I'm back in my childhood neighbourhood

Contributed to The Globe and Mail

I’ve known my wife since the first time I cared to attract the attention of girls. It took us 15 years to discover our mutual love for each other, and another 10 to get married and have a child.

Today, at age 35, we have moved back to the neighbourhood where we both grew up, to a house we discovered and fell in love with on a drive down memory lane.

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Most weekends we take a walk together with our 70-pound dog. Our two-year-ld son, Remi, likes to hold the leash. My wife and I disagree over whether this should be permitted. Inevitably his pouting wins Iva over and he inserts his fingers through the handle. On walks with me and the dog, I have taught him to tug the leash back if the dog is pulling. Iva has taught him to let the leash go. I smile every time the dog pulls when we walk together. He usually tugs on the leash.

We take our first right and walk down the street where I was raised. Memories from my childhood home strike me as we pass by. Hockey on the driveway. Sleepovers in my room, which I can see from the road. Legendary parties my older siblings threw while our parents were away. Running for dear life from my older brother because I emptied a can of fart spray in his bed after being displaced from my room during one of those parties.

I’ve only reminisced for a moment before the dog has seen a squirrel and overpowered Remi.

If it’s a good day – good being reasonable weather and having some measure of co-operation from Remi – we will try to walk four blocks west to our old primary school. Along the way, more memories surface. Getting chased for candy through a backyard on Halloween. My first kiss at the age of 11 in the basement of a house just up the way, which happened to be in the presence of my wife. My second kiss, about three minutes after the first, which was with Iva in a rousing game of spin the bottle.

My mind howls with laughter at the thought of friends counting to 10 while we pushed our lips together. These days, with child number two growing in her belly, I only aim for a smile.

Remi has decided he can’t walk any more. Iva reminds me that we are going to be late for something. I pick him up and carry him, but I draw the line at letting him continue holding the leash.

We bang another right and wander about the school both Iva and I attended as children. Remi asks for Mommy to carry him. Mommy says no. Remi asks Daddy if Mommy can carry him. Daddy says, “You heard your mother.” I look at Iva and find the smile I wanted.

Days before our first kiss, Iva played the mother, me the father, in the school’s Christmas play. This utterance was my only line in the play, repeated numerous times throughout the performance as our play-children persistently asked her if they could open presents on Christmas Eve. I can still see my mother laughing in the audience.

The dog, having been let off the leash on school grounds, is now missing and that smile has quickly vanished. Iva is concerned, both for the dog and for being late. I ask Remi to call the dog loudly. The dog comes. Iva is smiling once more.

The school property winds its way to another street where we make our final right. The dog is getting tired, as is Iva. She’s holding the leash now and making a strong push for home. I have convinced Remi to walk again so we travel slower.

To my left is the home of a high-school girlfriend I dated for half a year. She was best friends with Iva then, though distance and time got in the way of that relationship. Her parents still live there and we bump into them from time to time.

It feels like yesterday when I was dared to jump off her roof and into her pool. The roof was flat and required a running start to clear the patio and reach the water. I wouldn’t dream of it today, but then, in the company of friends, it was a risk I elected to take. Iva was watching and doesn’t like thinking about it.

Remi is hungry now and we have some distance to make up. I carry him again and consider trading my planned afternoon workout for an uphill jog with a two-year-old on my back. After a few minutes we get close enough to home that I can let him free, and he wants to run to his Mommy.

I see my old best friend’s house just a few doors down from my own. We used to play tennis together. And Nintendo. He had a nice swimming pool, so we spent the better portions of our summers in his backyard. I haven’t seen him in a long time.

Iva has the car started in our driveway and is loading Remi in his seat. She’s waving at me to hurry up. I quickly walk to the car and get in the driver’s seat. I think I like raising a family in the same neighbourhood where I grew up, with a wife whom I first kissed so long ago.

I glance in the rearview mirror and see a happy boy who’s giggling about his latest dragon nightmare. I look to my right and see Iva staring at me. Putting the car in gear, I remember that moment 24 years ago when two 11-year-olds kissed for the first time and I smile.



Brian Merker lives in Port Credit, Ont.

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