It was on the third day of visiting family in Toronto when Layla dropped my phone in a 12-foot deep pool at my aunt’s house. She was as devastated as I was.
Without my phone, I didn’t have much of a connection to my normal world, which was sadly more unsettling than it was liberating. On the photo gallery of various family members’ phones, however, there is evidence of the family reunion. Some of the most significant pictures are of the moments aside from the big ones. For example, there are pictures of a trail, one that befriended me and absorbed my thoughts as I jogged solo some mornings during a few sacred moments to myself. I’ll always see that trail in my mind’s eye with sepia tone and with the frayed edges of an old photograph one finds in a box many years away from now.
There are pictures somewhere of my cousin Parissa’s new house, a location that felt like a cottage, warm with a beautiful family who received us with open arms and with the equal intention of fostering something precious for our children, something akin to what our parents did for us in those years filled with family trips. Parissa and I grew alongside each other in different countries, and since I don’t have a blood sister, she’s filled in that space for me especially as our lives have settled on similar courses.
One of the best pictures I don’t have right now is when we made a crackling fire, a background to which my cousin Shahab played Grand Optimist on his guitar for us under a horizon of vivid stars. The sky, my mom mentioned one day, seems so much lower in Canada. Just like when you were a kid and felt you could reach out and touch a cloud, on so many occasions, I felt the constellations at night or the passing clouds during the day were just in my reach and casually bearing witness to what was going on.
Maybe it was because visits to Canada hold so much of my childhood that this whimsical quality felt so real to me. Either way, the closer horizon was a perfect setting to what I witnessed on this trip: My kids were making relationships with my cousin’s children, my uncles and aunts, and my past. A past that is filled with significant memories and ghosts of my pre-marriage years is now a new past for them.
Yesterday at the airport and for hours before we left, Layla cried and cried; her big conflict was that she missed her dad and her home, but she really wanted to stay and would miss her cousins, and in particular, Shahab, who taught her tic, tac, toe and rock, paper, shoot, and gave Layla her first Pez dispenser. Zade felt sad to leave sweet Lilly and charming Michael (and their pool he loved so much!). They were listing out names of people who’d affected them, and I could feel small sunlit beams building inside. I felt like my parents must have felt when they saw my brother and me bond with our extended family.
Parissa and I loaded the kids in the car before beginning the journey to the airport, and we just looked at each other and began crying. It’s funny how young we all look when we cry, quivering lips and sad eyes don’t change much over the years. I feel overwhelming gratitude that she feels the same way about my family as I do about hers and that we both feel each other’s absence today. That in itself is filled with years of experience and so many ideals we both still have for our future.
My kids know me better now because they know more about some major figures in my life. Somewhere out there, Zade and Layla have pictures with their great-grandparents; I have pictures with my cousin’s kids. Generations of ideals twirled their way down to these moments captured somewhere on someone’s phone but mostly ingrained in the railways of our minds, storehouses of black and white associations, and stored away photographs with varnished, yellowed edges.