originally posted on 365 Attempts (at Life)
It is an afternoon in August of this year, and I am sitting on the lawn of Pitman Hall, where I lived during my first year at Ryerson University.
Tony’s film is playing at a theatre a block away, and I’ve taken the opportunity to visit my Alma Mater. Except it’s not really my Alma Mater. I studied photography here for two years before switching schools, cities and majors. But it is this place that holds the most vivid student memories for me, during frosh week, sleeping on this very patch of grass with my 10 new best friends until the sprinkler system sent us running inside, to picking up the phone on the morning of my 20th birthday and learning that my parents had finally gone their separate ways.
I hadn’t been happy in photography, not because it wasn’t a good program, but because it wasn’t right for me. But while I struggled academically during that first year, my “home” life was almost idyllic. My floor mates had become family, in every way imaginable. When my brother, aged 13, came to visit, I had to forcibly drag him into the elevator when it was time to head to the bus station. He didn’t want to leave this magical place, so far away from our parents’ fighting, where artistic people stayed up all night, lived on hamburgers and Hagen Dazs bars which they paid for with the swipe of a card, and drank their faces off.
One of my more fashionable frosh moments.
These are the memories I’ve come back here to revisit. I don’t think about them often, though I’m not sure why. But sitting here on this lawn, gazing up at this ordinary-looking cream coloured building, it hits me that I’ve never forgiven myself for being the person I was during those years. Instead, I’ve judged myself for not knowing who I was, and for leaving this place that taught film, journalism and television arts - areas I went on to work in – to study psychology, which I never made any use of, even though I loved learning about it. I’ve mocked my physical appearance at the time; my obsession with wearing black, and the fact that I lived the cliché and gained at least 15 pounds during that first year. I’ve rolled my eyes at how I dealt with the news of my parents divorce: utter denial, and then finding myself in a counselor’s office, hysterical with grief.
These are not conscious judgments. They’ve just been sitting there in a dusty corner of my mind, surfacing occasionally before being stuffed back into the dark closet of Things I’d Rather Forget. But today, something else occurs to me.
During my time here, I spent each day creating. I honoured my way of doing this, even when it meant not fitting in with my fellow students. I ate more French fries, danced more, and listened to more music. I loved hard, grieved openly, and decorated my room with sunflowers.
I did know who I was back then. I just didn’t know it yet.
In August 2012, I pick myself up off the lawn, and wave to the window of my former room on the 7th floor. And I wish I could tell that person who lived there what I now know to be true:
It’s not the wrong step. It’s just the first.