Summer thirty years ago, 1986.
I was 20 years old.
I’d just completed my first year at Trent University.
Did I have a summer job? I can’t remember.
I was hanging out a lot at Trent Radio, I remember that. Listening to a lot of Suzanne Vega. Going to the Shish Kabob Hut. Taking my once-a-week turn at cooking supper for my roommates. Developing a crush on a girl for the first time.
My year at Trent had been neither a failure nor a success. I went in with no particular sense of purpose, and emerged mostly the same.
About this far into the summer I was debating whether to return to Trent or not, a decision that represented an opportunity to stake my own claim on life, but that was also tinged with a large amount of guilt for turning my back on, well, everything.
In mid-July it was all just theoretical. Stirrings.
By mid-August the die was cast.
I announced my decision to drop out by cowardly calling home at a time I knew my parents wouldn’t be there.
“Tell Mom and Dad I’m dropping out of Trent and hitchhiking out to the east coast,” I told my brother Steve when I called.
(In retrospect: what was I thinking?! What a phone message to receive from your son. I’m sorry.)
And that’s what I did. From Toronto to Montreal to Lévis to Rivière-du-Loup to Fredericton to Saint John. Across the Bay of Fundy to Digby by ferry, then by thumb to Pointe-de-l’Église and Yarmouth. Student standby on Air Canada from Yarmouth to Boston, Greyhound to St. Albans, and then hitchhiking to Montreal and back to Peterborough. How long was I gone? A week. Or two.
I must have phoned my parents back at some point. We must have had an animated conversation or two about my plans.
On my return to Peterborough I found that I’d received a partial scholarship for my second year at Trent, but by that time it was too late.
I’d staked my claim.