to a Friend
The Gazette, Montreal,
October 28, 1996
Personal essay, 950 words
I just heard that you sold your house. It’s a beautiful
house, and I knew you’d sell it eventually, but this is much too fast
It’s barely been three months since you told us
Stan had a new job and you were leaving Montreal, and in that short
time you’ve organized the house to sell, found a school for Jeremy,
taken Jessica to university, packed, and rented a house in Connecticut.
Of course, it’s been much too hectic for you to
spend any time with me. I feel lucky that we had that one lunch together
when you explained why you were going.
The news didn’t come as a great surprise. Of all
of our friends, you and Stan were the ones with the most opportunities
to leave. Despite Quebec politics, you’ve stayed for almost 25 years
because no place ever looked as good to you as Montreal.
The referendum changed all that. Stan’s colleagues
at McGill began moving away, and budget cuts prevent the university
from replacing them. What used to be a world-class department isn’t
nearly as exciting as it was. This time when an offer came along,
he accepted it.
I don’t blame you for going. If Michael and I were
10 years younger, we might do the same.
But that doesn’t stop me from feeling abandoned
and hurt. We’ve been friends since Abby and Jessica were two-year-olds
playing in the sand in Westmount Park. When Jeremy had meningitis
as a newborn, I stayed with Jessica while you rushed him to the Children’s
Hospital; when Abby and Jessica graduated from high school, we gathered
at your house for a barbecue and champagne.
For 16 years we’ve been like family, adopting each
other’s visiting parents, celebrating Rosh Hashanah, Passover, and
Thanksgiving together, talking endlessly about babysitters, schools,
teachers, doctors, politics, science, food. We didn’t always agree,
but we thought more alike than most of the people I know.
Circumstances change, people move on, and it’s
natural to be sad. But why is my sadness so tinged with anger? And
why do my feelings seem so much stronger than the situation calls
For me this leave-taking is altogether too familiar.
It recalls too many other occasions when politics intruded into my
personal life, inflicting losses.
Growing up in McCarthy-era Hollywood as the child
of a blacklisted writer, I watched our closest family friends disappear
one after another. One went to jail. Another fled to Europe. A third
cooperated with the House Committee on UnAmerican Activities, and
my parents never spoke to him again.
During the Vietnam War, Michael and I had to leave
New York, where we met. The American army needed doctors, and he was
about to be drafted, despite being Canadian. I loved the Big Apple
and didn’t want to part from my friends. On the day I was to leave,
I stayed with one of them so long that I missed my plane. (Because
of that experience, I know how you must feel about leaving your Montreal
You aren’t even the first close friend I’ve lost
to Quebec politics. When we arrived in 1973, I met a designer, her
architect-husband, and their 3-year-old daughter, who was exactly
the same age as my daughter Sonya. She was as important to me then
as you became later, and together we muddled through the small and
large crises of daily life—two stillbirths on my side; an adoption
and a hysterectomy on hers.
But it wasn’t long before boomtime ended in Montreal,
and there was no work for architects, always the first to feel an
economic crunch. My friend’s husband found a job in New York, and
like you, she sold her house and left.
Now you’re gone, too, leaving me to face my fate
Your absence makes it seem real for the first time.
Oh, I’ve seen the vacant stores and the proliferating For Sale signs.
I’ve heard that university students can’t register for classes because
their professors have left and that the class of 1969 at Westmount
High—the first to go from kindergarten through Grade 11 in French
immersion—couldn’t organize a reunion because so many of them had
I know several other people who have moved this
summer (three teachers from our daughters’ high school; the entrepreneurial
friend of a friend who intends to commute from Florida); and some
of my friends who are staying have put their houses up for sale so
that they can take their money out of the province.
Both my children have gone elsewhere to university,
and I know they’re unlikely to return.
But none of this has the same resounding clang
as your defection, which forces me to ask myself and everyone else
I know: Are you leaving? Should I leave, too?
For many, the possibility doesn’t present itself.
Businesses and houses tie us here. So do jobs and family.
I had assumed I was settled. In my late 50s, I
lack the energy to make a fresh start; I no longer have small children
to help me meet new friends in the park.
And I love the city Michael and I chose as young
idealists committed to educating our children in French, eager to
join the two communities. Though every departure diminishes it, Montreal
is still a wonderful place to live.
The anger I feel isn’t meant for you. It’s for
the situation that is driving you away and leaving me with so little
control over my own destiny.
I wish you luck in your new life. May you have
friends who love you as I do. I will miss you terribly. And I will
miss the Montreal we knew together.
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Copyright © 1996 by
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