"Remember that one time when we hung out at the park near your house in Scarborough and we were laying down in the dirt for some reason? I think we were looking at the stars or something.
"Then you asked me to come inside your house for a sec and I laid down on your bed with my dirty back. You were like: 'Dude, there's dirt all over my sheets!' We laughed it off, but I knew deep down you were pissed.
"And remember when we went to Alexandria's and we brought McDonald's with us? The owner said we couldn't bring outside food in. He was straight-up hounding us, telling us to dump it outside, but we just ignored him. We're probably banned from that place; even now, ten years later."
Every time I'm with Stef, we always end up reminiscing on stories from our past. "You have a good memory," she'd tell me. I think so too. In fact, a lot of people tell me this. That said, I guess it's funny how, despite my good memory, I've spent the majority of my life trying to forget about everything from my time in Scarborough.
I lived in Scarborough for 14 years, which is exactly half of my life so far. Like most immigrant families, my family chose Scarborough for convenience. Not only was it equidistant to both of my parents' workplaces at the time, but it also had a bunch of useful amenities: STC, Thomson Park, Scarborough General, just to name a few.
Most of my fondest memories were made in a cushy semi-detached house on a quiet street called Freeborn. Alexa, a family friend of ours (who we consider a blood relative at this point), came over pretty much every single day since we moved there and we'd just get up to all sorts of random stuff, as kids do.
We had our first bonding moment at the vintage bar in the basement where we ate these old sunflower seeds that we found. I remember us laughing because we couldn't stop burping. Instant connection.
We'd spend our summers watching the same rotation of movies every day, building forts with foam floor tiles, pretending the floor was lava, and doing "scooter tricks" outside on the driveway.
Life, by all accounts, was really good back then. We were essentially living in our own little world, sheltered from outside forces. It was only once we stepped beyond those wood-paneled walls that we realized there was so much more to our hometown than we were aware of.
My parents are devout Catholics, so naturally, they enrolled my sisters and me in Catholic school. The Catholic school experience in Scarborough is... niche, I'd say. And it's not just because we had to wear McCarthy's or attend mass as a school twice a year. Honestly, I don't really know how to explain it; suffice it to say that you just won't get the same experience at a public school.
Depending on your commute, you may have been blessed by the smell of freshly baked Dad's Cookies near the 401 on Brimley or the dreadful stench on the RT between Midland and Ellesmere. To pass the time, you might have folded up your TTC transfer into an origami heart. Eventually, you'd arrive at a school full of individuals from all sorts of cultures and backgrounds, which always made things interesting.
That was my favorite part of growing up in Scarborough. The diversity really helped me embrace other people's differences, as well as stay true to my own identity. I think that if everyone had that experience, there'd be a lot less hatred in the world.
In high school, I strived for excellence in everything I did. Funnily enough, my motivation for working hard wasn't to get into a good university or anything like that; I just wanted to stand out. I liked being known for my smarts. I liked showing what I could do on the court. I liked being the soloist in the band. I liked the attention.
So when I say I've been trying to forget about my time in Scarborough, it really has nothing to do with the place itself. I owe a whole lot to this place. It gave me an unforgettable childhood, life-long friends, and a solid foundation for my future. My desire to forget really has more to do with the mark I left behind and the less-than-ideal reputation that resulted from my obsession with the spotlight.
As a people-pleaser, how others perceive me is everything. I care deeply about what people think, often to a fault. Back then, I wasn't as self-aware as I am now, so I didn't really think about how my actions or behaviors would affect the way people thought of me.
It didn't help that I was going through puberty during those years. I went through all sorts of awkward phases back then. I had really bad acne, overgrown hair, no meat on my bones, and an awful sense of fashion. Combine all that with my hyperactive personality and you had yourself a teenage mess.
I realize that everybody has cringey moments and that feeling insecure is just a normal part of growing up, but most people can forgive themselves and forget. Unfortunately for me, as much as I try to forget, my past still manages to creep up on me in ways that are out of my control.
The worst is when people twist the details into false rumors, then use me as a conversation topic. Apparently, there are some people who just won't let me forget how I used to be.
When I moved out of Freeborn to attend university, I had the opportunity to start fresh. I was in a new town full of new people who had never met me before. It was supposed to be my second chance, but out of fear that I would repeat the same mistakes from high school, I chose not to put myself out there as much. I didn't make as many new friends as I had hoped, and any friends I already had were miles away, slowly moving on without me.
Don't get me wrong; my time at university wasn't completely depressing—I genuinely loved that era of my life and I wouldn't change it for the world—but how it turned out didn't exactly match up with my initial expectations.
Being away from home all that time made me realize just how much I missed it. The part of my life that I was trying so hard to forget was a part that was already fully ingrained in me. You can take the man out of Scarborough, but you can't take Scarborough out of the man.
At some point, I realized that forgetting isn't the answer. Maybe, I just need to accept those cringey moments. After all, without them, I wouldn't be who I am today, and I happen to love this version of me.
Now that I'm older, I still wish I could clarify certain things with people who may have gotten the wrong impression of me, or make amends with those who I may have rubbed the wrong way. I'm not sure if I'll ever get to do that. I guess only time will tell.
Long live Scarborough.
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