Process of Illumination

Reunion: Part One

Today, I sit in my bedroom, as I write.

It is Thursday, not Tuesday, which is my regular writing day and I am, obviously, not at Rooster. I have two hours to get this week’s article written before I leave for my sailing class because, tomorrow, I think I’m driving up north again. Of course, I’m not complaining, however I do find it interesting because I’m pretty sure I have said something similar, over the past month or so, regarding the fact that I have not, exactly, been adhering to my “creative day” schedule. 

It seems that the Summer’s events and priorities have me making all kinds of changes and adjustments to my schedule and I’ve noticed that Blog is getting pushed around a lot. The good news is that I’m still totally committed to her (I guess it’s a “she”) and she always gets written, no matter what. I have to say, I’m pretty impressed with myself about that. It’s been almost a year since I started writing weekly.


That’s almost 52 articles. Kind of amazing, if you ask me.

Just after I wrote the above paragraphs, I paused to go back and look at the date of the article which began my weekly writing streak. It looked like the first one was written on September 23rd, 2013 but there were a few articles that were not dated so I went and organized things a bit. As I did, I found a Journal entry (not an article) from August of 2007. Because I recently wrote and published the “Seven Years Later” series, I was curious as to what a journal entry, from that time, might be like. As it turns out, it was actually a series of entries beginning on August 16th thru to August 22nd and, as I read, I realized that this discovery was wonderfully serendipitous.

So, I’ve decided to share it with you today. It’s been edited, ever so slightly, because it was a journal entry, not an article, and I wasn’t paying attention to spelling or grammar or whose names were mentioned. It’s also long, so I’ll likely split it into two posts. That’ll be sure to ramp up the excitement :)

For those of you who liked the “Seven Years Later” series, I think you’ll appreciate the deeper insight and clearer details regarding some of the things I referred to in “Seven Years Later”.  As a point of reference, these entries were written about 3 months after my life exploded, in 2007. After my illness…after my high school reunion… after I had met (and quickly parted from) my “soul-mate”… after I realized that Soul Spa was on it’s last legs… and during the time that my former husband and I were in our marriage “negotiations”. When I wrote them, I was still living in Thornhill (and had been for over 20 years) and was in the midst of having the experiences I wrote about in “Seven Years Later”. These entries are clear reminders of what I was thinking and feeling at the time.

I hope you enjoy them…


By Tracy Richards Burger

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Driving around the city today – being downtown again makes me so emotional. As I turned off Bloor on to Church Street, I could feel the sensation begin to rise up inside me.  Coming back “home”, to my old neighbourhood, always stirs up so many memories and then, when I saw the old Novack’s Drugs store, on the corner of Church and Wellesley, the dam finally burst… flowing from my heart, past my throat, filling my head and spilling out of my eyes, releasing yet another instalment of the pain that I have been holding in my emotional reservoir.

I looked around for other familiar landmarks.  The buildings remain but most of the signs have been changed. Even so, the ghosts of their previous incarnations still seem to linger and it was as if I could see my friends and I walking though the door of “Dutchies” at lunch time, or Joe from Pusateri’s delivering our weekly grocery order, or feel myself standing in Simon De Groot’s Meats buying a bottle of Magi liquid seasoning and imagining that this must be what Sam’s butcher shop is like on the Brady Bunch.

Ever since Mom died, it feels like I have no reason to go back to this place, but the flood of emotions tell me otherwise.  I think I need to stay here awhile, maybe not literally, but emotionally, for sure.  There is information in these feelings that I know I must have filed away for good reason.  I think I’m ready to know what’s there now, ready to bring it all into the light.

Something tells me that it will be alright, though. 

I need to know the truth.

I deserve to be free.

