I'm a writer/editor who cares a lot about things like content strategy, social media and design.

The Lost Boy

I walk by there nearly every day. The house isn’t far, perched on a small hill on the next street over from mine. It’s on the way to my daughter’s school, with a cheerful parade of children meandering their way past it, bowed awkwardly under brightly-hued backpacks. 

It’s the house where Jeffrey Baldwin died in 2002. He was just shy of his sixth birthday, emaciated and starving, semi-comatose from months of abuse and neglect at the hands of his grandparents. It was a true house of horrors. Now, it blends in with the rest of the street, nondescript in every way. A simple east-end semi with a hockey net dangling from the soffits; you’d never know that anything — good or bad — had happened here.

But I know it, from reading, by number. And so I walk there to visit, to pay my respects, and to remind myself to keep my eyes open and my questions sharp. 

So many people failed this little boy. His own parents, his aunts and uncles, the CCAS, even the neighbours. The safety net of community had a massive hole in it, and Jeffrey toppled through it from a great height. How many backs turned on him before his death? How many shoulder shrugs does it take to kill a child? 

A. moves in morse code toward it, blips of energy followed by long, leisurely ellipses to examine a crack in the pavement, a fallen maple key, a bug. She’s almost two years younger than Jeffrey would have been when he died, and her robustness makes my heart swell in sadness. She is loved. All children should be loved. 

"Where are we going?" she asks me, holding a pilfered morning glory in her hand.  I’m not sure why I’m taking her there. I know there’s no way of explaining what happened to her in a digestible way.  Even my adult brain can’t make sense of it — how can I possibly explain it to her? 

"We are going. To a little boy’s house." I say. The words barely make it out.

"What kind of little boy?"

I pause and look and the tree tops bending against the sky. “A little boy who lived here a long time ago.” 

A. processes this slowly. “Is he grown up now?”

"No. He’s not grown up." He didn’t get that chance. 

"Is he a little boy forever? Like Peter Pan." 

"Sort of. I guess you could call him a Lost Boy."

We make it to the house. There’s nothing to see, and I know it. Why have I taken her here? Did I expect that a place could wordlessly convey its own meaning, its own past? Could the mute brick and mortar be more eloquent than my own feckless mouth?

Selfish me. Somehow, I wanted to knit everything back into place by remembering, by teaching my daughter to be kind to others, and to watch for suffering. But now the task at hand seems insurmountable. I’d like to grab her little hand and run home and forget the whole thing. What am I doing here?

She scrambles up onto the front lawn and hops down the stairs, one at a time — fearless, oblivious. “This is the lost boy’s house?”

"Yes," I say. "But new people live here now." 

She pauses for a minute to consider the idea, looking long at the front door. “So the boy can’t come back?”

"No. He can’t."

"Oh."

The wind picks up. A. turns in the breeze, her dress billowing in the cool autumn air. Her red hair catches the light for a moment and gives off a fiery, copper glint. She places the morning glory at the bottom of the porch stairs and turns her face to me, with a half smile breaking at the corner of her mouth.

"I think that’s a good thing." she says. "Because, now, he can fly."

Coming Home

The community paper lands on my walkway every week, cradled in a mess of flyers and coupon booklets and a thin, plastic membrane.

I usually throw it out, since it’s generally about the better-to-do neighbourhood to the east, and not so much about the going-ons in my own little pocket of the city.

For that, I scour the news pages for any mention of neighbourhood events and happenings. Usually, the search produces a pretty sleepy set of links. But, today, I found my own story of moving into the neighbourhood on the Belonging Community blog. 

I’m half of the couple that moved onto Highfield Road a year and a half ago. My mother is one half of the two grandmothers Diane Dyson blogs about chatting to on the street.  We’re the people that are credited with initiating stage one of gentrification; perhaps not on the street, but at least in this set of houses that sit perch about halfway up the road from Gerrard.

I wanted to write a little in response to this post, simply because a neighbourhood is built up of people and of their stories; I have a little more texture to add to the cloth.

We have only lived on Highfield for a year and a half, but my partner and I both grew up in the east end of the city, and have seen it change and grow (and, in the case of the India Bazaar, recede again). The grandmothers Diane Dyson speaks of have lived for over 30 years less than two miles in either direction. Our house is actually a nucleus to our childhood homes, and we spend a considerable amount of time biking off to visit our respective atomic families.

Proximity led to a false sense of security when we were buying our house. I grew up getting masala dosa and thali at the (long defunct) Madras Durbar, and gorged myself on fresh jalebi from the Surati Sweet Market. As teenagers, we’d have picnics in the Roden schoolyard, sipping mango lassis on the grass and drawing free-form tattoos with henna paint on our hands. 

I didn’t grow up here, but I felt like I knew it. And after the decision had been made to sell our much-loved tiny rental place on Kensington Place - a place where everyone knew each other by name - it felt like a good place to come back to. Almost home, but just different enough to be exciting.

So we looked in Leslieville. And with a new baby and new-baby finances, we were essentially relegated to extreme fixer-uppers or those destined for a bidding war. We suffered through houses we loved that went on to go 100,000 dollars over asking. We contemplated places that had ad-hoc “creative” electrical wiring, mould, termites, asbestos. We had no extra money (or time) to re-do anything ourselves, but we were so addled by the house-buying process that we considered it.

When Highfield came on the market, it seemed unbelievable at the price it was listed at. I took a streetcar with Adelaide in a baby carrier to look at it as Ned worked. It was obviously a flip, with painters-beige walls and laminate flooring, but the space was good and it had a rental apartment in the basement.

Neither Ned nor I had strong feelings about our house. I remember asking Ned whether or not we should get a house inspection and make a bid. He was so numb from the process of bidding on houses that he just shrugged his shoulders. “Sure, why not?” The money was on us losing it.

The house checked out. Despite the fire (which I only learned about later) the flipper had done a pretty good job at flipping our house. We put a bid in at asking and expected some flurry of back-and-forth, or another bully bid, or the usual hiccup (or burp) that comes with buying a house in this city.  

They came back with a signed agreement an hour later. We had bought a house.

It was only as we walked up the street a few hours later to look at it again that we realized the former owners were fleeing. A man in a poncho grinned down at us from the second-floor balcony of the house to the south of us.  The house that was completely attached to ours.

It was the anticipated “burp” - the fatal flaw that downgraded our purchase from the heavenly to the Torontonian. It brought us down to earth, too. Turned out we didn’t know as much about the neighbourhood as we thought we did. 

By the time of our second viewing, the former tenants of that house were gone. The house was put on the market, and another flipper purchased the place “as is” and turned it into three separate apartment units. 

It’s not a Cinderella story, but we’ve lived here fairly happily ever since. There’s a tight-knit group of moms on the street with kids all about the same age. There’s a new community garden going up in a formerly mottled patch of land by the train tracks. The Lahore Tikka house has finally emerged from it’s chrysalid stage and thrums music down the street on holidays.

We don’t know everyone by name on the street, but we try our best to say hello. We’d like to continue and extend the spirit of community we enjoyed in Kensington Market, and contribute to the community that was already here when we moved in.

From getting to know our neighbours, we’ve heard the story of these two houses piece-meal, and had to form our ideas about their history from this patchwork. We may have almost moved in next to the worst house on the street, but on the other hand, the story has been a sort of surreal ice breaker.

I’ve never met Diane on the street, but perhaps our mutual love of community has migrated from the neighbourhood to the Internet.

I hope to say “hi” to her on Highfield soon.