And Ottawa became a city of ghosts for me, full of empty pockets of memories tarred by loss. But if I thought it was the city that was haunted, I was sadly mistaken. I am the one who is haunted. By my father, by my old life, by the truth that life is nothing like what I had once imagined. No matter where I travel, run or hide these specters will follow and I have had to accept that they are constant companions. That’s the thing about sadness, it is selfish and will always need to be felt.
I remember the city of ghosts was once a beautiful place I called home and could not have fathomed leaving the way I did. I sat in the taxi and waited in the airport to board a flight and never come back and all the while it poured down, as if the city were weeping. I think it did for both of us.
Because once my father died, so too did the city. The ice-laden hills I once rode my toboggan down seemed colder and lonelier than before, Dow’s lake where we took paddle boat rides every summer became nothing but a reminder of a ship one man down.
Now there’s a ghost everywhere I go. Every milestone, every achievement is tainted bitter with the taste of emptiness…something or someone is always missing. Amid a sea of proud families at graduation, standing among fellow students donned in black robes signifying an accomplishment to take pride in, I could only see an empty seat in the audience, right next to my mother. I know she feels it too…but we never talk about it.
So today, I drink the poison his once dilapidated kidneys could never have filtered, never did. Suck in sickly sweet air from a cigarette with the same lips that said good night to him one last time.
i. In my old house, I didn’t have room for a bookshelf because of all the built-in closet space. One time, a friend came over, saw it and said, “Wow, you must have a lot of clothes.” Another friend who knew me better corrected, “No, half of it’s purely for her books.” What’s in your closet speaks volumes; it’s like compartments of you in physical space. And books may as well be half of me.
ii. I love flipping pages of books. Admittedly, half the time I’m reading, I’ll stop, look at my progress and just flip to my hearts content. That feeling of paper brushing fingertips is incomparable. (And the habit is contagious, just ask some of my friends.)
iii. I’ll never succumb in the argument of paperbacks/hardcovers versus e-books. I know e-books are so much more portable and don’t take up any physical space but isn’t that the point? I want something to take up space in my life, whether it’s in a bookshelf or on a coffee table, I want it there. It’s better than being littered with charger wires.
iv. But in the battle of hardcover versus paperback, I always choose paperback.
v. This summer I’d gone back to my old house to find termites festering in my bookshelf, eating away at the pages and crumbling the spines of my books. My heart broke and I mean that. They weren’t just material possessions. Those books were pieces of me, memories, emotions and gifts from people in my life especially my dad and I felt shattered at the prospect that they could be taken away. Paper perishes. Just like people.
vi. My fondest memory of my dad was going to stores and getting so engrossed in the book sections. I’d show him which ones I liked and never even needed to ask for them. He’d buy it no matter what. He’d never say no to buying me a book. To me, that says everything about his character.
vii. In elementary school in Ottawa, I was that kid who’d get extremely excited about the Scholastic flyers and ordering books off it. I’d count down for the book fairs and don’t even get me started on how awesome the Bibliobus was.
viii. Libraries, to me, are more beautiful than monuments. They’re invaluable and that feeling of walking along the many, many aisles of bookshelves is almost like walking between worlds. They’re right there for you to discover. Plus, they’re so peaceful it’s like time has slowed down or even stopped, in the most wonderful way imaginable.
ix. I really liked the way my teacher in 3rd grade labelled all her books and did the same with mine. One nasty boy in my class ridiculed it.I was quite angry and went into Hermione Granger mode all over him. It’s funny to think about now. ( I was quite the Monica Gellar as a child…I still am now, actually.)
x. In my fourth semester of college I discovered that the most satisfying time to read a new book is during exams. I’d study faster (improperly sometimes) just to settle into bed and read. It really helped take my mind off the tedium of writing those ridiculously long papers.
xi. It doesn’t matter how long my TBR list is, I’ll keep adding to it. It doesn’t matter if I have a lot of unread books sitting at home. I’ll still buy a dozen more.
xii. I enjoy owning books more than borrowing them.
xiii. If my worst enemy gave me a book that I’d love, I’d melt like Olaf in Frozen. Because some books are worth melting for. And I’d have no room left for enmity.
xiv. In rough times, I turn to books. They’re a solace and oh so safe. It’s lovely to be wrapped up in between pages just as you would be in your bed sheets.
xv. The success of finding a new book that doesn’t disappoint is worth celebrating. Usually with another book.
xvi. Re-reading is re-living.
xvii. In the 5th grade, I was in a book club that would read newly published books in the library during recess. It was just as enjoyable as playing outside
xviii. My dad was the one who got me interested in reading and I’ll always have him to thank for the person I am today i.e a bibliophile.
xix. Since I was a child, I always read beyond my age. By the time I was ten, I’d begun reading adult novels. Now that I’m an adult, I so enjoy reading books aimed at younger readers. The grass is always greener on the other side, I suppose.
xx. I don’t mind dog-earing pages and I hate books that have been read and still look brand new. It’s eerie.
It’s been a long time, dad. (The only way I can use that word anymore is by writing it because I certainly can’t say it to anyone else.)
I thought you’d be curious about what’s been going down here. We’ve got phones with as many megapixels as your old camera that you used to take family photos and preserve memories with. In general, 3D movies have gotten better. You missed Inception and Interstellar and I think you would have liked the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean movie just as much as the first. My Play Station 2 has remained boxed up for years, not so much fun to play without you in the living room. Things are not the same.
After you died, Molly wouldn’t come out of her cage for months, making me realize that birds grieve just as much as their human counterparts. Poor thing didn’t know what happened and now I am twenty years old, questioning religion, resenting my luck and catapulting into a quarter-life crisis, feeling like maybe I am the one who does not know what happened. Molly must have forgotten while I continually remember.
I seek comfort in imagining the afterlife. Yours. If Albus Dumbledore was indeed right, that to the well-organised mind, death is but the next great adventure, I am sure yours is just that, perhaps more.