I’m not sure who I was last time I lived in Montreal. On an island but away from the sea I dissolved and poured myself into a mold that never held shape. For one thing, my name was different. Also, I had a lot of different bathrooms.
On rue Saint Urbain I lived with a strikingly beautiful girl named Sasha who was also from the East Coast. She stitched the edges of her life together with a stray thread that was unravelling from a cotton t-shirt. Her shape shifting was a fuzzy and complicated thing, sharp like stalagmite crystals.
The ceiling in our bathroom caved in. It started with a crack and I took a photo of it every day with my camera in an attempt to chastise it into stagnant submission. But a delicate splinter sprinted across the ceiling and blossomed into a dark stain right above the toilet. It looked pregnant and close to bursting. A drop started from the centre of the stain and fell from ceiling into toilet bowl. We put a torn red umbrella next to the toilet.
After the ceiling caved in, Sasha secretly rented her room on Airbnb and stayed at her boyfriend’s house. A middle-aged couple arrived in the morning and asked for fresh towels. The woman had tiny feet, maybe size five. The common spaces in our apartment became unfamiliar. I hid in my bedroom and smoked cigarettes out the window.
On Avenue Lajoie I lived with a photographer named Dylan who hung his film strips in curls like monkey tails from the shower curtain rod in the bathroom. He asked me to model for an editorial photoshoot but didn’t use any of the photos because he said that they didn’t fit the vibe he was going for. He printed the photos in a book on expensive paper and Sasha was one of his subjects. Before we moved out, I hosted an afterparty at our apartment while he was sleeping and someone stole our toilet seat.
The bathroom in my apartment on rue Waverly had a male mannequin torso propped up on top of the cabinet as a decoration. I hid it in the closet when I moved in and left it there when I moved out.
Shifting around the Mile End in the stink of one summer, I packed my things into many small suitcases and moved in the trunks of cabs whose drivers would curse quietly in French and help me carry my bags. I left behind the furniture and each month started fresh on the stains on someone else’s mattress. In my new apartment I would nurse the same potted peace lily back to life that I had almost let die, whose white flowers drooped so low the stems were horizontal, nearly touching the plyboard shelf it was standing on.
Montreal was a girl named Eve who had a freckle shaped like a heart on her left collarbone where she collected impressions of people who loved her before they learned who she was.
I met Eve at a party. She was sitting on the fire escape with a dozen other people, smoking cigarettes and speaking loudly in a raspy voice. She noticed me and gave me a nickname that night. The nickname became my real name because that summer Eve introduced me to most of the people I knew. Eve and I would go to parties together and at some point before arriving, we would have switched outfits. It was like the movie Freaky Friday with Lindsay Lohan and Jamie Lee Curtis where they switch bodies but instead of it being magic I took off my clothes and gave them to her.
Montreal was a pool of tepid water filled up by a hose in a backyard and I was a small toy made of a superabsorbent polymer that grew and grew and as I grew I lost my center.
Ever since I read Elena Ferrante I avoid looking at copper pots in case they explode. This is fairly manageable because I don’t own any copper pots or know anyone who does.
But last night, I spent an hour trying to lock a door that locks automatically.
Now that I’ve crossed the railroad tracks and live in parc extension I have a renovated bathroom with spotless blue and white checkered tiles and wood furnishings.
The woman who lives next door is a sculptor. She repurposes found objects from second hand stores in her pieces. Canadian Art says that her work “is sensual and comedic,” and she won a fifty thousand dollar grant from the Museum of Contemporary Art. I read about it on their website.
She smokes inside her apartment and the smoke from her living room seeps through the brick wall into ours.
She hosted her fifty-first birthday party on a weeknight. There were lasers and smoke machines, which I know because there is a small courtyard between our windows and I have a great view into her apartment. Sometimes, I watch her cooking over her stove. Framed by the window, she leans over a huge pot of something boiling, into a thick cloud of steam that is lit up by the stove light.
The night of the party, Clara asked her to turn down the music at around 4 o’clock in the morning. She refused because she said “this isn’t a bourgeois neighbourhood.”
There is an animal living in my walls that scurries around at night in the bedrooms and the bathroom. I hope it’s a squirrel even though Bill who runs the blog squirrelnutrition.com says that “if you have ever raised more than one baby squirrel you know that they sleep in a ball of bodies to keep each other warm” and also that squirrels stay in their dens at the bases of trees all winter.
In any case, the animal got into the walls because the landlord who owns the building next door is renovating the apartment to appeal to more upper-middle class young professionals.
I ran into the art school boy from New Brunswick who hosted a podcast about the gentrification in parc extension and the importance of buying produce at local grocery stores. He was buying oranges at the Provigo instead of the fruit market across the street. He didn’t say hi.
At the end of that summer, I took a taxi, late, to the airport to fly back to the East Coast. I missed my flight by seconds. I sat down in front of a window near my gate and started crying. After a few minutes, some of the people rushing past me with suitcases stopped and started taking photos of me. I thought “what the fuck” until I turned around and saw that there was a double rainbow out the window behind me.
Montreal was a fisher’s net grasping at small wriggling bodies and I was what was left of the sea. When I left, I was burnt and flaking, peeling off layers, and digging other people out of my skin like ticks nestled into the soft parts behind my knees and earlobes.
I unzipped myself like a morph suit and slinked out of it. The skin underneath was pink and hot to the touch. A girl I knew put on the suit when I left and I haven’t seen her since I’ve been back.