We celebrated New Years on the car ride to the airport. "To wear my heart on my sleeve, to speak clearly, to draw lines. to love well,” I wrote. I committed to posting a photo every day. I was part way through a book that would change my life. “Because I don’t know where I end and others begin, everything hurts." Decided, I would learn to say no, and loudly. Decided I would live alone. Realized I expected things of people whose debts could not be paid and it made my heart sick. Started running through my thoughts with a fine-tooth comb. Manny prayed and my sickness went away. I wrote a long list of things I needed to do better. I found safe places to quietly practice setting boundaries. Got called a one-way street. Starting saying no out loud, and it got caught in my throat. I remembered something from a long, long time ago and I had no place to put it down. At the end of January came 365 days since Josh. I crossed the Osborne Bridge, saw his picture taped to the guardrail where his life was taken and grief reared its ugly head once more. I stayed home, stayed on my side of the couch, kept my hands to myself. I didn’t use my DSLR until January 31st. “I will not be the same person at the end of 2015.”
I wrote a poem about the devil in the flat black of his eyes, I showed it to someone. I visited my hometown and appreciated what love can do from a distance. Wrote a case study on violence and it felt like tearing off skin. I stopped wanting to be compliant and it was a good thing. That familiar anemic weariness settled in again. Like a child, I wanted to be taken by the hand and led but it’s not like that. I forgot to unravel a lot of old stitches. I felt myself becoming an island at long last. My own person, not outlined by anyone else. Learned to welcome consequences as teacher. Felt a new feeling, for the very first time I was proud of myself. The more I learned about myself, the more I realized my job wasn’t right for me anymore. Someone put me in a studio, started teaching me to use my voice. Woke up below zero more than once. “you’re growing, not grown and you must love yourself accordingly.” Took self portraits in my bedroom because it was here and now and I am somebody to be photographed. Started seeing where the world has mislabelled the space at Jesus’ feet. Felt myself outgrowing my job at the same time that I fully learned how to do it excellently. I worked a lot less overtime. There were some days I could barely lift my head, but other souls made me laugh and it cut straight through.
It got harder by the day to work towards the wrong dream. I grew more and more thankful for the body I’ve been given. My heart stretched open to let a few more people in. Amazed, I continually realized there are people who do not try to stunt love. I tried yoga for the very first time with a group of people that immediately felt like dear old friends. My family came to my city and walked in my world. I felt permission too easily, lots of blurry love. I have never thought so much about the future. Our house was full every evening and I thought often, “I will miss this night when I live alone.” I biked for the first time in years and it felt like flying. A three year old prophesy came true. My sister gathered everyone I love and threw me a surprise birthday party and I went to bed that night with the biggest smile on my face. I didn’t think twice about turning 22. After my birthday, things grew heavy and I spent a lot of time walking around the West End. When I got home, love picked me up like it always does. I wanted someone to talk to. Tried to tell myself, “Don’t be afraid to be the one who loves more.” Asked myself a thousand questions. Got a call from work that I’d be getting my own radio show. Got a text from my aunt that read, “You better come see Grandpa before he forgets you, sweetie.”
In a small corner of the internet, I found a group of people with the same anchors and once I realized it, I learned how to fight it. “I am not this angry, heavy soul.” I discovered binge-watching. Started realizing that nothing in my life will happen unless I make it happen. I poured a lot of love into places that didn't quite fit. I drove out to see my Grandpa and he remembered me. They told me he would not last the year and I burst into tears on the spot. I spoke on the radio for the first time. I let myself think about leaving the only job I’d known for years. My co-workers taught me about what love looks like when it’s unconditional and I was so grateful. I started looking for someplace quieter to live and it caused me to start dreaming. April was like walking on uneven ground. “heavy and light,” just like he said. I looked forward to living alone, to learning who I am without any backdrop. I spent April trying to drown everything out. I met with a couple to discuss shooting their wedding. I got the key to my new apartment, waited way too long to start packing.
