(1)I was only forty minutes away from the house that I was raised in. Lying on a beach. There was nothing disrupting the blue of the sky except for the pale disc of the sun. The temperature was mild. Despite the lack of clouds, you could tell that the UV rating was only moderate. A cool breeze pushed in steadily off of Georgian Bay’s boundless waters.
“Why don’t we come here more often?” I asked. “We pretty much have an ocean— well, not an ocean, but—”
“No it’s pretty much an ocean,” one of my friends said.
“I can’t see the other side. That’s a damn ocean,” said another.
“Exactly, an ocean thirty minutes from Barrie. Why don’t we come here more often?” I repeated.
“I don’t know,” said the one.
“We should come here with all the guys,” said the other.
We all agreed.
Lying down, the breeze was diminished. We could finally feel the heat starting to warm us back up. Around us were faceless bunches of people. Tourists. Even though we weren’t locals in these parts, surely the blob-like bipeds surrounding us had come from further away. And while this was a nice day for us, it would be the highlight of their summer. Canada Day in Wasaga Beach; all fine and well, but we wouldn’t drive here. We definitely wouldn’t linger. We didn’t leave Barrie until 1:00, and it’d taken us a couple hours to bike here, loaded with our gear. We’d rolled onto the sand sweaty and salty. We needed a swim in the lake, we’d deserved it. Then, lying in the sand we were chatting, trying to imagine the beach without the other people there.
The plan was to get warm and get dinner. Friend One had to go — once he was dry, he left the remaining two of us on our own for the night. We double checked the map and determined that the best plan for food would actually be to travel back south a bit to Wasaga Beach proper, then double back north a ways afterwards to make camp. We put back on socks, helmets, chamois cushions, and got back on the bikes. Thirteen further kms to a hot meal.
On the way to Wasaga, we’d scouted out our secretive beach-side camp spot for later. By the time we’d found a restaurant, it was 7:30 and we were ravenous. At the bar & grill, Canadian flags covered nearly every surface. I waited with the bikes while Friend Two went inside to determine the wait time. The place was packed. Worse than the tourists at the beach, proper locals slouched around each table and on each barstool inside and out. Some could describe the patrons at this particular restaurant on this particular night as — how do you say? — ah — ‘white trash.’ Well, it was in the outdoor garbage site, being blasted by the evening sun that I got the feeling the first time.
We ended up having to try two more restaurants before we got seated. By that time, it didn’t matter what we ate, it didn’t matter how long it took. Afterwards, we got back in the saddle, satiated, around ten o’clock. We fled away to our now empty, quiet, and private beachside reservation. With a lighter breeze, and after the sun soaking into the water all day, it was comfortable. We swam, naturally, in the shallows for nearly thirty minutes. Distant fireworks dazzled us from Wasaga, Collingwood, and Lafontaine, launching over the water.
We bedded down in bivouacs behind a subtle dune, hidden away and exhausted. Delirious, and thinking of how shitty it would be if we were awoken and ejected from our illegal nest, I got the feeling a second time. Only forty minutes away from the house I was raised in. Homesickness.
(2)More recently, again with bicycle, not even a cannon’s launch from my back porch. Urinating on the sandy mound that replaced my high school. Midnight in Barrie, Ontario — joint in my mouth, a calm disposition, trying to survey how my city had changed from the raised vantage point. But even the mound was a disappointment; the view was shit. I couldn’t see more than a block away.
The school had closed one year after my graduation. All they’d left behind after the final demolition last fall was a long-retired chimney — an obelisk, lone and sad. Apparently avian nesting grounds in need of saving. But it was not this demo site that gave me the feeling. No — in the sobering hours of so-late-its-early, from the rare position of spectator on the passing night life, it was Barrie’s downtown and the significance of a solo night ride that gave me pause.
My friends and I used to dance above this place. On bikes, we were both of and away from the typical experience, dipping in only when we wanted to. Even though much time has passed and I’m not a kid anymore, I still somehow looked significantly younger than the stumbling zombies roving between the night club doorways. Even when we did visit the nasty places, it was always some kind of inside joke. “Who do you think we’ll see? What craziness will we witness tonight?” Now it’s not even that.
