An Ode to Toronto: four years in the making

This is a personal essay I wrote in April, after finishing my exams and preparing to move out of Toronto. It explores themes of fear, reflection, and hope for the future. I am publishing this piece in lieu of completing my degree and moving into a new phase of life!

Leaving Toronto feels terrifying. At the very least, I can stay with some Toronto friends from time to time. This isn’t goodbye forever, but it is goodbye for now. All of the things this city has seen me through, it’s almost become a comforting friend to me. It has been the only thing I can really depend on. No matter what I’m feeling, I can walk and get on the subway to clear my mind. I’m leaving that freedom behind at the end of April.

Toronto is just as dysfunctional as any other city, but I have made parts of it my home. It isn’t the mystery it once was when I was in my first year here, I’ve come to grasp some understanding of it. This all sounds romantic, because it is. Youth is romantic, and when I move back home I’m going to have limitations and expectations put onto me. I can’t just be wherever I want at all times anymore. Thankfully I will be on the road in May, so I can delay the truth for a little while.

These city streets hold my pain and unexpected joy. They have memories and ghosts tucked into the sidewalks and storefronts. I’ve spent so much time exploring and experiencing everything Toronto has to offer. I’ve met the best and worst people here. I have played the most shows here as a solo artist than anywhere else in Canada, even Brantford.

I’ve uncovered parts of myself that I didn’t know existed. I have a confidence that speaks to my life here, I have a sense of independence that has been formed through faith and living despite fear, and all of these things accumulate to developing the wisdom that I know nothing. Anything can happen on any given day without me expecting it. A lady on the subway can strike up a conversation with me and then offer me a $20. I may have to go to a strip club for school. I could meet the love of my life without knowing it until months later when he attempts to ruin me. I can go out regardless of other people. I don’t need friends to accompany me to a new restaurant I want to explore, I can do that on my own.

If I want to see an exhibit, I’ll go see it. If I want to venture into a new neighbourhood, I will do it. If I want, I can walk for hours from the downtown core to my house. I’ve learned the limits I’ve imposed on my own free will, and how I will exercise it in day to day life. Weighing risks and rewards, following a spirit calling from within me, viewing new experiences as opportunities for growth. I wouldn’t have that without being thrust into the metropolis of Toronto. It has brought out the best and worst of me. It has broken my spirit, it has built me up again. It is the only constant I’ve had, amidst it’s unpredictability.

When I first moved to North Etobicoke, downtown both exhilarated and terrified me. The subway system seemed like a mess I didn’t want to get tangled in. Getting lost on transit and finding peace with being lost is what alleviated that anxiety. Today, I do things most of my peers don’t dare. I shaved my head. I’ve walked 20 kilometres in one day. I’ve pushed my physical and emotional limits for the sake of self exploration and experimentation.

Even still, I have never felt like a “Toronto Person”. The people who have been raised in the downtown core and GTA have a unique perspective on the city that I do not have. Toronto is banal, a bother, not particularly thrilling. For me, Toronto is excitement and freedom, no matter how isolating.

Toronto, I am grateful for the things you have taught me. I have many more lessons to learn, one of which is letting go. I will depart in peace, and I will come to find peace in abandoning parts of you in my life narrative. Toronto represents a period of time, and a new era is approaching.