August 20, 2007

To describe what has been happening to me over the past while seems to me one of the most monumental tasks that I may ever undertake.  I am so motivated to tell this story, and yet there are so many facets to it that it makes it hard to know where to look first.  To start at the beginning (if there is a real beginning) would mean that I would have to trace back over the past 100 years or so, and tell the story of my Nana and my Mother and perhaps even further than that, to talk about Annie, Nana’s Mother, and then we would end up with a very long saga that would fill volumes.  But hey, who knows where this will take us – just for now, I need a starting point.

So, I am left back where I have been for some time now. Wondering where the best place is to begin.  So, I guess last February 26th is as good a place as any, since that night was really when I began to connect the dots that illustrate the framework of my life, as I know it. Or at least, some new dots were revealed to me that I had never noticed before.   It was the night of the first rehearsal of the Jarvis Collegiate Institute Alumni Chamber Choir.

First, let me explain that my high-school years at Jarvis were among the most wonderful and the most miserable of my life. I realize that this is the prosaic paradox of adolescence that most people live through,  but for me things were a little more complicated than most. 

 This was the time which began with (in addition to the typical anxiety-provoking goings-on of the average teenager) my step-father closing his restaurant, Julie’s Mansion, to become a partner in the new Keg Restaurant chain. This was huge for me because, not only was Julie’s was my “home away from home” and part of my “claim to fame”, but the sale of it eventually led to my dad moving to Los Angeles, to open a Julie’s “clone”, shortly afterward. I was truly stunned with this news, because my dad had always promised me (grinning and gesturing wildly with his arms) by saying “Tracela, someday all this will be yours!” I had based my whole (albeit brief) life on the vision that I would one day take over the restaurant, and had even begun working my way up the ladder as a bus-boy. I adored my father and the one thing I wanted most, at that time, was to be with him.

His announcement absolutely shattered me.  

Several years before, I had managed to cope with my parents’ “separation” (they were never legally married) because there was always “the restaurant”, which afforded me the opportunity of seeing my dad on an almost daily basis. Julie’s was a fantasyland for me, inhabiting a majestic 19th century mansion, once owned and lived in by the Massey Family, and formerly known as Euclid Hall. From the time I had been a toddler, Julie’s was my dad’s kingdom and I was it’s princess. I was given free reign and came and went whenever I pleased. I lived and breathed the energy and the excitement of the place, which attracted celebrities, politicians and mafia bosses from all over the world.  It was during the time in the 60’s and early 70’s when opulence and the swinging lifestyle was all the rage and Julie’s Mansion exemplified all that and more. It was an environment like no other that everyone in Toronto, at the time, was talking about. All through junior public school, I was allowed to bring 3 friends with me for lunch every day, and we had so much fun, eating fine cuisine upstairs (and having the odd food fight), in the sunroom of the Bombay Bicycle Club.

At this point, I was about 7 or 8 years old and my life, as “Princess Tracy”, was pretty great…

That is, until the “King Julie” met, and married, his new “Queen”. 

At first, I was thrilled about my dad’s marriage, especially when I heard that I was soon to have a  baby brother or sister. This seemed to be the answer to my long-standing prayers for a sibling. However, the fairy-tale pretty much ended there. My step-sister was born when I was 10 and I think I met her twice before my dad and her mother separated. Their marriage had lasted about 5 years, after which my step-sister and her mother moved to Florida and my dad moved to Los Angeles.

For the average kid, this alone, would have served to screw things up pretty badly but, on top of it, I was living with my depressed,  “semi-invalid” mother (as she called herself) and her paranoid-schizophrenic, alcoholic, gun-obsessed boyfriend, Bill, who was closer to my age than hers, who had confessed to me one night, in one of his frequent “compadre” moments that he was in love with me, as well as my mother.  Yup. Imagine handling that, as a 15 year old.

My dad moved away when I was in high school and those years were pretty tumultuous for me. Among the many things which I experienced during that time, there are a few memorable things which stand out…

I was to lose my virginity (to the wrong person); have my geography essay published in a text book; fall in love; smoke marijuana; have my fist serious boyfriend; watch my mother spiral into depression and go bankrupt; develop some of  the best friendships of my life; have a gun pointed at my head; fall in love again; become the primary breadwinner in my household; have my stepfather move to another country…oh, and at the same time I was a “normal” high school student.

