For the summer issue of Monte Cristo, I ruminate on a constellation of films through the lens of memory, backward and forward and alive right now. To recall, to see, to dream. It’s funny timing, having received the beautiful print copies in the mail only days after arriving home from burying my grandmother. In considering Michael Haneke’s Amour, Alain Resnais’s Hiroshima Mon Amour and Oliver Husain’s Item Number, it seems to me that “memory and imagination rely on the co-existing of tenses in the present moment. To be alive, then, is this movement backward and forward, the complex and mundane experiences of holding on, of forgetting and of writing anew. Sometimes it is proper to not let go either of the past or the future…[sometimes] the past must be unshackled from the everyday less it suffocate living. [Other times] it’s the overly determined idea of the future that needs be released, making room for what can’t be predicted, for what falls outside of schedules and scripts. These fates are shared amongst us: memory persists unevenly, imagination moves unpredictably. Our lives are simply to engage in these negotiations, wherever they may take us.”
Coming back to Toronto from Alberta, having just visited the hospital where I was born to collect the physical belongings of my grandmother’s that she had with her when she died, I am very much steeped in this negotiation of past, present and future. In culling through my own memories, I have come across this, a love letter to my grandmother that is also an attempt to contend with memory as being a flimsy and fading thing:
Thick rows of raspberry bushes and I was once a small girl hurtling through them, summer in my veins. My stick arms and legs collecting the tiny cuts of prickling thorns as I ran through the rows with abandon. Then, the abrupt halt of a changing plan and my feet would fall silent, caught on either side by bushes taller than I. My fingers would grope forward for the carmine fruit, an action of body remembrance while my mind wandered with wild imaginations. My fingertips would slowly stain red with a disregard to proper picking etiquette, pressing too hard the tiny fruit, seeds catching in my teeth, and I would eagerly, unconsciously, taste of the sweetness. When my games of make-believe fell silent, I would recognize the adventure as my home. Just raspberry bushes in a garden, a fantastical leap to the marvelous, far away lands of my play. And yet, such abundance, I have come to realize, in the bounty right there before me. But then, just a given, just fruit close-by on the other side of my whim.
My abandon played the predictable counterpoint to my grandmother’s methodical stripping of those bushes near the end of summer’s drunk light, collecting berries for the winter ahead. She would drift so deliberately that my young eyes could discern movement only by turning my head for a spell of accumulation–childhood is no keeper of small progressions. Still, buckets and buckets more would fill of the small bits of ripe redness. With opaque plastic, the weight of a full ice cream container would hint at the shallow collection of juice near the bottom and these pools were evidence of the riches of a season.
Next, the fruit was found scattered all over my grandmother’s kitchen. She would sit, hunched over in deep concentration, turning every one of those berries through her fingers. Again. Looking for bits of the world not to be preserved, tiny worms or bits of rot, removing all the impurities, all the whitened, foamy centres the berries grew round, all the accidentally torn bits of green leaves. Methodically.
I do not remember ever bearing witness to the magical process that preserved the berries on into the winter, but I knew that soon a cold room in the basement of my grandmother’s home would fill shelves with electric red. Better than candy, raspberries preserved in their own juice would be served over vanilla ice cream. Or, sometimes, just the berries themselves, straight from the jar that sat faithfully replenished in her fridge. I could even catch my father in the indulgence, sneaking just a single spoonful, the softness of a man. These were my first lessons in parts and wholes, of how then yields now, because at the end of the winter the seemingly never ending store of sweetness would be small and depleted, but oh! The bushes in abundance and the dance would begin again each spring. The itch of winter to send me careening again through those rows, and soon the slow, following steps of my grandmother.
Yet, that lesson of wholes and parts did not prepare me for this, those shelves empty, the bushes overgrown, my grandmother’s hands so ravaged by arthritis that they are no longer capable of small movements. Not even one hidden jar of electric summer exists anymore, and I am caught off guard admitting this. Like, having spent so many of my teenage years laying alone and lonely in a small bed, a heavy heart not yet able to recognize the space outside of solitude, and now, the staggering privilege of another’s affection. Yet, even if I could take my lover’s hand and lead them back to that bedroom where I laid, even with their kindness to go there with me, evidence against a solitude that once seemed irrefutable, my bed is not there anymore. Could not lay there with my lover despite their generosity. Cannot taste the sweet red of summer, though my grandmother extends toward me the courtesy of memory. And this is because: our childhoods no longer exist. Our childhoods are gone.
These are the words of a young woman realizing that having come to pass really means never again. It was not so long ago, this lesson, and I still just don’t know it in certain ways, and yet now my grandmother is dead, and even her hands are but a memory, not unlike the jars of raspberries, not unlike the summer light.