Goodbye, Orangeville


It’s almost April and the snow is falling again, only today it’s not sticking to the ground. I walked for forty minutes up and down Orangeville’s side streets, where Orange Jull built his mill, where Joe Deighton stalked women, where Chief John patrolled the town’s many hotels and bars, earning his commission by wrestling drunks to the lock-up at Town Hall. Up and down deserted neighbourhoods, past homes with entranceways completely blocked by unshovelled snow.

I’m leaving in a week and it’s as if only today, with grey skies, with snow falling, can I appreciate the town’s neglect, its melancholy. It’s not the weather. I am meeting the town again, almost for the first time. Because I’m afraid of moving forward, I look back and reach frantically for what I’ve left behind. For what, to be honest, I ignored or passed through, as if it was beneath my notice. What I see, instead, is my own fear. My fear, my neglect. And a town that didn’t need me.

An old school bus with the words “Ghetto Engineering” stenciled where the name of the transit company would normally be. A sunroom packed to the brim with old boxes, furniture piled sideways, and old boys’ adventure novels, with titles like Spy Sailor and Adventure in the Arctic. A woman in a 70s perm, looking like she was just released from captivity, a cigarette dangling from her mouth, pushing an empty cart away from the grocery store, followed by her young grandson, with his own empty cart, Smurfs t-shirt, and weird smell of dryer sheets.

When I parked my car I thought I saw a woman who I’d briefly dated. So briefly that for some reason when she told me about her clit ring it made me sick to my stomach. Probably it wasn’t meant to be, but there was nothing wrong with her, no reason for me to feel that way. It was the town itself turning my stomach in knots.

A mis-matched couple in their twenties pushing bags of Salvation Army clothing in gaudy plastic wagons, Fisher-Price, as if shepherding their own children. Apartments for rent in a brick building that looks institutional, like it was once a school or a prison. Apartments for rent in a one-story complex that could be a shithole motel on the edge of any small town in Ontario. A house, maybe thirty by thirty feet, advertised for “$1400, plus heat, plus hydro.” Dogs calling from unseen yards. Snow-covered train tracks crossing Margaret, Henry, and John: “No Trespassing / No Dumping.” The same tracks were once haunted, at the Broadway crossing, by a tall ghost that would chase after horse carts.

In the coffee shop bathroom, my face melts in the mirror. Above the toilet paper dispenser there is a long scar of peeling paint. Six months ago I sat in the same spot I am in now, and wrote about a construction site across the road. A steel frame thrust into the sky. Now it is a bland commercial property, for lease by Coldwell Bankers, three shops side by side. The site has sealed up, just as my life in Orangeville will, filling in behind me, in time.

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