The full circle

This was the summer that my nose started bleeding sporadically. Sometimes I’d feel worn out and suddenly, my right nostril would leak of blood and that earthy, metallic smell would surface. It occurred again a few days ago and it reminded me of a best friend I had whose nose would bleed when she cried, and I began experiencing bittersweet emotions, because albeit being the past, those were some of the most vulnerable days of my youth, which I’d shared with the souls I cherished dearly.

We took a trip out of the city in October 2012. Something had happened the evening of our mutual friend’s birthday, a most ridiculous rift on my part, and I cried uncontrollably in the hotel room. My steel armour collapsed and my buried emotions surfaced. My best friend held me tight and began crying with me — as if all the emotions I was feeling, she was feeling, too. Suddenly, her nose started bleeding, and while we panicked and helped her hold her head back, she did what she usually did in all challenging situations: remained calm with a trusting smile.

Thinking about that day and her empathetic nature still makes me experience a ray of colourful emotions, and I can’t help but choke up when I recount that story to myself or to loved ones. Not really in a sad way, but more of happiness — the kind of choking up you experience when you think of the good times in the past, and are grateful for them and the people that were part of it. While four years later life took us in different directions, still, when I think about her, I love her just the same. Because she was — and in my heart, still is — a beautiful soul.

**

It was a fine summer evening in Westboro. After doing un tour autour du monde because we couldn’t find the park where Pericles was set to show, we finally made it, with the help of neighbourhood kids who we randomly stumbled upon and asked for directions, and who were kind enough to bike us to the park while we followed along on our feet.

“Did their parents not teach them to avoid talking to strangers, much less physically go with them?” I wondered, all the while secretly acknowledging that one day I’d be that type of parent: the free spirit who instills love and openness rather than fear in their child. But it didn’t matter what they’d been taught or hadn’t been taught. All I knew is that we were greeted with kindness, and that I experienced insurmountable joy in that brief moment in time.

Feeling grateful to have little bodyguards lead the way — gentlemen in the making, to be sure — we gave them $10 to split for being our knights in shining armour, which for me verbally translated to: “For you guys to buy yourselves some candy.” A look of extravagant surprise overcame their faces, and boy, were they ecstatic. Meanwhile, M and I were still lost in the heartwarming moment, and for the first time since the last blue moon, my motherly instinct kicked in.

Reflecting on that moment, I hope they keep their sense of innocence and optimism, and if during their transition into adulthood painful events harden their soul, I hope they have the courage and strength to begin anew with fresh eyes and an open heart, because in that awkward moment in time between birth and death, nothing matters more than love and kindness. 

By this hour, crowds had already strategically gathered in front of the stage. M and I decided to sit at the picnic table at the back by the playground instead, for we had yet to eat our now-cold dinner. While awaiting our outdoors Shakespeare play to begin, she read me some of her beloved lines from Pericles, and as I observed the vibrant actress in her, I knew, head-in-the-clouds, that we were pals for a reason. But M paused and a brief moment of silence enveloped the air.

“Any plans on what you’re going to do when you two meet?” she asked.

“Not really. Probably just meet at the last place we met up two years ago,” I said.

“Looks like a coming of a full circle,” she smiled, as if to foreshadow the upcoming long-time-coming meet and greet.

Two days later, metaphorically, she was right: the line was drawn, both ends touched, and in the final stage, there was closure. Where I’d once found a home, I now found emptiness, and in that emptiness, mocking solace — and such sweet relief. Yet that didn’t signify the end of love for me, for what’s once loved is forever loved; only now, it was cosmic, for the fires of passion in me had succumbed to its timely demise, and all that remained was a steady candle flame casting its subtle shadow on the walls of my past.

It’s no secret that the human experience, despite its sweet nectar and aroma, is predisposed to tragedy of the most acute kind, because to be human is to be vulnerable. Invest one’s heart in anything or anyone and it shall be exposed to the whims of nature’s course. And I ache. I ache for myself and for all men and women since time immemorial who had loved and lost. But alas, there can be no light without dark; and in the final analysis, the laws and principles of the universe shall always remain faithful and promising. And that, chers amis, was enough to make me believe again.

As if I’d awaken from a comatose state, suddenly my memory was lost — and rightly so — and there I was, in my state of oblivion, walking through the streets with a blank palette and the enthusiasm and naïveté of a child, each building and nook and crevice of the city marking a new imprint on my soul. “C’est une belle journée, n’est-ce pas?” I whisper to myself and smile. That’s how I knew the sun had risen again and I was back to beginnings: for the first time, I was starting to fall in love with this city all over again. And the stars, they were lifting me to new heights.

Je ne sens pas en sécurité

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I was sleepy and lethargic, but I didn’t want our drive to Rivière-Rouge to end. Besides the fact that I felt an unparalleled level of physical and emotional comfort with my nieces sitting on each side of me (comfy pillows for me to sleep on, let’s be real), the naturesque sceneries were too beautiful to be true. But that’s countryside Quebec for you: a real beauty. And for me, it was my ideal place to spend my summer — my life.

Seeing my parents’ home in small town L’Annonciation, in Quebec’s countryside where they had first settled in 1980, was a surreal and heart-warming experience for me. It was there that my parents had earned their living and adopted a new language and culture upon arrival in Canada. As for my brother (keep in mind we’re twenty-three years apart), as the only Asian kid in a White countryside in the early eighties, he had many tales to tell, too. Some sad, some funny, some embarrassing — all of which made for smiles and laughs in retrospect.

I think everyone cried tears of joy when we arrived at the home, especially my parents and their sponsors who haven’t seen each other in over thirty years. It was my first time meeting Rolande, Laurette, husband and wife Gilles and Huguette, and their children Martin and Nadine, and already, I felt a depth of love and gratitude for them (and also for my new furry four-legged pal). Prior to that, I had only exchanged sporadic letters with them from childhood onwards, and finally being face-to-face, we had many stories and updates to share.

Martin and Nadine were the children of the family, but they were my brother’s age: in their late forties. Frankly, I fell in love with them at first encounter, for they represented what I had never known. Before I was my parents’ child and my brother’s younger sister, they were my parents’ first children and my brother’s first siblings. They had known and loved my family at a time when I hadn’t even existed. I saw in their eyes a world of early warm memories, a world with which I longed to merge.

Sitting at the kitchen table, I felt as if I was reading a book — a memoir. I listened on as each individual, young and old, recounted stories of the past. For my sister and I, it was a learning of our parents’ and brother’s past; for my sister-in-law and her kids, it was a learning of a husband and father’s childhood experience. How sweet it is to learn that Nadine was my nieces’ age when she’d met my parents. Dad would call her Poupée because of her blonde hair and bright blue eyes, and she’d cry, too, whenever my parents came to visit and forgot to give her hugs and kisses.

Like Nadine when she was a child, my nieces were unbelievably shy. Victoria even poked her head underneath her mom’s shirt when we arrived at the house. But when they finally felt comfortable, suddenly the farm became their oyster. They enjoyed the vast acres of farmland and found joy in the little flowers sprouting from the grass and in the critters that inhabited nature’s womb. Except that Magaly isn’t as brave as her little sister. At the sight of a nearby spider on the front porch, she exclaimed, “Je ne me sens plus en sécurité!” and ran back inside. My sister and I, and even little Victoria, began our delicious fit of indiscreet laughter.

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After lunch with the family, Rolande took us out on a country-style drive around her farm to show us her husband Réjean’s outdoor projects, which he held dear to his heart before his passing. His beloved projects included his cabane à sucre where he’d make his own sirop d’érable, and an adorable hideaway cabane in the woods where he was able to sleep, cook, and eat. I listened as Rolande began shedding tears at each mention of his name, and my heart ached for her.

Again, we were one step too late. I wish I had met Réjean and was able to thank him for taking good care of my family at a time even before I came into existence. Yet even though I hadn’t met him, I felt his presence everywhere I tread on the farm: in the hollow winds whistling between leaves, in the rust of the axe that he had lovingly held, in the eyes and heart of his beloved wife. And I felt happy. I felt happy because I understood that what’s physically lost is never truly lost: it lives on in the cosmos — our hearts a doorway to the cosmos itself.

I didn’t want to leave; being here solidified my sense of belonging — that I could be embraced by something larger than myself, something unconditional, unswerving, loyal. Something that could point to me the way back to myself when I was lost and afraid. Here I found solace in gentle kindness — in a home in the countryside, in the hearts of my extended family, and in nature.