There are memories that get trapped in physical spaces. These buildings, these large physical structures, inspire such trust in us. Our bodies fit into them by the hundreds, our daily worries seem insignificantly small against the backdrop of their constant, eternal façades. But of course, buildings and spaces change, and we along with them.
I walk home from the grocery store. It is dusk, and the streetlights turn on all at once as people in big scarves and knitted hats close up their stores and walk briskly along the sidewalk to their homes. The yellow windows above the ground floor shops turn on, one by one, strung together like Christmas lights against the blue darkness of the street. All of us are carving our daily rituals into this street, these buildings that we occupy. Some of us make new memories, while others make the same memories day in, day out. There is value in repetition, too. And somehow, each time we leave the places we once called home, we return surprised at the trapped memories that resurface. As if they were waiting for us to come back, to spring up on us.
I walk up the stairs and unpack the groceries in my kitchen, lay out the ingredients for my mushroom soup – something I make every autumn since I started cooking for myself. I cut a yellow onion in half, satisfied with how easily its smooth shell separates from the rest of the onion. How many things have happened in this kitchen? This kitchen, with its tiny counter, and its easy-to-clean hob, and white wooden cupboards that store the same plates in them, year after year, while the people who use them change drastically.
This is the same kitchen I used when I was still in high school. I sat on these chairs with people who I thought would be in my life forever, whose last names I am now starting to forget. Around this dining table, we talked about things that seemed so important, suspecting, probably, that even in a few months they would fade to irrelevance. This is the same dining table I sat at when I nervously accepted an offer from the university that I now could not imagine my life without. And though I pass through this space now, caught up in the whirl of the present, it seems that if I linger here thoughtless even for a moment, the memories ooze out of the furniture, the appliances, and seep to the forefront of my mind, connecting me to the person I used to be.
I reach into the knife drawer for a peeler and start preparing the carrots. It seems that locations in which we leave important memories are covered by a skin so thin that merely approaching the place is enough to lift the veil and enter the past. It happens to me when I take a different route home from the grocery store to pass a different corner shop than my usual one. I only need to pass it and suddenly I’m 16 and standing at the till with a pack of gum and some cigarettes, trying to look angrier than I was and praying the employee didn’t ID me. I really thought I was saying something with that illegal purchase, thinking that would somehow make up for the fact that I never bothered to go out of my comfort zone or do anything “rebellious” up until that point in my life, thinking that it would prove something, to someone. Nowadays, we keep our cigarettes in the drawer beneath the peeler, so anybody at home can steal the occasional one if we feel sad or angry – they’ve become one of the comforts of our home. And still, every time I pass that store, I remember exactly how I felt that day when I decided to go in.
I put handfuls of diced carrots and onions in a big pot and turn my attention to the mushrooms. As I watch, they disappear under the blade of my knife, and I think about how strange it is to visit the places we once called home. I remember my first time coming back to Toronto after I’d moved away, and visiting the Subway on the plaza near the school I went to until I was 12. This Subway, where my mom and I would go every Thursday after school to share the same sandwich and cookies every week: a seemingly unchanging constant in my life. I remember how special it was then, and how nothing about the place had changed: same tables, same chairs, same sandwiches. But so much was different. I share different memories with that version of myself, I know so many new things; and I’ve forgotten many others. Yet, irrevocably, that younger version of myself and I will always share this place. Like it’s a portal to the past, always available to me, I only need to walk in. Unless, of course, the business changes or they renovate, or it all closes down entirely.
The mushrooms join the root vegetables in the pot, and I add in some thyme. I stir the sizzling vegetables with a wooden spoon before adding the stock and closing the lid. It is time to wait. Sometimes you can see these connections form in real time, like when you enter a building and it has no meaning to you, and having exited it you know you’ve left behind a memory, a little secret the place holds, just for you. Like if you have a particularly good date in a café you rarely go to, or if you receive a good bit of news on a call in someone else’s house. The memories linger there as well, ready to spring back at you when you visit, like little checkpoints that remind you of how far you’ve already come.
But these places must hold the unbearable weight of the memories of so many. How many others have walked the same route from the grocery store, feeling the same way I did? Who lived on this street before I did? Whole lives pass by over this same pavement, with love and with heartbreak, with success, with unexpected surprises, and with days so bland you forget them as they’re happening. How many centuries of people walked my same routes in the park? How many connections, trapped memories, thinly or opaquely veiled, do these places hold? We might have nothing else in common, yet we store our memories in the same places- hidden connections we rarely learn about. And this kitchen will keep being here, even if I’m not the one using it anymore. And I’ll make liters and liters of mushroom soup, and I’ll share it with people whose names I don’t know yet.
The kitchen fills with the smell of mushrooms, seeping slowly into the rest of the house. If I lift the lid of the pot, the steam will waft up to mix with the yellow light coming from my ceiling: another yellow panel on the street.
Art by Tia Merotto