Of all the memories I have of my mum, some of the most vivid are of conversations we had while in the car together. I don’t know if it was the mix of stimuli – the music on the radio, passing scenery as we drove along, the inevitable laughter … or if my brain just recognized these moments as the kind that needed to be stored at the highest fidelity. Whatever the case, I’m grateful. The car had always been a classroom when it came to my mother; while some people might remember fondly conversations across the dinner table with their parents, I have the various incarnations of vehicle over my lifetime.
Now, the thing about my mum was that she never really gave me advice about life. There were a few instances, but for the most part, she actively denied me the satisfaction of guidance. In those moments, it was always frustrating, (I wanted an answer, dammit!), but these days, I look back and realize that what she was doing was gifting me her trust (that I would figure it out) and gifting me the chance to trust in myself. It was a gift of self-determination, really. So, while we spoke often about what the future might hold, the path I was going to take was always up to me.
The thing about the future though – no matter how assured you might be in who you are or what you want or where you want to be – is that it is always in flux, and full of forces outside of your control.
I was inspired to write this impeccably infrequent blog post by a friend (and fellow writer)’s blog post entitled “Imagined Pasts”, because it got me thinking about all those conversations I had with my mum whilst going for groceries, or visiting, or any number of other things we did via car. I remember distinctly, for instance, while sitting at a red light at the five corners in the EoA of London, my mum giving me what I would later refer to as the “Alfred Speech”, in which she basically told me that, as far as she was concerned, there was nothing ‘here’ for me and that I shouldn’t ever feel guilty about leaving and figuring my own way in the world. That was about as close as I ever got to ‘mom advice’. “Imagined Pasts” started me thinking about all my imagined futures.
When my mum gave me that permission to leave and not look back, I doubt she ever thought I would return to Londontown, (aside from Christmas visits, which was her one stipulation). I was just about to leave for Vancouver at the time, with a game design future laid out before me. In some other reality, that Melissa is still in Vancouver making games, or maybe she took that offer to go work in Gothenburg and is who knows where …
I figure everyone in their life eventually has that reckoning when they realize that being an adult doesn’t actually mean anything (aside from the fact that you have to pay bills). As a kid, being an adult seemed like this threshold I would eventually pass through – coming out on the other side knowing what it was I was supposed to do with my life and knowing exactly how to do it. Then, as a young adult I started to doubt. I started to wonder why I didn’t know what I was supposed to do and how I was supposed to come to this enlightenment. I remember thinking all the classics too: that I would have all the time to do the things that I enjoy, that I would have the freedom to buy things I wanted to buy, travel to all the places where I wanted to travel, and then, of course, that I would eventually escape my hometown. Surprise, surprise, turned out none of these things are true! More importantly though, I think one of the biggest reckonings in my life has been the realization (and continued acceptance of the fact) that my future is never going to be exactly as I imagine it. I don’t know if I’ve publicly confessed to the fact that my life is not what I ever thought it was going to be, but that’s the truth.
It’s been eight years since my life fell apart the first time (due to forces outside my control), six years since my mom died suddenly, and three years since the last time my life fell apart due to forces outside of my control. I’m tired of picking up the pieces of a life that I used to have and trying to cobble something manageable together, but it’s what you got to do. Lately, it’s come to my attention that maybe – just maybe – I might actually have reached that point where I’m no longer picking up pieces, but actually am building something new. Moving forward. So, with that in heart, I’m currently trying to heal, which is a new concept because for the longest time, I’ve really just been trying to survive.
My life is not what I ever imagined it would be, but who’s is? There’s a certain freedom to simply expressing that question – challenging this long-held notion I’ve carried so long in my mind, body, heart and spirit. ‘Letting go’ of past imagined futures isn’t exactly what I’m advocating though; it’s more about futurity. That gift of self-determination.
Futurities are the work we do (as Indigenous Peoples) to build a better future for ourselves, our communities and our nations. First we must envision a better future; then, we work towards it. For me, my futurity seems to be starting in earnest right now: healing, taking stock and imagining a new future, something I haven’t allowed myself to do in a very long time.