An Ode to Ottawa

And just like that, I’m back in the United States. Those 18 months back home in Canada are a blur, but did so much for my evolution as a human.

During my second week in Ottawa, I was attacked on the street while walking to work. A man came up to me and sucker punched me in the face without a word. I suffered a broken nose and a concussion. I couldn’t multitask, I had trouble remembering things and all lights were too bright. I was out of work for awhile to recover, then gradually went back to work full time by the end of summer. In February 2022, the convoy came to town and took over my neighbourhood. The horns did so much damage to my hearing and my concussion recovery. I started having nightmares again about the assault. The smell of diesel fuel filled my apartment as the truckers ran their engines in the cold night. Protesters even got into my building one night, ending any remaining feelings of safety.

I rediscovered my love for running in Ottawa. The city has so many pathways along the Ottawa River and here on the Rideau Canal.

I have fabulous memories of living in the city too. I loved being closer to family. I had the opportunity to build closer relationships with my step-brother, step-sister-in-law and my nieces. I’d never lived near them before, but always considered them close family. They were the first family members I told when I came out, and their immediate love and support gave me such confidence to be myself. They became essential to my life in Ottawa and I truly miss them a lot. I’ll never forget those Friday afternoon cocktails on their front porch.

I also had this wonderful chosen family of American ex-pats. We would meet over zoom and eventually met a couple of times in person. We even held a protest at the U.S. Embassy, and tried to sign up other American citizens to vote in U.S. elections. I’m grateful I’m still in touch with them from the other side of the border.

I spent some time re-building my relationship with my father. He and I stopped talking for a good year and a bit when I first came out. He loved that I was living just a few hours down the road. I’d go down there for Saturday night suppers or for holidays. He finally got to see how much happier I was, and I think that helped him start to come around. Now it’s normal for me to show up to his home as his daughter Maddie.

My dad and I on a walk in the woods on Thanksgiving Day 2021.

Speaking of my father, he attended the concert where I sang my first-ever solo. My favourite activity in Sacramento was singing, so I joined a LGBTQ2S+ chorus in Ottawa. I found myself so much more comfortable with my singing voice than I ever had before. I later learned valuable leadership skills while serving on their board.

I had my first relationship with someone who only knew me as Maddie. It was hard dating after nine years of marriage, but I found being your authentic self and opening up about your feelings makes for a stronger bond with a partner.

I also learnt so much about myself and how much strength I really have. I started doing weekly therapy sessions to recover from my concussion, and that later evolved into fighting demons of the past; processing my divorce, tackling my fear of being in public spaces and finally discovering who I am.

I was really hoping Ottawa would be my fresh start. Instead, I found myself surrounded by old ghosts. I was working 60-70 hours per week, I wasn’t feeling safe in my own community and I had PTSD from an act of violence. Nothing had changed from my years in California. I started looking for a way out.

Hello, Detroit! I loved walking along the river in Windsor in the evenings.

A close friend of mine suggested I give Detroit a try, so I went for a visit and immediately fell in love. This was the city I had been looking for. The art deco, the history and the soul, the food, the car culture and the passion for sports. In August 2022, I moved across the province to Windsor, and started a new job in Lansing, Michigan. The daily commute across the border started to get tough, so about a month later I made the leap and bought a house. I’d never be able to afford a home in Ontario, and it was so much better than paying rent.

This was at least move number 15 for me, and I’ve never cried as much as I did when I left Ottawa. Was I giving up too quickly? Was it going to be safe back in the U.S.? The culture hadn’t changed since I left the States in the midst of George Floyd protests and COVID. However, my biggest lesson of being in Ottawa: home is what you make of it. Ottawa, despite being back in Canada, never felt like home. This time I’m determined to learn and grow from my experiences and make my home in Michigan.

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2 thoughts on “An Ode to Ottawa

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  1. I lived in Ottawa for two years after transition. We then moved to a small town close to Peterborough, Ontario and I couldn’t be happier. Somehow, big cities seem to be a place where you find the extremes.. some will love you and others (often strangers) who hate you. Here in our small village everyone gets to know you by how you treat them. If you are friendly, folks are friendly right back.
    I hope you find a real home there in Michigan.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for your comment and the well wishes. I grew up south of Peterborough, in Northumberland County, and I know there are quite a few wonderful small towns in that area. I’m so glad to hear that people have been friendly. I did wonder if maybe Ottawa was too big for me. There’s a reason I’m not a fan of Toronto. I really missed having the small community connections, especially when I needed it at a pivotal time in my life. It was a tremendous learning experience.

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