When I left Kelowna for law school in Victoria, I cheerfully and naively thought I’d never move back. I thought I was headed to Vancouver Island for life – lawstudents.ca had smugly told me that 8/10 law students end up settling near where they went to school, and I believed it.
While Victoria was typically beautiful and everything I wanted for three years – full of friends and cute coffee shops and people wearing cool glasses – everyone knows there are no jobs in Victoria. As a law student fresh out of UVic with some optimism and a lot of debt, I needed to be where the jobs were. For me, that was back in Kelowna.
After sending some e-mails, leaning heavily on a friend’s recommendation, and singing the praises of Kelowna over sushi at my interview, I lined up a job. Fresh out of writing the bar and a fall in Vancouver, I moved back to Kelowna at the worst and greyest time of year – the middle of November. November is a grim month. The amber tones and apple cider of earlier autumn have evaporated with the falling temperature, the trees are bare, and the snow has yet to fall. Christmas was still too far off to look forward to, and yet there I was – freshly into a long-distance relationship and sleeping in my old twin bed at my parents’ house.
It took a while for that initial bleakness to wear off. I found my own little place, which helped. I decorated and I baked. I was lonely – really, really lonely. Moving home when all of your friends have left for Vancouver and Hamilton and Melbourne and all kinds of far off cosmopolitan places is tough. I flipped through instagrams of my law school friends, who almost all live in Vancouver. While I know from talking to them that their lives there aren’t idyllic, it’s hard not to feel that way when everyone is laughing in lipstick on social media. Then, I made a friend.
Actually, I made a few friends. People I work with, a couple that a friend in far-off Ottawa set me up on a friend-date with, old friends that I hadn’t connected with in years. As spring turned into summer, I found myself almost busy. I spent a ton of time hiking and doing Kelowna stuff and refused to spend time alone in my apartment – alone time is a sure recipe for loneliness, if you’re me.
I ate dinner with my parents a lot – maybe five nights a week. My grandmother lives near me, and it was easy to drop in and have a family meal with my brother, my grandparents, my parents, our sweet tenant Matt, my uncle Bruce… whoever from the rotating cast happened to be around to eat that night. It helps that my parents (and Matt) are really into food, and tend to cook good food made from good ingredients. I won at scrabble and I felt wholesome.
Eventually, summer came. Summer in Kelowna is famous and beloved for a reason – I swam in the lake every evening after work and drank gin and tonics on the deck. At night, just enough of a breeze would pick up on the lake to make me feel brave for going for a swim after dessert. I worked in the garden and picked tomatoes and basil and parsley. I made friends come visit and proudly showed off farmer’s markets and views.
Finally, Dani moved back. If you’ve ever been in a long distance relationship, you know the uncomplicated sweetness of finally being with your loved one. We’d spent a ton of weekends together (almost every other weekend over the course of the nine or so months we’d been apart), but having that big dweeb here was still a huge change. I had to be neater about my housekeeping, she had to stop leaving dirty dishes on the left side of the sink (a serious issue). (She stopped leaving the dishes, but I might be just as messy.)
We kept making friends. Dani started work and met more people there. We had friends over for dinner and laughed about our lack of utensils and cups. We had more friends over for dinner and still didn’t have utensils or cups. We played games and we hiked and we joined clubs and volunteered. We kept eating dinner with my parents, but maybe a little less often. We started visiting Dani’s parents on the weekends, dropping in on the Marshalls to drink their tea and pet their dog. I was surprised to realize I was happy here.
I haven’t, in my life, been content with quietness. I’ve always been someone that needs to be on fire at any given moment, needing to be booking a plane ticket to some new country or meeting new friends or turning my life upside down for one wild chance. I’ve always needed constant stimulus – sometimes that means I’m happy curled in the corner of the train with a book I’ll finish before the next stop, and sometimes it meant recklessness – with feelings, with my things, with whatever I trailed my fingers across and decided to own. Suddenly, in Kelowna (or is it with Dani?) I feel like water suddenly calmed – I feel content with stillness for the first time in my life.
Maybe it’s just age, but a smaller life, over time, has become appealing to me. I still want to travel (of course), but I also want to bake a perfect sticky toffee pudding for Christmas dinner. I want to light things on fire…. but maybe just pine-scented candles, for now. I want a dog, I want to go for hikes, I want to host games nights, I want to eat dinner with my parents – and I want to do it all in Kelowna. I’m not sure where this all came from – it might just be time, or it might be Stockholm (/Kelowna) syndrome. As I said above, though, I’m content. Like a canoe trip out onto the lake on a chilly winter day, I’m sitting still in flat water, and I’m enjoying the ride.