VICE recently did a documentary on Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario (aka the “Soo”), the town my father was born and grew up in. It’s a small steel manufacturing city right on the US-Canada border. I have been coming here since I was born, but only recently have I been aware of the desperate state the Soo is in.
My grandparents moved into the Soo not long along. For most of my life, they lived on an island about 45 minutes out of town. That island holds a lot of memories from my childhood – climbing rocks with my cousin, fishing with my uncle, and roasting marshmallows over an open bonfire in the dead of night with my dad and sister. When they moved, I knew it was for the better. Their health had been declining for years and traveling back and forth for care was becoming too much for them.
I did acknowledge that moving was the right thing to do, but I was also forced to recognize that the house on the island would be sold. Much like my grandparents, the small cabin they lived in had been on a downward slope for many years. The forest around them was overgrown, their dock was in need of repair, and a part of their roof was ready to cave in once the snow fell. It was no longer the house I remembered, but losing it was still painful. I didn’t want to deny myself the right to feel that loss. A lot of people told me to think of it differently, but a loss is hard enough to process when you’re taking it at face value. Seeing it for what it was meant a lot to me.
Summers on Pine Island were hot and humid, filled with mosquito bites and the smell of dirt, but they were also rich with laughter and family. Before my uncle became ill, he would work all day every day to support himself and his son, so seeing him on the island was a rare and special occurrence. My best memories are those spent with him, watching him reel in fish, teaching me how to cast, listening to his stories about work. His life was much different than mine and it fascinated me.
Life interrupts memories though. The Soo is dealing with a drug crisis, my uncle and grandmother are becoming increasingly unwell, and my grandfather is all but gone. My cousin and his girlfriend are going to leave, they’re both ready to take separate paths in life. I’ve grown attached to them, I’ll admit. Soon, they will be some of the only family I have left. Life goes on, people move, people die, you continue. It is for reasons and observations such as this that I have to trust when I feel as though I am not in the right place. If I take anything away from watching my family drift away and apart, it is that the best memories I have with them were made in moments of raw truth and happiness.
That’s why I made this website, that’s why I continued ballet when everyone told me not to, that’s why I really want to succeed without college. Something about traditional paths doesn’t feel right for me. I want to prove to myself that I am what I was always told I am – different. If I’m going to be different, then I’m going to do things differently. Many things in life are scary and sad, but feeling those emotions brings you perspective. Watching the town I used to admire and adore fall into disrepair brings me to a lot of new perspectives. Life is not always about feeling happy or distracting yourself from the bad things. Let yourself feel, it’s a beautiful thing. It means you’re alive.