May was all film. I moved to a sunny one-bedroom in Wolseley and it made me so glad every day. There were pieces missing, I made myself an island from God and it made me worse in every way but May still shone. “I decide what colour this will be when I look back.” I ached to change. I forgot how to love properly without cost. I finally decided to go back to school. My dear friends made a safety net while I fought to figure everything out. Some boundaries have to be let down for mercy and grace to have their way. I learned the feeling in the pit of my stomach is a lighthouse. It doesn’t say, “drown”, it says to course correct. My empty hands were moths to flame. I split myself four ways, loved feebly. I caught myself off guard in the mirror, older. eyes a storm. hair falling behind my back, no need to hide anymore. I stopped fearing regret and started fearing never choosing anything at all. I applied for school. My neighbourhood turned into the set of a TV show and I spent a lot of time down at the bookstore/cafe. My application got accepted. I fell asleep writing. “My loved ones walk me home at night. Glad to be by their side.” I started to devote each day to changing my own mind. I grew lighter from it, spent most of May with the most inspiring people I know. I started to feel capable.
I was shaking scared, but I told my whole life story to seven people and they only loved me more for it. I wasn’t thinking and I let down walls in too many places after that. I shot a wedding, I finally started thinking about the big picture and the future. My heart fluttered but I was scared to crack it open. At Jazz Fest everyone flooded Old Market Square, all bodies and hands out and crashing. I spent a lot of time singing in Jason’s apartment, getting ready. My sister and I sang at a coffeehouse and for the first time, I felt the rush of creation live. I continued my daily brain detox, every day I felt more able. “I am growing up and it looks like finding a voice, like making people laugh, like saying no. like trying things.” I wasn’t afraid of strangers. Amy gave me a bike and it was so freeing.
Saw a photo of myself that shocked me but I did not mind, I did not hate myself in the slightest. I asked a lot of questions of Love, though I didn’t fully realize it. I wanted to learn, for the first time, despite all this fear. We ran around, biked to parks, “I like that we all live right here”. Fringe Festival came to town, my most favourite time of the whole year. We lived downtown, saw shows, danced at night, I did not stop taking photos. Hands up, crashing light and bass and laughter. Everyone beautiful and suspended right then. Every soul happy to be alive. I realized I had learned how to invest in people, instead of just letting people happen to me. Someone walked through the front door who would soon matter a great deal, but I did not know it then.
August had too few hours in every day. I took photos of my friends in love. Went camping with some of my dearest, oldest friends. Then Matt’s mom called me on the phone, told me he wasn’t getting better this time. We were planning a wedding while various loved ones’ lives fell apart. On August 7th, the most positive, selfless man I’ve ever met passed away. Two days later, I stood up beside one of my oldest friends while she married the love of her life. “and the world spins madly on.” It took three days to sink in and then I was sobbing in my bedroom and my two angels showed up at midnight to pull me together again. I left the city, drove across provinces and tried tried tried to forget everything. Threw myself into the whirlwind. Visited a thousand places, met my family in a strange city, watched my childhood best friend get married. Went swimming for the first time in years. Pulled all the chairs together in the hotel lobby so we could all be together. dreaded going home to funeral, to quarantine, to facing everything. Got back to the city and went straight to the funeral. cried a lot a lot a lot. The family we built with him all showed up, everyone at the same time in the same place. I held his mother while she wept. I am privileged to have ever been called friend by him. August did not stop for anything. I slept at Suntka’s place for a while. My coworkers gave me a surprise party because I was leaving for school and I was overwhelmed by their love for me. I got scared to leave - “I have no idea what I’m walking towards, I just know what I’m walking away from.” But somehow still, for the first time, I felt in control of my own life.