It was a Saturday night. And who could be accounted for? Me. The visiter. I wore a backwards hat, no helmet, new Converse sneakers. I peddled the asphalt roads that are equally etched on my brain as they are on the avenues. I saw hooting and hollering, a young couple holding hands, and I had no one to turn and tell my jokes to. I was a stone’s throw from home and I couldn’t help but get this feeling. Home-related-sickness.
(1)There is a no more infantilizing affliction than homesickness. Like when you’re a child, the feeling brings about helplessness and a desire for rescue. The type described is your typical homesickness: “take me back, tuck me in bed.” But what I learned from the scene in Wasaga is an unsuspected mechanism of homesickness: it’s not about wanting to be home, it’s about wanting the un-homey to be gone. When I was lying on the beach, well aware that my underlying ailment was fatigue, I thought how it wasn’t that I wanted to be back in my bed — sure, that’s direct — what would have also cured me of the sickness would’ve been to take away the ‘risk’ of being caught at our camping spot; and earlier at the bar & grill, take away the hordes of sweaty, burnt beer-drinkers; and when I was a child, I needn’t be back in my bedroom from the sleepover that one time, but only needed the mystery of a friend’s house lifted. Put more simply: homesickness is not about getting towards something but about getting away from something. Sometimes homesickness can even happen at home. As a friend once astutely pointed out to me: the feeling of your extended family leaving your house on Boxing Day is also a kind of homesickness; after a few days of anticipation and busyness, going back to the mundane happenings of post-Christmas can have you longing in the same way.
I haven’t begun traveling yet. It’s a few days away. Steinbeck postulated that there seems to be “no cure for loneliness save only being alone.” I’m taking notes. My contemplations here and my attention to the people who have gone before me are preparations for what’s to come. Homesickness will creep into me dark and widespread, on more nights than I’d like to think about — and there’s nothing I can do about it. I’m thinking know your enemy. Beyond that, when it hits: eat well and go so sleep. Nothing the morning can’t solve.
(2)Do not mistake my words. I have never disparaged my home town and I never will. It was a common practice among my peers in the senior years of high school, around the “I can’t wait to get out of here” phase, and I detested it. I still do. I think it is very important to respect where you came from, especially if you ever hope to get anywhere else. Not to mention, I think it looks bad on a person — an uglifying sentiment.
What I meant by what I wrote is that maybe my spent time in Barrie will no longer be backlit by the amber glow of nostalgia. Around seven years ago, with my transition to university, whether I wanted it or not, Barrie became a place I was returning to. No longer a place I was in. And with the exception of my most recent joyride through its streets, always my returns were warm and welcome. Always I was back with my favourite people, an air of authority surrounding us, gained confidently by having twenty years of experience with a thing. Still we were making new memories in our place, not just replaying old ones. Still we were exploring new corners, not just revisiting the hotspots. That night downtown scared me, made me doubt my relationship with my home. If it is true that the hometown confidence is gone, I will fight to get it back. One facet that became true is that the circumstances are pushing back: my friends are getting busier, they won’t be available for each night cruise or movie night — getting more than three of us on a back porch together will take greater planning; the city will continue to morph, its very composition changing with each interval absent — striving to become something foreign; and finally, we’re getting older — yikes— and with that, countless predictable developments will ensue.
Let me concede that a lonely sober night ride through Barrie’s downtown strip is perhaps not the best barometer of my relationship with the city. It’s like judging the concert based on its bathroom stalls — not the highlight attribute you fill your camera roll with. Still, I felt the same disillusionment on a sunny Sunday one week prior. Where had the good times gone? Where had my friends that knew how to make light of the bad times busied off to? And what did I need to do to get them back?
It is not that I think less of Barrie, with this new observation. Quite the contrary; as I’d hope you’d gather by now, I think very highly of it. That’s why it’s so upsetting to experience this change, as subtle as it may be… Subtle yet glaring, like the sound being half a second out of sync with the image in a movie, I can’t shake it now that I’ve noticed. I either work to reestablish my old connection with my home or I accept the new one.
“You can’t go home again.” — Thomas Wolfe.
Well I already knew it. Mr. Wolfe said it his way but each moment that time marches on is a harsh reminder. I can never go back to the way it was. No, I will have to continue to focus on the positives (nay, the present), adapt to the changing pace of things, push for new experiences in a familiar place, and cherish the best people when I’m with them. It shows: you can really only live for yourself. But that’s a thesis for another day.
Wishing you ‘home’,
B.F. Greeno, aka
learning to carry it with me