We moved because we had to: we were illegally evicted by a “renovation” order. Toronto is one of the most expensive real estate markets in North America, with a housing bubble and a resident crisis where renovations are just an excuse to crowd out tenants. Our new neighborhood is not far from Jane / Finch and Brampton, densely populated communities that are mostly black and brown service workers and many newcomers. In the media, the neighborhoods are primarily known for gun violence and thus for their dangerousness. A friend who visited us shortly after the move noted that he felt insecure, as if the fear stories of the nightly news had an impact on the vast majority of lives in this part of town, where the most common experience is on buses who were full of us neighbors, mostly middle-class and young people, drive to work early in the morning.
Then it started, the contagion, the blockage, the fear. I stopped letting light into the living room. What was the point? In the living room we watch the news in which the books of the dead continued to grow. Outside, our neighbors, who are now called essential, were still filling buses in the morning. Ontario still refuses to mandate paid sick leave for all material workers.
Now, just before another surreal spring, I’ve never felt at home and more scared of not being tied down at the same time.
We started a garden last May, the first one I could call my own. It’s still exciting to think about how much we were able to plant and how much has grown. The names themselves are a delight: zucchini, delicata, butternut, spaghetti squash; Heirloom and red, blue, and white cherry tomatoes; black beauty and pink striped eggplants; Habanero, sweet and red lipstick peppers; Blackberries, blueberries, strawberries, golden raspberries, golden gooseberries; Chives, sage, coriander, basil, spear and black peppermint, pennyroyal; Brocade and French marigolds; Marigold, climbing nasturtium, velvet queen’s sunflower; Snap peas; Sampaguita or jasmine; St. John’s wort, white yarrow, English lavender, sweet grass, white spruce; Radish; gifted blue corn; Brown bear beans; Dinosaur and red Russian kale, arugula, spinach, purslane, butter lettuce; Yellow gold and blueberry kush; Baby watermelons; Hydrangea. It felt like a little miracle escaping the news and sitting with things that needed our help. It was enough to take care of the seedlings and the plants; For a while it was enough to keep her alive to carry on.
Our garden gave our neighbors a glimpse into our lives. Part of their stiff cold thawed. Catherine, a university administrator, makes beautiful soaps and enjoys good pastries. Adeline, a flight attendant, loves growing things almost the same as we do. The Jewish adage, “My neighbor’s material worries are my spiritual needs” has never felt so resonant. We learn to be hesitant but friendly with one another. Still, we are wary of how honest we are with our needs. My partner and I still don’t know how much of our politics to share.