Ryanne Kap is a Chinese-Canadian writer from Strathroy, Ontario. Her work has been featured in Grain Magazine, Scarborough Fair, Ricepaper Magazine, Feelszine, and The Unpublished City Volume II. Following her BA in English and creative writing at the University of Toronto Scarborough, she will be pursuing an MA in English at Western University.
Shortly after the world shut down, I moved out of my basement apartment in Scarborough. I’d been planning to stay right until the end of my lease to make the most of the remaining time, but obviously those plans—along with everyone else’s—were derailed.
So instead of having a small get-together with champagne and Papa John’s, my mom drove up and we packed my undergrad existence into her Subaru Crosstrek and my Honda Fit. A couple weeks later, I drove back to the apartment to gather the leftovers.
Before leaving, I took pictures of my room, the bathroom, and the kitchen. Just in case I forgot what they looked like. Or what it had been like, living away from home for the first time. With someone I could call a best friend. With a couch we always ate dinner on, and posters from Fan Expo, and a dark spot of mold on the wall, and those multi-legged bugs that show up when you least want them to.
I tried not to make it a moment, standing in that bare space like in the series finale of Fresh Prince or Friends, but there’s something about an emptied-out apartment that really gets to you. It felt like the end of everything. I was graduating from UTSC, moving back home, saying goodbye to the first chapter of my life that felt like it really mattered.
I left Scarborough in the dark, like I was on the run. When I arrived home two and a half hours and 246 kilometers later, the soft sorrow of never living there again sank in.
Since then, I’ve spent much of my ample free time thinking about what I would’ve done in that last few weeks, if I’d had all of April to stay.
I would’ve gotten a day pass and gotten off at every station between Kennedy and Yonge, just to see what was there. I was never able to avoid the cliché of a small-town girl in the big city; subways were still magic to me. I loved the pigeons flitting in and out of the stations, the rats staring up from the tracks.
I would’ve spent less caffeine-fueled nights on campus. I would’ve stayed home in the apartment. I still wouldn’t have slept, but I would’ve stayed up with my roommate debating Marvel movies and which celebrities we implicitly trusted instead of working on endless assignments.
I would’ve cooked more. I would’ve made dumplings, a dish I was so proud to have learned the recipe for. I would’ve stocked up at the Asian grocery store after a lifetime of never knowing there was such a thing.
I would’ve walked through every building on campus. Past my favourite professors’ offices, to the secret levels and study spaces I’d never explored before. I would’ve even paid one last visit to the cramped bathroom at the end of the humanities’ wing, the one I hated more than anything.
I would’ve stopped by north residence, glanced nostalgically at the window where my room was in first year. Remembered late-night treks for gas station slushies, the first time getting lost downtown, crying on my way to a 9 a.m. class after getting dumped the night before.
I would’ve taken the person I loved on one last proper date. I would’ve thanked him for everything, knowing that even that all-encompassing word wasn’t sufficient.
I would’ve gotten another berry lemonade Jones from the convenience store across the street. Stopped by the library branch that was always closed when I needed it to be open. Gone to Pickering just for pizza at Lamanna’s. There’s a whole subsection in my head for all the food I would’ve had one last time.
But even if I’d had all these goodbyes, it wouldn’t have given me any more closure. I’m not the kind of person who can easily cope with last times.
Exhibit A: my Opa’s been dying of cancer since 2016, and over the last four years every visit has had the threat of being the last time we see him, the last time I tell him I love him. It’s always the last time, until it isn’t. The inevitable keeps getting postponed, but my gratitude has long been overshadowed by stress. I cry when I don’t mean to and panic in the bathroom when I go to see him. It’s like a Groundhog Day of goodbyes, and I’m just waiting for the cycle to finally end.
Even as I left Scarborough, I knew it wasn’t really the last time either. I have people there I plan to visit, alumni events I’ll probably show up for.
But the problem with an ending that never comes is that it makes it more difficult to accept the endings that have already come true.
Going back to Scarborough won’t change the fact that my life as I knew it there is over. I’ll never walk through that campus as a bright-eyed/burned-out undergrad. I’ll never wake up in that basement apartment to the sounds of the neighbours fighting upstairs.
Not all of it needs to be mourned. My life has changed and re–formed plenty of times before this. There are next chapters, and all that.
But in this, a time of uncertainty and collective grieving, I find myself holding on to those hypothetical last times, to that hypothetical closure. If I can imagine all the things I would’ve done, then it makes them that much closer to being real.
In this alternate timeline, some parallel version of April, I stay in Scarborough. I say goodbye to all the places, experiences, and people I need to. It still feels like a loss, but one I have time to come to terms with.
And then, when I’m finally ready, I come home.
Ryanne Kap visits Brockton Writers Series via GDTV on Wednesday, July 8, 2020 starting at 8:30pm alongside Kamila Rina, Waubgeshig Rice, and Marlo K. Shaw.