I don't remember the day I was born, but I'm told it was January 27, 1968. I'm also told I was meant to be a boy, and that my name was Tony before I entered the world at 11:38am. It seemed particularly important that I get this first test right, since I later came to understand that my older sister had already disappointed by turning out a girl. But I blew it too, showing up a girl on a Saturday in the bleak mid-winter.
I spent my first year on my grandparents' dairy farm in the Ontario countryside. And I felt something was not right. Like, maybe the stork that delivered me was a kangaroo. I was missing a sense of belonging.
My sister and I were in Grandma's care, an addition to her grown brood of 10. I remember being contained in a playpen in the kitchen. I was curious, watching everything from behind the wooden bars. I wanted to be into everything too, but I was trapped.
So I watched. I observed. And my observations taught me to avoid my big sis. Merely 15 months older than me, she was barely a toddler herself. Her feelings about my arrival were strong, and the wooden legs of the wobbly high chair under me were not. She toppled me over, conquering the interloper, and taking us both down. Mom remembers the crash behind her, and the sight of her baby and toddler lying on the floor, one trapped under the high chair, the other trapped in it, both bleeding from the head. Ironically, or fittingly, we have matching scars on our eyebrows. I asked about my scar one day, and that's how I first uncovered the story. Scars are keys. Sometimes a door opens and you find much more than you expected.
My early days behind bars and my ability to survive free-falling have amplified a few aspects of my nature: my wanderlust, my determination, my powers of observation and my...what's the opposite word for control freak? Life happens. And we learn to handle it. And we find our own way. I also suspect my early experiences explain my distaste for the term CFA in the Maritimes. Come From Away is nearly the same as Doesn't Belong Here. It's probably best that I wasn't aware of this C-term on my first visit to Halifax in 1998, when I first felt I could love this place for a lifetime.
I arrived in the Maritimes 15 years ago. At the time, I could have relocated anywhere in Canada or continued to work overseas. I chose Halifax. I loved Halifax. At times, it has felt like a dysfunctional relationship though, as if I'm still waiting for Halifax to love me back, just as I am, with all my annoying CFA questions: Is this a place where I can thrive personally and professionally? Why is the service industry so nonchalant? Can the economy in the Maritimes support a truer valuation of creativity and the arts? What is it going to take for more men to listen to more women on important civic and political matters? Why did we have the highest unemployment rate in the country last year? We didn't create it overnight, I know, but aren't we stuck there in our mindset? Nova Scotia, do you express yourself freely on matters that are important to you? What is the real cost of mounting a soapbox? Is free speech really free?
The internet is certainly a global soapbox. If we look at the most popular post about Nova Scotia in the online Urban Dictionary, it both cheers and jeers: "Nova Scotia rocks. The rest of Canada can kiss our asses." And a post further down criticizes: "Nova Scotians love children and pets, but have no time for adults, particularly those who 'come from away.' If you weren't born or raised in the province, there's no place for you." This doesn't indicate everyone's opinion, of course, but several hundred people voted for these posts.
As much as this is an essay about my unrequited love of the east coast, and my desire to build a life here, and belong, it is about living with a certain intention---allowing my heart to lead me to different places, personally and professionally, literally and figuratively, just as it lead me here. But sometimes the doors don't open. Sometimes you find much less than you expected. And so you keep knocking... a
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