BY LAURA JANE/ ILLUSTRATION BY JEN
Hi. I was born on Dundas Street in the city of Toronto when I was zero years old and lived in a town forty-five minutes outside of the city for the first eighteen years of my life. I came back to Toronto six years ago and have lived here all the way up until today. I am moving to London, England in about five hours. Here is the story of the past six years of my life.
I moved back home the summer I turned twenty-three. A couple months earlier my boyfriend and I had broken up in Montreal. We went to go see a movie about nothing called Last Night At Marienbad. I didn’t like it because it was boring and I knew I was supposed to pretend I was too smart to think it was boring which made me want to make an even bigger deal out of how boring I thought it was. My boyfriend loved it because he loved everything I thought was boring and I hated everything that he loved. If we were two overlapping circles the ellipse between us would only have been big enough to hold: Tomorrow Never Knows by the Beatles, a couple Faust albums, Thai food, Ulysses and- kind of- each other. A few years later I asked him if we could collaborate on a blog post about the night of our break-up and call it Last Night Of Our Relationship At Marienbad and he said no because it hit too close to home. But now a thousand years have passed and he’s thirty and I may as well be. He’s marrying a girl in New York City and I’m moving to England in a week and I can say whatever the hell I want. I thought I already could but I didn’t realize how much I actually could. There’s always another level of truth sitting around and waiting for you to move to another country.
I was sick that summer. Not as sick as I had been, and not as sick as I would be, but when I look back on the diaries I kept of everything I ate then I’m horrified. A lot of garlic salt, fruit salad, and steamed broccoli.
I was staying at my parents’ house in a suburb forty minutes west of the city. They were in the process of splitting up and I told people that I was only staying in Oakville to help them sell the house but I’m pretty sure that the entire five months I lived there I didn’t life one single finger to help them once. I just sat around and freaked out about what I was going to do with my life and in the evenings made them drive me to Whole Foods. I’d take the commuter train into Toronto on weekday mornings and walk up to Kensington Market, to Urban Herbivore, where I’d buy a sweet potato date muffin and walk it over to the Tibet Café where I’d order a strawberry-pineapple smoothie and eat them together while doing a crossword. When I was sick I could only eat if I was doing a crossword at the same time.
In August I got a job downtown, at a store called Lavish & Squalor, which does not make any sense. It should be either Lavishness & Squalor or Lavish & Squalid. I haven’t been in there since the day I quit five and a half years ago. They sold Cheap Monday jeans and all my co-workers made a big deal out of how skinny I was. Most of the women who worked there were older than me and they all made a point of telling me “I used to be a twig like you”— a twig, like, “You are literally nothing more than a small branch. A piece of a tree that fell off it.” I hoped it meant that they used to have eating disorders but then grew up and got over them. But I knew in my heart that they’d never been as skinny as I was. They only meant to say that they were once skinnier than they were now, and lying to the anorexic girl about their past levels of skinniness aligned them with me and my body and somehow made them feel skinnier to themselves in the present. No one who was ever as skinny as I was then would ever say “I used to be a twig like you” to a girl as skinny as I was then.
I moved in with two of my co-workers. Let’s not get too deep into this. One of them stole a thousand dollars cash out of my file cabinet and I didn’t pretend it didn’t happen so he turned on me. He put his hand on my leg and told me to calm down and that was it- the only appropriate response to “Calm down” is “I will not calm down!” or, in extreme cases, “I will never calm down.” He and his friends left signs around the house calling me an anorexic bitch or occasionally a [sic] “bulemic” bitch. The thief wiped his ass with my towel. I dried my hair with it and smelled his shit and looked at it and gagged and then washed my hair again and dried it with a different towel. What else can you do?
