Let’s begin at the beginning, or ending, depending on how you look at it. It’s Sunday December 7th, 1980. We’re in Timisoara, Romania, standing on the stoop of my grandparent’s house, where I live with my parents.
A snow storm has hit.
Here is my mom and my uncle Sanyi who is visiting from Sate Mare, a town 300km to the north. That’s me in the snowsuit.
Where are my mom and uncle looking? At my grandma I think, my dad’s taking the picture and my grandpa’s in the house.
Unbeknownst to my grandparents, we leave for good tomorrow. The three of us got passports, which is unheard of. A lucky stroke of luck. My grandparents think we’re going to a resort town in Romania for a winter vacation. We’re really taking a train to Bucharest, another train to Sofia, then on to Istanbul and eventually to Vienna where we’ll claim asylum and apply to go to Canada.
I, of course, know none of this. I am three years old.
The climate in Romania is such that anyone can be an informant. Even your parents’ parents, who could take extreme measures to keep their only grandchild close. Best not to tell them.
In fact, my mom has left a note on the back page of the calendar in her room. In a couple of weeks, she’ll call the neighbours from Austria (my grandparents are still on the waitlist for a phone) and tell my grandma to go look in the calendar. It’ll say something like: We are not coming back because we are trying to escape from here and if we are lucky we will go to Canada.
Imagine that phone call.
Imagine this moment when this photo was taken – the day before we left. Who developed the film? My parents didn’t take this camera with them. It must have been my grandparents and at some point, years later, they must have given the photo to my parents who have it in the family album. Now it’s just a bit of trivia, how this photo came to be in Canada. But for years, it would’ve been the last remnants of us.
I was driving down Clark the other day, pouring rain, winter darkness, and Radiohead came on the radio. Exit Music (For a Film). Do you know that song? It’s so good. And dramatic. And it made me think of my parents and how it must have been to wake up that morning and leave for good.
Wake from your sleep
The drying of your tears
Today we escape, we escape
Pack and get dressed
Before your father hears us
Before all hell breaks loose
Breathe, keep breathingExit Music (For a Film), Radiohead
Don’t lose your nerve
Breathe, keep breathing
I can’t do this alone
Update: February 2020.
I’m at my parent’s house in Hamilton, going through old photo albums and we found a couple more photos from that day. Here we are, my mom, my dad, and me. None of us looking at the camera. From this vantage point, 40 years later, I can almost see the imminent departure written all over our faces.