I pull up to a stoplight on the way to my friend Carolyn's house, hoping her directions are correct, knowing there's no guarantee of that. Out of habit, I look up at the street signs, with the intention of memorizing where I am and am struck with terror. I am lost. I must be, because I'm at the corner of Sharon and Sharon, and have no idea which direction is which. How the hell did I end up here?
It's a loaded question. Not only do I wonder what I'm doing at this bizarre intersection, I wonder what I'm doing in Charlotte period. How exactly does a Canadian (not just a bloody Yankee) end up in the banking Mecca of the South, in a city she's never really heard about, let alone read about, dreamt about, or anything about? Like so many others, my family and I are transplants and headed south for a better job and a better life.
Life back in Toronto wasn't bad. It was good. Really good. But my husband, Kevin, is a Southerner, and six Canadian winters were all that he could handle. Mind you, he never once was in charge of snow shoveling ... always my job. Regardless, we decided to head for the sunshine once again. A good friend of ours moved to Charlotte from New Orleans post-Katrina and had nothing but glowing reports. We just had to come check it out.
On separate occasions, Kevin and I traveled to Charlotte to visit Carolyn and see what was so good about this relatively unknown (to us) city that had turned her life around. She was happy here. Her practice was flourishing and her personal life as well. Carolyn was lucky enough to find a new Starbucks "family" in no time and they doted on her like courtiers with their queen. She had dinner dates, doggie playdates and even threw parties. In all the years I'd known her in New Orleans, not once did she throw a party. Something was up.
If Charlotte could be that good for our friend, why wouldn't it work for us? We were game and made plans to relocate, including finding a new home, new jobs, new school and new life. Kevin was lucky enough to get hired as music director for a new club opening in the fall and was certain he'd find other gigs to play his horn. Easy enough ...
"I am lonely – Why aren't I meeting friends in my home office?"
First impressions count, and I noticed right away that Charlotte is gloriously green. Not in the eco-conscious sense, but literally. Toronto on the other hand is all about the planet-centric type of green. Every company and every product is eco-friendly/conscious/fabulous in one way or another. It's also a cycling town. Even in the crappiest snowy weather (and there's a lot of that there) you'll find people out on their bikes. (Side note: Toronto has the highest rate of bicycle thefts of any city in Canada. It's almost a badge of honor and a fact of life. Very few people own bikes that haven't been reassembled from other bikes, which of course may or may not have been stolen.)
You can find Canadians in almost any city meandering on their bikes, in their business duds or black motorcycle boots and shredded clothing. Charlotte, however, has cyclists with "uniforms" of proper helmets, bike shorts and aerodynamic shirts. Has anyone seen a cyclist here on a beater, heading Uptown in khakis and a blue shirt? I haven't.
What I have seen a lot of here are trees, and I noticed them on my first drive into the city. I still take note of all the trees and am struck by their simple beauty. Sometimes I have to go looking for them, to appreciate what is good about being here.
I did that a lot in the beginning. As a mostly self-employed writer, my office happens to be the back room of our house, and surprisingly enough, I don't meet a lot of people there. I left a vast circle of friends and family in Canada and experienced an enormous sense of loss sitting in the quiet of my back room.
At first I would wallow in self-pity, staring out the window and cursing myself for agreeing to move. "Why am I here?" was on rewind in my brain. Thankfully the movement of the birds would shake me out of my trance, and I would find myself looking at a giant oak tree in my neighbor's backyard. I would always manage to remember I was lucky to be here on earth, even if it wasn't Toronto.
In order to feel like I belonged here, I had to find a way to connect with Charlotteans, and find people who were like-minded. My goal was to seek out groups of people in town who shared similar interests with me. Kids, pets, writing, art and music were all a part of my life. Surely I'd encounter someone to relate to, right?