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Why Vancouver? Why You?

Thank you to all entrants. Please visit the semifinalist page to view the top ten essays as determined by our panel and the public voting. Click here to view the top ten

A Liminal Occupancy

By Pamela Hutchins

Dedicated to my family: Aunt Darleen; to my friend: Betty Cotton; and to her: Vancouver.

Throughout my life, I have embraced oscillation, and what I mean by that is, I love it all: hip-hop and ballet; winter and summer; city and country—and I love it equally. I have since a young age and continue to do so. My aunt lived in North Vancouver Pointe Grey, the city proper; and my grandparents resided in the Gulf Islands shrouded in the country. Being a simple kid of suburbia both backdrops of city and country, seemingly stand-alone entities, enticed my imagination, in ironically much and the same sort of way.
In the country Tom and Huck governed rural rivers beyond the locust tree, past the bend, where I could scarcely see them. The city had its own secrets eager to be overtured. The Phantom of the Opera lurked in the walls of the Vancouver Queen Elizabeth Theatre; Grandville Island was a treasure trove of artisans, and the wily way in which the pastry chef at the Lonsdale Quay made those little donuts enamored me. The city and the country at the forefront of my mind as a child were foils; each highlighted the shortcomings of the other. But how our limitations in youth misguide our perceptions.
As I grew and changed I would vacillate between city and country. Being an only child, my parents were overprotective, but the unforeboding presences of the Gulf Islands the forest, the trees, the overall rural gentrification allowed me a longer leash so to speak, and at a young age this made me wry with a sense of adventure. The Gulf Island countryside transfixed me; there was something safe yet mysterious about the open and untainted terrain. I wondered what fairies and other Brother Grimm’s creatures lay hidden in the mirth of the trees. The geography of the mountains, the trees, the rocky beaches, they were so guttural and grand like an unstructured jazz scat, but still beautiful in all its chaos. I still love—and will always love, the escapism the country provides, but as I grew older I yearned to be a different kind of adventurer, with story telling influenced by Jacqueline Susann, J.D. Salinger, and Jack Kerouac.
The city of Vancouver seemed to have a melody of its own too; there was something beautiful in all its brevity, a kind of magic, a concordance. The traffic lights, pedestrians, and flashing signs all had a pulse, a place, a purpose, like a dance. The more time I spent away from Vancouver, the more I almost felt asphyxiated. I wanted to be a part of the inextricable excitement that only the city can impress upon a young person. The Vancouver Opera, The Orpheum, and the Art Gallery—all comprised this neighborhood gentrification of a thriving epicenter for the arts. Inspiring me to become a full-time Vancouverite, experiencing a proverbial sort of cornucopia and all that would entail.
The Vancouver celebration of lights show was an annual event I would watch from my aunts juliet balcony, fireworks like miniature sparklers that undulated in the sky, bursting with bright magentas and cobalt blues, a beacon, so saturated— and when she died everything was rendered colorless. The city that had bewitched me seemed to instantaneously dissipate. Vancouver became a painful reminder of my aunt, and consequently her absence in death, the city no longer held a sense of hope and wonder. There was emptiness, a void, a nothing, I was inundated with idle memories albeit happy ones, but they were nonetheless melancholic, and they were just that, empty, because at the time the memories only served as a placement card for a person who is never coming back. I felt in some way that the magic entrusted to the city and all its grandeur had tricked me, because it couldn’t save my aunt from the quick moving pancreatic cancer. Without my aunt I felt lost, alone and anonymous in a cinderblock city.
I shelved my lofty ambitions of city living and applied to a small liberal arts school located in farm county, on the precipice of becoming a university town. It had a simple, slower pace, like a satiable dance—languid. And I didn’t mind. In hindsight it was childish, for I reverted back to childish things, the safety of the country. An adventure I already knew I could conquer, a story I knew the ending to a long time ago.
But the city would beckon me again, and I soon took an internship in the heart of Greater Vancouver. Like looking into the eyes of Medusa I was scared to see the city face to face. It was a tryst I wasn’t prepared for. Derived from the Yaghan language the word Mamihlapinatapei means a look shared between two people who both desire to initiate something but are both reluctant to start, and that’s kind of how it felt, my relationship with her, the city. When I looked upon her what would I feel—my love, my loss, my loneliness, or would I just be lost.
As I looked at Vancouver with trepidation ironically it was the first time I really saw it, saw her, the city, the way the trees cast an iridescent mosaic of light onto my windshield; a stained-glass window only found in nature. I was on the Stanley Park causeway, a tunnel of trees, a beautiful dichotomy. Driving over the Lion’s Gate Bridge, I saw indigo skies, the trees, the sea, and the mountain terrain—serenity touching cityscape. It was then I bridged the gap between my oppositional thinking. City and country were not foils now, nor were they ever, Vancouver resides in this beautiful liminality. The way autumn turns to spring, Vancouver is an anomaly, the beautiful in-between. The city was a song I now understood, one I could sing to, despite knowing the words all along. Vancouver is where city meets country.

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