Mount Royal and the Raccoons
To avoid crossing the border by foot, I took a Greyhound to Montreal, which did not go smoothly by any means. It never does on “The Dog.” My bus arrived three hours late that night at my transfer in Burlington and by the time I made it to Montreal it was 1 AM. The bus station put me smack dab in the middle of a new city with unfamiliar faces, new language, and signage plastered in French making it even harder for me to navigate. Most of the stores closed for the night with the exception of bars and night clubs which I wanted to avoid, having no place to sleep. I managed to snag free WiFi at the bus station in order to navigate to the only nearby wooded area, Mount Royal.
So I walked through the dark city up the steep, endless, hilly streets through urban neighborhoods where loud music blasted from patios. Tipsy youth partied from porches, flailing their arms in the air, bouncing their legs, spilling beer from their red solo cups as their empties decorated small city lawns.
It brought me back to my days of studying Engineering in college, dabbling in psychedelics, opiates, uppers, and downers, from LSD to Prescription Heroin and everything in between, among drowning in alcohol to help my anxiety and depression. I missed school, the girls, the drugs, the excuse to get fucked up for no reason in a social setting. But I did not miss the burden of undying pain, igniting each and every day upon sobriety.
That was almost ten years ago. If I flashed ahead to this point in my life, I never would have thought I’d be rambling around North America with a backpack, riding freight trains and flexing my thumb for random adventures to nowhere for a reason unknown to me and to most wanderers. I never thought I’d be leading a simple life without using my degree, scoring odd jobs and temporary work between my travels. But here I stood for the first time, completely content with all of my decisions up to this point in my life. It felt good to actually feel free and not enslaved by my own demons. As I’m more capable of handling them crawling back into my life in bouts of loneliness now.
I walked, and I walked some more, rambling through the rowdy streets of downtown on Rue Prince Arthur. French-Canadian women are the prettiest of their kind, it’s one of the reasons I married one. Alcohol-fueled banter filled the pedestrian walkway as couples stumbled from bar-to-bar and the eyes of lonely, drunk, French men locked onto scantily dressed ladies. I squeezed through the congestion of bubbly crowds zigzagging my way through the corn maze of drunken youth until reaching the quiet shadows of sidewalk. My anxiety eased and I followed a staircase of concrete steps through dark forest, slowly making my way up a wooded mountain, to Mount Royal.
Mosquitoes buzzed amidst my moist face. Crickets chirped. The beady eyes of raccoons stared back at me from the grooves of black forest. Sweat poured from my brow in torrents as I marched up the final flight of stairs walking the promenade of stone to the circular veranda overlooking Montreal. Skyscrapers twinkled endlessly across the urban skyline draining the stars from the night sky to the traffic on the empty streets far below. I listened to the murmurs of wind and the sleeping city at 3 AM dangling my feet from a stone wall while the piano man fostered soft lullabies and plumes of marijuana smoke permeated the air. A group of locals stared off at their city just as I did in these moments, cherishing the beautiful gift of sight.
I spent a half hour just looking out at the flickering of big city lights without a care in the world as raccoons tussled and fought over stray bits of garbage from the overstuffed trash bins. I smiled; for I knew the flock of tourists would envelope this overlook in a mass of selfie sticks, cameras and excessive banter tomorrow, as I disappeared into the woodland for a brief bout of sleep.