4 min

Six months in, six months out

Lessons learned so far

"THE PRESENCE OF FEMMES IN ANY GIVEN QUEER SCENE IS NOT A SURE THING." Femme spotting at Berlin's Alternative Pride. Credit: Megan Richards

My wife and I have been in Europe now for exactly 173 days. In 179 days we will be back in the frigid arms of Hogtown, landing just in time for what we hope will be a typical Christmas Eve: many friends, marvelous food and much wine. We have thought long and hard about what day we want to arrive home (considering we don’t move back into our apartment until Jan 1 and I start back to work on Jan 4) and figure 12 days should be just the right amount of time to avoid burning up on reentry.

Over the past 5.76 months we have seen wonders in architecture and art new and old, travelled approximately 20,000 kilometres and met a ton of great people, some of whom will remain our friends once we leave, all of whom have influenced our experiences. We have also learned some valuable lessons, easy to digest in the quiet life we have created here, hopefully not too difficult to hold onto when we land back into the hustle and bustle of our real lives.

Lesson one: Femmes are not universal so pack wisely. To my dismay and disappointment, the presence of femmes in any given queer scene is not a sure thing. Naively I packed my suitcase full of the regular items any Toronto lady would need; hose, heels, low-cut numbers and short-hemmed hits. The two towns where we lived the queer life had bustling nightlife and more events than are humanly possible to participate in, but absent from both are the ladies who look like me. And although I don’t mind turning heads every now and then, I also like there to be at least one other lady standing in solidarity. Just one other gal whose going-out outfit does not include a hoodie… not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Lesson two: It is possible to lose your mind and still be loved. I have experienced some of my less than shining moments over the past six months. They involve a lot of crying, a moderate amount of acting out and always too much drama. Often seen as an in control, take-charge kind of woman, this is far from the case. I am capable of, and prone to, fits of irrational emotion, often directed at individuals who are nowhere near deserving. Over the years my wife, God love her, has taken to leaving me alone to let me realize how psychotic I am being once she sees I am no longer teetering on the edge but have officially lost it. In strange cities where I know no one, there is no number to call for a comforting voice or any door to knock on with a familiar face behind it. Let’s just say I have shamelessly cried in many a park. And without fail, when I open the door carrying baked goods like I just went out for a snack, the missus is happy to go along with it, enjoy my pastry peace offering and move on.

Lesson three: Not knowing where you’re going is rarely a good thing. There is a mythical beauty that comes with the idea of wandering aimlessly through picturesque city streets in countries with a history older than 10 of Canada’s. It’s romantic. It’s idyllic. And it’s f’ing terrifying. Standing at the corner of something you can’t pronounce and something you can’t pronounce does not make for a relaxing stroll and may induce an irrepressible sense of panic sending the most even keel individual into a tailspin. The solution? Bring a map! Always! And a little Lorazepam doesn’t hurt either.  

Lesson four: Being able to set your own limits is a good thing. I have been known to count the last of all the money that I had in the world, all in the form of pennies, nickels and dimes, to go out for beer with friends. I’m here to write about it so clearly it didn’t kill me and I remember that night 10 years later more than I would’ve had I stayed home and been responsible enough to afford breakfast the next day, but in a far away land, that change could make or break you. When your bankcard doesn’t work and your credit cards aren’t accepted anywhere ’cause the whole world does not live on credit like North America, the 10 bucks in change you have in your pockets or the bottom of your purse can be the difference between dinner and cigarettes or hunger and an unwanted bout of nicotine withdrawal.

Lesson five: Friends and familiar faces are good anytime, anywhere. Now this might seem like a no-brainer to those of you who enjoy the company of others, have an army of people on speed dial and who fancy themselves a little King of Kensington, but for me, people are often the reason I like to stay inside, phones off, alone. I am shy (no really I am). I don’t make small talk easily. And I don’t like to talk about my job, my home life or my family — not because I don’t love these things, but because I can’t imagine anyone would be interested in them except maybe my coworkers, my wife and my mother (and even her I’m not sure about). Over the past few months though I have begun to look forward to visitors from “home,” emails in my inbox and have even gone so far as to rekindle friendships I once held dear but let fall by the wayside out of laziness and the misguided assumption they would always be there. This is the one lesson I am hoping to bring back to Toronto with conviction. I want to meet my friends for coffee or a drink after work, stay on top of things like births and dating, home purchases and promotions and give back the goodness that I have been given virtually and in person since being away. It’s the best present I can think of to bring home for my friends. And it doesn’t take up any room in my suitcase.

See you in 179 days!