I drank a lot. I ate very little. My eating disorder was my eating disorder, as tiny and specific as an advent calendar chocolate, belonging to that day and the way that that day was my day. And it was as big as the world. It was bigger than my whole world. It was an evil little aura surrounding every moment of every day, a tiny black halo hanging over every letter of every word like an accent grave or aigou or an umlaut. Every day was defined by a hunger that felt like a hundred thousand stomach crunches layered on top of one another and the only way to get through it was by drinking a bottle of wine per night to distract myself. My face went puffy from all the drinking. I’d fondle my ribcage and found it more amazingly there than ever but I’d press my finger into my fat face two seconds later and it was even fatter than it was when I was fat although I never was. I quit drinking for a couple weeks and then went back to drinking again. A bottle of Diet Coke exploded in my purse and broke my phone. I broke the lease on my apartment. I bought a new phone.
I went into anorexia recovery on April 15th of 2009. I listened to Old Man by Neil Young in the back of a cab on the way to my Dad’s and haven’t been able to listen to that song without crying since, which I’m pretty sure isn’t true, but is definitely true in spirit. Every year on that day I make sure to eat cake or a steak or nachos or whatever.
Eating was so fucking fun those first few months— every bite of food I ate was “suffused with gaiety,” a phrasing I came up with last night to describe every single Paul McCartney vocal on Beatles For Sale— and how could it not have been? Every bite of food I ate was something I thought I’d never get to eat again. Life wasn’t a perverted advent calendar; it was a regular advent calendar. Only instead of a Santa or reindeer or elf it was a deep-fried spring roll or cheesecake or eggs Florentine.
Often things tasted better than I’d ever remembered them as being. Or sometimes they weren’t better, sometimes they were just the same, and took me right back to where I’d been before I ever got sick and it was like none of it had ever happened!
But it all had happened! That’s the most important lesson you’ve got to learn. A hard-boiled egg was raw fifteen minutes ago. It’s a process. You don’t get to die of brain cancer at fifty-eight without being the guitar player of the early Beatles first.
(Hey- do I have to write about that summer?)
Yeah. It was my champagne birthday. I turned twenty-four and there’s so much more on the twenty-fourth of June. My high school best friend was hanging out at the Frontenac that night. She and my roommate and some other people were grilling shit on the patio. I met this guy from San Francisco and I told him I lived in a building called the Frontenac. He said there was a Frontenac in San Francisco and he and his friend, or friends, had a joke where they called it the Front-and-Back. I asked him, “What’s the joke?” and he said, “It’s really not a funny joke.”
That summer the guy from a band called the Fiery Furnaces that isn’t famous anymore asked me to write a book about the Beatles with him and then he stopped talking to me and I was sad about it because I’d had a big crush on him and, more importantly, wanted a book. And when it seemed like I was going to have a book everybody said “Oh, of course you’re going to have a book,” “Oh of course you’d get your first book published when you were twenty-four or possibly five” and then none of it ever happened and now I’m twenty-nine and I’ve still never had a book published and that’s something I think about every day and boy oh boy do I ever hate the guy from the Fiery Furnaces. But of course if he ever decided to start that book up with me again I’d say “Sure” without thinking twice. And basically wake up every morning of my life hoping that will happen. And then I check my email and it doesn’t and that’s why I do anything.
I met Erin at a party. I’d baked these pathetic black-and-white vegan cream cheese brownies for the party and they weren’t any good. I’d cut them into heart shapes with my roommate’s cookie-cutter and packed them into a Tupperware and once I opened it all this steam and humidity was released out of the Tupperware. The brownies had weird beads of sweat on them and nobody wanted to eat them and I ate them quickly and hatefully walking home. In August I got bulimia and an eye infection. I met a guy at a bar and I asked him to come back to my place and he wouldn’t and I was being kind of pathetic, drunk, begging him “Please,” and he asked me what was wrong with my eye. I said “Nothing” and wiped it. I walked home and looked at my eye in the mirror and it was red and there was pale chartreuse gunk dripping out of it. I couldn’t blame him for not wanting to go home with me. I wouldn’t haven’t wanted to go home with me either.
It got colder. The man from the book was really for sure gone. My eye got worse. It spread into the other eye. I was still skinny.
