I spent the first twelve years of my life in Toronto. We grew up in an old brick house that used to be a convent. My older brother, Liam, and I had two rooms opposite each other on the third floor of the house and my room had a red carpet and a locked door beside my bed which led into an unusable part of the attic that had been damaged in a fire years before.
I moved to Calgary, Alberta the summer before I began Grade 6, and lived there until left for university at 17. And now, almost 15 years later, I’m back. Plus a child, minus a husband, and trying to renavigate my way around this city that has changed an unfathomable amount but also stayed deeply familiar. I mean this both metaphorically and not.
On a purely literal level, the city itself is familiar to me. The landmarks, the layout, the main arteries and routes – Calgary is written deeply into my memory and I can often drive around on autopilot, knowing at least the general direction I’m going, if not the most direct route. But every so often I turn a corner expecting to see a barren lot and see a towering sixteen-story building instead. Or, looking for the swingy old footbridge I used to have to walk over each day to get to my Junior High School, I find a sturdy cement one in its place. This sort of same-same-but-different feeling also extends to the people I left behind, and am now beginning to catch up with.
Old names are bubbling up into conversation and ever since I moved back I’ve been spotting the faces of old friends – now older, leaner, with a bit more expression to them – at Farmer’s Markets and in coffee shops, emerging from the crowd in the most unlikely of places.
It’s a funny thing when this happens, your mind is forced to fast-forward to accommodate this older version of an old friend or acquaintance. In the time it takes to hug, say hello, and make a few friendly remarks about the weather, you must register the beard where smooth skin used to be, or the shiny new wedding ring, or the gently sloping contours of a pregnant belly. You have to remember the fifteen years when you see the grey hairs and the smile lines. You have to update your memory of this person to eliminate the blustering swaggy teen, and replace it with the quietly self-assured man in front of you. Or the giggling, unsure-of-herself girl, now forced into a memory by the gregarious, wholly-herself woman chatting with you and grinning.
And as I do this, I’m aware of them doing it, too. I register them replacing my high school self with this thirty-one year old version they see before them. I wonder what they see, what they let go of, and what it’s replaced with.
I’m really enjoying it. Seeing the evolution of a city and the people in it. Retracing my steps and feeling time lap and layer in on itself like a heap of folded cloth – doubling back and stacking over itself time and time again.
I was walking down 4th street the other day, my old stomping grounds, and remarking to a friend that it felt surreal, somehow. Like time travel, inhabiting in the same space that my fourteen-year-old self used to, my sixteen-year-old self did. Walking down the same stretches of sidewalk I remember stumbling down as an eighteen-year-old, giddy with the thrill of being able to buy booze and gettting into bars without sweating bullets as a meathead bouncer scrutinized my ID. And now, walking that same stretch in the sunshine of a balmy Saturday, as a woman instead of a girl – identities stacking on top of each other and expanding. Mother, writer, ex-wife.
Hi, Calgary. It’s good to see you again. It’s good to be back.