In the summer of 1990, my parents purchased their first home in a small town called Orangeville. My mom had grown up there, and the high school where my parents first met—and fell in love—was just a 15-minute walk away from the neighbourhood. It was the ideal place to start, and raise, a family of their own. Prior to this, my parents rented an apartment in a part of Toronto known as “Jane and Finch”—notorious for its drug and gang-related crime. Though they had talked of relocating already, the decision was spurred after a police officer was shot dead in their building’s parking lot.
The “house” was still technically a plot of dirt, and the decision of which plot of dirt they wanted came down to whichever one was on highest ground—for practical reasons. By mid-January, the house was complete and my parents settled in. It wasn’t anything spectacular; a two-story red-brick house with a gravel driveway and a small wooden porch. But it was enough.
Even though the house was complete, much of the neighbourhood was still under development. About two months after moving in, a boy and girl, aged about eight and nine, came to the door carrying a cardboard box. Inside was a litter of kittens. My parents picked out the smallest of the bunch—an orange tabby—and named him Hobbes, after the comic book character.
A few years later, in the autumn of 1995, my parents had me: their first child. I was a fussy baby with a thick head of black hair, which fell out and grew back blonde. When I was born, my grandpa—who I call "papa"—planted a maple tree in our backyard. He tended to it and, in its early days, would come by to water it. I remember over the years he’d visit and gaze outside to where it stood.
“It looks healthy,” he’d say, “It’s really budding this year.” I didn’t realize for a long time that he had been the one to plant it, or that its "birth" of sorts, had coincided with my own.
In the summer, the tree sprouted large, green maple leaves and served as a perch for robins and the occasional blue jay. In the fall, the leaves turned hues of red and orange, and fell into piles in which we could jump and play. In the winter, its snowy branches would sport colourful Christmas lights. And, whenever I looked out from my bedroom window, there it would be.
As an infant, there were only a small handful of things that could pacify my cries: Enya’s angelic singing and the song Ob-la-di-ob-la-da by The Beatles. However, as I grew into a curious toddler whose catchphrase was, “What’s that?”—which came out as “Wassat?”—I found more and more things to love. One of those things was Hobbes, who I would smother with suffocating affection. He endured all of the grabbing, pulling, and over-enthusiastic cuddles with monk-like patience, and even responded with “kisses,” in which he’d softly nudge his head against your own if you said, “Kiss-kiss, Hobbes.”
It seemed that as I grew, the world grew with me. When I was old enough to run and play, a park was constructed directly across from our house with monkey bars, an enclosed slide, and a set of swings. As I approached school age, an elementary school was built just a short pathway down from the park. The school was completed the spring before I started Kindergarten and I was among the first group of students to attend it.
Around the same time I started school, my sister—who was born three years after me—and I started going to a babysitter’s house mornings and evenings. However, for as long as I can remember, we never saw it as going to a ‘babysitter's’ at all, and we certainly never called it that. Instead, we said we were going to Stephanie’s. We went there every day—save for weekends—over a number of years. It became like a second home. Close friendships formed between us and the other kids who went, friendships that carried on outside those walls. We were a small group, all close in age. We grew up alongside one another. We built snow forts, played tag, and, as we got a bit older, played video games, and watched movies. Sometimes—albeit rarely—we were allowed to go in the hot tub. I remember once we all went to see Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at the movie theatre.
Outside my elementary school, raised on a hill, was a stretch of green field on which we could play at recess. Standing on this grassy stretch of land, I could see my whole life. Behind me was the school, a yellow-bricked building with painted blue columns. To my left, standing watchful atop the hill, was Stephanie’s. To my right was the park, where I spent countless afternoons and evenings playing with friends, or on the swings dreaming that I could fly. And, directly across from the park, was my home. My entire life fit neatly into a small space, and I liked it that way. It was simple: familiar.
