17 Years

BY CHELSEA RICCHIO

My brother (4), my dad, and me (7) on my dad's birthday.

My brother (age 4), my dad, and me (age 7) on my dad’s birthday.

Yesterday my parents moved out of the house I grew up in, and it’s giving me a lot of feelings.

We moved in when I was 6, and I’m 23 now. I moved out to go to university, but I’ve been back a couple of times since then. When spending more than even one minute than I had to at university was more than I could handle when I was 18, I was able to come home to my parents’ every single weekend and even still work at my old part-time job. When I left my boyfriend who I was living with in Toronto at 20, I was able to move back home, back into the safe, four blue walls I spent most of my time in before. I redecorated to make it feel more grown-up, but the blue paint is still there underneath and I know this.

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My brother (age 8), my mom, and me (age 11) on my mom’s birthday

I moved back to Toronto when I was 21 and it seems to have stuck this time. I have a real job now so hopefully I won’t ever need to move back in with my parents. But I still visit fairly frequently. It still comforted me to know that my past still exists, because I’ve built this whole new life for myself here, which is great, but sometimes I feel like I’ve forgotten the experiences that made me who I am.

None of my friends from back home speak to me anymore. I had one, but he’s barely spoken to me in 3 months, even completely ignoring my birthday, which is a new one. I wanted him to be there, even if only for an hour, and I told him that a few times but he wasn’t.

I think that the hardest part about this is knowing that no one else is paying attention. I never thought that you could live in a place almost your whole life, and no one would even notice or care if you left.

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My brother (age 10) and me on my 13th birthday. I know what you’re thinking – why do you look like you’re 8? Are those Bambi pins? Why do you look like you’re about to go to work in an office? I don’t know. I just don’t know.

Now, of course I know that people have cars and know how to drive, including me. I know that my parents aren’t moving far. It’s only a 30 minute drive back to my old neighbourhood. But, going back to the one friend I have left (or thought I did), I thought he would be there for me when I needed him. Even though he wasn’t really talking to me. I thought he would make an exception for this. I have this feeling that I won’t see him again, because the few times that he does deign to grace me with his presence it’s usually last minute. Last minute plans are harder to make when there’s more distance between you. We used to be a 10 minute walk away from each other. Now, if I were to walk from my parents’ new house to his, it would take close to 4 hours, according to Google maps. I don’t know why you would ever do that, but the point is, that possibility is no longer really open to us.

The good part about this is that it feels like I don’t have much to lose. Yes, I am losing that part of my life, but I was losing it anyway, whether I liked it or not. My surrounding environment has 12238093_10153776197888293_7893552212150814867_obeen slowly changing into something I don’t recognize over the past two years. They closed down the metro all my friends used to work at, and now it’s a Food Basics. They opened a Dollarama. They’re building a Fortino’s. There is suddenly an entire neighbourhood north of us where there used to be farmland. And of course, there’s my friends who don’t speak to me.

It’s strange to think though that I will no longer WATCH those changes gradually take place. Someday I’ll have to come back to the neighbourhood for some reason, maybe to visit one of my old doctors, and I can imagine myself driving around being confused because nothing is the same. I’m catastrophizing here, but I certainly don’t like the idea.

When I was 15 I got an electric guitar for Christmas. That's how this happened.

When I was 15 I got an electric guitar for Christmas. That’s how this happened.

But maybe this will get me in the right mindset to truly “start over”. I’ve told myself I’m “starting over” for the past 2 years, but I still try to cling on to every last bit of the past I possibly can. Physically moving is one of the best ways to embrace the new, because you’re sort of forced to.

There are no more ties to my life prior to 2013 aside from the possessions I’ve kept, and my friend Amanda – she wasn’t from Oakville and I don’t see her frequently, but I’ve known her since I was 12.

It’s sad, but maybe it’s the best thing to ever happen to me. I experienced many moments of true happiness when I was younger, and for a long time I’ve viewed those as the happiest moments of my life and tried to bring those back as much as possible. But I also experienced the majority of the most painful moments in my life there in that town, and I always think about them but I tend to believe that they were ‘worth it’. That despite the way things ended my friends were still fantastic people and I’ll never find friends like them again. That my high school boyfriend was the love of my life and now I’m just screwed forever in theromance department. But the reality is that although I feel like I had everything I wanted and then lost it, the reality is that I never did. I thought I did, but I was blind to a lot of serious issues.

Once, I 'made Christmas' for my high school boyfriend, who was sad and had like negative holiday spirit.

Once, I ‘made Christmas’ for my high school boyfriend, who was sad and had, like, negative holiday spirit.

It’s still hard for me to accept that the only reason I think these things is because those painful moments meant that I never became who I was supposed to be. I have a warped view of the world because the world that was shown to me growing up wasn’t real, and it was hard for me to proactively look outside of that, even when I went to university. I could have done anything I wanted – joined extracurriculars, crashed parties, sat with random people in the cafeteria, you name it – but I felt like I couldn’t. I didn’t even see those things as remote possibilities. No one else believed that I could or should do those things, so I didn’t either. I only started to learn to really think for myself (about my own life and not just social and academic issues) and go with my gut a couple of years ago. I had a gut feeling about certain things I would be good at, and I’m usually right.

I lost the people that I cared about the most, and that experience has shaped me into who I am today, but so has the simple fact that they are no longer around. I have experienced intense pain, loss, and mental illness, and all of those things change you. But the person I was before all that happened wasn’t even really ‘me’ either. Looking back I feel like they dictated who I could and couldn’t be, so although what happened is sad, I’ve been able to finally get to know myself without all the outside noise.

Prom.

Prom.

Over time I’ve slowly been shutting out those old experiences, saying, “No, just because that happened does not mean it will always be this way,” and narrowing my focus in on myself. No one else might be paying attention to me, but I’m paying attention to me.

I used to hate going home to visit my parents because being in that place where I was so isolated and lonely was painful, and though it’s not painful anymore I’m still always reminded. Now I won’t be reminded of anything, except maybe the time we met the previous owner of the new house (who is the coolest lady), and I can narrow my focus even further.

Just me, my new apartment, my new friends, my new job, and my parents’ new house. I hope that this will help me find what I’ve been looking for and finally have the life I always wanted.


CHELSEA RICCHIO

Chelsea Ricchio is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of the SPEAK OUT blog. She is also the Communications Manager for Healthy Minds Canada. She graduated from the University of Toronto in 2015 with a BA in English Literature and Book & Media Studies. She was the former president of the student group Active Minds at UofT, which hosts SPEAK OUT events on campus (from which this blog takes its name). She was diagnosed with Dysthymia and Social Anxiety. She is 23 and lives in Toronto with her cat Genie and her roommate. 

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