Finding My Footing
Life does not always turn out as expected. What begins happily may have a traumatic ending, yet we still manage to land on our feet. This story is about A’s difficult journey as an immigrant woman in Canada.
Imagine staying at the best hotel in a beautiful mountain town. Imagine waking up in a king-sized bed with crisp sheets and a warm duvet to spectacular views, two large balconies leading to the wintry outdoors and two beautiful children sleeping soundlessly beside their mother. It’s like a dream—except for what happened the night before.
I smelled fire. Everywhere I turned smelled like fire. This is how my commitment to an abusive, alcoholic husband ended—in flames. Our water pipes had frozen and my husband had been trying to thaw them with a gas heater. I asked repeatedly that the heater be turned off for safety reasons, but a smoldering fire had already begun and our home became engulfed. We lost everything—our personal documents, belongings, and most painful of all, our two pets. My children and I were unharmed, but in one scary night, everything was gone.
I met my husband in my home country of Ukraine in 2003. He was an officer with the Canadian military. He was charming and impressive. He could speak Russian. We fell in love. I had never considered living anywhere else, but I was delighted when he proposed. We married, and I moved to Canada as a permanent resident in 2008. Canada was exciting and interesting. It presented what I believed would be great opportunities. However, it wasn’t that easy. I neither spoke English nor understood the Canadian culture. I liked my new home, but I didn’t feel like I belonged.
My children were born here, my daughter in Ottawa and my son in Canmore. Becoming a mother helped me feel more at home, but it also made me more reliant on my husband, which zapped my confidence and independence. I struggled with my sense of self as a Canadian, a woman and an immigrant. Who was I?
Unfortunately, alcohol addiction, among other issues, began to tear at the fabric of my marriage, and in early January 2019, I asked my husband to leave. I wanted out. Before I could find that freedom, he burned down our house and all that we owned. The fire may have been a matter of negligence—I’ll never know—but the impact, loss and devastation have been very clear.
I’ll never forget the morning after the fire, a year ago now. It was grey and cold, as if the world were ending. My life had been destroyed by great loss, and I had no insurance coverage. The generous offer of the beautiful hotel room got me through the first few frigid nights, as did my husband’s family who were quick to come and help my children and me.
The added surprise was the immediate response of the Bow Valley community. I hadn’t even dug through the sooty remains of our home before people showed up with clothes and toys and such to provide support. Friends, acquaintances and strangers were there for me. I remember well a pair of brown leather boots that was dropped off. Warm, cozy and a perfect fit, they were not only what I needed, but I liked them too.
Time has passed and much has settled. I now live with my children in a place that my employer has offered, and I have furnished it with donated items. It has been a difficult year, but there is no question that the kindness and generosity of the community has had a huge impact on me, showing me that I am not alone, and more importantly, that I belong.
I wish those few nights in the hotel had been a family vacation. I wish that my marriage had been different, and that my children’s father could have been a loving part of our lives. Instead, my reality has been tough to face. But when I wear those perfectly fitting brown boots, I know I have found my footing—as a woman, a mother, a Canadian, and as part of the Bow Valley.
A.N. moved to Canada 14 years ago from Ukraine. She is the mother of two children, and she has a passion for belly dancing, which she teaches and performs at various venues.