I met a boy. He was tall. He looked like an amalgamation of every famous person I’d ever had a crush on not counting about 75% of them. Once someone said “He looks like Ray Davies, but, like, to Ray Davies’ detriment” and I thought about how much easier my life would be if I agreed with her. I never wrote about the day he broke up with me because I made myself believe I wasn’t allowed to think it was significant. Every time I see my friend who is also his friend and he comes up it seems like he’s dating some new person and in the entire amount of time that passed between this day I’m about to describe and last summer all that happened to me was I had my heart broken by the Fiery Furnaces guy for a second time and then went to Montreal to visit a guy I thought was dating and had to scream “Why did you let me come here?” when I found out I wasn’t. Another guy said he was a lizard and then there was the guy who said “Is it okay if I just eat your pussy and play with your butt while you sleep?” and then I fucked around with my best friend for six months and was excommunicated by a married guy I wrote a short story about.
I still had my eye infection and all afternoon I asked him “Are you looking at my eye? Are you looking at my eye?” and we got home and I put my glasses on and sighed “I guess I must look like an accountant now,” pouting, so that he’d tell me how sexy I looked. He did. And then broke up with me five minutes later. And I guess I just wanted to say that when we all went to the Paul McCartney concert the next summer and I ran out of the Paul McCartney concert before Paul McCartney even started singing I ran away because I wanted that night to be the night we got back together and once I figured out I couldn’t make it be it didn’t seem worth it to stick around and watch myself fail.
I’ve never told the truth about that day to any single person. And I’m not saying it because I’m moving to England in a week and feel like I can say whatever I want because of it. I’m saying it because I’m moving to England in a week and I don’t want to have to carry it around with me after I’ve gone. Because I’d rather die than let him be the brain cancer I died of.
When I was twenty-five I moved out of the Front-and-Back and in with my dad and out of my dad’s place and into that apartment I lived in for seven months, you know, when I lived above the Lakeview? With that weird alcoholic I wrote the zine about? A few blocks away from the Cadbury factory and the air always smelled like sugar and milk. And on Dundas Street they were digging up ditches on either side of the main road so to get into any store or bar you had to tiptoe across a makeshift plank of wood, which was something, at least, as opposed to nothing. That summer I would cook myself giant batches of brown rice and peanut sauce stir-fries when my roommate went to work and portion them into Thai food take-out containers so that if I wanted to eat dinner I could tiptoe into the kitchen like a raccoon dressed up as a robber in a cartoon, grab one out of the fridge and then duck out without having said a single word to him. He turned forty that May. It was depressing and I didn’t love it but, again, at least it was something. My life had felt like nothing all winter and then it became something again. All I can remember of this city are the summers.
In June I turned twenty-six and freaked out about how “old” I was. Someone asked me “You know when you fuck a really skinny guy and get bruises on the inside of your thighs?” and I said “Yeah” even though I didn’t. I asked someone “You know when you fuck a really skinny guy and get bruises on the inside of your thighs?” even though it had never happened to me and she said “No.” I worked overnight shifts at the Gap and came up with funny names for the baby mannequins. One little guy I dressed in cargo shorts and a straw fedora and called Everybody’s Favorite Miami-Based Comedian. I washed down over-the-counter caffeine pills with tall cans of sugar-free Red Bulls on break, came home and ate white cheese-mayo-tomato-and-onion sandwiches on a rye roll from the Portuguese bakery while watching Parks & Recreation at eight in the morning before falling asleep and waking up to eat breakfast at five PM. When I got home from work I’d run into my roommate leaving and we’d high-five. Once I was listening to Whip-Smart on headphones and he said something and I took out my headphones and asked him “What?” and he said “The changing of the guards!” and I said “Yeah!”— that was the most I ever liked him.
I moved out of his apartment in the fall because I missed my old neighborhood and his alcoholism was a bummer to be around. I moved into a room in a house on the same street as the Front-and-Back, a room shaped like a square somebody pushed over and turned into a diamond. It was across the hall from the room where I am sitting here writing right now. We are into the fall of 2011 now.