I free-floated between the end of my job and the start of the school year. “I’m always looking to be loved in every place I go.” Early September was red wine and everyone cooking together and staying up late. I slept on my couch. And then I started school for photography and at long last, I felt like I was in exactly the right place at exactly the right time. I met a crowd of talented, passionate people who all love the same thing I do, felt like I had always known them. I came home from class as light as a feather, danced around my apartment, like that feeling I used to get after seeing incredible art - that bursting, full, must-create, life-is-so-beautiful feeling. Nuit Blanche came just in time. I went to Kenora with Jay and we shot a wedding by the river. There was a city-wide worship night, it was centre-of-the-sun hot and I finally admitted my own strength had not been enough. He held my hand and I thought about it for a week straight. I was constantly reminded how truly lucky I am to have the friends I do.
I fully realized I’d been living in survival mode. Started to work towards stability. Shot another wedding, discovered a taste for whiskey. My mother’s sickness seemed to claw at me from inside, my own body pushing itself inside out. I traveled a lot, purely for the sake of taking photos. I didn’t always write, this month. “To create, that is my purpose.” It became so clear. I slept with poison still in the air. My usual tidal wave took my down, but only for a day. My dear sister loved me better than anyone, just like she always does. We drank coffee in the setting sun with one of my favourite photographers and I will always treasure those photos. I photographed my beautiful family. Love like that makes it so easy. Went out a ton with my classmates. Couldn’t stop procrastinating everything. Cancelled a lot of plans but always ended up in the right place, with the most inspiring artists I know. Tried to map out my feelings but fear stopped me every time. “I need help,” I thought. Not urgently, not to save my life. But there was so much I still hadn’t learned to do yet. My third year of celebrating Halloween was the best so far. We went to Kelly’s old-church-turned-music-venue and Luke sang, went to house party after house party and made new friends and danced all night.
“Didn’t notice and suddenly, all at once - I’m all dried up.” The lights in my house burned out one by one and I learned to live without them. Then, one day, I was okay and aware and angry about the way I have always been walked over, decided I'd stop allowing it. I got a second tattoo, drawn by my sister and she got it too and it meant so much to me, she means so much to me. He ran through my mind again and again. I met a talented and amazing woman who understood my industry and we lost all track of time. One night I was halfway through my show when my sister texted me, “It didn’t even look like him. Heaven would be better.” I stopped speaking, Death is always too close. I drove out and held on one last time. We sang at his bedside and then the next day, he was gone. I let the silence hang. I let my face turn to stone. Somebody I have always loved had gone. I cancelled everything, left all my homework in the city and went to be with my beautiful family and this gaping hole. I sang at my Grandpa’s funeral. Woke up to grief pressing me down into the bed. Couldn’t shake Death’s touch this time. I learned that grief is not private. Not when you’re brimming with it. Caroline stopped me in the hall, said, “This isn’t like you” and I broke right in two. But the people I love gave me everything they could and slowly I climbed out of it.
The Christmas trees went up, we went house to house stringing together ornaments and I had people over for the first time in months. I spent my days in the darkroom and it was magic to me. I love this month, everyone wants to be together and we meet up all over the city and every time feels like the happiest reunion. My classes taught me a lot about myself. Luke and I went to a show and the music moved, slow and powerful. Could have listened forever. Went home smiling. My brilliant friend Joey asked me to have a print up in his gallery. “The call is not to be comfortable.” he always says. Shook me up. The Christmas parties started and my heart was always overflowing. My sister took me to a ghost town and I taught her how to use my camera. I shot the whole thing on film, developed it myself. I started to notice when he was not there. The whirlwind picked up, but everything was good. Appreciated my dear old friends more than ever. For Christmas in the city, we shared gifts and sat in a circle and laughed a lot and said nice things. My coworker family celebrated together too, despite our missing piece. I drove back to my hometown on Christmas Eve, sang at the top of my lungs the whole way there. My lovely family welcomed me with open arms. I made everyone prints and it made me so happy. I came home and Luke asked me out and I smiled all the time. New Year’s Eve came suddenly, I forgot to resolve anything but I got to see almost everyone at once and we ended up at the airport again, exactly how the year had begun.
Thanks for sticking it out. I'm very hopeful for 2016.