Sometimes the well of feeling is unexpected. Hidden in the grass.
I was filling out a form online to order a copy of my birth certificate from the Ontario government, and I got hung up on one of the questions. It's that old guarantor question that always gets me. A guarantor is something the Canadian government wants, a person who vouches for you, who says, "She is who she says she is. She exists."
I was already emotional, filling out the form. Brampton, Ontario, I filled out. 1980. The words are old words, they touch a sore place inside of me that always wants to belong somewhere. I wrote my father's name. My mother's name. I wrote their ages when I was born. My heart hurt.
I'm already frustrated with myself because I didn't bring the birth certificates when we last left, and I should have. And I can't locate them, and I need them now. The difficulty and expense of getting them here is dragging me down. And then... a guarantor. A guarantor must be in a certain profession. A lawyer. A doctor. A chiropractor... the list goes on, but I couldn't place anyone. Who do I know like that? I drew a blank. I could think of one or two possibilities, but didn't know their work addresses, and it wasn't such a big deal really, except that I couldn't save the online form, and I'll need to begin all over again and the great distance between me and my homeland gets bigger. I don't know any lawyers. Or any dentists.
Just like that I'm almost crying, because I'm so in-valid, and I want to stick up for myself. I know I haven't lived there in a long time! But I really am Canadian, I am, and I was born somewhere, in a small town hospital, and people were glad to have me, and I come from you, great big country, and I love you and brag about you all across Asia.
Who can be my guarantor? Who can guarantee my existance? Maybe the litchi lady, who delivers litchis from her motorbike each day. She sits in front of the house and calls until we notice her, and we never turn her down because her litchis are the best and the season won't last forever.
On a bus ride to Chiang Mai a few weeks ago, I met an American tourist who told me, "Aw, you're practically American, you've got American kids, an American husband. You're American, I'll buy you a shirt with an American flag on it." And I was all, "No!" And he got insulted, but it's nothing against him, it's nothing against the place that I learned to love. It's about something that never goes away, the first seeds in your garden, the beginning of your life, I don't want to lose it, I don't want it taken from me by a glib tourist who has the bad habit of putting Canada down, like so many other ignorant people I've met. And besides, if you ask my youngest son where he's from, he sometimes says "Bangkok," sometimes, "The India," and sometimes "Sam Francisco," depending on his mood. I'm not sure how "American" that makes him.
That pang in my heart is the same feeling I got in the sewing shop the other day, looking at tape measures and pins and scissors. My heart was going thud thud thud and I got that hot feeling in my face, like I was going to cry. I half grew up in the fabric and sewing shop that my grandparents owned, and who can imagine the feelings you can pull out of a rack of buttons? It's gone, is what I think. And then, she's gone. And that still hurts so much, that my grandmother is gone and I still really really want her. I don't want her to be gone, I want her voice again, her self that doesn't match anyone else's self.
All those Edmonton dark mornings, getting in Grandma and Grandpa's car and going to the store on freezing days, when it was thirty below and we could hear the tired hum of the heaters coming to life. My sister and I counted zippers, buttons, for hours. We were the helpers, taking inventory in January. The store smelled amazing, like cloth everywhere, and my grandma often hummed while she worked, and she made us these sandwiches with thick slices of bread, and Grandpa teased us under the fluorescent lights, and then years later, I disappeared, I moved away.
My kids complain if it's 20 degress (celcius) outside. "It's COooLLLD!" they say. We're so far from there, yet this is what we've become, and still, somehow we're that, but how to keep track of it all? How to keep the threads from fraying?
At the Thai sewing shop, I was able to keep the tears back because I spotted a six foot tall cross-stitched picture of one of Thailand's prior kings. There are humongous pictures of the King and his ancestors everywhere in Thailand, but never have I seen one done by needlepoint. It literally knocked me speechless and made me realize, no, this isn't Canada, it can never be, but here there are different things, things that revolve around their own memories, and things that carve out stories for everyone to believe and honor. I have my grandmother and her scissors making a snap snap across a bolt of fabric. Here there is the King and the Queen, and I'm sure Thai people love Durian (which people sometimes call stink fruit because of the smell) mostly because it's a smell of their childhoods and it marks something: the child who never goes away, the story that can't die! It can't, it can't.
Even if the telling is as soft as falling leaves, it has to land somewhere in the snow or in the jungle. It sleeps inside me, roused only by birth certificate applications and the smell of bobbins bright as the sun.
But who can be my guarantor? The tomato farmers? The man at the shop where I buy my bread? I'm neither here nor there. I'm somewhere in between.