As wonderful as personal evolution and growth can be, it’s wasted if you’re still a slave to the same old circumstances, people and places. And San Francisco had been trying to tell me quite loudly for a while that my time there was up. But as my mother put it, I’m a stubborn learner at times and I ignored the rumbles, until the city finally let out a loud and heinous battle cry before sending the cosmic two-by-four my way. Namely, my job situation went to pot (the state of the economy caused all of our money-making stores to close their doors, which dried up my sales income), my living situation became unbearable, my social circles were systematically pushing me out, my friends had stood me up on my birthday and I felt like I was rapidly approaching rock bottom. In short, everything that could go wrong did, and I felt the ground fall away beneath my feet.
That’s when my ex-boyfriend Darren made a surprising and most welcome return to my life. He essentially came to my rescue with a massive show of support, which he was all the more determined to give me since he felt a bit guilty about not being able to do so while we were dating. I’ll never forget how he even rented us a cheap room at a motel by the ocean for us to hole up in for the weekend. I vented about my unhappiness, then Darren counseled me and offered solutions. He can be credited for giving me that final nudge to move to Canada, which my mom had suggested several weeks before. I’m fortunate enough to be a dual citizen, so all I had to do was fill out some forms and pay $150 USD in order to claim my Canadian citizenship. And that’s how the plan was hatched, and I found myself buying my one-way ticket to Ottawa to join my family.
Luckily, the transition was made smooth not only by having family and a home base to land in, but I also was able to transfer jobs. Whereas the quality of work and the amount of income kept decreasing in California, it was growing and thriving on the other side of the border. Not only that, they were offering me a management position in which I’d oversee the two small Ottawa and Montreal markets.
So I placed my things in storage, packed my suitcases and collected my cat as I migrated up north. I landed in Ottawa at nearly midnight, greeted by a rather sleepy airport and an intense, young customs agent who was so preoccupied with insisting that I not try to work illegally that he didn’t even once pay attention to the live animal I was carrying in my case. Welcome to Canada.
This was definitely a humbling and strange time. For starters, here I was in my mid thirties and living with Mom. (My girlfriend Holly and I had joked about this as she was moving to Australia at about the same time, also to live with her mom – we’re like, “Living with Mom is the new black.”) It’s a very strange experience moving back home when you’re a grown-ass woman. And mom is once again keeping tabs on your comings and goings and who you’re seeing. And she also compulsively washes your clothes and loses your socks, then irons your jeans.
It was also strange being in such a sleepy, conservative city after the color and noise and wildness of California. At the same time, I had been living so far deep in the left-hand side of things that I needed to swing my pendulum back to centre, by way of first swinging to the opposite far right represented by Ottawa. For thirteen years I had been living this crazy, ungrounded hedonistic lifestyle, and it was at first both a genuine shock and a pleasure to be in a place in which people were “normal” and brought you soup when you were sick, had dinner parties (where no guest would ever come empty-handed) and you were treated to the simple pleasantries.
It did take my full first year to transition and adjust, not to mention work through the hurts that I had experienced in San Francisco. But I managed to do it with the help of a new environment filled with new kind, friendly faces. I started attending Meetups, in particular a group for 30-somethings, and gradually made some solid friends. Meanwhile, I also kept myself pretty busy with work, although my managing position wasn’t nearly as glamorous as I’d envisioned. I was thrown into a mess of a market that was essentially organized chaos. I was expected to manage a bunch of Montreal divas. (I had tried to firmly encourage one of them to simply start showing up to her shift on time, only to be met with a defiant, “But I’m a good person! Why do you have to be so mean?”) I also quickly discovered that we were short-staffed in Ottawa, so I had to do demos part-time while also acting as production driver, because they had fired the guy they had. So I was shuffling this rickety utility van back and forth between Ottawa and Montreal, delivering supplies and setting up the booths. (I loved hearing that one of my Montreal agents had asked the department store staff about me and they told her that I was “little and tough”.) Oh, and I also had to organize a warehouse that literally had mountains of broken and used goods piled from floor to ceiling. Good times.
It didn’t take me long to realize that management was for the birds, as I was working harder than ever, had more responsibility yet made less money and had more stress than ever. (Although I did secretly love auditing my agents, surreptitiously placing myself behind the coffee makers while I spied on their presentations. One girl came in after a Valentine’s Day bender in the previous night’s clothing, black bra peeking out from underneath her white blouse, her cleavage hanging out as she presented to a group of Arab women in hijabs, suggestively extending the handle of the Giant Mr Sticky – to my amazement, she sold to each and every one!)
So I hung up my manager shoes and, following in the footsteps of the other Vanessa in the company, opted to go on the road across Canada to peddle Stickies and mops. That was fun, I got to see a lot of the country and met so many of its people. Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Saskatoon. Winnipeg and Vancouver were all on my roster, along with some more remote towns in Ontario such as Sudbury and Thunder Bay. But first stop, Prince Edward Island…