ONCE, MY GRANDMOTHER AND I GOT LOST. We stood under a willow, the sunlight tickling its long strands, the light flickering. My yaya told me she couldn’t remember the way. I was distracted less by the prospect of never finding home than by the towering willow letting the light in, allowing it to brighten or dull its green.
When I was young, my yaya and I would hop on the 16 bus from Ville Saint-Laurent to Parc Ex. In between running errands, we would take breaks on the benches in intermittent parks. We would sit and enjoy the silence together. She would hug me and off we would go to a bakery to pick up spanakopita, or to her friend’s house to eat molasses cookies. I remember the thaw, the slush and the sudden burst of sunlight in the afternoons.
My grandmother died when I was thirteen. For a long time, I couldn’t walk by our familiar spots without wanting to cry. Greeks mourn differently. We hold vigils in church at every anniversary so that we don’t forget the person we’ve lost. Now, I hold similar vigils as I tread the paths I once walked with my grandmother. I remember more and more about her and how those walks allowed me to feel comfortable in silence.
But it’s getting harder, because so much has changed. The storefronts are abandoned or sold. The pastry shops have shut down and the friends have migrated to Laval.
WHEN VIRGINIA WOOLF WENT FOR WALKS, it was to give some order to her thoughts. Moving her body was a way she could settle her mind. I walk to do the same. Tracing familiar streets helps me remember and connect to certain parts of myself. I walk along Parc and it helps ground me, especially when I’ve forgotten so much.
Spring comes right when I’m used to the cold: my skin, trapped beneath layers of wool and thermal cotton, anticipates an ambush from the wind. When the chill disappears, it’s all too sudden. I’m frantically catching up. Things surface on sidewalks, trees start budding and house plants angle toward the windows, trying to capture light. Spring is a signifier for renewal, and I begin to remember certain things. Little memories resurface. I replay them in my head as though the repetition will cement them.
I’m in a fog when I leave my apartment. The sheets of ice laid down by winter are melting, and the ground isn’t as stable. I shiver and slip on a puddle that’s still partially frozen. I’m stuck in my head, preoccupied by deadlines, writer’s block and friends and soon I realize I’ve walked too far. I’ve forgotten the anniversary of my grandmother’s death.
THE WILLOW TREE STILL STANDS in Ville Saint-Laurent—so close to where my grandmother helped raise me. So much around it has changed: houses have been demolished and renovated, our favourite diner, too. The willow is there when I walk home at night after I’ve missed the last bus, but it doesn’t calm me anymore. When I look up at its branches, I no longer remember the strong, protective presence of my grandmother. I remember the feeling of change, of forgetting. I’m scared that if the conditions are right, if the light ever matches my memory of that day when we weren’t sure we would find our way home, I won’t even notice. I’ll just keep walking.