A time before, when she was not my mother. When she was not my mother yet. When I was but one of infinite future possibilities.
As Herman Melville wrote to Nathaniel Hawthorne in 1851, Lord, when shall we be done changing?
This picture was taken from behind the family home on Ridgemont, my cousin Patti tells, six snapshots from this spiral-bound “Mercury SuperPak dated Snaps,” marked July, 1956. Was this before or after she’d dropped out of high school, that first time? Three blocks south along Alta Vista Drive from Heron, where her mother remained some thirty years or more, family falling like dominoes. There were those who grew up and moved, and others, who passed. Ridgemont, what once Kirk Drive. Before the high school, before the yard and fence and house that came behind, a wide yard where my not-yet-mother lounged in tight pants, Lolita gaze. Such a wonderful innocence, a recklessness in her carefree stare. Without consequence, teenaged; bulletproof.
In an Ottawa of small town provincialism, of streetcars. Even now, rolling track of residual lines that still cross over Heron Road, just west of Bank. Of family homes the new habit of water pipes, bathtubs. The nineteen-fifties, as the children would streetcar west to the Plant Bath at Somerset, Preston, for their weekly wash. Just there, by my apartment.
Clawing at the remains of story. Remains that, in so many ways, no less available when she lived. But I am so much more aware of absences.
At first, Patti says the photograph directed away from their yard and not towards, the backside of a house owned by the Hills, their neighbours. Taken, she directs, from the side of the backyard where their garage was and across, not from the back of the house directly. That our grandparent’s house was one of the first in the area, later carved into development, trees and hedges. When a farmer’s field became Ridgemont Avenue, the high school down the block.
Later, enlarging the image on her iPad for clarification. Not the Hills, but the Smiths. Another direction. Before the hedge she knew had arrived, a view she never actually had. My not-yet-mother Joanne at sixteen, sister Pam to her left, lounging, thirteen years old. We were spending the afternoon sunbathing, Pam writes. Responds, to my email.
Like a book that breaks open to the same page, repeatedly. As though broken, or a dent. To give. Open, like a gasp. A missing entry, spacing out what is no longer there. What the book wants you to know.
On my mother’s shelves, recalling other stories of those who’d hidden cash among their books. I went through, and found nothing. Every tenth or fifteenth title, wax paper holding a four leaf clover flat in space. Did she believe in luck, or was she simply craving? Was she acknowledging luck itself or the luck of discovery? From the 1990s onward, the years of rare-to-occasional lottery tickets. I will buy you a house, she promised.
Hangover, my name is heartbreak.
A month after my mother’s funeral, a break-up note in the mail, without another word. As history erases, so too, the future. All our talk of children.