Here is a short story about seeking, and personal reflection….
N O W H E R E
It was barely seven in the morning as I sat in the lounge over looking the airplanes. My parents were in a bright orange Boeing. I couldn’t prove it, but I was pretty sure inside that plane my mom was scolding my dad for leaving his glasses behind at the security desk. (I found out later that I was right!) They were on their way to Edmonton and then to Fort Saskatchewan: a small city the three of us knew as home for six years.
I sat there thinking of my last trip to the Fort. It wasn’t that long ago, only three months ago in fact. My uncle warned me before this trip: “you can’t go home again”. I smiled politely in response. What he didn’t know was that I already figured that one out many years ago-my very first trip back.
My recent trips to Alberta weren’t necessarily about “going home again”. They were something a little beyond that. They were a sort of pilgrimage. When I sat on the plane, watching Winnipeg’s remarkably flat horizon fall away from me, I thought about my last two trips, and I wondered what it was that I was looking for on this trip. I couldn’t put it exactly into words. All I knew is that I wanted to walk through the Fort, and to see all the familiar places again. I wanted to smell the scent of the poplar trees that grew along the North Saskatchewan. I wanted to look up and see a deep-blue, Alberta sky. I wanted to walk along the old streets that led me to my old school. These were simple things, but somehow they were linked to something deeper inside me.
The first time I returned to Alberta, I needed to see everyone again. And, I didn’t know until I got there, but I also needed to catch a glimpse of what might have been. I saw a glimpse of the person I could have been if I had stayed in Alberta. She was not very different from who I am now but, she was different enough to make me realize I liked who I am. The second time I went, I went because I needed everyone there to see me now as the woman I am today. I needed them to know that I grew up and became a tall, articulate, confident woman.
Each time I went, I always wanted to just spend a day in the Fort-by myself-but each time I stayed in Edmonton and only managed to do a drive through tour of the Fort. Each time, a small–but increasingly persistent voice inside me screamed a little bit louder. This time was going to be different. There was a rental car waiting for me at the airport, and a hotel reservation in the Fort . . .
I was proud and terrified all at once. I had never ever gone to a strange city and attempted to navigate my way through in a vehicle–all by myself! I did take driving lessons in Alberta, but all I could remember from that time was a well instilled fear of traffic circles. I was practically shaking as I put my luggage into the trunk of my little foster-car. I took out the map I bought months ago. Before I left, in a fit of anal retentiveness, I had highlighted and coded the many anticipated routes I’d take while in Alberta. The route from Leduc to the Fort was primarily highway–no traffic circles.
As I rode along the highway to the Fort, I began to laugh and cry at the same time. I was doing it! I was driving, all by myself, in Alberta! Before long, I entered the city limits of Fort Saskatchewan. I could see from the outer limits just how this little city had grown. I didn’t care about all the new developments in the Fort. All I wanted was to drive through town to River Road.
At some point, I parked my car safely on the side of the road and walked. My senses reveled in my surroundings. All I could smell were the lush green poplar trees. It was a thick sweet smell-a heady smell. But it greeted me with the same sweetness as a grandmother’s embrace. The sky was a clear blue, and off in the distance I could hear the deep rumble of the Sherrit–Gordon and Dow plants. Closer to me, I could also hear birds, crows mostly, calling to each other. I could feel the rhythm of the North Saskatchewan River flowing through and away from the city.
It would be a little over the top to say time stopped, or even to say it turned back–it didn’t–it never does. Somewhere deep inside me, however, time took a different shape. Every time I closed my eyes and took a breath, I could feel the past nearby.
I retraced many of my steps in those few days. Each journey, I allowed myself to be led by my instinct and by my raging sense of nostalgia. I visited all of my old schools, my old house, my old friends and neighbors–my old life. Each place I went, I found memories and emotions left behind by my 16-year-old self. I began to understand that my longing for Alberta was not rooted in a desire to return, or to resume my life there. It turns out that it was never rooted in a desire to “go home again”. My longing to go back to Alberta–to the Fort–was rooted in a very strong desire to visit who I could have been, who I am, and, to revisit who I was.
I understand now, why each trip “home” had a different flavor, and why now that raging sense of nostalgia needed abating. Up until this moment, there were no words to articulate why I kept going to Alberta. (I’m not sure if they’re doing the trick even now.) All I know is that I remember the exact moment in each trip when my heart found what it came there looking for.
I remember that beautiful, warm, sunny August morning when I found what I was longing for. It was a moment, nothing I could photograph, buy, or place in a scrapbook. It was a simple, yet profound moment where my breath was taken away. It lasted a split second–it lasted an eternity. I remember it in slow motion.
Months later as I sat in that lounge, staring at Mom and Dad’s big orange Boeing, I realized that they too are called back to revisit the past. They too will remember, and realize why the Fort called them back. As I watched their plane take off down the run way and into the air, I understood more than I realized, more than words could state. I understood that clichés only work sometimes, and most of the time we slip in between the clichés. For me it wasn’t the journey, nor the destination where I figured it out–it was somewhere in between.
I left the Winnipeg Airport on that dark winter morning not just remembering my vacation, but also remembering my return to Winnipeg–home. I remember standing on the banks of the Red River, and just letting the sights, sounds, and scent envelope me. I remember feeling, for the first time in a very long time, facing fully forward and embracing the present. I remember because I felt the smile and laughter start deep within me and rise up all the way through. I have everything I need.