I thought it would be exhilarating — it was. Stepping outside the metro stop into the sweetly chilly air was just that. I grinned. I couldn’t help it, for here I was, ready to find myself and to see the world.

I thought it would be lonely — it was. In a way I’ve never experienced loneliness before. But this kind of lonliness wasn’t the kind that makes you sad, or the kind that makes you miss people. It’s the kind that makes you painfully aware of yourself. The kind that forces you to stare at yourself and ask the hard questions. The kind that makes you open to meeting new people. I felt, for the first time, comfortable with who I was, in the midst of thousands of people I did not know and will never know.

I met so many people that have impacted my life, my vision. There’s Athena, the masseuse who dreams of a career in music, who is unsure of love and after years of experimenting and seeking and losing wants commitment but cannot find it. Who tells people they’re beautiful without thinking. Who invites strangers to her home but has to cancel last minute because of an intense therapy session. That is who Athena is to me, and I think that will be who she is to me for my entire life, however short it is.

And then there’s Fannie, the bartender who has a passion for capturing the rawness of life in photography, who is beautiful and humble and exactly the conversation I needed. Who is cheerfully as different as the Szarlotka just-like-apple-pie cocktail she crafted for me. Her artwork is beautifully her own, and for herself. I admire that. I want to see her again one day.

And then Stéfan and Martin; Stéfan, another bartender who isn’t afraid to tell me I asked stupid questions, who looked at me in a way that made me feel like he saw himself in me and wanted to say so so many other things but didn’t. A portrait photographer who refuses to become someone for the sake of this world, who values life for the people in it, who loves his culture and is passionate about the things he believes in. Martin, who is from South America but fell in love with Montréal too. Whose father, Eduardo, died 7 years ago. We took shots of Jameson to his name. This man, who was a child, will always be a child, who smiled sweetly and thought it cute to have a Queen.

In a way I see him, and all the people I’ve met, and silently wonder if I shall ever see them again. They’ve been through more life — I wonder if they could tell I was only 19? — so I suppose they know more of what to expect. Stéfan told me “You’re a smart girl, maybe we’ll see each other again”.

I can only hope so.

I thought I would learn more about myself — I did. many things I didn’t want to learn. Standing inside of the Notre Dame Basilica, sitting there in the prayer room, and feeling like if there is a God, I never knew him. And I’m not sure I ever will. I learned, too, that I’m a broken person. I can’t love anyone right now, and, I’m sure, it will take me a long time to be ready to love someone again. I think that, between experiencing love with him and then losing it, and discovering how much more I have to learn about myself, how much more life I have yet to experience, I’ve realized that love isn’t something I want right now. The pretty dream I had of settling down early with someone, having 2.3 kids, a steady job, a suburban home with a well-stocked kitchen, responsibility and commitment to one person, all of it — was just that, a pretty dream. And now that I’ve realized it, I can no longer want it. I can never be satisfied with it. I can no longer look at other people’s pretty lives and want it. I can want to want it, but I can’t desire that, because it’s too easy, too fragile, too susceptible to flaws, to brokenness. I’d rather have the real, raw thing, the ugliness that others shun. I want the life that doesn’t make sense. I want to be the girl who no one understands. I’ve loved and, frankly, I’m not sure if I will ever be able to love in the same way again.

I’m broken.

But that’s okay because I feel more aware and more free than I’ve ever felt. I’ve had to grow up ten years in the span of two months. That’s life. I think.

I hope.

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