If that autumn were a Beatles song it would have been Run For Your Life mixed with Love You To. I knew the goal was serenity but I didn’t know how to find it. I told someone I was into balance while we were smoking pot on my front steps and she laughed so hard at me I didn’t get George Harrison’s name tattooed on my wrist until almost an entire year later. I relapsed and starved myself for a couple months. I lost a ton of weight and told everyone it was because I was taking spinning classes at the Y. I felt like the skunk named Flower from the movie Bambi. Flower is a boy. I felt like a George Harrison trapped in a John Lennon’s body. I ate a Dipps granola bar next to a fountain they’d turned off because it was the middle of the night and came home and went to sleep and woke up because my phone was buzzing. My dad was on the phone. His voice sounded quiet and far away like it was coming from inside a skein of yarn and my phone was the skein of yarn. I asked him if my grandfather had died and he said that he had. I went to work and yarn-bombed a scooter because the Visuals for Christmas 2011 at GapKids/BabyGap were all about the hot new guerilla trend of yarn-bombing. I took some hot orange and turquoise yarn and wove them into a beautiful braid and came home and tacked that beautiful braid to a corkboard. Today I took everything off my corkboard except the braid. It didn’t make sense to put it in storage or bring it to England me so I left it there hanging like it’s a ghost of me.
The next March it was hot as summer and I wore a romper and got a tan and then we had a sharp rainy April and because March had been so gorgeous it was very, very cruel. I worked at Starbucks, which was the cruelest part of all. Adam “MCA” Yauch died. I bought an iPhone. I fell in love with a customer. He was a tall Normie with steely blue eyes who once ordered a petite vanilla scone and said “petite” in the funniest way. I ran into him at the health food store while I was shoveling roasted non-salted almonds into a plastic bag and got so nervous that I started dropping almonds all over the floor and it was loud and pebbly and embarrassing. I wasn’t wearing any mascara and felt self-conscious but could tell he found me attractive anyway. That June before I left for vacation I told him I’d be gone for eleven days and he said “Well then what’s the point of even coming here?” Then I quit and never came back. I doubt he never came back.
Six months later I saw him at the grocery store and we grinned like we’d just found we were the only two people in the world who were never gonna die. A year later I was in the middle of falling in love with my boyfriend Mark and I saw him at a different coffee shop and knew that it was now or never. I intelligently chose “Never” and he skated away. Literally. I waited for my Americano and watched him tie up his rollerblades and he skated out the front door. Just kidding. It was the side door.
That summer— we’re in 2012 now— I had a lot of weird breakdowns about how to balance being a person with being a writer but eventually hit it. I got a job bussing tables at a Mexican restaurant uptown and immediately fell in love with my head chef.
“Are you from, like, Mexico?” I asked him. I knew he wasn’t. But I was pretending that I was too bored by him not to assume that he was from anywhere except the country where the cuisine he cooked originated.
He told me he was from “a little country next to India called Bangladesh” and I over-reacted. I told him I knew “all” about Bangladesh- “Because of George Harrison! The Concert for Bangladesh?”
“That’s good,” he said, nodding, “That’s more than most people.” It meant a great deal to me: his saying that, my knowing it. I felt very warm and cool. I pictured the dull warm orange of the Concert For Bangladesh DVD case and tried to think of any sentence in the world besides “I have the DVD of it,” but all I could think of was “I have the DVD of it.” I knew I’d regret saying “I have the DVD of it” if I said it, so I smoked some of my cigarette and waited until I thought of something else. I thought of “I really like George Harrison” and told him “I really like George Harrison.”
“Like, a lot,” I went on.
“George Harrison is the only person who isn’t from Bangladesh who’s been granted Bengali citizenship,” he said, and I asked him “So everyone in Bangladesh, like, knows who George Harrison is?” and he said “Kind of” and I asked “More than here?” and he said “Yes.” And in my head Bangladesh became this perfect dream place where everyone cared about George Harrison as much as I do. On the corner of every street there’d be a George Harrison statue and all the Bangladesh stamps would have George Harrison’s face on them and the Bangladesh national anthem would be either My Sweet Lord or Bangla Desh.
