There are places in this city that can still cause my heart to constrict unexpectedly. Places strongly associated with her that bring up sudden memories of a lighter time. I used to think it was a happier time, and now I don’t know that that’s really true, but it was certainly a lighter time, the before time.
We moved out of the West End and downtown a year and a half ago and into a neighbourhood where there are no memories of her brief time with us. I miss the memories places brought. She had a presence in that neighbourhood. Almost everywhere I looked there was something that made me think of her; in some ways it was a relief to be able to walk through a new neighbourhood where every tree and corner was not strung with memories of my dead daughter, but in other ways it has been an incalculable loss. I miss her, again, in a new and different way.
This weekend I’ve been attending a conference in my own city. Taking the bus downtown, not quite to the old neighbourhood, but to streets where we often wandered. The bus drives past the hospital where, 7 years ago, we learned we were having another daughter, where a particular picture of our family, sisters, started to grow. The hospital is decorated in lights for a holiday fundraiser – lights of hope. I feel a familiar jolt that lessened over the years when I passed this hospital almost daily.
For weeks and weeks after Anja died I clung to the memory of a single, particular day. A couple of days before she died, E and I took the bus downtown, returned some Christmas gifts, met R for lunch. We explored and chatted and laughed and I thought how soon this time with just her would be unusual. The day felt like a gift, sunny and cold, her golden curls and rosy cheeks and the never-ending stream of chatter. When Anja died, that day became, for me, The Last Happy Day. I felt like there was a glass wall up between us now and us then. I could see the three of us at the lunch table laughing at how I could barely squeeze my belly into the booth, but those laughing three had been shunted back into an untouchable past: before.
Just before meeting R for lunch, E and I had played outside the art gallery. I called him to arrange where to meet and she marched up and down the stone benches in her pink, plaid duffel coat, jumping on and off, laughing out loud while I felt her sister kick inside. I remember feeling absolutely content and then baffled – just the next week – that such a feeling was ever possible.
Yesterday morning, early, on my way to my meeting I passed this bench: another jolt. I can see us there, in the untouchable before, my three year old sidekick, my unmourning self, my giant belly, and inside a tiny, kicking, still living Baby Sister.
A jolt. A flash of sun on the glass buildings, lighting the last red leaves. It’s Remembrance Day. A pause for a photo. And then on to my meeting. Nearly seven years later this is how she occupies a space.