Concrete suffocates and overpowers all signs of life. The only reminders of “nature” are scratchy synthetic turf and reflections of sunbeams off of towering office walls. The traffic is never ending and angry, frustrated by perpetual construction and rush hour stalemates. Sidewalks cough up armies of Important Suits, rapidly marching to. the. next. destination. A congestion of ties and heels swiftly maneuver over forgotten humans, making an effort to ignore them until is becomes habitual.
Tense energy invades my space and irritates my skin. It is foreign and gross. I don’t want to be here.
It had been 3 months without a whisper from the umpteen companies I applied to for work. I was more than disgruntled. Didn’t I have shiny new degrees? Wasn’t that the point of university – get a degree to get a well-paying satisfying job? I had followed the rules of society and, apparently, missed the fine print. Why does every entry-level position want 5 years of experience and offer a salary comparable to my part-time high school job?
What The Hell?!
Life in Canada had screeched to a grinding halt. I missed my life in Dublin. Over there my routines were set, friends were always up for the craic, and mainland Europe was a €20 flight away. Returning home felt like stumbling backwards on repeat, like one of those Boomerang clips.
A New Beginning
Eventually I was hired. I was thankful to be employed, even with the paltry salary. Anything was good enough at that point. Perhaps that’s how we get sucked into the void. There was a silver lining. The company aligned with my interests and studies. With my foot in the door, I’d put in my time and progress into other more rewarding and fulfilling roles, even transfer to an international office. Our office was young, social, and well-travelled. They were exactly who I needed and wanted in my life.
And that’s when I let myself consider falling in love again.
Gradually, we began to get to know each other, this concrete jungle and I. During the winter we hibernated; cozy nights in, sharing stories, playing games, drinking wine, and laughing for hours. On hot summer weekends we galivanted on bikes and foot and the infamous TTC. We explored new neighbourhoods, and returned often to savour those that tasted best.
Together, we kept my sadness at bay. Distraction was our ally and a welcome third wheel. It is, I learned, one of the secrets to accepting new love into your life. We let ourselves be swept up in the constant motion and noise of The Big Smoke, planning the next weekend’s adventures as each Sunday’s page turned. We lived in the moment. I relished distancing myself from my thoughts and allowed myself to laugh from my belly instead of dolorous lips. It was a welcome comfort as I shifted through missing Dublin while navigating with Toronto how to open up again.
I learned another important lesson from my second relationship: life loves are irreplaceable. They’re wholly distinct, including the space they occupy in your heart, emptied or filled. Dublin stirred my heart with its musicality, nurturing a dormant past I missed more than I realized. Toronto restored my spirit with its cuisine, introducing me to new flavours and textures, as I practiced age-old customs around tables and in my kitchen.
Toronto, my friends, and I, satisfied our appetites for the world in Chinatown, Kensington Market, Little Italy, Koreatown, and Greektown, to begin. Together, we tasted our way through the bumpy brick streets of the Distillery District, unfamiliar scents and feel of Ethiopian dishes, and at plain hot dog stalls. My second love and I discovered new recipes, an obsession with FoodGawker, and a love of the kitchen. We perfected our peanut butter chocolate chip banana bread, experimented with warm tomato bisques, and capped our work days with impromptu homemade sangrias.
The Heart is the Hearth
It is no secret why the kitchen is the heart of any home. It fulfills our most basic need for sustenance. Perhaps more importantly, it feeds our need to care and be cared for.
Simple, complex, bold, and subtle, food is omnipresent. It is as much an emotional experience as it is a primal need and with it we travel through time, connecting our heritage to the present, while simultaneously sculpting the future. Regardless of when and where you’re from, people celebrate by pairing shared moments together with food. It is vital to how we connect with one another.
My relationship with Toronto was and is rich (and delicious!) because of the friends who shared meals together. Each month we, the self-dubbed “Foodies”, ate our way through Toronto’s diverse culinary neighbourhoods. We experienced food with our bare hands, wooden chopsticks, and metal forks. Usually we were unfamiliar with the dishes we ordered; a deliberate choice and a thrilling shared intention. Often we ate family style, sharing our plates with everyone around the table.
A Second Chance
During the first few months in Toronto I felt like an imposter. Colleagues would often comment on what a “happy” person I was. Ironically I felt miserable inside, missing Dublin.
At some point, I made a decision to embrace the present. The trajectory of my relationship with Toronto changed when I accepted where I was and chose to embrace it. Faking happiness for myself or others was no longer enough. After wading through my first heartbreak, it was time to press refresh. I was done with avoiding discomfort in the pursuit of self-preservation.
My relationship with Toronto, “the one after The First”, was unexpected and, in that wonderfully cliché way, right under my nose. This large and boisterous city was patient and reliable and supportive. Toronto understood I needed time alone to properly give it a chance, and yet not to be lonely through the process. It offered perfect doses of comfort, friendship, and adventure. We forged a bond, building memories over countless delicious tables.
I never thought I’d love Toronto. Before moving there, I was convinced it was a city of dirt and stress and superficial values…and in many ways it is. However, I was naive to disregard its lovable qualities. Toronto taught me that the only way to give us a fair chance was to spend ample time together. Once I decided to be present instead of wishing I was elsewhere, we had a blast together. These days I visit often, between stints around the world, and each time I do, a little smile creeps onto my face when I see the CN Tower rise over the skyline. Thank goodness for that second love, that second chance to hit refresh.