July, 1983

When my family came back from Beirut, we took a taxi to 5972 12th Avenue, Rosemont: the one fixed point in the ever-changing landscape of my childhood. Now that my father’s peacekeeping mission was over, Grandmaman and Grandpapa’s brownstone was where we planned to spend the rest of the summer before moving on to our next military posting.

I was the first one out of the taxi and into my grandmother’s downy embrace. She ran her hands over my braids and called me belle enfant and mon amour. I pressed my face into her dress, breathing in the lilac and mint of her face cream and talcum powder while she thanked la Sainte Vièrge, the angels in Heaven and le Bon Dieu.

Her ample bosom heaved, and she made choking, gasping sounds. I wasn’t sure what to do. I’d never seen an adult cry like that. Part of me wished I could do it too. I craved the emotional release, but I felt nothing but numbness. It was as if I had turned into one of the life-size figures in the Montreal wax museum we’d visited the summer before, for my twelfth birthday. Only eleven months had gone by, but it felt like years. I nestled deeper into Grandmaman, letting her tears take the place of my own.
My grandparents were safe and unchanging, their brownstone like a walled fortress. Nothing bad could happen to me here, surrounded by their love.

Grandpapa pressed a cotton handkerchief into Grandmaman’s hand while reaching to embrace my mother. “For a while there, we thought we might not see you again.” He cradled my mother’s face as if she were a child and traced her cheekbones with his fingers.

“Don’t be ridiculous.” Maman kissed Grandmaman on both cheeks. “I told you we were fine. The government always takes good care of us. Let’s go inside.” She seemed keen to get off the porch and into the house. Etienne, my fourteen-year-old brother, slipped behind her, leaving my father and grandfather to deal with the luggage.

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