At aged two my son held a grey plastic elephant in his hand at all times. Breakfast, park, lunch, nap time, dinner and bath – the grey elephant his constant companion. I have no idea when or why he stopped doing it. I just remember it being a thing, and then it wasn’t. The grey elephant was filed into the same folder as bedwetting, thumb sucking, hair twirling while eyelash grabbing, and dribling – they all just stopped one day.
The photo appeared on my screen this morning.
It wasn’t the grey elephant or the nostalgia of wobbly toddlers that are now capable children that had me in tears. It was the window behind him, and the door right next to it. It was the chair that he had no doubt sat on while I removed his snow boots. It was the house he was standing in, the buffet I would have been leaning against when I took the shot. I could picture the camera I would have used at the time, and how I would have connected it to the computer in the office just to the right of the screen. It was a busy and hectic existance, but a life that no longer exists. My Canadian life.
It happens out of nowhere. A picture of a backyard in Libya, a tree swing in Houston, an inflatable pool in the front yard of a home in Malaysia. There’s an instantaneous moment of time and geographical travel where you can transport yourself so perfectly that you can smell a kitchen, feel the humid air on a front lawn, and remember the tickle of a blossom in a tree that is no longer yours.
I found myself looking over his right shoulder towards the window, knowing exactly what was outside. It was Thanksgiving weekend, and there had been snow. And as I sat in my present day Middle Eastern location with the September heat, I transported myself back into the photo, past the front door and out onto the street. I could feel the snow crunching under my shoes, and the crisp air going into my lungs as I looked around my old neighbourhood. I saw the faces of our neighbours who had become our friends, the white wines shared on the back decks over the summer. Crisp, clear, consciousness – there, but not there anymore.
If only we could step into a photo, open a door and wander outside to find old friends.