Going back to France this time was a grand project. A challenge. Something motivating and exciting.
I hadn’t felt that motivated and excited in a long time—probably not since the last time I was in France. Last summer and fall, whenever I talked about going back to France, I lit up. Besides fitting snugly into the new “plan” I’d outlined for myself, it just felt right.
I envisioned this séjour as a fresh start, the easy answer to the complex, convoluted, and downright tough questions I’ve been grappling with. About who I was versus who I am now, about what I really want out of life and how to get it.
But answers don’t come easily and fixes aren’t quick, no matter how drastically you change your life.
I made my drastic change. I moved to Paris—PARIS for goodness sake, one of the most beautiful cities in the world!—and I quickly fell into a funk.
At first I blamed the cold gray winter weather. And while it definitely didn’t help, it wasn’t the main culprit. Because now spring is here, the sun is out and the days are long, birds are chirping, every day there’s a new kind of flower blooming, and still the funk persists.
Part of it has been adjusting to big-city life. That feeling of anonymity, of being constantly alone in the midst of a crowd. Sometimes it’s refreshing, even freeing, but most of the time it’s lonely and overwhelming.
Then there’s au pair-ing. I went into it thinking, I’ve worked with so many ages and temperaments of children, in school settings and in family settings, so this shouldn’t be too different. But it is. Integrating into a preexisting (foreign) family with its own unique traditions and habits takes time. And living where you work is hard. As an au pair you are both an employee and a member of the family, and it’s a weird line to navigate. Then there are the girls. I grew up with a younger brother and have experience working with two-child, brother-sister families, so the three-sibling dynamic and the sister dynamic are entirely new to me. The girls are smart and sweet and funny. We have lots of fun playing games, cooking, and just hanging out together. But they also throw frequent and exhausting temper tantrums that try my patience even when I’m making a conscious effort to keep calm.
Finally there’s my stagnant social life. It’s hard to make new friends. And it’s hard to get adequate social and emotional support from the wonderful friends I already have when they’re thousands of miles away, when you have to schedule special Skype or Google Hangout sessions, when they just can’t feasibly be part of your day-to-day life.
But deep down it’s more than all of that.
François recently asked if I’m homesick. And it is a kind of homesickness, but not in the traditional sense because I don’t have a physical home to miss. Sometimes I miss my parents’ house in Hermosa Beach, but it stopped being home when I left for college. I was homesick for Walla Walla once, but it was only ever a place-holder home, and that ache has faded. I miss Auch, but it was even more temporary than Walla Walla. And I miss Portland, too, but I never felt fully settled there; I never let it feel like home.
The only stable home I’ve had as an adult hasn’t been tangible. It’s been me. My identity. My self. Post-grad angst in general and my rape in particular have made me homesick for the person I used to be.
I’m homesick for the creative energy I used to have. Writing and taking and editing photos, without it feeling like a chore or an obligation. Engaging with literature and film and art, rather than just consuming it.
I’m homesick for the physical energy I used to have and the sense of adventure and wonder that motivated it. The drive to keep wandering, to keep trying, to keep experiencing.
I’m homesick for my naïveté, and my optimism, and the trust that I used to give out freely, before he betrayed it.
I’m homesick for the girl I was, and I came back to France because it’s the last place I remember seeing her, being her. The last place I was when my smiles were almost always genuine and still reached my eyes. The last place I felt truly capable and fulfilled and self-assured. Whole.
I tried to go backward, resisting the forward pull of things, because going forward feels like I’m leaving my old self further and further behind. I came back for her, but she wasn’t here waiting for me.
I’m grieving the loss of her.
Sometimes I glimpse her in the woman I am now. Other times this new self seems impenetrable and I’m daunted by the prospect of trying to get to know her. Which of the same things bring her joy? How does she see the world now? Will she be able to trust herself to trust someone again?
And will I be able to anchor myself, to make a new home in her?