It was sometime after 9pm. I was in New York, standing in the middle of the street. I’d just had dinner, and turned out of the restaurant to walk home.
I turned around. “Yeah?”
I’d been so named because I’d recently bought a letter jacket from the Hudson’s Bay Company, with CANADA in large white letters across my back.
“You’re not walking home on your own, are you?” The tour group was made up of mostly Australians, like myself, all lovely, and warm, and friendly, some a little homesick and some not ready to leave.
“Yeah, I’ll be fine,” I said, waving my hand.
“No, this is New York,” he insisted. So I stood out on the street, CANADA across my back and a maple leaf stitched into my sleeve.
I was wearing this jacket because I’d recently been to Canada to visit my girlfriend, and see if I could spend the rest of my life living there. It was much like home – many cultures crammed into many suburbs, but flatter, for the most part. The sky didn’t feel so big, or so wide, or so blue. It was more like a blanket.
I’d seen startlingly little of the country to know it was where I wanted to live. I think it’s very difficult for a lot of people to envision actually living anywhere else, but there was something about the atmosphere, the way I felt standing in the middle of the street.
As a result of my two-month stay in Canada, I developed a new-found patriotism that was tangible.
I gathered as much of it as I could. I read books, I bought postcards, I took inventory of all the foods that could be drenched in maple syrup (all of them), I purchased a scarf with sock-eye salmon, painted by First Nations people. And a letter jacket with CANADA in large, white letters on the back.
… I still regret leaving that moose scarf behind in a shop in Vancouver. Fuck.
… but this guy called me Canada, on a street, sometime after 9pm, in New York, and I grinned like an idiot.
I grinned like an idiot because I’d fallen in love with the country, with the people, with the culture, and here I was being named after it.
The young man and other people from the tour group soon started to peel off into the night, off to find a bar where you could play old arcade games over a cider.
I walked back to my hotel. It wasn’t far, and by the time I’d found a decent collection of cabs to hail, I could see my hotel around the corner.
Staying in New York was a funny time for me. I was only there for five days – I was eager to go home to Australia, and see my family and friends for the first time in two months. But I wanted to go back to Canada, because I had a home and a family and friends there, too.
I did go home to the southern hemisphere. I miss Canada every day.
I know going back to it a second time won’t be remotely like the first. But I look forward to having the privilege of going home again.
I suppose, in the meantime, I’ll have to wear my letter jacket and hope.
The letter jacket with the maple leaf stitched into the sleeve.
True North, Strong and Free.