I wonder what other people think of when they think of Calgary. Skiing and cattle, I’m sure. Co-Op Gold beer and mountains and the Conservative Party. Cowboys and the Stampede in the summer. Oil.
When I think of Calgary, I think of the winter: white and clean, with the ever-present threat of death if you even dare to leave your house. The movie Fargo reminds me of Calgary; just a wasteland of terrible climate and some terrible people. The movie ends with a man being shoved into a wood chipper. Coming back to Calgary after months in Toronto gives me the creeps, perhaps for the wood chipper scene alone.
Yes, the prodigal daughter returns! It’s been nearly two weeks and my stay has been nothing short of uncomfortably calm. I haven’t done much, and I’ve left my house four, maybe five times. I don’t read, I don’t write, I don’t talk. I just go from room to room, friend’s house to friend’s house, eating and drinking. What’s this around my midsection, you ask? Oh, just a food-baby.
Fargo is all about small, sad people trying to do something big with themselves. The film is named after the small town in North Dakota where nothing happens except for the frequent snowfall. Calgary is bigger, but ultimately filled with similarly small, sad, petty people. Perhaps they have a less pervasive propensity to murder but Calgarians have a lot in common with the fictional characters from Fargo. Winter jackets that look like they belonged to the Unabomber, weird accents that the rest of the country don’t understand and a horrifying sense of detachment from the rest of the world when you’re too embedded in this western winter wonderland.
Leaving Calgary was difficult. Leaving Calgary doesn’t get easier. When I’m not here, I often wonder what’ll happen in a few decades’ time when the dust has settled. When our parents have died and are well into the ground and when everyone is getting married and having kids and getting real, adult jobs. When the girls will stop using blue eye shadow and the boys will figure that sneakers are not all-purpose. Sometimes I think I made a mistake in leaving. It left me with no real roots. I know well enough that once my parents are gone, I won’t have strings tying me down anywhere.
This idea is solidified by my sister-in-law’s pregnancy. She’s due in a few months, but I’m unsure of how well I’m going to know their daughter. Her and my brother are bringing this new little person into this world and it’s going to be more of my blood than anyone else I know, but I don’t expect to know this kid. My aunts are strange and foreign to me, not to mention geographically far – why wouldn’t this be any different? This used to bother me, but I’ve come to accept it.
I have no strings, and sometimes I prefer it. There’s less to clean up.
Whenever I return to Calgary after a few months of my other life, I forget that there are people here still living and breathing. I’m always surprised when my family or my friends are actually up to things and are actually changing like I am. Surely, this is a narcissistic, to think that I’m the only one maturing. Still, it never ceases to surprise. My father has retired, my brother is having his first child, my friends are meeting other people and many of them have become ghosts. It’s as if whenever I come back, everyone else has been invited to some big party and I can’t even figure out where it is.
I’m unsure of where home is now. Coming back means unnecessary fights with family members. It means soul-crushing snow and near-complete darkness by 5 p.m. It means good food and my brother’s wiener dog, Steven. Toronto means fine company and freedom and adulthood. It means big things and work.
I like things big. Big career, big moves, big events. But big is scary and big requires effort and I am drained of anything big. What I’m sure of, however, is that I’m tired of the journey being my home. I want placement. I have two lives in two cities and there’s no feasible way to make them touch.
When I got to my old room in Calgary, I looked out the window and saw the ice formed around the molding, melting and dripping down the wall. It’s like that every winter. Outside was nothing, just white and dark. It’s Fargo – a sad place for me where so many people make good and great things here but I just can’t, and was always looking for a way out. Still, Calgary was home and I don’t know how to fit back in here.
At the end of it, I just don’t want to be the guy shoved in the wood chipper.