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  • Writer's pictureNate Methot

A New Year

Updated: Jan 11

I spent three nights in Montreal with my girlfriend. (I’m not used to that word, girlfriend. Perhaps, in the year I turn forty, I should find a more mature term to describe the woman I’m seeing, but regardless, referring to any kind of partnership feels foreign to me after so many years alone.) About a month ago, over lunch at my house, she casually floated a trip to Montreal for New Year’s. With my exuberant approval, she set to work to make it happen.

That’s how I see planning a trip: work. Even more so because of the special requirements that come with a 375-pound wheelchair, among other things. I checked in on the plan a few days later and was asked if I’d like to be surprised. Trying to ignore my natural curiosity, I agreed. Fortunately, if I ever did, I no longer feel the need to call the shots. (Discard a portion of that heavy ego and see how much easier life can be.) She had the knowledge and enjoyed the search for the perfect Airbnb (among all of those that claim accessibility) in the right neighborhood; I was thrilled to go along.

Only about two hours north of Burlington, I’d been to Montreal a number of times. But excluding a couple of overnights to bar and strip club lined Saint Catherine’s Street prior to turning 21 (the drinking age is 18 in the Province of Quebec), it was usually just day-trips for events. Canadiens and Expos (RIP) games, the biodome and botanical gardens, and French class school trips to French restaurants and Notre Dame. I’d never really experienced the city by walking the streets. (I say “walking,” but of course, it’s “rolling” for me. Let’s pretend the difference is negligible.)

The Airbnb was the first-floor apartment of a three-story townhouse-style brick building in the Plateau (Le Plateau-Mont-Royal). There were three steps to the front door and a cobblestone ramp curving up the right side of the landing. Outside of the ramp, it could have been any of hundreds or even thousands of similar buildings.

We parked the van in the designated spot behind the building, accessed by an alley around the corner, and walked back to the ramp at the front door. After a bit of a struggle with the upper and lower locks as I sat patiently shivering, the door popped open and we were in.

The warm and inviting hardwood floors were the first thing I noticed. It was a beautiful place to spend time and upon further inspection, boasted a wonderfully renovated, oversized bathroom replete with walk-in shower. There was a master and a kids’ bedroom with bunk beds, a full kitchen, a gas-burning enamel stove, and though we didn’t know what they were or how to use them until the day we departed, remote control operated doors at both front and back.

After arriving and settling in on New Year’s Eve, we ventured out to find dinner. With temperatures in the mid-20s and the slight-to-steady breeze characteristic of the Island of Montreal, we dressed accordingly. I wore my heaviest ski jacket, nylon hiking pants over sweatpants, hat, heavy-duty mittens, and newly purchased zip-up winter boots. [Girlfriend’s name redacted]* also covered my chair with an electric seat warmer designed for a car. Instead of plugging it into the cigarette-lighter-style outlet, she placed a fully-charged handheld battery bank (a little smaller than a car battery) in the backpack strapped to my chair and turned the dial to 100 degrees. Though we didn’t use them that first time out, we also brought hand and foot warming packets. What did [girlfriend’s name redacted] wear? A lot of wool, a scarf, and some sturdy hiking boots. As I’ve learned, walking is much warmer than sitting.

We quickly discovered that Montreal celebrates New Year’s Eve very differently than their commerce-obsessed neighbors to the south. Nearly everything was closed! We marched (please allow me the euphemism) past blocks of darkened doors and began to wonder what we’d eat. Not only for dinner, but surely next to nothing would be open New Year’s Day. With this in mind, on our second pass by a grocery, we entered into the fluorescent brightness and were immediately turned around. They were closed. It was 7:01.

Unsure of what to do next, cold and a bit frustrated, we kept looking. I think it was the cold breeze in our faces that made the minutes drag; it could have been pleasantly humorous in warmer weather. We saw some people come down the steps of a place on the corner. (A large majority of the shops, restaurants, and cafes had a minimum of one step. We were prepared for this and planned to get take-out if necessary.) It was an Afghani restaurant with the menu posted on the side of the building.

I sat outside while [girlfriend’s name redacted] placed a large order to-go. She soon came back to excitedly announce that we’d been offered to dine in the private banquet room, accessible by ramp. A few minutes later, we sat at a square table with white tablecloth in an agreeably quiet room.

We enjoyed an amazing meal of chicken and lamb kebabs with two varieties of seasoned rice, and salad. This after a trio of appetizers. The chicken in particular, tandoori-style (or similar) boneless thighs, was some of the best food I’ve ever had the pleasure of tasting. We ate our ample leftovers for lunch the next day.

[Girlfriend’s name redacted] located an open grocery store in the morning and ran out for supplies with the expectation that we’d be eating in on January 1st.

Without boring you (apologies if I already have) with detailed descriptions of every moment in the following three days, I’ll summarize some themes. We bundled up and spent several hours each day exploring the streets and parks; we had lattes with macarons (cookies) and tarts at a pastry shop and split a sandwich and croissant while both feeding and fending off a handful of overfed squirrels that surrounded our park bench overlooking the pond; and we devoured rotisserie chicken with French fries and salad from the ever-popular Portuguese chicken place whose long lines and ordering process [girlfriend’s name redacted] compared to the Soup Nazi episode of Seinfeld.

We had a wonderful time together. Together. I felt warm and comfortable with her. Having someone to travel and do things with feels so good.

But for me, it’s more than that. Because of all that I require, the level of intimacy is much higher. Spending four days together greatly increased our caretaker/patient comfort level. We now have a much better understanding of what’s needed. For me, feeling freer and less vulnerable when asking for things, while maintaining control over tasks I can reasonably complete. For her, knowing when to offer help and when to lay back; and the knowledge that if I have a need, I’m comfortable asking. It takes a little time and each experience can be different. With each of them, we build a closer connection.

*I couldn't decide on a proper pseudonym.

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