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“My Trip to Canada” by Eva Sylwester

My Trip to Canada

Eva Sylwester

The first time in my life a balcony rail really stood out to me was when I went to Vancouver, Canada. Coming over the border from the United States, it’s jarring that the font on the road sign changes. More importantly, the speed limits are in kilometers rather than miles. Otherwise, you’re just on a highway for a while. When you get to the exit for Knight Street, though, you get your first view of a densely inhabited area. They have Chevron gas stations, but the font on the logo looks different, and the numbers on the signs don’t make any sense because they’re in liters rather than gallons. The row houses have these weird balconies where the bars bow outward toward the bottom. On the balconies I took for granted back home, I guess the bars were straight.

On South Park, the Canadians look obviously different from us, like their heads are split in half somehow. Of course, in real life, that’s not the case. Outwardly so many things are the same that the minor differences, like the traffic lights that flash rather than hold a solid green, stand out. At the Blaine, Washington, border crossing, there’s a monument claiming that the two countries are “Children of a Common Mother.” I had to think about that to get the reference, but wow, that’s actually true.

Who would want to be the sibling of the United States of America? We are in the middle of practically every big drama in the world. We are responsible for Walmart, the archetypal discount department store, and worse.

A lot of sibling pairs split like that – the loud one and the quiet one, the smart one and the athletic one, the good one and the bad one, and so on. Romantic couples or friends can do it too. I was surprised, though, to see that the military surplus store in downtown Vancouver was full of Fire Department New York and New York Police Department shirts, like the quiet one has not enough sense of its own identity apart from the loud one.

If the loud one were not around, would the quiet one, liberated from its role in the relationship, soon be singing karaoke?

I went to Canada so I could use my passport before it expired. I went to Canada to prove to myself I could do it. I went to Canada to prove to you, in my head at least, that I could do it. And I did, but that all seemed embarrassingly self-centered once I got there and discovered whoa, this may be another child of the same mother, but it’s its own distinct entity.

My cell phone didn’t work except for Wi-Fi. My Visa card worked, but I didn’t have coins for arcade games. I couldn’t understand the TV weather report because it wasn’t in Fahrenheit. I couldn’t make a phone call, supply myself a coin to play an arcade game, or understand the TV weather report. Being so thwarted in basic things, it was like being a child.

Like a child, I was learning, observing, taking everything in.

I started to see why I was the ex. The photos of you on Facebook singing karaoke with your new group of friends are so foreign to me. Who is this person, separate from me? You look so different, but it’s like I don’t even remember what you actually looked like. You were more a presence, more an idea that we were a unit.

I wish I could have met you like I met Canada, when I left the music off and the windows down after the border crossing to find out if anything sounded or smelled different. When I was walking around in a neighborhood that could have been Portland, I got out of myself enough to notice that the squirrels were black.

© 2015 Eva Sylwester


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