It rained more than usually during that particular Spring, actually. This was a good thing at first, because my work at the time rather depended on the rainfall. I won’t bore you with the details, but it all had to do with river flow and the everlasting impact that a single rainfall can have on millions of lives, aquatic and otherwise. There was a period of two months or so during that Spring that I visited the city almost every weekend to see the man that I hadn’t stopped thinking about since the day I met him months before. I stepped off my coach bus on those Friday evenings in the middle of the Entertainment District, nervous and excited knowing that I was only a streetcar ride away from him and his tiny, cramped apartment in East Chinatown. In hindsight, he must have taken a lot of weekends off of work to accommodate my visits. And just like that, it rained almost every time I made these brief elopements. Paradise among the cold, wet streets of Toronto.
The first time it didn’t rain, which is odd because it was April. I drove into Downtown Toronto and parked my old beat up car underground for the weekend. We met on Bloor Street and he took me to Koreatown, which is sort of between Bathurst and Christie. We had Korean Barbeque while he told me about the two years he had just spent in South Korea teaching English. I tried kimchi for the first time and then we celebrated the end of my school semester with a bottle of Soju. I got a little bit drunker than expected over dinner, which was fine. More than fine, in fact. A bit tipsy from the bottle, we walked over to the nearby house where his two best friends lived; a couple that he had known since University. We played guitar and sang with his friends, and the four of us went to a trendy board-game café (because those were both new and exciting back then) and we kept our buzz while we played games and laughed.
The very next night, we met up with my old friend and her boyfriend. We drank together and danced to country music in one of the coolest basement bars in the City, bare low light bulbs hung on strings and an older crowd. Bluegrass and craft beer, twirling and laughing all the while. He told me I was a serious dancer. Truth be told, I was nervous as hell. I felt far too sober to be dancing around my new and interesting companion. Meanwhile, he was smooth and fun, and his 6-foot-4-inch lanky frame seemed to fit me perfectly. I couldn’t stop smiling.
Weeks later, it was pouring rain and we kissed on College Street in front of all kinds of strangers, which was very out of character for me. Or was it Dundas Street? I didn’t care. I wore new perfume and wondered if being with him would always feel like this. On his birthday, we got drunk with his friends in the kitchen and danced to whatever the popular music was (I remember the song, but I”m not going to tell you). I think we went to a bar that was playing 90s music after. It was a long time ago, now.
We got tapas in Kensington Market and then looked into beautiful living rooms as we walked around the crescent on Spadina Street. I imagined that I would live there one day in those cozy, high-ceiling Victorian rooms with the large bay windows watching the city go by. We spent the rest of the weekend watching movies in his bed. I caught him watching me more than once and he told me that he couldn’t believe how beautiful I was.
I fell in love that Spring. Was it with him or the city or a bit of both? I don’t think I could tell you, but I know that every time I went into the city for years after, my heart felt like it was going to burst. I wasn’t sure if I’d ever be able to ease that pain, and longing. I’m still not sure if I ever will in that city. In any city. It gets transposed, that kind of heartache.
On a long-weekend’s Monday in early July, he told me that this had an expiry date. A day spent getting to know all kinds of his friends followed by a car ride home that made us both cry with laughter became a disagreement about long-distance relationships. It quickly turned from one of the happiest days of my summer to one of the last times we would ever talk. I was nineteen and heartbroken. I called my best friend from my car and sobbed. I didn’t want to drive home, because not knowing if I would never be able to go back and love the city the same way again. I called in sick to work the next day and stopped listening to Daft Punk and Vampire Weekend and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros altogether.
Exactly one week later, the storm hit. The people of Toronto really couldn’t have prepared for the July rains. On this next particular Monday afternoon, the city got more rain in two hours than it usually gets in the entire month of July. A once-in-a-hundred-years event. The Don Valley Parkway turned into a river, sweeping cars, dirt, trees and everything else with it into Lake Ontario. Eventually the water subsided, the rivers receded. Lives were changed. Homes were ruined. They say it was the most expensive natural disaster in the history of the province.
The first time I saw him again after that was eight months later, completely by chance when he walked out of a building onto Yonge Street, directly in front of me. I was with my best friend and we had just minutes before stepped off the bus. I put on a smile and made cheery small-talk for less than a minute and said goodbye. We were in the city for the night to see a concert. It was one of the first times I returned to the City in that year after, and it was a bad snowstorm. After that, I never saw him again. I hoped I would never see him again.
Years later, I stopped denying the pull of the city and I moved there on my own. I went to that basement bar from that first weekend again, telling myself that I was over him, that it would be fine. I was there for the music anyway, definitely not the feeling. I ran into his two best friends on that evening and they told me he changed, that he was unhappy. That he might be coming by a bit later, and that it might be weird. He had a baby now and he had stopped playing music. I believed them. More than one person told me I dodged a bullet, there.
I was nineteen and silly and in love with a place and a feeling. Now with enough wisdom to know that I’ll never fully get that back. Head-over-heels mistakes that I once made, forever lost by the awareness of adulthood. Bittersweet first love, you never loved me back, but made me feel at home in one of the best places in the world.