Montreal, Day One
We’re young, we’re in love, and
we kill people we’re visiting Montreal.
Hannah and I woke up at 4:30 A.M.- which isn’t even a time that should exist- stumbled groggily through our morning routines, managed not to forget anything, and left to greet the day.
To our great surprise, there was a Wheel Trans bus waiting outside her building. She’d booked it to take us down to Union Station, but had been put on the wait list. Neither of us expected them to actually show up.
A good start.
At Union we were bustled quickly onto the train. Hannah and I were seated together this time, thank God, in comfortable chairs, and facing each other.
The ride was long and uneventful. Peaceful. We talked to each other for a long time, then got our laptops out and went online. Every now and then one of us would tell the other one about something interesting they’d read.
After breakfast was served, we both dozed off for awhile.
There came a point, hours into the ride, when I fwasn’t sure which province we were in. This had never happened to me before, and I enjoyed the sense of dislocation.
I’m not going to worry about things this time, I thought. I don’t have anything to worry about. Everything will be fine, and I’ll let it all roll over me.
I honestly believed that. I still do. This may constitute a miracle.
However, when we got to Montreal’s train station, I felt the beginnings of intestinal cramping. This often happens to me on vacations and when I’m particularly stressed out. It is not fun.
Hannah and I were separated by VIA employees. She was taken away to a sketchy elevator, and I was told I could meet her at the top of a nearby escalator.
I followed a crowd of people, found the escalator, and waited for Hannah.
This isn’t good, I thought. Five minutes off the train and already we have no idea where the other one is.
We were supposed to meet Hannah’s friend at the station. She lives in Montreal and knows how to get around the city in a wheelchair, because she’s in a wheelchair.
Where are we supposed to meet L’aime? I wondered.
Just then, a little person in a motorized wheelchair drove past. I thought it was probably L’aime, because I’d seen a picture of her on Facebook. I didn’t want to stop and ask her though, because can you imagine if I was wrong?
I kept an eye on her as she drove through the crowd. She seemed to spot someone she knew. I followed.
By the time I caught up, L’aime had found Hannah. I was introduced, and immediately liked her. She was warm, friendly, and seemed genuine.
We had approximately two hours before Hannah and I could check into the residence room we’d booked, and so we wandered slowly in that general direction.
I had never been in Montreal before. What impressed me immediately was how much it looked like Toronto, even down to weird coincidences like a street named University appearing within a block of the train station.
I know all of Toronto at this point, and there are no new neighbourhoods left to surprise me (in the old city, at least), but sometimes I have dreams about discovering a section of the city I’ve never seen before.
Montreal looks not dissimilar to the city from those dreams.
The only significant difference between it and Toronto is that all the signs are in a foreign language, and that everyone around me is speaking French. Which is a big difference, but not as big as you’d think. I’m notorious for not paying attention to what’s going on around me, so if everyone started spontaneously speaking Swahili it might take me a few hours to even notice.
Still, the language difference does take some getting used to.
The streets were crowded with people attending some kind of festival. There were a lot of food trucks. The buildings were beautiful. The weather was warm and sunny.
But my body was falling apart. It felt like I was bleeding out from my stomach. I was in excruciating pain, and I couldn’t understand why.
I mean, yeah, I usually end up in physical distress during a vacation, but it tends to happen after intense, prolonged emotional distress.
Here in Montreal on a beautiful day that I really appreciated, the physical pain was swift, merciless and- pretty soon- all consuming.
I stumbled from one place to another. We found ourselves in an IGA with severe accessibility issues. They have two wheelchair gates at the front of the store, and both were padlocked. We had to wait for employees to let us in and let us out.
“Do you remember Montreal being this bad in terms of accessibility?” I asked Hannah.
“Yeah, a lot of the city’s like this. It’s why I could never live here.”
L’aime had left by this point because she had a thing, but Hannah and I managed to find the dorm by ourselves. It was small, clean, and neat. Everything we needed.
The next hours were an ocean of pain that I don’t particularly want to remember. I went to the bathroom several times, laid down for awhile, and eventually felt like a human being again.
Here’s the thing about traveling with Asperger’s: there are an enormous number of factors and variables to consider, and if things start going wrong, it’s incredibly difficult to figure out how to set them right. To begin with, it’s hard for us to figure out why we’re feeling what we’re feeling, and even what we’re feeling.
Then the question is, well, what do we do about it?
Hannah asked me what I’ve done in the past about my intestinal pain.
“Sometimes resting helps, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes going to the bathroom helps. Sometimes it goes away on its own. Sometimes it lasts an hour, sometimes it lasts a day. Once it lasted an entire vacation. There’s simply no way of knowing.”
I tried some stuff I’d never tried before: Pepto Bismol and resting. The medicine did nothing, while resting seemed to do the trick.
But the next vacation I have, who knows?
That’s the scary thing. I never know what’s going to go wrong, I don’t know how to fix it, and nobody else can tell me, because I know more about what’s going on in my body than anyone else. And sometimes I just don’t know enough.
After I rested for awhile, Hannah and I went down to the lobby to meet L’aime. We decided to go and check out the gay village.
On the way there we saw part of a public library (it was just about to close), and a French bookstore. We saw some public art installments, too. Toronto doesn’t really “do” public art- not to the same extent as Montreal, anyway, and not as well.
The gay village was beautiful. It’s a pedestrian-only neighbourhood (in summer, at least), and a canopy of small pink balls hangs over the street. The patios were packed, and people swarmed the street. It was a friendly neighbourhood, alive and lovely. I’ve always had a good feeling about pedestrian-only streets, but this was the best indication I’ve seen that they could work.
We found a pizza place and spent a long time there, even after eating. We talked. L’aime and Hannah talked more than me, but that’s fine. The sky turned dark overhead. The weather stayed pleasant.
Eventually we parted ways and Hannah and I managed to find our dorm again. Friday nights in Montreal are wild, let me tell you. There are multiple festivals going on downtown. Here, in the dorm room, at 11:30 at night, with the window closed, I hear a distant roar from over a block away. Hannah wanted to explore a little, but the crowds were too much for me.
I still felt bruised from earlier in the day, and wanted to return to the relative serenity of our room and save up my strength for tomorrow. It’s hard to tell, after all, what will set me off, and to what extent, and how to put things right. Better safe than sorry. After years of blithely ignoring my limits and plunging full steam ahead, I’m learning that maybe taking things easy is all right sometimes.
Especially when you’re far from home.