quiet.

I found a lot of photos I had scanned and put on disc in 2003. I also uncovered stories and homework assignments I had written at Ryerson University in 2006. The following is a piece I wrote when I lived in residence only steps away from the core of Toronto. I had a room (that I called The Coffin because it was tiny) in a four bedroom apartment. Each unit in Pitman was designed the same way. I had three roommates (women) and we lived on a co-ed floor. Here’s a vignette from 20 years ago. (Really?)

Noise. A man’s laugh is projected from one bedroom. Haunting pagan music follows from another. The sounds mix and float out of the hallway, pooling in the living room. Sarah and De sit in a circle amidst it, making their own noises.

Sarah’s arm drags across paper. Making a swishing sound as she writes. Bright purple socks sticking out of brown cords and pushed into brown boots is Sarah. De’s making clicking sounds. She’s an interior design student and she’s crouched on the floor and tediously gluing tiny, straight sticks together to make a giant octahedron. Click. She’s gluing the sticks into triangles. Click. She’s building the complex design slowly in case it collapses. De has one leg tucked under her. It’s as if she is trying to create the same symmetry in her design. Sarah walks over to help. Swish. Her cords make a rough noise like her arm on the paper. She sits the same way as De.

Pitman Hall.

Common room at Pitman Hall.

Two shadows are thrown over De and Sarah. The white wall outlines a couple. Two people in a slow dance. The shadows move together and then apart.

Swish. John comes out of the shadows. He’s carrying a plant. “Look,” he says, “it’s real.”

He gives the plant to Maura, who has also come out of the shadows. Bang. John slams the door. Maura takes a seat beside Sarah.

The room fills up with chatter. Talking, talking and talking. The conversation is light and easy. Meringue on lemon pie. Chitchat about classes and octahedrons. Nattering about New York and Chicago. Dirty dishes.

“There is no volume to it.” De mutters to her creation.

Crack. Maura’s knees break as she bends to show De pictures. Her knees sound like octahedron sticks snapping half. But De keeps going with the glue gun. “Psst,” it says. The glue gun wants to tell a secret.

“Psst, come here.”

Rustling paper. Sarah returns her focus to her writing. Maura looks out the window. Not much talk now. A few expletives from the glue gun lady. Maybe she’ll shoot someone. Psst, psst and pssssstttt!

Then smooth silence. A few strains of music escape from the room down the hall. Phone rings. Thud. Everyone jumps up. Pattering feet. Who’s it for? The circle is broken. Everyone has left and so must I.

Cooking up dreams

Marché Mövenpick in Toronto.

Marché Mövenpick in Toronto.

Walking past a downtown Calgary restaurant the other day I smelled something good. What wafted through a restaurant door, hitting my nostrils on the cool winter day, was a mixture of inviting and warm comfort food: tomatoes, fresh bread and a hint of cinnamon. Maybe not something you might think of together but for me it combined into a memory of the Marché Mövenpick in Toronto.

The Marché was just off Yonge Street and near Front Street, close to Lake Ontario. The restaurant was where my friends and I would go on chilly December Saturdays or freezing February evenings after dancing the night away in the late nineties. We were young and going to Ryerson University, taking demanding second degrees in fields like journalism and landscape architecture. We had the world by the throat. Ready to go once the gates of academia opened, letting us out to pursue anything and everything like ravenous monsters with wide-open jaws.

We were hungry. Hungry for life and hungry for a good, hearty (and cheap) meal. That’s what we would get at the Mövenpick. It was cafeteria-type place with lots of food stations so we could each get our fix of whatever we wanted to eat. From bruschetta to steak to waffles, it was there for the feasting. The three of us – me, Mo and R – would stash our mittens and heavy winter coats at a hard-to-get table and then go our separate ways in search of what would make us smile.

I truly can’t remember what I ate. Just that it was delicious. It was the atmosphere of the place I recall best. It was always a bit dark in the restaurant, dim, and with the low lighting it was dream-like for me. We were hovering in a different world, one that helped us escape the realities of school life for an hour or two.

It was always warm and cozy in the Marché. We abandoned our scarves and extra sweaters and toques in the tropical, lively restaurant, almost floating around we were so light. Unused to being weightless without all our winter gear holding us down to earth.

apartment.

Saying “hello” to a former apartment in Toronto. I lived here for a time during my Ryerson years.

Once back at our table, each with a different meal, our conversation would continue from 20 minutes before. Picking up from where we had left off before we sat down. We talked about boys, our classes, boys in our classes and eventually, our future careers. For me I would be a newspaper reporter, hopefully a foreign correspondent. Little did I know then that journalism would eventually seize up and stall. Forcing me to find another future. But at the time, the time at the Marché, everything was wide open. There were no limits. Everything was blue sky ahead.

The Mövenpick was where life was fresh and dreams were cooked along with the tomatoes and bread. When I smelled that familiar Marché smell the other day, many years and restaurants later, it sent me back to that time. I thought about how some of my dreams from then had come true, while others hadn’t. But life has turned out just the way I wanted.

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