I’d forgotten to turn on international usage, so my phone stopped working when I entered Canada, as I discovered after I’d left the border patrol office and the mapping app went blank, the US highway ending in a little stump, nothing but barren wasteland on the screen. Oh well, I thought, it’s a straight shot and how hard could it be to navigate my way through Montreal? Quite hard, I realized too late, in a city where nearly all the streets and roads were under reconstruction and repair, the countless detours and closures and gridlock at every turn exacerbated by the death-defying antics of the Quebecois driver whose license plate’s motto je me souviens (“I remember”) clearly applied to nothing ever learned in driving school. Worse, like so many cities with major geographical features, the mountain and river had become, with urban expansion and sprawl, major obstacles. How to get around, over, across, on the other side. Raison d’etre now raison détour. Physical barriers turn into mental ones. The means of crossing over, of overcoming, are transformed into terms of disparagement (Bridge and Tunnel Crowd) for those on the wrong side of the tracks, the wrong side of town, Outremont (outré le mont, beyond Mont Royal, beyond the mountain). Beyond the Pale (the River Pale). Valley Girl.
My Canadian friends, once I’d finally arrived, apologized, then theorized. A month before the US presidential election, they offered, surely I could appreciate the need for caution and concern; already reliable news sources reported a significant rise in the numbers of Americans seeking political asylum. If the wrong candidate won, the country would soon be overwhelmed with would-be expats. And in the meantime did I know how many people tried crossing the border for cheap drugs and free health care? “I’m not sick,” I countered. “Do I look sick? Do I look like a political refugee? A fugitive?” I changed the subject. My Canadian friends were far too polite to tell me even if I did, and I didn’t want to consider, much less disclose, a darker meaning to my detention.
Later in the evening, after dinner and conversation and retiring for the night to their son’s room – made up for my visit as guest room while the young man was away at college – I turned out the light and wondered if William had ever been to Montreal. The instant the question formed in my mind, a gleeful head-spinning curiosity, not my own, took over with an impetuous urge to explore. “Don’t you dare,” I warned the empty room, but I could feel the giggling delight in examining the detritus of youth around me, the model ships and planes and athletic gear to be touched and toyed with, drawers mentally opened and closed while my displeasure only heightened my ghostly companion’s guilty pleasure. “Boy, oh boy, a boy, a boy, oh boy,” he murmured in awe of the retro down comforter covered with cowboys and horses.
“Stop it at once,” I commanded. I focused my mind on more serious images of earlier in the day. In turn I fought competing visions of earlier times, of the boyhood of the absent occupant of the darkened room in which I lay, and then other scenes, memories of this city, this place, my own youth followed by William’s youth, his earliest memories of Ireland, of Troy, until our memories merged, overlapped, skinny awkward boys in hand-me-down clothes and bad haircuts, scared and aware of the adult world fast approaching like a speeding train, a bad dream for which we were so woefully unprepared, defenseless.
“Stop it please,” I begged.
“Go back,” he replied. “Go back.” And I knew he did not mean a return to where I’d physically come, not in a geographical way but back in time. I couldn’t.
“I’ll go back,” I said, a false promise in order to buy time, to placate. “But not now. I can’t. I can’t do this now.”
The disappointment registered like a heaviness in the air, a fullness followed by a rise and dropping of a weight in the pit of my stomach as you might expect with a change in cabin pressure on a plane, or as if lying in a narrow berth on a ship and riding the deep gully of a wave. A sinking of the heart. The room grew still. Eventually I slept.
In the middle of the night I woke and wrote blindly, seeing the pen form words not my own in my mind more than in the unreadable darkness. In the morning it began to rain. A heavy rain that kept pace with my drive south where I’d come from, across the border, without incident this time. Back to Troy. Back to William’s boyhood town.
What I found written that morning:
There are times when the world sorts itself out and you are part of that, part of the process of resolving, correcting, recalibrating, realigning. Stop resisting. Stop saying “shouldn’t” or “can’t” or “that’s not for me.” How do you know? A single drop of rain doesn’t say, “I can’t fall here, I am supposed to be somewhere else.” It does what it knows to do; it falls, it adds to, it increases the flow precisely where it was created, and the consciousness of that single raindrop – for consciousness exists in everything, every cell, molecule, atom – the consciousness of even a drop of rain rejoices, in its being, in its existence, in its place in the world.