Twenty Years Ago

One of my colleagues and close friends didn't think we'd do it.

I believe that Phil was projecting his own reluctance to pulling up roots and beginning a new adventure. "You're not going," he'd say. Maybe, he wanted us to stay, wanted me to continue working side-by-side with him. But that wasn't the path I wanted, wasn't where I wanted to continue. If I didn't go, I knew I'd remain in a life that I hadn't carved out for myself, but rather had fallen into.

And I wanted out.

I don't know why my buddy thought I wouldn't do it, wouldn't leave the country and head to the other side of the planet, to start a job that I had never done before, never trained for. Throughout our friendship, everything that I said I would do, I had done.

I said I would fly to England, Wales, and Paris. I did that. I said I would hike from Frontenac Provincial Park to Kingston (a 60-kilometre walk). I did that. I said I would backpack out to the Gaspé Peninsula. I did that.

True, those were temporary excursions, ones that weren't life-altering. This new adventure was a big leap, would definitely alter my life.

When he had raised his doubts, however, I had already gone past the point where I could just say, "you know, you're right, forget it," and go on with my life in Ottawa.

I had already quit my job. I'm sure that I could have gone back, if I wanted, but I had wrapped up any loose ends, had said all of my goodbyes, had closed the books. Customers had given me gifts, coworkers had thrown farewell parties.

DW and I had already given up our apartment, had most of our belongings in long-term storage, with the rest divvied up with family members. Our car was sold. We were homeless, taking up temporary space in my parents' guest room, relying upon them for transportation.

The tax people already had us registered as non-residents, with mounds of paperwork signed and filed.

It was the delay that might have raised Phil's doubts. We were packed and ready to go at the beginning of January, but our work visas had been delayed on the far end. Our flight tickets were delayed and re-issued three times—taken care of by our future employer. For more than six weeks, we waited, keeping a low profile so that we wouldn't have to say our goodbyes again.

It was a foggy morning and the roads were covered in slush, as freezing rain threatened to delay our departure. As my folks drove us to the airport, we passed my manager as she was driving, in the same direction, on her way to work. We waved furiously and I called out the open window, "We're finally leaving!"

Ottawa to Toronto, and then to Vancouver, where we would spend a 24-hour layover before we continued, to Tokyo, and finally to Seoul, South Korea.

The weather delayed our liftoff from Ottawa, added to the stress that already filled DW's and my chests. As we sat on the tarmac, wondering how long we would remain in Ottawa, a real fear of missing our Toronto connection became evident. The Canadian Airlines flight attendant who took care of us sensed our anxiety and checked the conditions at Pearson International. Our connection was on time.

By the time we lifted off, we were more than 30 minutes late, when we had only an hour between connections. As we were preparing to land in Toronto, our attendant drew out a plan of the airport, showed us where our plane would rest and where our next flight would await us. Our crafts would be on opposite ends of the terminal.

He handed us a litre bottle of water. "Take this," he said, "you'll have no time to stop once you enter the terminal and it could be a while before you have a chance to hydrate." We thanked him for his kindness and prepared for our sprint with our carry-on baggage, not knowing if our large suitcases, which held most of the possessions we would need for the next year, would follow us on our connecting flight.

At the very least, we thought, our stored luggage would have 24 hours to get to Vancouver.

It made it on to our flight.

We arrived in British Columbia on Thursday, February 27, 1997. It was the furthest I had been from home, in Canada. Not the furthest I had ever been from home—as of that date, the honour belonged to Berlin, Germany. That time, not only had I been so far from home, I was totally on my own.

And now, I was about to travel further from home than I had ever been before. But at least I wasn't going to do it alone.

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