By Leslie Fandrich // Themes: History, Family // Category: Life Stories
Do you sometimes wish you could time travel? Wouldn't it be nice to press a button and return to a moment in time to see it all again? Well, if you have old home movies, you can.
I hadn't watched the tapes in years and they were in bad shape. Apparently twenty-five year old VHS tapes don't hold up very well and when we tried to play them on my Dad's tape machine they made horrible noises. I was certain the tapes would break and those precious family moments would be lost forever, so I enlisted the help of my cousin. He duped the VHS tapes to miniDV and then digitized them. It's really something we should have done years ago and if you have any old tapes in your family I encourage you to do the same.
My family got the "Camcorder" for the Christmas of 1989. No one else had one and my Dad says he paid $1000 for it. That was an insane amount of money for him to spend but it was the cost of owning something like that. It was gigantic and everyone was really uncomfortable in front of it, hiding their faces, running away, laughing or yelling, "Turn it off!" or "Go away!" My Dad eventually covered the red light on the front of the camera so no one would know it was recording. It was such a novelty and the kids would beg to watch the tapes right away so there is even video of us watching the videos.
It's like stepping into a time machine, watching all that old footage. I get caught up in it and emerge two hours later with my head spinning. I get glimpses of things I had forgotten. There are shots of the posters I had hanging in my bedroom, the short plaid skirt I wore constantly and a round mirror in the hallway that I loved. There are the sounds of old friend's voices and times with my family spent sitting around a table playing games and talking. I feel like I am standing in those rooms, watching my history happen all over again. My senses are bombarded with sounds, gestures and movements. This is way more that what life just looked like, this is exactly how life felt.
Of course one of the things I am looking for is my Mom. She is there showing off her garden and all the tomatoes that she grew. She is raking cement in her bare feet behind the garage. She is cooking turkey dinner on Boxing Day, lobster on New Years Eve and steak over an open fire at a campsite in the summer. She is shoveling snow, laying bricks and painting on a ladder. She is sitting in a lawn chair smoking and drinking a beer. She is talking, moving and doing all those things that made her who she was. I miss her, but there she is.
I am also looking for me. Fourteen year old uncomfortable me. Me flipping my sister the finger while I talked on the phone. Me scowling at the camera. Me all dressed up and my sister calling me a "Femme". My friends. My bedroom. My yellow cassette tape walkman. My bad haircuts.
I'm trying to get to know the me from then a little better. I'm trying to write about her. When I was sixteen I left home and moved to Vancouver. It's a story I've been trying to write in detail. I wanted to find myself on the tapes and see what I was like before I left. What I was like after I got back. I wanted some clues to help me write my story.
As the tapes edged closer to November of 1991 I saw myself less and less. I wasn't at the family gatherings. I didn't go on the camping trips over the summer. I wasn't at my Grandma's September birthday party, which was my birthday too. Instead, I was most likely partying with my friends. I was already removing myself. Minute after minute ticked by and I'm not there and then all of a sudden, BOOM, there I am and the camera is focused on me.
I'm in the kitchen of the old house on the hill. I'm sixteen years old. My hair is cut in a bob and dyed red. I am sitting down to eat a Chinese take out dinner with my family. That must be the old green sweater I stole from my Dad and I can see under the table I am wearing my favorite black Doc Martin's. My face is round and I'm focused on the food. The atmosphere seems uncomfortable. There is some small talk, a story about a guy sending a huge load of building materials with a bunch of stamps. I slowly begin to realize that what I am watching is the EXACT night that I left home. The last supper is on tape.
I was stunned. My Dad had secretly turned on the camera, set it on the counter and recorded the whole damn thing. Remember how he covered the red light? Yeah. If I ever knew about this night being captured on tape, I had forgotten.
I've immersed myself in this night already. I've spent a lot of time trying to remember how it went. I've written an entire chapter about this night. I even submitted it to a magazine for publication. It wasn't accepted, and good thing too, because I got a lot of it wrong.
Memories are weird. Writing memoir is even weirder.
In my writing I made the leaving harder, less friendly. In reality we sat down to dinner, we talked, we smiled a little. I hugged everyone. Yes, it was uncomfortable and strange and I cringed all over again at how my leaving affected my parents. Especially my Mom. Seeing the empty kitchen after I left, and my Mom emerging from the bathroom crying...Ouch. So much pain. I have a new appreciation for her and what she went through. I can't help but see it now from a mother's point of view. What will I do when faced with the same challenges with my own kids? How can I teach them the same important lessons without having them take such huge risks?
I still wonder how it got to that point. What happened, or didn't happen, that lead me to that path? What was inside of me bursting to get out? I think that's why I have been compelled to write this story. I am still trying to understand how I had the courage and confidence to leave home abruptly at sixteen years old. It was a defining moment in my life, when I acted on my dreams in a big way. When I lost some of my innocence and gained so much independence. Independence that I would need to get to where I am today.
For me, this moment is at once something I am ashamed of and also something I realize made me who I am today. I couldn't be me without doing that thing. Saying I'm proud of it isn't exactly right, but I do think I need to own it. In writing this story I also need to understand what it is that I am trying to share. I think the truth of the story is actually what happens a few months later.
I returned home.
I came back smarter and humbled about how hard it actually was to take care of myself and go to school and have a job and be in a relationship. It's damn hard and I wasn't ready. But somehow I needed to learn that for myself. I needed to test my limits and push my boundaries and find the edges of my experience. And I did. But what was amazing, really, was that when I was there I stayed in school, I got a job and when things didn't work out, I came home. I figured out that it wasn't the right the path for me, and I waved the white flag, and I returned to the place that I left to make amends and do things right. I'm grateful to my parents that they always left the door open for me.
And I'm grateful for these tapes. Time travel probably doesn't exist, but by capturing moments in our lives on video we can get a tiny taste of what it might feel like when we watch them again 25 years later. In a way, it is sad and emotionally difficult to go back in time. We see how much has changed, who has died. We miss those people and those times. But it's also really good for our memories. We see all the tiny details that we forgot. We relive the good old days and we bring into the present good little bits of ourselves and our lives that we maybe left behind.