Places I’ve Lived: Unwashed Dishes in Montreal, Wild Pigs in India and Roasted Marshmallows in Toronto
Claremont and De Maisonneuve, Montreal, Quebec, May 2000-September 2001, $450/month
I was still living with my parents when I met James, who needed a roommate. Eighteen and nerdy, I was vastly impressed by guys who revered Hunter S. Thompson and smoked a lot of pot, so I happily moved into this apartment with him. This was despite the fact that the one previous time I’d hung out with James I’d somehow ended up drinking an entire pitcher of vodka and orange juice cooled only by a frozen plastic-wrapped chicken burger (James didn’t have any ice cubes), then slept through an exam the next day. But waking up the first morning in my new, tiny room, where my one window overlooked a row of garbage bins and my bed took up around 85 percent of available floor space, I felt light and free—I didn’t have to worry about following my parents’ rules or eating a proper breakfast any longer! I could even eat licorice for breakfast! I was an adult! This feeling quickly wore off, however, as James and I embarked on a war of attrition over whose turn it was to wash the dishes. As the pile of dirty dishes grew, our apartment became less and less welcoming. Occasionally James and I would strike an uneasy peace, however, and watch episodes of Dark Angel together while eating huge piles of buttered toast. I pretty much survived on buttered toast and licorice that year and, much to my parents’ concern, grew gaunt and wild-eyed.
The Residence College Hotel, Toronto, Ontario, September 2001-April 2002 (my friend Marianne says, “Not sure, I want to say $1,200/month?” This included a meal plan.)
At my university this was considered the booby prize of dormitories: In contrast to the pretty Victorian dorms on campus, it was a large, bleak, spaceship-esque building in a district comprising a great deal of hospitals, office buildings, and sad-looking people. But after the apartment in Montreal, my room here seemed—with its view of the CN tower and en-suite sink—a magical palace of delight, even if a long and creepy hallway stood between me and the women’s showers. To decorate the walls of my wonderful dorm room I immediately went out and bought that Kandinsky print with the circles found in every college student’s apartment, then hung it the wrong way for almost a year before someone alerted me.
Montrose and College, Toronto, Ontario, May 2003-April 2004, $575/month
My smallest room yet! I had to roll up my futon every time I used my desk. And my landlord, a man who had once been a dancer for CATS, sometimes and without warning rearranged our furniture when my roommates and I were out. But the apartment also had a dishwasher, which vastly increased my tolerance for the landlord’s idiosyncrasies.
Spadina and Queen, Toronto, Ontario, May 2005-November 2005, $650/month
My new boyfriend and I moved in together after he concluded he could no longer stand living in his grim basement apartment, a place where one had to sit on a stool to use the shower and which he dubbed the “Suicide Pad” for the misery and back pains brought on by its extremely low ceilings. After a search of only a few days we scored this great third-floor apartment in the noisy heart of downtown Toronto. It was enormous by our (admittedly low) standards and had a big rooftop overlooking Queen Street we could climb to from our fire escape. Many parties, and encounters with raccoons on the roof, were had. Unfortunately, the apartment wasn’t surrounded by two stores called “Bling Bling” at the time I lived there.
“Panda House,” Chengdu, Sichuan, China, September-December 2007, free for teachers
In a fit of pique probably brought on merely by being in my mid-twenties, I decided I didn’t like Toronto very much and ran off to become an English teacher at a university in China. As opposed to the huge concrete bunkers allotted to the native Chinese teachers, the foreign teachers were given apartments in a spiffy and new-ish five-story building called the Panda House—so named by locals, I was told, because non-Chinese people resemble pandas (please note that I cannot vouch for the accuracy of this explanation). The building had strict rules: no guests after 10 p.m. and a midnight curfew. This cast a serious pall over my debauched expat drinking sessions, and had the effect of emptying out the Panda House almost entirely—most of the other teachers kept a second, rule-free apartment in the city for purposes of debauchery. But I liked my apartment: it was pretty big, and clean and simple, and it had a bathtub and a TV. When the weather got cold, instead of buying a space heater like a normal person would, I shuffled around wrapped in three blankets and constantly boiled water on the stove to warm the apartment with steam.
Silver Oaks, DLF Phase 1, Gurgaon, Haryana, India, August 2008-July 2009, $450/month
I moved back to Toronto, then one day impulsively applied for an editing job in India that was posted on Craigslist. I got the job, moved to Gurgaon (a small city outside Delhi), and—with the help of my kind boss Anshul—found this apartment in fairly short order. It was on the 13th floor of a complex called Silver Oaks (despite, as far as I could tell, a notable dearth of oaks in the region) and had two bedrooms and two balconies. It also had a large number of big yellow geckos (which I liked), and many bedbugs (which I disliked). The building was close to a small shopping mall, and to get there I took a shortcut which brought me through a thicket where a family of wild pigs lived. Except for the bedbugs and the frequent power outages, this was probably the best apartment in the world.
Queen and Dufferin, Toronto, Ontario, August 2012-present, $1500/month split between husband and me
Although everything on the internet told me not to, I whimsically decided I should go to grad school, so I left the best apartment in the world and moved back to Toronto and this two-story Victorian house, where I’m now attempting to finish a doctorate. In warm weather I do my Ph.D. stuff in the backyard my husband, my cat and I share with a very nice landlady, and in cold weather I read and write—and, sometimes, complain about all of the reading and writing I have to do—in front of the apartment’s big (working!) fireplace. The rent’s high, but in Toronto mind-blowing rents are par for the course. It’s a good apartment, and I hope that I won’t have to move again for a very long time. After all, I can roast marshmallows at my fireplace, and I’m not sure things get much better than that.
Stephanie Southmayd is a full-time doctoral student and part-time editor. She plans to one day start a blog that she can link to at the end of articles.