During the third session, Jackie, my therapist, suggested that I turn my diary into a manuscript. It took three more sessions to convince me. I hadn’t received any training in writing, apart from my class in Quebec literature, that I took in college over thirty years ago. I deemed the task daunting.
I searched the internet for workshops and contests, hoping to find something that could help me. I came across a publishing house that offered ten autobiographical writing workshops online, one per week, for $125.
In the fifth workshop, the instructor asked us to recall our oldest memory then use it to produce a short text of fewer than 500 words. I thought of when I moved into my childhood home.
“Nathalie, what are you doing? Do NOT touch the boxes!”
Just from the tone of his voice, I knew he would lose patience soon, but I absolutely had to find my stuffed monkey. Otherwise I would cry. If I cried, he would take me to my grandmother’s, where my sister Martine was, and I wanted to see our things in the new house.
“I found it!” I shouted, proudly holding my monkey by the arm, above my head.
My father sighed in annoyance and closed the box, which contained my toys, with heavy sealing tape. He picked me up, sat me on a blanket stretched out on the empty living room floor, with a plate of cheese sandwiches and crinkled chips.
“Eat your sandwich and be quiet while I finish packing.”
A few days before, I was helping Mom wrap the plastic containers when she cried out in pain. Afterwards, it’s all a blur in my memory. Dad left with Mom, I didn’t know where, Aunt Jacqueline came to our house, my sister kept crying but since she was just a baby she was forgiven. My aunt tells me that my parents have gone to get my little brother. However next morning my father tells me that I now have two new little sisters. Since I already had one, I would have preferred a brother but I didn’t get to choose.
From the living room, I see Dad and my uncles André and Roger going down the stairs with our boxes. After what seemed like forever, my father put on my coat, hat, scarf, mittens and fur-lined boots.
“Are you looking forward to seeing our new home,” he asked me, in a deceptively light tone?
Although I’m only four years old, I know he’s forcing himself to sound happy. That makes me nervous because I don’t understand what’s going on. Usually he’s funny, my dad. He speaks softly and reads me stories at night. But these days he’s impatient, speaks dryly to me, and doesn’t read bedtime stories.
“Is Mom going to be there?”
“Not tonight, she has to stay a little longer in the hospital.”
When he saw the tears lining my eyelids, he crouched in front of me.
“Your sisters were born too early, they’re too small to come home and Mom has to stay with them.”
I held back my tears and my words, I took his hand and we walked down the stairs of our apartment for the last time.
Outside, it was already dark. The frigid air and the sleet pinched the part of my face not covered by the scarf. My father lifted me, I hid my face in his neck and my jitters subsided. An old plastic crate lodged upside down between the seats served as a bench. My uncle André started the truck, the cab convulsed then we were on our way.
The tires screeched on the hardened snow, and the sound of the wipers echoed through the cabin. Adding to the blasting heater’s noise, my dad and uncle had to raise their voices to be heard. It was stuffy hot in the truck, and it smelled like my father’s friend’s gas station. A mixture of oil, cigarettes and gasoline that I don’t find offensive. Whenever my dad took me with him to see George, he gave me two quarters, one to buy a bag of chips and the other for a soft drink. I enjoyed spending some alone time with my father.
The heat and the movement of the ride made me sleepy but the voices of my father and uncle kept me awake. I could feel they were nervous and that ruffled me.
“The forecast predicted mild weather and clear skies,” complained my uncle.
“Well, we’re stuck with wet snow,” my father growled.
The temperature had risen causing the sleet to turn into melting snow. We drove on the highway for a little while and after three turns my uncle stopped the truck in front of a small house with a big red door. Later in life, that’s how I will describe it to my friends: the house on the corner with a big red door.
The three of us looked at the bungalow silently. It frightened me, this unknown house with dark windows. A bare bulb provided a faint halo of light above the porch. Dad gave a long sigh and opened the door. My uncle did the same and went to the back of the truck. I heard the heavy door of the cab creek.
On the sidewalk, Papa held out his arms to take me out of the truck but I didn't move. I sulked, my monkey clenched to my chest. When he insisted I started to cry. I was exhausted, I was scared, I wanted to go home and most of all, I wanted my mom.
“Stay alone in the truck then! I have other things to do than argue with a big baby!”
Through the window, I watched the two men carry the mattresses, the dining table, the television into our new home, and I sobed. After a while, I was shivering and bored; plus I needed to pee. I wished I could get out of the vehicle, but I didn’t want to bother them.
In the large mirror on the side of the truck, the reflection headlights dazzled me. I heard three doors slam and adult voices. I got up from my makeshift bench and saw the smiling face of my aunt Lise appear in the window. What a relief! I wiped away my tears and returned a shy smile. She wasn’t my mom, but she was the perfect substitute. My aunt always wore nice clothes, she talked to me as you talk to big girls and she’s marvellous.
“You smell good, Aunt Lise.”
“Thank you! You like my perfume?” It’s called “Neige”
I think she still wears it.
I had a great childhood and adolescence in this place. Within these walls, I grew up, I celebrated, I grumbled, I dreamed, I laughed, I cried, I lied, I confessed, I did things that I shouldn’t have done. And that night I discovered that you can feel resentment towards two babies that you haven’t met yet.