2017

Looking through old photographs is like wading through cold pockets in a lake, or the fabled sensation of encountering a ghost and walking through the cold shock of its invisible, intangible body. You remember a time when that moment, the moment whose record you are witnessing, was the present, when everything pertaining to that moment, all of the details of feeling and circumstance, were what was happening to you NOW, and the amorphous future of which you were afraid had not yet become what it is to the version of yourself looking at the photograph. I’ve never heard anyone talk about this, but to me it’s fucking weird. I remember wearing my flowered baseball cap and walking to the bus stop from my job on Canotek road. Not just remember – I was JUST THERE. It’s unnerving. I was JUST in a dorm room with my face pressed against the window, watching the snow fall outside. I was JUST in love and hopeful and moving into a place with hardwood floors and a tree that bloomed white blossoms in the middle of September. I was JUST wearing my hair in French braids and performing at Academic Hall in the full heat of the summer, standing onstage opposite a brave and frightened man. J. gave me a beautifully lifelike stuffed toy of a pig, and a card congratulating me. I remember the air conditioning only worked inside the auditorium, and hauling the set pieces through the lobby to the stage was tiring and made us all sweaty.  I remember Mary Jane did my makeup and made me far prettier than I had any right to be.

I think you get it. Needless to say, it’s weird. It’s surreal to lose pieces of your life, to have them fall out of your pockets when you’re not looking and when you finally turn around you realized you’ve walked so far away from them that the substance of them – the feel of someone’s skin or lips, the incredible fear before an act of vulnerability, the face you saw in the mirror on that day, at that moment- is gone.

Now I am small and still and blending into the background like a doll on a shelf.

Home movies

In 1999, I was a happy child. Loud, rude, attention-seeking, self-centered, boisterous, bossy, overly talkative, irritating, maybe even grating (I don’t know how I would have put up with me 24/7) but happy. My incessant stream of chatter on these videos (which yields no useful information at all) is completely self-absorbed and details the minute details of mine and my sister and brother’s daily lives. We were happy, so of course there are no striking, startling, or revealing details. It’s normal; to someone who is not me, I imagine it is quite mundane, unremarkable. I am just a child with very large front teeth talking about my pet grasshopper (I’m sorry, Hoppy) and playing bad piano. I am not particularly insightful or interesting. But I’m so happy. Maybe I don’t even realize I am happy, because the happiness is so intrinsic and I’ve never known much of anything else. It’s just me and the old gray van and the grass and my grandfather’s soft British-accented voice. It’s just my words. (“N. is making an ant path. Here’s the woods. This is a shortcut. Dad, look at my grasshopper. He eats bugs. We’re cooking marshmallows. Hi! The stupid guy [my very patient father] is video-camera-ing.”) and my delighted, changing face and I know all of my childhood frustrations and fits and tears and furies are rose-tinted with the belief that nothing truly bad will ever happen to me, that I am whole and complete and fine.

Naturally, watching these videos at 26, I wanted to cry. Witnessing that sort of innocence is simultaneously crushing and wonderful – crushing because, holy shit, what the hell happened to that kid? She definitely should have turned out differently, and wonderful because, look at that kid, she’s rosy and without pain, she knows she’ll be okay. She has the gift of not knowing what comes next.

There is also, of course, the feeling of bewilderment. What did happen? Very often I become preoccupied with the thought that my mental illness is somehow more selfish and entitled than others’. This is because my childhood was bright and healthy and without loss; it was elaborate Playmobil stories and fights with my sister and Quebecois Christmas Eves and all of that messy blonde hair and NOT ONCE do I remember thinking, in the first ten years of my life, “maybe I’m ugly.”

To be brief about it, there is no reason I should be sick. No one “went wrong” anywhere, except me.

When my baby brother and I start to sing ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer’ I can no longer hold it in and do start to cry. I know I’m very lucky that I did get to feel those fleeting, sunny, childish things and that I did have a head full of nonsense and ramblings and that my parents were kind. I was incredibly lucky. I suppose the catch is that it’s irretrievable, that I can’t go back, that I am here, now, and things look different, and feel different and I cry and scratch at my skin and wonder if death would be better.