Vanishing Acts

The Canadian author Emily St. John Mandel first came on my radar when my mother told me about her debut novel, Last Night in Montreal. In it, protagonist Lilia wrenches holes into the lives of the people she touches by constantly leaving. Partly it's to escape the law, but she's also running away from herself - avoiding confinement and being tethered to one place and one identity. Her life is one of endless reinvention and freedom. Lilia refers to each instance of taking off to start over somewhere else as "vanishing." And, to my mother, I suppose, I have a habit of vanishing too.

I relate to the notion of being drawn to change; of always needing something new; of knowing how to leave but not knowing how to stay. I left my hometown for college in another state. Two weeks after graduation, I moved to Paris. When I was done with France I traveled the world for three months. I made my home in San Francisco for a year. I went abroad again. I came back and took a new job that I love, and yet I can't help but wonder how long it will take before I am drawn away. Every time I throw myself a goodbye party, my friends ask me if I'm coming back and, if so, when.

I am the type of person who never stops asking questions and being curious. It means that I can learn new things quickly but, by the same token, it's hard for me to be content in the place I'm in. Because I am always wondering what is going on everywhere else. Because while most people strive to attain a tangible equilibrium, I thrive in a state of flux. 

I feel more restless than ever, now that I'm 25 and more and more of my friends are getting married, thinking about starting families, buying properties and generally becoming rooted through mechanisms that are not easily broken. It terrifies me.  For if there is such a thing as hell, my idea of it is not so much a specific place, but rather the understanding and acceptance that I am stuck there for the rest of my life.

Continuing the tradition of spending my birthday in a city and country different from the previous year, I spent my first several days of being 25 in Montreal, a place I'd been wanderlusting after for quite some time. Not even halfway into the five-hour bike tour we'd taken to get acquainted with the layout of the city and its neighborhoods, I found myself thinking, "I could live here."

I loved the external stairs and balconies where, in summer, people sit, smoke, drink and eat; the parks, like in Paris, that are perfect for picnics; the way people greet you with bonjour; the bike-friendly roads; the back alleys where people hang their laundry using pulleys; the patios and terraces; the lively buzz from having over 100,000 students clustered near the city center; the markets; the mish mash of cultures; the townhouses and condos - more formal than pastel San Francisco but less austere than London's brick with iron balustrades; the cafes and coffee culture; the French street names; the blanket of solitude that seems to cover Parc Mont Royal; the bring your own wine restaurants.

I can't say when it's going to happen, but one of these days I'm coming back for you, Montreal.

See more photos from this trip here