When I moved to the city last year, I realized two very important things: people do cocaine, no one rollerblades. I am a member of the latter category. They call me Blade Girl – nobody calls me that.
On the first of April, my mom and I packed two cars full of giant Rubbermaid containers and made our way to my new home; although, it wasn’t entirely new. I had been devising a plan to get back to Toronto ever since my parents pried my tiny-baby hands from the front steps of 79 Farnham Avenue twenty years ago.
I’m not bitter, I just never forgave them for taking me away from my first love to a semi-detached in suburbia. Okay, fine, the burbs were actually a great place to grow up. It’s where I met my best friends, sort of lost my virginity, and peed myself while crying on the stairs because I couldn’t find the bathroom in this strange new place where all the houses looked the same – I was five.
My parents had worked so hard to buy their first home and I had literally pissed on it. I didn’t know it then, but the stairs I had marked like a dog on a lawn were ours, this house was ours and now I was leaving it for a rented townhouse in “The 6ix-x-x” (I hate myself) that I would share with three friends.
There was a key waiting for me in the mailbox and another one in my empty bedroom next to a note:
I’ve had so many amazing memories in this house. There is no other person in the world I would give them to but you. This place is magical. I have never felt so loved, had so much fun, cried so much, than here.
Jess later told me that she lay awake in bed that night wondering if moving out had been a mistake. I didn’t sleep so great either, but her words made me feel less alone while my roommates, Sarah, Katie, and (another) Jess, were gone and every noise was definitely an intruder.
Despite my overactive imagination, there were never any bad guys creeping outside my bedroom window, just the occasional rat, drunk man pissing, and random dude dressed in black who collected junk and carried it away on a wheelchair every half hour. I felt completely safe and everything made sense, especially the 100 dollar parking ticket I found flapping on my windshield the next morning.
When a neighbour asked if everything was okay as I cursed at a fire hydrant planted like a shrub in my other neighbour’s garden, I wasn’t exactly sure how to respond. “My name is Maria, she said, I live a few houses down, let me know if you ever need anything.”
I need 100 dollars, Maria.
After about a month of commuting and failing to park in the right place at the right time, I switched work places and traded in my 2001 Toyota Rav4 for a pair of slightly rusted 4-wheelers. I also traded in my dignity when those bad boys repeatedly caught in the street car tracks. If you were wondering how one recovers gracefully after tripping on rollerblades while wearing wrist guards and a bright blue helmet, the answer is you don’t.
I’ll admit I was wary of unexpected hills and getting hit by a car – it took weeks to fully appreciate the irony of a CAA driver nearly running me over – but I was never afraid of falling.
Those rollerblades had been my faithful companion for a decade. They were the only thing that felt familiar as I zoomed along Bloor Street, dodging pedestrians and sandwich boards and apologizing profusely to both when we collided.
At night, if the girls were asleep, I would climb our porch, glide through the kitchen, and crash into bed where I finally peeled the bulky contraptions off my pulsing feet. Bedtime was the longest time I spent away from my blades and even then I could still feel them.
When we were all awake and home at the same time, my roomies and I melted into the couch on the second floor, WFH (Watch Full House or Work From Home), and talked about the boys we weren’t sleeping with. Bonded by more than a lease, our mutual love of peanut butter and memes brought us together during those long, often rainy, summer days.
One humid afternoon in June, the four of us in our natural couch habitat, Katie announced that she was moving out. With her knees pulled close, Katie was as uncomfortable as the silence we all sat in. I forget who spoke first, I was just relieved someone finally did.
Our somber living room eventually returned to a normal decibel level; we talked it over and, as much as we didn’t want her to leave, the three staying behind understood.
Two weeks later the four of us were back in our living room, but this time our landlord, Sandra*, had come to join us.
Sandra was like my neighbour Maria – Italian, except more intense and less warm, okay, so, not like Maria at all. When we needed something fixed, Sandra and her husband were on it right away – this one time she even bought us plastic ponchos in case we didn’t have umbrellas, or self respect – but you park in the driveway without notifying her 24 hours in advance and there would be hell to pay. I trusted her enough to be my landlord, but I didn’t like her enough to be my Nonna, ya feel?
Anyways, Sandra was over because she had recently informed us that since we were on a joint lease, Katie’s notice to vacate applied to each of us…k? And me taking Jess’ place and moving in two months ago had been a one time favour…k? However, Sandra understood that three wanted to stay and was willing to discuss possible options which she assured we would have time to consider amongst ourselves. Great!
Perched on our stained IKEA sectional like it was a throne, Sandra presented us with the house’s hydro bill. “I simply cannot afford,” she said, pointing to the creased piece of paper. According to Sandra, due to the cost of hydro and because our rent was below market value, she couldn’t afford to keep things the way they were. I sat on the floor and nodded like any expert in housing market values would.
