Sometimes the past calls us back to itself and forces us to face it. Yesterday I found myself in the Toronto of my teenage dreams. I couldn’t have suspected it, in fact my mind was on the mostly terrible eight months I had spent living in a Chinatown basement apartment a few streets down, as the 510 Spadina streetcar cruised down to Nassau—Kensington Market.
And still I didn’t suspect it when I walked onto Baldwin St. in search of Kensington Ave. but it didn’t take long for me to check my phone, then ask a passerby, and find my directions. And once I’d done that there was nothing left to do but turn my head up and actually look around. And that all but knocked the breath out of me.
Here was a kombucha cafe, limitless numbers of thrift shops, a tibetan juice bar, and a cannabis dispensary among colourful shopfronts. I’d come here to find Courage, My Love, a vintage/thrift shop in search of jewellery to get myself a Sunday treat. I walked down the couple of blocks from Baldwin until the sky blue exterior of the brick house remodelled into a shop (most of Kensington Ave.) came into view but not before stopping at a couple of other thrift shops first.
Here were serious-looking women looking at tie-dyed white jeans and destructed denim, a grown man holding up a black-and-white striped pair of wide leg, high-waisted pants, and university students getting excited about the varieties of incense on offer. In short, throngs of people each exuding a vibe I never felt in my clean-cut Yorkville surroundings: pure, cutting freedom.
Maybe I imagined it.
But I felt deeply out of place, as if a cold howling wind had penetrated the centre of my chest and upset the balance inside. This was a Toronto I’d assumed was a relic of my 17-year-old mind, then viewed through the myopic lens of youth and well, completely nonexistent. But it was well and, well, alive and very real though the more hours pass since retreating into my own world the less sure I become.
At Courage, a woman with short blond hair behind the counter asked me if I needed help and I asked if I could try on some of the rings. Rings are my favourite. She lifted one of the glass coverings on the counter and I busied myself trying on ring after ring after ring. And none of them looked good. None of them looked…conventional enough. Big or small gemstones, amethyst, others blue aquamarine and red that I didn’t recognize, were neatly arranged row after row, a mix of shapes and sizes.
I compulsively slipped rings one on one finger then the other finger as if this could make a drastic difference in aesthetic and then grabbed the next ring even as I knew that it too would fail to please me. I didn’t know what else to do. I was unhappy with the whole lot. This colourful, hippy store was exactly what I’d had in mind, but I’d expected tamer people, not a crowd dressed in black combat boots with colourful hair, curly hair, short hair, no makeup, laughing and shouting and having absolutely no regard for standards of dress or fashion or even behaviour in their browsing. This was far too raw for what the 26-year-old me had accepted as “reality” by now.
Ignoring the mounting sense of panic, I thanked the shopkeeper and defiantly stepped to the back of the store for one final look. I refused to give in, to accept my difference with these people I had once been and who now I was already accusing of a million moral crimes in my mind.
Still, the feeling persisted and I decided to leave. As I all but ran to make my way back to the streetcar I locked eyes with a handsome tall man in black lace-up boots, a black t-shirt and black sweats. He was a vision of my teenage dream. He had long hair, half up, and he turned his neck as I walked by him. Despite myself, I forgot my fear and felt flattered.
The next day, I texted my best friend out of the blue,
“Went to Kensington. Weird place
Lots of hippies”
to which I almost immediately got,
“Lol yeah that’s like their hood”
Why hadn’t I known when at 18 I’d taken a hatchet to everything I liked, everything I did, to become an adult? Would I have sought people like me instead of trying to conform? I wouldn’t change a thing. I do wish I could observe the alternatives just the way I can look back on life as it actually was—or as I remember it to be. It’s part curiosity and part something darker, a hope for proof that this is the best possible alternative for me, an acquiescing of all past wrongs. This seal of approval from the world that reads, “you tried your best.” How else can we really know.
I didn’t wait long to punch back into the screen,
“Wasn’t my place. I left quickly”
And there was no response.