Of course, life isn’t static. It pushes on whether we want it to or not, and change was inevitably on the horizon. The first, and sudden, change was when Hobbes went missing. It wasn’t like him to hide or run off. We knew him to be a large, mellow feline who enjoyed napping most of the day, and seldom exerted himself unless food was involved. I cried, scared that we’d never find him, or even worse, that we would and he’d be hurt. We spent a lot of time walking up and down the street shouting, “Hobbes! Come here buddy!” and shaking bags of treats. Several hours later, we found him huddled up between a couple neighbours’ houses. When we approached him, he hissed and tried to bite us.
Even after we brought him home, his behaviour became increasingly negative. He tried to run off and hide again. He nipped at us if we went to touch him. He urinated around the house. While none of us wanted to admit it; we knew it was a sign his time on earth was almost up.
“Honey, you know, cats often run off and hide when they know they’re about to die,” my mom had told me. “I think it’s best if we have him taken to the vet and put down peacefully.”
It wasn’t an easy thing to accept. Hobbes was a part of our family even before I was. He was in my life since the first time I was brought home from the hospital, and every day since. He was more than just a cat to me; he was a friend. One that I loved with all my heart. In the days leading up to the appointment, we fed him his favourite treats. We showered him with kisses and love. We took pictures to remember his last days with us.
Then it came—the moment we’d say a final goodbye. The vet placed him on a metal table, positioning him on his side, and inserted the needle. He didn’t struggle or try to get away. He didn’t hiss or bite. Instead, he laid there, as though he understood what was happening and accepted it.
One year later, another bombshell was dropped—we were moving. Initially, I was excited. The idea of getting something new—a new bedroom, living room, backyard—was appealing to me. But it didn’t register until later that getting a new house meant saying goodbye to our current one. After a few months of looking, we found a house we liked on the other side of town, and found a buyer for our own. In the summer of 2006, as my 6th grade year was coming to a close, we packed up our stuff and moved.
Along with a new house came a new school. I struggled to integrate into already-formed friend groups, and endured teasing on a near daily basis. The friendly, familiar world I enjoyed was gone. I begged my mom to let me return to my old school for my final year in elementary school and she agreed. Perhaps I wanted to regain a sense of familiarity, or hoped that my life would magically return to how it used to be; but upon returning, I found everything had changed. Now what I saw when I stood on that grassy field was a shadow of my past. Behind me was the school I was about to graduate from. To my left was Stephanie’s, my old babysitter's: where I made friendships that became increasingly distant. To my right was where I used to play, and across from it, the place I used to call home. In its driveway sat an unfamiliar vehicle, and inside lived its new family, who would never know how much that house meant to me.
They’d never know how my papa planted and cared for the maple tree in the backyard. Or how much time and effort my mom gave to cultivating the gardens in the front and backyard, where we grew strawberries, blueberries, and rhubarb.
They’d never know of all the memories—good and bad—that filled every room. The living room, for instance, was where I celebrated my first birthday and Christmas, and every one thereafter. It was where I had countless sleepovers with friends, and frequently danced like a nutcase to the soundtracks of Les Misérables and The Wedding Singer.
Our house wasn’t perfect, but it was its imperfections that made it all the more special. A small gap on the inside of the heating vent in our living room became a secret way to communicate between the basement and main floor. My sister and I would take turns, one of us looking up to the metal vent across the basement’s ceiling, and the other peering down through the gap while we relayed random messages to one another. Of course, talking face to face could have sufficed—but this way was more fun.
The day we moved, I had to say goodbye to more than an empty structure: I had to say goodbye to the place I always called home, and every memory attached to it. I had to say goodbye to my childhood.
This past summer, while back from College, I asked my sister to drive us by our old house. Despite the fact we only moved across town, I hadn’t seen the place in years. As we turned onto our old street and approached the house, a surge of bittersweet nostalgia washed over me. I glanced out the car window, and even from out here I could see the maple tree- strong, tall, and healthy. It’s branches spread high and wide, and I imagined its roots stretched out farther than ever before.
Meet Allison. When she's not contemplating life or daydreaming of far-off places, you can find her sketching weird faces, listening to indie/alt rock, gaming, and drinking copious amounts of kombucha tea. At the end of the day, all she wants is to live a happy and fulfilling life, and to contribute positively to the world around her.