Since Sandra wanted us to stay, she offered to terminate our existing month-to-month lease so we could sign a new-fixed-one-year lease. Then, she revealed she had posted the house on Craig’s List (four days earlier) “to see if it would get any bites.”
“Sixty people” and one University professor, who Sandra raved about like he was a sexy Albus Dumbledore, were interested in the home we happened to still be living in. Sandra had listed the house at a higher rent than we currently paid, but if we terminated our lease, she would make our new rent lower than the listed price – another favour.
“It makes me sick,” Sandra said – referring to us paying more, “but I cannot afford,” she repeated. Neither could the three of us, we would need a fourth tenant. After contemplating Sandra’s only option, (another) Jess decided she couldn’t commit to a year lease. Our girl band was now a two-women show.
Myself and Sarah negotiated the future cost of rent with Sandra and agreed on a number. However, seeing as we are not Sultans or professors, the two of us couldn’t afford it, so Sandra gave us one week to find roommates.
These agreements were not put in writing, nor were we given a draft of the new lease. What we were given was a termination of lease document, a pen, and a cheque with our last month’s rent. (another) Jess picked up the pen first and –
Suddenly, Blade Girl, with all her knowledge of Landlord and Tenant Law, crashes through the upstairs window, zooms across the hardwood, grabs the termination document, smacks it against our dumb faces, and throws it and Sandra out the window. Shocked yet relieved, the four girls finally buy a kitchen table and live happily ever after in their home for the next 11 months.
Plot twist: We signed the termination document and, in turn, our home away.
What followed was a series of aggressive emails, threats to be sued for “damages,” lies about a sick sister from Italy, and less than 60 days to move out and find a new place in a city with a 1 % vacancy rate where I have a better chance of finding Tupac Shakur than an affordable home.
Sarah and I spent the next month frantically hopping from one shitty apartment viewing to the next, standing in lines outside freshly posted rentals, scanning the deepest recesses of the internet, and asking everyone we knew if they knew of anything. They didn’t. We didn’t.
The only thing I knew for certain was that I was perpetually lost. “Go west; head south towards the lake,” kind strangers would offer, which was especially helpful when I couldn’t see the lake, ever. I wasn’t cut out for this city. I had failed at living here and where’s the fucking lake?
I decided to channel all my rage into a T2: Application about Tenant Rights, because who cares about being homeless when you have sweet, sweet revenge. I compiled all the emails along with the girl’s accounts of what happened, filed with the Landlord and Tenant Board, and served that heavy document to Sandra. This was Taken IV and I was Liam Neeson, but with fewer skills.
One night, in the midst of my scheming, I was rollerblading home for one of the last times when I heard someone yell my name. My friend, Justin, was sitting on a picnic bench outside an ice cream parlour. He asked me how I was doing and instead of lying that I was good, I completely unravelled and vented to him. He was on a first date (sorry).
The next morning I woke up to a message from Justin,
Hey Mere, I was thinking about your situation. My friend owns a house right across Trinity Bellwoods. Two bedrooms, available September 1st, would you be interested?
I was barely keeping my head above water when Justin handed me the keys to a fricken yacht. Only the yacht was a slanted home next to a weed dispensary in Little Portugal.
It’s been one year since Sarah and I moved in and I’m still not used to the slant. I break a lot of cups, food rolls off the table, pipes burst in the winter, and one time I had to bathe in a mixing bowl because the shower handle fell off.
I have never loved a place more.
Everything had worked out, yet there were so many times where I felt like that unsettled, terrified little girl on the stairs. Except my five year old self was onto something. When she couldn’t take it anymore, she just let go. This is something adult-me struggles with. I hold on to things: people, houses, anger, etc. I grasped them so tightly, but it was me and my blades that broke.
I had become so obsessed with proving Sandra wrong that it was all I could think about. It got so bad that I forgot what it was like to not feel anxious. I had this constant, terrible feeling that no matter how good things were, I was going to fuck it up and everything would come crashing down. Our case against Sandra was the only time I felt somewhat in control. At least I had the law on my side.
Turns out the law is really confusing. Sandra saw an opportunity to break our lease so she could raise the rent – simple, but hard to prove. And while the Judicator said our case had merit, we would have to re-submit, get yelled at by Sandra, seek legal counsel, go back to court, get yelled at by Sandra…it just wasn’t worth it. We didn’t need to prove her wrong, she already was wrong. Case closed.
And as for letting go…well, I’ve yet to solve that one. Perhaps I will find it as I navigate this city on borrowed blades, who knows, I might even find the lake.
*Name has been changed to protect the guilty (I’ve always wanted to write that)