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Everyone knows Yellowknife is home for you because they see that it fits you better than your oldest shirt, even though it isn’t home.
At least that’s what feels obvious to you when you come back here after a few years and notice yourself smiling again, like the gravity dragging on your face has weakened.
Your lady friend, who has never been here before and who has watched you wander the grey reeds of an irrelevant grad school program and corporate soul reduction in Toronto, suddenly sees that mischievous half-smirk on your face that you make when you feel, more or less, loved.
Seeing what being home, even if it isn’t home, does for you – how you glow – and how you weren’t so much not glowing before as almost absorbing the light around you, like antimatter, well, it’s just too much for her loving heart to take.
There’s potential in this town. You’re remembering that now, now that you’re back. It’s the word every newcomer says. Even your lady friend, who is from Toronto and who is now rocking a new grin all her own.
It’s a big four-by-four of an adjective, potential. But it’s not here in the ways that bring money or fame – just the ones that bring people into a tighter orbit, allowing them finally to speak as humans.
You feel it churning, that potential – jacking your heart, wetting your mouth. You write for the first time in ages. You laugh without self-awareness, like when you first smoked weed in Grade 9. You feel that ecstatic hum, like a G chord through a tube amp, at the back of your eyes, between your toes. That comes only with love.
Of course, this is heartbreaking for you to realize – this joy of being in a place that has become your home without being your home.
You understand, clearly, that it’s scratching and denting all the other places you will have to try to make your home. Those places offer things this place can’t, like a short drive to your family, or a fancy degree, or the possibility of doing something really big with your talents.
But you know you will hold this place against those others, like an ex whom you think about when you really shouldn’t.
You know you can’t seem to make it all work there like you can here. You wish the choice didn’t have to be so blunt. But it is.
So it’s either here or there, homeless one. You can’t have it both ways. Well, it’s clear now that you’ve tried, isn’t it?
You fudged. You left, but you didn’t. You kept contact with the community you left, like an old lover, in hopes it would still be here if you decided you never should have gone.
And that community, bless its heart, was indeed still here. It has learned to embrace the comings and goings of people like you, homeless seeker from the south. It has learned to mine your energy.
You arrive here, unaware, and find yourself growing a foot taller, your eyesight suddenly sharp like an owl’s, your brow certain. The town suckles out your warm orange glow and shares it around for everyone, like a smudge.
Then you leave after a summer, a year, a decade, a breakup, all full of brio and big intentions. Dreams that you’ve become someone new.
And then, once you’re gone, you think this: Why can’t I be who I was in Yellowknife when I’m in Toronto?
Places aren’t just made of rocks, water, trees. They’re made in the mind. In dreams. In the taste of potential. Heck, in the sheer act of recognizing it. So maybe there’s hope.
You see this hope one night, downtown, among the bobbing waves of hurt souls drunkenly wandering Yellowknife’s streets.
A retired couple, in town from Vancouver for the first time, speaking Portuguese and overwhelmed. A local woman, drunk, picks up a lollipop from the street and sticks it straight into her mouth.
The Vancouver woman stares, shaken. But the Vancouver man, Jose, says, “Hi.” Probably something he doesn’t do too often on the streets back home. So you talk.
He tells you he has never lived here, but was offered a job here 30 years ago, which he had to turn down, not because he wanted to. He kept in touch with a friend who took a job here, though, marvelling at the stories of the cold, of the land.
You can see it in his eyes, his mouth. It’s all plain. This is a place he has finally gotten to. Always wanted to call home. He’s here, now. Feeling it. More.
“I tell you, you’re lucky to live here,” Jose says.
You don’t tell him that you don’t. Even though right now, and possibly forever in your mind, you realize you do.
Tim Querengesser lives in Yellowknife when he can.