Outside from Inside

November 8, 2017

 

Why here? Why Montreal? Why be an Anglo in a Francophone town? Why be single in singleville? Why Quebec - snow capital, cold; why?

I live in a  city but I didn't grow up in one. I grew up where I could see far more stars in the night sky than the number of people I saw in the daytime. A billion stars to every one person I saw, basically. I grew up surrounded by trees, not people. Any car that drove down the patchy pavement road stretching out beyond our front yard felt like traffic. 

The setting never quite fit me, I never quite belonged. My father is American, you see, and my mother herself came from Quebec. So we were officially from away. Formally known as come-from-away-ers (CFAers), if you will. Add to that my father is Jewish. In a place where 93% of the population is Christian, being Jewish could be an issue. But we were a white family with not a lot of money so we blended pretty easily, I think. 

 

Until somebody would ask: "who's your parents?" or: "what's your last name?" Then, gig is up. Not that I really had a gig, at least not one I was conscious of. In any case, it would become clear I was a CFAer, and that meant I didn't really belong. The Jewish was much easier to hide. Nobody in the household could be said to be religious with any stretch of the imagination. While we did not go to church - unlike 90% of the population - it didn't mean people would necessarily know we weren't Christian. 

 

"Don't tell anyone you're Jewish," my sister was told. 

 

In high school, a best friend and her boyfriend were at my house with other friends sometime around Hanukkah. For whatever reason, there happened to be a menorah in the living room. "Why's that here?" the boyfriend asked, knowing exactly what it represented. 

 

I was a little bit impressed that he recognized the significance in the unassuming (so I thought) candelabra. A little excited that somebody seemed to have immediate insight into a culture I was somehow part of but mostly outside of. Not growing up with any religious training, what I didn't understand then was that nobody knows more about religious symbolism than those immersed in other religions. 

 

Sometime not too long after, that the boyfriend and I developed a mutual dislike for each other. I thought he was an airhead, and he apparently thought I was a jew bitch. Swatsika's started appearing etched into the school infrastructure and I learned I was known in some circles as a jew bi-otch. People I knew seemed to think it was all pretty dumb. Not like anyone would say anything to them about it, though. What I'd always known became very clear. I wasn't from there, and I would never belong.

 

So where then? Israel? I tried. I seemed to fit in right away. On my first day there a young man spoke to me in Hebrew at the bank, mistaking me for somebody he knew. I so fit in. 

 

Until the next wave of 'intifada' swept over us. My power of awareness grew with the violence. The media was only showing one side, so that's all people could see; that side, the one side. Their side. But I could see another side too, and it was not being shown on the news. Once again I was an outsider, not just a foreigner, but an outsider with outsider vision. 

 

A good friend once told me that she, having been an immigrant in many countries, was always drawn to the outsider. It makes sense that we're close. I loved S.E. Hinton's Outsiders growing up. The first novel I tried to write as a teenager (the only novel I tried to write as a teenager) blatantly imitated Ponyboy's voice, but from the female perspective. Sometimes I think those things that haunt us as teenagers never go away, they just change or morph into more developed versions. They remain but become more nuanced. Don't they? 

 

Maybe it's the feeling of being an outsider that keeps me here, with the security of Canada (they do say we're gonna fare well with climate change, remember). Maybe it's that little challenge I'm looking for. Just like I did growing up, blending in to the mainstream so the only way to get comfortable is to be uncomfortable. Just a little. Just a little misunderstood. Just a little cold. Just a little alone. 

 

 

 

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