Emma says, “This is my third-last night here before I go.”
We walk to Staples and buy bankers boxes. She sifts through her own baby pictures and finds some to pack. I don’t cry, when I look at the photos, but I do feel gutted. That plump baby with the fuzzy blonde hair that stuck straight up is gone. I can’t hold her anymore. Except of course she’s not gone; she’s grown into a person who is so very fully here, in herself and the world.
Her dad drives her to Montreal; I take the train. I walk out of the station into a night that feels like fall—up McGill College to Sherbrooke, navigating roving bands of toga-sheet-draped frosh. One of them face-plants on the pavement and his friends laugh and laugh. He leaps up as if he hasn’t just broken his nose and laughs too, wetly.
In the morning I walk the 25 minutes from my bed and breakfast to Emma’s place. I love the walk, which takes me past those Montreal apartment buildings I wished I’d lived in, when I was a student—the old stone ones with metal steps spiraling to second floors, and balconies. Emma’s apartment has a balcony. We sit on it after she’s given me the tour; the sun is hot and the ivy is bright green and full of teeny tiny grapes.
Her father’s here too. We go to IKEA, the three of us, and later we put together what we buy there, and then we sit in her huge living room and talk. After a bit we walk to Emma’s boyfriend’s new place. When I introduce myself to his roommate, I say, “Hi: I’m Caitlin, Emma’s sis—” Everyone laughs weirded-out, nervous laughs, including me. “Sorry—Emma’s mother,” I say—but there it is. Not early-onset dementia, but evidence of my deep, reflexive certainty that it’s still me, moving into an apartment in Montreal; that I can’t be as old as I am, with a daughter as old as she is. I don’t feel any different than I did when I was the one weaving through these wet streets, wondering what my classes would be like, or sticking photos of family, friends and cats onto the wall by my bed.
The five of us (Emma’s dad, me, Emma, her boyfriend and his mother) go for dinner at an Italian place on Laurier. Emma’s dad and I split a bottle of red.
We make references to shared things, he and I. I wasn’t sure we would. We mention the apartments we had when we met, in fourth year. The slog from mine to his—unbearably long, in the winter (which lasted most of the academic year).
I cry a little, as I walk back to my B&B that night.
The next morning we buy her a whack of groceries, a kettle, a food processor. Her kitchen—from food processor to hardwood floors to enormous woodblock counter space—is so much better than any kitchen I’ve ever had. I put stuff in cupboards and tell her she can rearrange it, of course, and then I finally internalize the fact that this is her kitchen, and realize that it was presumptuous of me to put anything anywhere in it, and I feel both wobbly and idiotic.
It’s pouring and windy and cold, but she and I go out in it, after her dad hits the road. I buy her a pair of boots because all she has are sandals and Converse, and apparently it’s already autumn. We buy poster putty and tape and return to her apartment, where we put things up on her bedroom walls. I get splinters from unfinished picture frames, and pepper her pristine white wall with pencil markings, and make her hold the tape measure because I’m not doing it right—it’s all very mathesque, and there are four pictures that have to be hung just so, and I’m certain they’re going to look terrible, if they stay up at all. They do. We reward ourselves with a trip to Starbucks (for the WiFi), and then we meet up with her boyfriend and his mother and have dinner at a another Italian restaurant—the one her dad and his dad used to go to, back when.
The pictures are, miraculously, still up when we return to her place. We go to the kitchen and I tell her again how amazing it is. She starts to cry as we walk the wonderful long hall to her room. She says she knows it’ll all be fine—better than fine, maybe—but it’s suddenly real, not just a thing she’s been waiting for; it’s big change, and it’s now, and she can’t help it: the tears have been waiting all day, since her dad left, and all weekend, in fact, ever since she said goodbye to the bunny and the cats, and she knew this would happen. I hold her for a bit, this young woman who used to be that plump blonde baby who slept against my chest when I was too tired to put her back in her crib.
After a moment she draws away and mops at her nose. I lie (hideously, gloriously replete with pasta) on her bed, beneath the photos she’s taped to the wall, and she sits, and we talk until her boyfriend comes to pick her up. They’re going to get a few groceries, before the store closes at 11. I walk as far as I can with them. My mother calls and I hand the phone to Emma. 28 years ago, when I was stacking boxes in my basement bedroom, preparing for my own move to Montreal, my mother came in and hugged me and said “Going away is the right thing to do, and I’m so proud of you and so happy for you” and started to cry. I’d seen her cry maybe twice in my 19 years, and we hardly ever hugged, so this was all very unexpected and unsettling but also right. I was leaving. I’d be back for holidays and in the summer, but things, I, wouldn’t be the same.
Emma finishes talking and hands me back my phone.
I hug her again, when we get to the street I have to turn down, and we say goodbye. She doesn’t cry this time. I don’t either, though I do tear up briefly when I turn and watch them walk together, gesturing, holding hands. And of course, being replete with emotion, memory, and their dangerous progeny, symbolism, I remember when she finally learned to walk, at 15 months. I was convinced she never would; she’d been cruising around our little house for awhile, clinging to bits of furniture and our hands, but showed no signs of wanting to be fully bipedal. She chose Home Depot, in the end, over our little house. I remember that she was wearing her brown corduroy OshKosh overalls. By then her blonde hair had grown into a wispy, sort-of mullet that curled over her turtleneck. We set her down at the head of one of the wide, gleaming aisles and off she went, bandy-legged and reeling.
Off she goes, long-legged and graceful, and I watch her for just a moment before I walk away.