There is an innate connected between our memories and the places we make them in. If we think hard enough we can all remember what it was like to walk through the halls of our school, or sit in the living room of a house we once lived in, or the building where we had our first job. And more importantly, you’ll not only remember, but feel something about these places. These buildings are more than just boxes and shelters, plaster and drywall. These walls are the places where we form our memories and our experiences and, ultimately, ourselves.
I lived in the dorms for three years when I was at university. The rooms were pretty small, space was always at a premium, and the kitchen and bathroom were compact. With the exception of my first semester, I was in the same suite for three years. My bedroom was my study room, living room, dining room and lounge. After converting to Islam, getting married, moving out, and getting divorced, the dorms were the closest I’d ever felt to feeling like I was finally on my own. It was freedom. I was on the top floor with a view of the south Edmonton skyline, and often at night, before going to sleep, I would just stare out at the gentle nightlights of skyscrapers and streetlamps, glowing orbs in a world motionless where the only life was the cut of the headlights passing on the street below. If I was very fortunate I would see the moon hanging radiant white in the inky sky. The dorm became a cocoon for me, a safe place where, over three years, I would finally mature and grow up. When I finished school, I left my lofty residence for a subterranean basement suite, and how I miss staring out at those night lights.
There are places in my life that hold a mix of both good memories and bad ones. Shortly after I converted and got married, I and my then-wife, Katrina, rented out a house. This house also happened to be the house my best friend, Derek, lived in for 18 years. Derek and I played with Batman toys in the same living room that my wife and I argued in. When we were in high school our entire group of friends—Katrina included— would gather in the basement and watch anime and play Soul Calibur III as a gleeful, boisterous gang of teens, and it was the same basement where I would retreat into solitude and go and play Super Mario Galaxy as a way of escaping all the problems Katrina and I were having in our marriage. That house was where I, merely seven years old, gave my childhood girlfriend (and Derek’s twin sister) Leanne a bunch of roses on Valentine’s Day—which she preserved and hung in her room for nearly a decade. And it was also the house where the furnace cut out in the winter, forcing Katrina and I to sleep buried under blankets in the December night, and where we would be too poor to eat anything but the leftovers from the bakery, donated to us by my grandmother. It was home to some of my best memories with my friend, Derek, where we would stay up late playing video games. It was also home to one of my most horrific ones, when the plumber Katrina and I hired to fix our septic system got his hand caught in the drain snake, twisting his fingers around leaving him screaming and bleeding everywhere. And today when I pass by that old house I am hit with a mixture of memories, a kind of muted nostalgia that is neither here nor there. I remember laughter. I remember crying. I remember screaming. I’m glad I’m not there anymore.
There are places in my life that are gone now. Grandpa’s house in Ontario, where the homey, musty smell of wood and old carpet lingered among the creaking stairs and relics of previous generations. To me, it is a place of loss. As a child, I walked through the blindness of night, afraid of the thunderstorm, trying to find my parent’s room. When I visited as a teen during my first solo trip to Ontario, I cried out of homesickness. Finally, my family all gathered there after Grandpa’s funeral to take what relics we wanted before the house was sold. It was the last time all my aunts and uncles were together. I made sure to walk through the house one last time, absorbing the scents and sights of every room, and remembering the better days those rooms held.
On the other side of the country, we had our family trailer in Radium, BC. Every day was an adventure there, among the mountains and woods and rivers where no truly bad memory ever formed—even when I watched Dante’s Peak and was afraid that all mountains were dormant volcanoes. There was a riverside hiking trail right behind the campground and numerous backroads to explore. There was woods and water and cliffs and creeks and you didn’t have to let your imagination go far to pretend you were a great explorer. But at the end of the day, no matter where we had been, it was always a comfort returning to that trailer. It was small, just barely fitting a family of four, with a tiny living room and tiny kitchen and tiny hall with two beds on the side. But despite my love of mountains and nature, I would always look forward to being in that trailer. It’s small walls forced us all to be close together, and I’m also glad I got to share that place with many of my closest friends. That trailer, too, is gone. Considering it’s older than my Mom, it got a good run. But now in its place is a new one, a new place, a new set of walls to make new memories in.
The walls around us are like containers for our memories, holding in the sights, sounds and smells of a moment in time. So remember the place, remember where you are now, and know that when you are gone from that place, the memories will remain in the walls.