Believe it or not, I actually did a pretty good job at pulling it all off.

I mention all this now because, through it all, there was one constant source of joy and accomplishment during my high school years… one thing that I could always count on to be good at, to have fun doing and to feel like I was part of something important… one thing that made me actually want to get up in the morning and go to school.

 That “one thing” was our high school choir, directed by the most amazing teacher, I think any of us has had the privilege of knowing, Mr. David Low.  

Mr Low was a tall man, of fair complexion, with straight, blonde hair styled appropriately for a teacher in the mid-seventies.  I remember feeling slightly uneasy in his class, at first, because he was a professional, to be sure, and quite skilful in assuming control of a classroom full of noisy and arrogant 14 year olds.  It didn’t take long, however, for him to reveal his genuine love for his craft and his endearing wit.

Because of his absolute commitment to his students, his compassion and his wisdom, Mr. Low became one of the most important figures in my life and I know that many others feel the same way.  And so, when I heard that he had agreed to direct the Jarvis Collegiate Alumni Choir for the Bicentennial Reunion Concert, I could barely hit the keys fast enough on my computer to confirm my participation.  For years, I had dreamed of joining a choir again and to have Mr. Low conducting us was, literally, a dream come true… and just too good an opportunity to pass up.

The first Choir rehearsal was scheduled on a Monday night in February of 2007.  I was so excited to get there that I didn’t even read the location carefully in the email.  I just saw the name of the “Saint blah-blah Cathedral” and assumed it was the church that we had performed at many times on Bloor Street (which turned out to be Saint Paul’s). When I got there, however, I realized I was in the wrong place and had to call my friend Judy, who had been in the choir in high school, and ask her to tell me what the address was. Actually, I was supposed to be at St. James’ Cathedral, down on Church Street.

By the time I plodded my way through the snow, back to my car, drove down to St. James’, figured out which one of the 16 doors I should enter through and navigated the dungeon-like hallways in the basement of the chapel to the rehearsal room, I was half an hour late to the one thing I had been looking forward to the most in the past few years!

Of course, my arrival did not go unnoticed as I attempted to slither my way past the makeshift pews and find my seat in the Alto section, wherever that was.  I was quite self-conscious, at this point, and a little concerned that the song they were singing was not one that I recognized.   Thankfully, I spotted my good friends Dawn and Linda, and Linda’s sister Susie, on the far side of the room and quickly inserted myself in the small vacant spot on edge of their bench.  I did my best to follow along over Linda’s shoulder while I scanned the room for familiar faces in the crowd.  I was very surprised to see so many people that I recognized as being in my age group. After all, this was Jarvis’ 200th anniversary, and I imagined that the age range would be much more varied. But it was comforting to see so many of my peers, even if some of their names had escaped me for the moment.

And of course, there was Mr. Low, in all his absolute glory.  I was struck by how little he had changed over the past 27 years. Everything about him seemed to be frozen in time – his voice, his mannerisms, his expressions, the way he turned the pages of his music – everything was just as it was, when I was 17.

It was quite overwhelming.  

It was at that moment when I began to realize how significant this experience was for me.  Even through all the anticipation of what it would be like to sing in a choir again, and then what it would be like to sing in THIS choir, for Mr. Low, the idea of seeing old friends and perhaps recalling old memories – through all of the visions and conversations I had about what I could expect and how I might feel –  nothing could have prepared me for the flood of emotions that rushed through me at that moment.  It was as if I had been transported back to a time that I had longed to re-create yet, on so many levels, had chosen to forget.  All of the conflicted parts of me that I had seen fit to disregard for so long began their journey into my current realm of understanding.

This was to be the beginning of an enormous stage of awakening in my life – My Reunion – not only with old friends and forgotten memories, but my Reunion with My Self…

To be continued…

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