Dear La Baie,
Never in my life have I been so far away from you. Yet I feel like I got things to tell you — an overdue talk, I suppose. I am in Nottingham, England, on a university exchange which has been changing my life and character for the best. Yet I think of you and you alone.
First, I should apologize for writing to you in a language other than the one you raised me with. French is a beautiful language, one I will always hold dear, but English is one of these forces I can’t control. However silly this may sound, I feel compelled to write in this language; I do so for reasons beyond my comprehension. I’ve said it and repeated it, more often than not my heart speaks to me in Shakespeare’s tongue. Writing you this letter in French would not feel genuine, for English is how I feel right now.
The reason I need to talk you, La Baie, is because I’ve been writing about my life lately, about my youth, about my teenage experience. What I discovered, then, by opening this Pandora’s box, is that my childhood is not as unhappy as I would like to think it was. Sounds foolish, doesn’t it? Well, maybe not. I recently watched a video laying out the importance of an unhappy childhood for growth and personal development. As much as I think it does make sense, I concluded that my childhood wasn’t unhappy at all — although I did feel sad, rejected, and miserable at times. Although I thought I hated you.
As far as small towns go, you’re probably as small as a small town gets. You’re not a village, but you’re so far off being a city — with your population of 25,000 — that there isn’t even room for doubts. There’s no denying how pretty and warm you can be, but it’d be dishonest to overlook the problems your littleness brings about. The main issue with being so small, you see, is that everybody knows everyone. There’s no sense of anonymity whatsoever. I don’t believe we’re born precisely the person we’re supposed to be; we have to experiment, renew ourselves, and fail a lot to become who we are. But there is one thing. Unfortunately, that keeps us from doing these things. This thing is called the fear of being judged, and this what your littleness fosters.
Human nature makes it so it’s virtually impossible to evolve into a new person in such an environment, at least. A small town like you requires us to remain the same person as we’ve already been in virtue of order, steadiness, and comfort. Because this is what you’re all about: order, steadiness, and comfort. Such qualities are the reasons people choose you, whether they are moving or staying. They like your constancy, your slow pace. Like your citizens, you reject chaos and disorder by frowning upon it, leaving those who may want to embrace it with an unwelcoming feeling.
In contrast to a small, static town like you, the city is this large, dynamic place which forces you to renew yourself continuously even when you’re not seeking to do so. It presents you with endless possibilities for finding yourself. And if you don’t, you feel like you’re missing out — because the world around you is spinning so fast. The city comprises so many styles, so many cultures, so many ways of thinking and living you’d be a fool not to lose yourself in it from time to time.
All my childhood I thought I hated you, although I would qualify this hatred of mild. I never would have been able to put a name on this feeling properly, but now I realize what it is precisely. This feeling is a desire for better, a ray of hope for more. The city called me. I knew, although I could not have articulated it, that I wasn’t the best version of myself, that the city could help me remedy this problem. I knew I could be so much more than what I was. But I knew that I could not exploit my full potential without cutting ties with you. It’s not so much about what you are as much as it is about what you’re not. I knew I had to leave to become the person must be.
I don’t think I could have been who I am right now. Nor do I think I could have accomplished any of what I accomplished had it not been for you. It is equally true that I owe the person I am and my accomplishments to the fact I left you. As much as life has nothing to do with narrative, thanks to its randomness and frequent banality, I do think there is a beginning, a middle, and an end to it. As one of my favourite professors once said in class, “we leave our home to spend our entire lives going back.” I began, two years ago, a long journey which took me from La Baie to Montréal, and which will take me where the wind blows. I don’t intend to come back to you, but I am determined to reconcile my feelings for you. For you are universal.
I won’t be back, La Baie. I won’t return to you, at least not physically. However, I won’t ever call you an enemy. You are a friend I’ll keep visiting from time to time, and you are all but dead. You are alive and well, in real life and in my heart.
With good wishes,