ecstasy but not happiness

We left on a Thursday, travelling by train with tickets my uncle bought us. My younger self would have enjoyed making a mix to go with the undulating patter of tracks and the passing of seasonal landscapes in my window. I could let songs and albums measure my time spent traveling. Now I measure time in hunger and pills.

Union Station Toronto

But even as I age and the skyline grows less recognizable, the old stomping grounds remain comfortingly familiar. They say everyone’s an exile in New York. Well, in Toronto — where each municipality is a world unto itself, separated by miles of twisting highways and hours of traffic — everybody’s home.

The last time I traveled there was over five years ago; a gap of time I’ve needed to recover before setting foot in the same city as my parents. It was also the first time most have seen me since finding out about my suicide attempt and subsequent retirement. I couldn’t tell if anyone was handling me with kid gloves, but maybe that’s what I need right now as I try to rebuild from the ashes.

I enjoyed showing Heather around, introducing her to new dishes1, catching up with relatives, buying new clothes for myself. It was nice to live my old boujee life for a little while; not doing much but getting a lot done at the same time. Crystal even used me as her excuse to skip out on a meeting so we could have lunch together. If I could sustain that ecstasy, would it serve as happiness?

vegetarian noodle soup

The members-only Lotus Tea House is in the Fo Guang Shan Buddhist Temple, and staffed entirely by volunteers. They have a limited menu and serve fruit teas, one of which is a secret recipe. This noodle dish with soy pork is their house speciality.

My time there wasn’t without it’s difficult moments. I realized that I hadn’t even started mourning certain things yet, that I’ve still been holding in a lot of pain. But there’s no way I could have discovered how much people care about me, had I not let myself be vulnerable and open about that pain.

It’s been two weeks since we got back, and I haven’t been the same since. Projects remain untouched. My usual games aren’t satisfying. Nothing I do feels fulfilling anymore. I haven’t even been able to start a new book after finishing Wolves of the Calla, leaving my afternoons devoid of escape2. Writing has become the only refuge I have left, and even that feels like a chore as I struggle to find coherency amongst my feelings and thoughts.

I still think of my uncle, in the middle of cutting tomatoes for breakfast, becoming overwhelmed with emotion when talking about his late wife. I held him and said there’s no wrong way to grieve, no proper amount of time to mourn, that life is cruel and he doesn’t deserve such hardship, that I was sorry for his loss. He returned the sentiment, and added that I wasn’t alone. I believed him, even though I hadn’t done anything to earn such affection or care.

Maybe I’m trying to figure out how to live up to the idea that I’m worthy of that kind of love.

  1. I’m so thankful that many Chinese dishes and snacks, including dragon’s beard candy, are vegan. []
  2. Someone recommended Fictions by J.L. Borges, but it was much too dense and esoteric for me. []


  1. Lotus Tea House looks interesting, will visit someday. I went to a few temples in Korea and they offer free food to visitors. Simple but filling vegetarian meal. You have to wash your dishes yourself at the end of the meal and place them back in the kitchen area. Quite nice.

    • A warning: the Lotus Tea House is a membership-only restaurant. You need to be a member of the associated Buddhist temple to eat there. It’s totally worth it. :) Please let me know how similar it is to the temples in Korea.

  2. I didn’t know there was a Lotus Tea House in Toronto! I had eaten at the Lotus Tea House in Waterloo quite often, which was also operated by the Fo Guang Shan Temple and have really positive memories of the food, friends, and tea.

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