One night we were alone in the kitchen together. He told me secrets about his life that I can’t write down because they are secrets. I spilled hibiscus juice all over the linens and he pretended not to notice. He was prepping mole sauce and asked me how I’d describe mole sauce to a customer and I told him I wouldn’t.
He laughed. “But what if they asked you?” I thought about it. “I’d probably say ‘Um, just a second’ and go get someone else.”
He laughed again.
“How would you describe mole?” I asked.
“I wouldn’t,” he said.
I craned my neck to get a better look at his mise-en-place. Every ingredient in mole is adorable.
“It’s so weird that there’s raisins in it,” I said dumbly. He ignored me.
“Come here,” he said, “Come smell this.”
I walked into his part of the kitchen and looked at the bussing station through the window. I pretended I was watching myself. Myself from that angle was what I looked like to him.
He was dry-roasting cinnamon sticks, cloves of nutmeg, and almonds in a pan.
“Come,” he said, “Don’t be shy.”
I leaned over the pan and tried to smell it but I couldn’t smell anything. Only smoke.
“Do you smell it?” he asked.
“Kind of…” I said.
The pan was smoking and he stepped to one side of it. I was around the other. He blew into the pan. He blew the smoke at my face and I smelled it. I could smell it then. The smoke cleared and I saw his face.
“Isn’t it amazing?” he asked.
In December Ravi Shankar died and my head chef got deported. They were the only two people from Bangladesh I’d ever heard of and in the space of four days they were both gone.
A few months later we were all drunk and I was telling everybody what Beatles songs they’d be if people were Beatles songs. That’s my party trick I guess. I told Mark he’d be Martha My Dear and he wasn’t thrilled about it. I can’t blame him.
I wasn’t being serious. I was trying to tell him what he needed to change about himself if he wanted to be my boyfriend.
He asked me what Beatles song I’d be. I told him Tomorrow Never Knows and he said he didn’t know that one so I played it out loud on my phone and he asked, “Why do you get to be such a cool one?” and I said “Because I’m cool.”
It’s not as fun to write about Mark and I because things worked out for us. We fell in love a year ago, and everything that has happened in the past year is all the stuff I’ve spent the past year writing about. I’ve done a lot of things but all I’ve really done is wait for it to get to be today.
I’ve spent the past six years dreaming up stories about living in London. Stories about cool people and cool jobs and working at a restaurant that Sir Paul McCartney comes and eats at. Stories about coming home for the holidays and all my friends think “Oh! She’s picked up a slight English accent” but I’m adorably oblivious to it and think I sound the same as I ever did. In the winter I tried to imagine what it would feel like if it was June and July but I failed at it. I never made up stories about Mark writing me a cheque for the price of half of our Airbnb and the elation of our finding out Stoke-Newington is nicknamed “Stokie” and I never made up stories about the folder named “england” in my Bookmarks which used to be a bunch of government pages about how to get my Visa but now’s full of all the websites of all the restaurants I think I’d like to work at. And I never thought of how stoked I’d be to not have to drink VQA wine anymore.
This past winter I thought a lot about what this blog post would look like. I imagined writing about all the places in Toronto I’d miss eating at without considering how the whole point of caring this much about the food you eat is that you’re always looking for new food. A whole new city, country, and continent full of brand new meals that will blow out your eardrums and cut off your fingers and blind you. And then you come back home to the Terroni spaghetti with clams and baby octopi and it reminds you of what your life felt like before you ripped the whole thing up, and that’s when it begins to mean something. You feel the way you feel when something takes you back to being a kid but instead it takes you back to a different time. You’re old enough to have more pasts than just childhood. Times you used to be living but now have lived.
I’m scared that I’m never going to see my grandmother again. I’m scared of having to ask Scottish people to speak slower if I ever meet a Scottish person. I’m annoyed by how I have to get a new phone contract and weird long English phone number with a zero and plus at the beginning of it but otherwise I am more excited than I have ever been. And all I want to do before I go is travel back to every day I ever lived here and tell that girl or woman hey, it’s okay, you did it, you escape. And when people ask me what I miss most about living here I’ll tell them spending every single second of my life wishing I was someplace else.