It all started with Stephen Watson. Doesn’t every good story? I was chatting to him about my impending move to Vancouver, November 2004. He handed me a book of his poetry and a number of an ex-roomie/possibly ex-lover from the starving-artist-in-a-garret days of Cambridge. His starving artist days, not mine. I have never been to Cambridge, and I’m more of an Oxford Man myself. I arrived one cold evening at YVR International, after 10 days exploring Londres with Young Jon, only somewhat terrified at the fact that I had rocked up in a strange country on the opposite side of the globe and didn’t quite know what the hell I was going to do for a year. It was cold. I found my way to the backpackers (predictably loud, pulsing with hormones and Australians) and soon mild panic erupted into Oh My God What The Hell Was I Thinking? It’s a bit of a blur, really, that first week, but I found a coffee shop that served rooibos, met a cool Aussie girl, got a rock hard piece of bread dropped on my head by a seagull, got good advice from Steve K, frantically job searched, and one day looked up and saw the snow on the peaks of the North Shore mountains, the imprint of small maple leaves on the pavement and somehow knew it was going to be okay.
Stephen’s book was carefully tucked away in my suitcase; I figured, I’m desperate and lonely, why shouldn’t I call her up? We arranged to meet on Burrard Street – I remember looking at a sign board that said it was 0°C. She picked me up in her Merc (I scanned for the right number plate) and off we headed to her neck of the woods in Point Grey, out near the UBC. Her daughter had to go to the doctor, so I wandered around 10th Avenue, heading for a bookstore. There was a power failure and we had to leave the store. I suddenly noticed a Help Wanted sign. Finally, something I could do with an MA in English; sell books. Yes, a note of cynicism, but as an aside, I’ve had my humbling moment of filling in my MA on a Domino’s Pizza application form. They never called me. Anyway, S and I had butternut soup at a restaurant owned and run by South Africans, got acquainted. It was nice to talk to someone who had visited South Africa and also who had some vague connection to someone I sort-of knew. We grab onto anything we can, in times of loneliness. And she was lovely, as is her family who I later met.
This meeting led to my seasonal job at the bookstore. I found a place to stay in Surrey and was traveling nearly 2 hours there and back, but it was fun. The Christmas rush. And this is where the story starts to get interesting.On my lunch break, I decided to check out a store across the road that a co-worker had told me about. I needed a jacket suitable for the weather. The girl who worked there and I started chatting, had an instant click. We met again on the bus and as the season wound up and my job was coming to an end, I visited her before I was leaving and, feeling somewhat stalkerish, got her number. The first time we were supposed to hang out was a Tsunami relief show at the same restaurant I had been to with S. Technology failed us. I missioned there from Surrey, didn’t realize that smsing/texting was, back then, a relatively unknown concept here and then when I tried to call her, no reply. I paid my $10 anyway and went in, couldn’t find her, so left. We both thought we’d been stood up. Fortunately the next time we got together (Deux Soleil, I think it was, and a romantic trip to Safeway) was a lot smoother. Very rarely one meets someone who feels so familiar, like you have known them forever. I had my first Canadian friend.
In January, W was staying with me and it was D’s birthday – I hadn’t been to her place yet and I don’t think I had met her boyfriend yet so off W and I went. There were a couple of other people there besides us and we ended up playing this board game called the Game of Life. I sat next to this boy with a nervous giggle and beautiful eyes who asked me interesting questions about South Africa and who picked the Rockstar card in the game. We had some drinks, made up the rules of the game as we went along and in general, it was a good party. When D and I were doing our post-party analysis a while later, we happened to start talking about the boy with the nervous giggle. Ethan. She told me she’d love to set him up with someone; I told her I thought he was cute. That night, I got a phone call. It was D, sounding rather sheepish, telling me she had told him I was interested and asking if she should organize a little get together for us to get to know each other. This was after she had explained to him that W and I weren’t a couple.
A week later, I was sitting on D’s couch, drinking heavily in anticipation of Ethan’s arrival. For most of the night it was just the three of us and then D and J joined us later. Poor Ethan. Every time he went to the kitchen, D pounced and asked if he was going to ask for my number. And he did. That endearing nervous giggle, a tiny phone book and pencil stub and some suitably awkward ‘I’m always looking for new people to hang out with’ kind of line. I waited until the Wednesday and he still hadn’t called, so I called him. We arranged to go out on the Saturday night after he’d finished work. Toby’s on the Drive. Sometime around 2am, I realized I had missed the last Skytrain home. I made a lame suggestion about catching a cab (not that I could really afford the $60 to get back to Surrey). Very non-lecherously, he said I could stay at his place. Very lecherously, I agreed. We walked back in the cold from the pub and I remember my feet were hurting. I was wearing sexy shoes, not practical ones. Our first kiss was while lying on the floor playing with the cat. The next day he called in sick for work and D had been phoning my house looking for me but didn’t want to ask my room mates if I had come home or not. 11 February 2005.
In August, we were camping on Newcastle Island. It was a glorious summer and other than fighting off vicious raccoons, an idyllic long weekend. Before we left, I knew I had to talk to him about what we were going to do. I had three months left before I had to leave and I was not about to let him slip away. I have done the long distance thing and it wasn’t pretty. I just didn’t want to freak him out. I had no idea he was thinking along the same lines as me. We were sitting reading our books and somehow got to talking about me leaving. We were in tears, hugging, panicking and suddenly I said to him, ‘I want to ask you something but I don’t want to freak you out’. He said to me, ‘I want to ask you something’. Laughing and crying, we proposed to each other and in total wonder, woke up the next day realizing we were seriously engaged. There was the small factor of my parents not having met him and us only having dated for about 7 months. Somehow, we got through telling everyone, broke the news, caused a few minor strokes across the world and thought what the hell, why wait?
On the 3 September 2005, I was walked down the beach at Spanish Banks by my brother and when I caught a glimpse of Ethan’s smile, it confirmed every feeling I had that this was the easiest thing I had ever chosen to do in my life and that I could not be happier. It was an unbelievable day. My only regret was that my father and my friends from home could not be there, but we were not wanting for caring friends and family.
It has been a long path from there; we went back to South Africa for a year and a half and have now been back in Vancouver for over a year after a long and torturous visa process. Let’s not even go into FedEx losing/stealing my passport as it was on its way to the Embassy in Pretoria… After three and a bit years, it has hit me that finally I am going to be in this same place for the near future. Somehow that is more scary, in a way, than the transience of the last three or so years. I have to figure how I want to put down my roots, what kind of work I want to do, where we should live. It’s going to be a journey. And to think it all started with Stephen Watson. I guess any story that begins that way, must end well.