This was today’s intended post. In a truly ironic sense, our house got broken into yesterday. Nothing was taken, but our bedroom was ransacked. All our private things (baby teeth, locks of hair, secret letters, old scarves) were thrashed around and left in piles. We are totally fine, if a bit shaken, and crazy insanely grateful that we weren’t in the house when it happened.
Having said that… read on!
I once lived in a boarding house on Greene Avenue in the heart of Westmount. Finishing off an extra semester of CEGEP and preparing to join my sister in Spain, this flexible housing solution was a practical solution for a 17 year old living on her own.
The Rentaroom, as we tenderly called it, was like a small 200 sq ft room and shared bathroom facilities. My entertainment consisted of: my 2 CDs (Jamiroquai and Paul Simon’s Graceland), my answering machine (tool used to record amusing & hilarious messages inspired by Jack Handey’s Deep Thoughts) and my visits from Justine. The kitchen was lavishly composed of a hot plate, a bar fridge and a case of Lemon Snapple.
One day after school, I invited someone other than Justine (whaaaaaat?) over to hang out, a highbrow Westmount girl now married to a Canadian celebrity. I thought nothing of inviting her to my sleeping pen. As she came in, she looked around in disdain and spoke these words, the echo of which I will hear forever:
“you live here?
I don’t remember what happened next, but I’m pretty sure she didn’t stay long.
Up until that point, we had really only lived in hotels. Having a position like my father’s (Hotel General Manager or GM if you’re in the biz) in the 70s, 80s and 90s meant that your family stayed on site. It was easier for the hotel to have someone there to deal with the stuff no employee wants to deal with. I remember booting it back from the country (the run down farmhouse bought to keep everyone grounded) to take care of a suicide, or a hail storm, or any other type of emergency
So anyways, you can imagine that as a 9 year old, you didn’t really invite people over for playdates. It’s not that it was embarrassing, it just never happened, mainly because very few kids lived downtown. “Come up the Queen Elizabeth, tell the doorman you’re here to see Emeline and Gwenn, we’re in apartment 2120!”. Yeah, that never really happened. And Eloise? She made it look much more glamorous than it really was. And because my parents were VERY down to earth and humble, we never grew up with a sense that we had more or less than other kids… actually, I remember being so envious of my best friend Gabriella’s condo in Nun’s Island. It seemed to normal and she had other kids to play with!
The stint with the Rentaroom marked me. Up until she uttered those words and looked so horrified, I had never EVER considered that the roof over top was a reflection of myself, or of anything else for that matter. It was all just circumstantial. The tropical garden in the living room and 38 intercoms of the hotel penthouse? That wasn’t who we were as a family it just happened to be where we lived.
But from that moment onwards, that nagging doubt latched into my mind. Why isn’t it ok to live here? What’s wrong with me that I CAN live here? Sure the shower is gross and the bathroom smells of impostor perfume, but it still works! That feeling of needing to project an image that wasn’t completely my own, well it ebbed and flowed and eventually roared back.
In my lifetime, I’ve moved A LOT.
4 hotels + 8 apartments = forever house. That’s the mathematical equation that brought me here
We found ourselves in the Benny Family Coop after a tough decision to scale down and have less overhead. I hadn’t really gone back to work and we needed to be able to make it on one salary if we ever did end up opening that shop. I cried the first time I visited it- it seemed so ugly, so bare bones, so different than any other house that I had lived it. And I could here the voice from the Rentaroom. But we did it anyways, and we did open the shop, a year after we moved.
And while I worked and worked and worked on creating and growing that gorgeous, luminous store, I lived in this tiny and un-beautiful apartment. Anger and shame settled in quite easily. Inside, I resented my home.
We made some of our best family friends there, we gave birth to Pia there, we opened the shop there, we grew into ourselves as a family unit there. And those are all huge and beautiful things. But I became obsessed with everything it wasn’t and everything I really WASN’T. See, the trick was that I had the store to use as a mirage, it was the projection of everything I wanted. Beautiful, successful, impactful. And while it was open, I was safe. And when it closed, I couldn’t use it to define me. And now, with a few years under my belt, and a few more wrinkles, I can see that that was the first step in how we ended up here.
If had known as a teen that the hotel didn’t reflect who I was, why did I let that 860 sq ft apartment?
So where does that leave me? Am I miraculously cured? Have a shed all judgement and insecurity alike? Well I’d like to say that I am, but it wouldn’t be the real truth. I am working on it and re-learning what I knew all along: