We used to own a fish tank; it was large and neatly tucked into our living room cabinets. The wash of blues and greens danced across our prepubescent cheeks as the water routinely folded under the pressurized thrust of the filter and we tapped the tank to entice what swam inside. Although I don’t remember the distinct moment in which we exchanged the tank for a TV, retrospectively, it may have been one of the subtle signs surrounding the turn of my mother’s diagnoses and the later deterioration of her overall health.
In 2006, the Canadian Strategy for Cancer Control released a piece outlining strategic directions for the preventions of skin cancer. It stated that the age-standardized incidence rate for melanoma, per 100,000, in Canada was 9.5 in 1992 compared to 11.40 in 2001, demonstrating a 20 per cent increase in over one decade.
Later in 2014, the Canadian Cancer Society Statistics were released highlighting melanoma as one of the fastest growing cancers, accounting for three per cent of new cases, and while it still proves the deadliest form, it only represents 1.4 per cent of all cancer deaths due to the benefits of early detection.
In women, the incidence rate increased 1.5 per cent per year between 1986 and 2010 and from eight to 12 cases per 100, 000. The death rate increased by 0.4 per cent per year. Further, the study showed that one in 73 Canadian women will develop melanoma in their lifetime and one in 395 will die from it. My mother was the one in those 395 cases.
This piece reflects upon a home, overwhelmingly average in its appearance, and yet palpable in its narrative. It illustrates a fragment of our story, of the last years during my mother’s diagnosis, and the ways in which a home can physically remain and yet vastly change. The history of this home is inextricably interwoven with that of my childhood, serving as the permanent backdrop of our home videos and a preservative of our memories. It was where she sipped her coffee on our truck’s tailgate evading the intrusive inquisitions of our elderly neighbors with ease as we traced outlines of our hands with rainbow colored chalk. It was where I learned that sleeping proved impossible if I hadn’t meticulously arranged my very own Great Wall of Stuffed Animals, and that if you didn’t own a water gun, you could simply replace the contents of a bottle of Windex with H2O before you headed out for battle.
This home was where my brothers and I once slid notes underneath our bedroom doors as our only vehicle for communication during our punishments and where we’d plunge into a mountain of couch cushions from the top stair of our basement. We learned how to ride our bikes, the art behind baking the most delicious banana muffins and which route to take to school so that we’d surpass all our friends earning ourselves a few extra minutes on the swings.
Yet, after the passing of my mother, the turbulent flow of my grief exhausted itself in the sea of testosterone that had begun to consume my home. I quickly learned that my femininity would straddle the boundary between existing as a reserve of power and as a weapon during efforts to assassinate the legitimacy of my voice amidst arguments with my younger brothers.
I began to learn of the wicked ways in which my jealousy would slither in and out of my psyche as I watched my friends be embraced by their very own mothers — with it inevitably evolving into a rage and thwarting much of my relationships. This fury was provoked by an elusive adversary, cancerous in its nature, which skillfully eluded my grasp, frequently shifting the target onto my father’s back. Again and again, he fell victim to a barrage of my irate monologues, which plowed into him with relentless fervor, and yet he greeted them with compassion as he slowly began to learn how to navigate through the tempestuous waters that followed my five stages of grief.
Evenings often presented an air of tranquility as I skillfully encapsulated the varying shades of my sorrow within the bed I had forged on the floor next to her now vacant mattress. Months later, I reluctantly returned to my own bed, forfeiting my habitual desire to erect the tower of plush toys, as they had evidently failed to protect me against a fear I had overlooked all along.
I’ve since discovered a song by Camp Cope titled ‘I’ve Got You,’ which embodies these sentiments precisely,
“I know that when you go / Part of me will go with you to the infinite unknown / And we’ll stand at the edge of the divide / I will hold your hand and together we’ll dive.”
In writing this piece, I’m cognizant of the fact my memories possess a fraction of holes that have been fastened together by the aged reflections of my relatives and by the grainy projections of the VHS tapes we’ve since resurrected from storage.
For me, these maturing strips of magnetized plastic immortalize the sound of her voice calling out my name in song and act as one of the rare mediums capable of transporting her from my memory into physical form. For me, this always begged the question: how do you continue if an integral piece of the structure of your home, of your family, only remains in your memory? A collection collapsing under the repressive efforts your brain continues to execute as a coping mechanism. I have yet to stumble across the answer in its entirety.
For my family, the memories embedded within the concrete that borders our previous home are melancholic in nature, however, they are contrasted with a sweeping archive of joy.
Eventually, we adapted, revising the production of our daily routines, as my brothers and I were forcefully propelled into previously foreign maturities. These included learning how to pack our own school lunches, how to go about doing a load of laundry and which feminine products were required for a 12-year-old experiencing her first period without her mother’s guidance.
The home began to sew together a different storyline, one that told tales of resilience, strength and the unbreakable bond between siblings. It began to unveil the everlasting stoicism my father possessed, a trait I’m eternally grateful for, and who taught me how to become generous, appreciative and how to nurture my independence in the face of hardship. I learned that the love I have for my younger brothers is immense, at times even reading as maternal and that the remaining women in my life, especially my godmother, were intrinsic in my development. I learned that I could survive.
Nearing the final months of 2017, shortly after my brothers and I had moved out, my father finally chose to sell our home forfeiting a 25-year reign over that piece of the crescent. Despite my fervent disapproval of the sale, in hindsight, I recognize that I had bestowed the very foundation of that home with a potent pool of power over my emotions. During those moments, it proved impossible to navigate through the fury and come to the realization that beyond the brick, the mortar and the pale purple walls that once covered our entranceway, my memory would prevail and so would my sense of home.
It would prevail without the possession of 24 Ralgreen Crescent, the house that maintained a fixed presentation of white shutters and pine trees, of a rusted basketball hoop and a poorly tended garden, and it would show me that it was capable of flourishing elsewhere.
Thus, the structure of our family has always proved vulnerable to change, showing me that we will inevitably forge different paths falling far away from their initial address but in the end, they are capable of resulting in a beautiful outcome.