01 July 2010

Au revoir, mes amis - Adieu, Metz

When you leave the suburbs of Detroit to live in a medieval French city of honey colored stone, of course the "real world" ceases to exist, no matter how much you say to the contrary. To go from driving everywhere to walking everywhere, from speaking English to speaking French, from obsessing about your weight to learning how food and drink are truly some of the best pleasures in life (even if they make you gain 4 kilos), from a stressful, joyless full-time job to the endless rewards of teaching children, from doing what everyone expects of you to do daring to do what you've always dreamed of... is enough to change who you thought you were... or perhaps just awaken the being you should have always been.

At any rate, my fellow assistants and I are dealing with the return of reality, as we begin our goodbyes, and prepare to scatter to new jobs abroad, or return back to our home countries of America, Canada, and Australia.

Dealing with the impending departure has made me question who I am, with this altered mentality. I am no longer purely American, nor will I ever be French. I'm trapped somewhere between. In France, I will always be a foreigner... but I fear that if I go back to America, I will feel like I'm from another planet. The only people who understand this are my assistant friends who were thrust into the same circumstances I was, nine months ago. The stress, joy, and common experiences could not help but unite us in an almost immediate, intense bond. Saying goodbye is one of the most difficult trials of my life.

Kathy, Jenn, Avi, and I gathered at dusk at our favorite meeting place, Vivian's Pub in Place Saint Louis, to bid farewell to Elli, the first of us to depart. As the sun set, the lights illuminated the gothic façade of the medieval covered arcade. We greeted one another la bise, as always. Jenn and I ordered Monacos, like normal. It appeared to be just like any other of the endless nights we sat en terrasse, discussing everything and nothing at all... except this was in fact, the end.

Elli stood to leave, and we all embraced. That hug held all the joy, laughter, fear, heartbreak, and experience that we had shared throughout the year. I don't know who broke down first, but suddenly we were all in tears. Jenn accompanied Elli away, leaving the rest of us in silence at our once convivial table. As I watched them about to disappear around the bend in the road, Elli buried her face in Jenn's shoulder, overcome with tears. In a few strides, I caught up to them, and we erupted anew into sobs, embracing again.

Unbeknownst to us, Avi had stepped back to photograph our goodbyes, tears and all. When we finally noticed he was there, we tried to smile for the camera, failing miserably as you can see.

I walked home that night, gutted inside, taking my normal shortcut from Place Saint Louis, to En Jurue, passing the house of the poet Rabelais, walking underneath a charming arch above the narrow, uphill street, until meeting rue des Trinitaires, where my studio was. My shoes clicked against the cobblestones, echoing in the still night air. I entered the courtyard of my apartment
complex, saying "bonsoir" to the two sculptures of strange old men, who I had come to regard as friends.

How many times have I walked this route this year? How many intimate home-cooked dinners and conversations at Kathy's studio? How many croque monsieurs did I share with Avi and his great dane, Roc? How many times did Elli and I go running around the Plan d'eau? How many Belgian beers with my conversation partner and friend, Patrick? How many English lessons turned therapy sessions with Anna, my adult student? How many tickets de 10 voyages did I purchase for bus fare? How many pain au chocolat did I consume when running late to school in the morning? How many cups of coffee did I consume with colleagues every school day at 10am? How many times did I give my students "the look" to quiet them down? How many more times did they win me over with their cuteness? How many times did I, as if for the very first time, stop in my tracks in awe and wonder of the Cathedral of Saint-Etienne, especially when standing on rue Taison, where the architecture beautifully frames her astounding flying buttresses? How many catastrophes has life abroad caused? How many joys? How do I measure how my life has changed this year, and how do I define the way I am feeling right now? It's difficult to imagine what my life will be from here, but even more impossible to imagine what my life was like before I lived here in France...

...avant que j'étais en France.

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