Summer weather has come early to Toronto and tonight is the first night I've sat outside on the porch to soak in the cool night air. Smitten is sitting beside me on one side and Simone is standing on the other and this reminds me of Stella, who sat, and Rocky, who stood, and we all look into the darkness now as we did then. Smitten looks for critters. Simone makes quick dashes into the depths of the yard when her courage rises but she always quickly runs back and retakes her place beside me. I stare into the back of the yard and I can see shadows of new growth, of still bare branches, of lights from the neighbours beyond that. The AC units in the area have not been turned on yet, the drunks have not started fighting yet, the clubbers have not come downtown yet. Sandwiched as we are between Queen St and King St, it is surprisingly quiet.
I will miss this house. It's been home to several roommates and their various cats. It's been home to Barclay and Stella and Rocky and we've seen them live and play and grow old here. It's been home to Smitten and Simone, of course, and they've made it their playground to wrestle, chase, explore. It's been home to my marriage and it sees the end of that as well.
Simone will be coming with me, Smitten with Elizabeth. The dogs are each other's friends but they are bonded with their humans. Smitten would be heartbroken without Elizabeth and Simone, well, she is my shadow now.
I've spent the last few weeks getting this house ready to sell and it's been quite a bit of work so the posts here have been sporadic. I even missed going into TAS South a couple of weekends and I don't think I've done that before unless I was out of town or TAS was somehow inaccessible. Now that all this decluttering, painting, repairing has been done, it feels a shame to be leaving this place. It's like I've prepped the house for a great party I won't be going to.
After the first eight years of living in the house, my internal clock stopped keeping track and whenever anyone asked me how long I'd been there, I'd say eight years - and believed it. It wasn't until I checked the records, after the decision was made to sell it, that I saw I'd been here for thirteen years. It was a shock. It was like waking up one day and realizing I was five years older than I thought I was.
If dogs have ghosts, I wonder if they are location constrained like human ghosts. Perhaps then Stella and Rocky and Barclay will haunt this place. The future owners will hear the pad pad pad of paws. They will find dusty hair balls mysteriously appearing and rolling across the floor. They will feel the warmth of a furry weight settling in on their laps. And if the new owners are lucky, if they are especially sensitive to these kinds of things, they will feel a sense of overjoyous, crazy welcome every time they come home and walk in through the front door.
As we grow older, each year seems to go by faster, each winter feels colder, and each move becomes harder. Our baggage, physical and mental, accumulates and weighs us down. In the past, it was always a mutual agreement between friends to help with each other's moves: a bunch of boxes, a few pieces of heavier furniture. Not a big deal, nothing a few pizzas and cases of beer wouldn't help cover.
This time, I hired movers - a necessity. The furniture, now several pieces, are all heavy; the boxes, now multiplied in number, have gained weight as well, and the new place is narrow hallways, narrower stairs and three floors. The movers hauled for almost eight hours straight in the heat. By the end of the day, their clothes were soaked through from shoulders to knees.
There were times when I couldn't watch, like when they were carrying the three hundred pound couch up the stairs with a clearance of less than inch on either side or when they were trying to shimmy the awkward TV (a big old console) around a tight corner without scratching anything or busting the screen.
"You're never moving that TV again are you?" one of the movers asked.
"No," I said. "If I ever move again, I'm going to have a smash-the-TV-party and you're gonna be the first to get an invite."
Simone doesn't like living with boxes. She's particularly skittish around them. I bump into one, she jumps. I pull the packing tape off one, she jumps. I slide an empty one down the stairs, she jumps. She'll be happy when they no longer populate every room and hallway.
She likes the new neighbourhood, though. So many new smells. She stops more than she's ever stopped. At every new yard she passes, she has to mark - yes, she's a marker. She's even learned to lift her leg.
This morning as we stepped out the door, across the road was a guy walking two Whippets. They were blonde and sleek and gleaming, emblematic of the neighbourhood. Simone, a Parkdale dog if there ever was one, eyed them with suspicious. They stared back. They bucked and pulled at their leashes trying to get over to us. Simone dared them on. I'm not sure who grunted first but immediately after, the snarling/barking started.
Poor behaviour on all the dogs' parts to be sure but I thought it was kind of funny. It played into a classic narrative friction between the established and the newcomers, the polished and the unkempt, Roncevalles and Parkdale.
Maybe I'll get Simone a shinier collar. Maybe I'll start wearing less trashy clothes.
Or maybe not.
The old house is empty now. I am back one final time to say goodbye to the ghosts. Soon there will be new spirits inhabiting this place.
It's silly, but I feel I'm abandoning this house. Perhaps I'm confusing that feeling with a feeling of having abandoned a big part of my life. I never did all the things I wanted to do here. There was always something that needed to be done, big projects, big plans, as any of you living in old Victorians probably know. I often hated the place, all the responsibilities that came with it.
But I'm not just talking about the house. There were other things undone as well, in life, in love, undone, incomplete.
I often wanted to leave but I never actually saw myself leaving.
Now it's happened.
I wonder how many times this scene has replayed itself in this house before, similar thoughts from others who have been on the edge of leaving. I've seen this house indicated on a map from the 1880s so it's at least 130 years old. That's almost as old as Canada. How many families have passed through here since then?
There are echoes in here now with all the furniture gone. They are echoes of love, joy, sadness, happiness, anger, hope soaked into the bones of this old house, emanating back out. I leave that behind now.
I lay on the floor and stare up at the ceiling and I think: this once was mine.
May the new owners take care of these old ghosts.
1999 - 2012
These are the lives who have passed through here:
Davian, Gavin, April, Kelly, Jason, Lindsay, all their cats, Barclay, Stella, Rocky, Smitten, Simone, Elizabeth, myself.