By Heather Lowe
This is the tenth of many excerpts from Heather Lowe’s novella titled Catharine. It explores her love affair with downtown St. Catharines through a series of shamelessly exaggerated vignettes.
As the spring skies appeared and rain roared through the downtown core, I couldn’t help but think that some time away from The Garden City might be beneficial – for both of us. Maybe it was the grey and depressing winter that we had shared, maybe it was the exhausting, bated breath of the revolutionaries or maybe it was simply that my love affair with the city had begun to shape and suffocate me, and simply put, I needed some space. I procured a passport (something that I had put off for far too long), packed my black and white suitcase and I was on a plane before I could say, “Catharine, it’s not me – it’s you.”
My childhood obsession with musicals was ridiculous enough to make any Mother roll her eyes but that seemingly innocent obsession created a monster far worse than just living in one’s imagination and singing constantly. It birthed a deep, unconditional love for The Big Apple. As a rather naive nine year old I began saving a portion of my allowance in my blue, plastic piggy bank for acting classes at NYU and by the time I was a 11, I had already saved a whopping $32. Maybe it’s somewhat sad when you really look at it, but I had spent over a decade of my life being completely in love with a place I had never been and overly knowledgeable about a cityscape I had never seen with my own eyes. So in search of some space, I headed to the most overcrowded city on the planet.
I landed in Queens and took a cab all the way to the dazzling city square that seemed to be at the centre of it all. The poor cab driver must have assumed that I was emotionally unstable or totally nuts as the whole way into the city, I wept. I cried because my nine-year-old self had never seen this, I cried because it felt as though my heart might explode with an overwhelming sense of joy and relief, and I cried again when the driver dropped me off and told me the cab fare. In the few short days I had, I ventured to the tops of skyscrapers for the best view of the park, I paid $12 for a pint of lager in Chelsea and I somehow lost three hours of my life in the library. I watched my grandmother dance with a 23-year-old bachelor on the rooftop of some bar, I sat with my mother on a diner patio at midnight while sharing a slice of the best cheesecake known to man, and I hesitantly turned down two marriage proposals in two days.
My heart was racing, my feet were inexplicably dirty all the time and my face was numb from the excessive smiling and wonderment. As I laid on the lumpy, pullout couch that would be my bed for days to come, I stared into the darkness and listened to the sounds of the street below me. I felt exhausted and wide awake all at once. My very skin seemed to be buzzing and I replayed every moment of that first day in my mind so as not to forget a single sacred minute. In the short time just before I drifted off to sleep, thoughts of The Garden City inched their way into my mind and I felt that familiar tug on my heart.
It was in that heart-heavy moment that I realised that my love affair with The Garden City had little to do with the rejuvenation of the downtown core or the familiar and secure surroundings of the pub, or the collective ambitions of the revolutionaries. No, it was none of that. It was simply that The Garden City was my home, the place where I felt connected to something outside of myself. Something I couldn’t see, only feel. As cheesy as it is, I knew in that moment that my childhood best friend had been right all along and there truly was no place like home.