Thursday, April 21, 2011

The final crossing

We are gliding through the gathering darkness towards Great Britain as I write this. The dark water looks like it's been beaten, bruised. We seem to be slowly pushing pushing towards England, leaving France behind, moving away from her inch by inch, ripple by ripple, wave by wave.

Goodbye is behind us, for now.  Our French life is back there. We are here.

The moving out of our rental house nightmare has gone undocumented, for obvious reasons.

I have been too damn demented- right- out- of -my- head busy pretending harness the chaos of our lives and wrestling the remains of our two years in France into three checkable bags-- did you know that international flights only allow one bag per person now?-- to consider actually stopping to write about what on earth it is I’m doing.

We have survived yet another good bye party. It was lovely, yet hard. It feels so awkward to be the recipient of such a gathering.

We have survived moving our stuff out of our house. If moving can’t put an otherwise happy couple on the brink of divorce, I don’t know what can?

We have survived saying goodbye, really saying goodbye, looking friends in the eyes, hugging them, and saying the words,”good bye, I will miss you, thank you for being such an amazing friend."

It is remarkably remarkable how long you can put that off. And more amazing still how cowardly it feels to finally do it, then jump in the car and flee down the street like a criminal with someone else's heart in your pocket.

We have survived a hot, late, too late, afternoon drive to a hotel near Giverny where Ian took us as a last request to see Monet’s Gardens.

Finally seeing Monet’s Gardens was rewarding. Seeing all those people lined up down the street, waiting to get in to a tremendously-talented dead man’s house and garden and parading down the street just to soak up the aura of his village, redeemed my faith in the importance, the stamina, of art.

The reality that people still crave and appreciate the permanence and the unfaltering beauty of art, in spite of how ugly and impermanent the modern world often seems today, got caught in my throat as I tried to point it out to Esther:

“Do you see that?” I asked her as we turned the corner onto Rue Claude Monet and beheld the throngs. “Do you see all those people? Do you realize what they are doing? Why they are here? It’s art. The power of art. After all this time.”

That an old French fart with tons of kids, who was obsessed with painting his Japanese bridge can still draw such a rapt audience is astounding. And marvelous. And what would he think of people lined up to buy coffee mugs and watches with his water lilies on the face?

The girls were inspired by Monet's Gardens. I bought each of them a mini sketch pad in the gift shop, the dreaded gift shop, and they wandered the riotous, flower -lined paths with their noses stuck in them, sketching furiously. Isla insisted on sitting down to draw at every new vantage point, every new flower she saw. She couldn't really care less who Claude Monet was, but she was impressed by his flowers.

The road home

They are so exhausted, my girls. The last few days have drained us all, sucked every drop of emotion and physical strength from us. Moving is a nightmare.

Being confronted, again and again, with one’s stuff, with one’s instinct to nest, to hoard, to collect, to let roots take purchase even when you know this isn’t your home, is frightening. Extricating oneself, pulling up those roots, is not easy. It takes a solid spine. Mine is feeling porous right about now.

Leaving our village was sad, but I was numbed, anaesthetized somehow, dry eyed, mostly. The sight of my children’s friends crying made water come into my eyes, but I did not do the blubbering I had expected. Dry. Esther said the same. She felt numb too.

It’s shock, I suppose.

And saying goodbye to France... I didn’t look back, really. I got on this boat and sat down at a table and immediately put my heavy head down. I could no longer hold it upright on my shoulders. It felt like an unwieldy boulder, careening up there, threatening to teeter off its perch and crush someone beneath it’s solid weight.

I don’t feel overly drawn at this very moment to stay in France. Perhaps I will miss it. I know I will miss parts of it, aspects, angles, certain profiles seen from a distance, in a certain flattering light-- like the way the sunlight had a beach quality in the mornings, and the sparkling eyes and unexpected friendly conversation of strangers on the street, and cycling past those dizzying stretches of sunflowers in July...

 But I don’t feel grief at leaving--only a strange, sheepish, slightly guilty, relief.

What does that mean? It means I have already gone home in my mind. I have checked out mentally, preparing myself for the return to my former, childhood lover. It’s always easier to leave something when you have something else waiting in the wings. I am ready to resume my old life again. My old life with my new perspective. I feel determined it will feel richer, less discontented, more whole to me now that I have had this little foreign affair. Am I kidding myself? Time will tell.

I am not ready, however, to leave Ian here. The worst is yet to come. That will require some stoic powers which are hopefully hiding deep within my hole-riddled spine.

I feel like a wild flower losing the shade and windbreak of its overhead tree. My lighthouse keeper.
I will be exposed to the elements without him.

Meanwhile, the kids on this ferry are going bonkers. It is bedtime. They are tired, hungry and bored stiff. It is mindnumbingly boring. They are renegades, unsupervised. Their parents, us included, are over it. Punch drunk from too many hours on the road entertaining needy children. We have turned our backs, closed our eyes, we see no harm in our children's energy. The children scream, they run, balls are shooting out of the ball pit at random, children are running past barefoot. The parents sip coffee, tea, beers and cocktails, anything. They are hoping they might disappear. They are praying no one will complain because they are sick and tired of scolding. An announcement comes over the intercom. "Please supervise your children," it says. We all check to see what our kids are doing, then we go back to our disappearing acts.

Essie has, in the midst of all this, met a new friend from Australia. Will the international friendships never end? 

It’s almost two hours past the kids’ bedtime. There is no bed in sight. The kids have had too little sleep for so many nights in a row now. Life feels reckless, out of control, yet I am helpless to stop the cycle. It is simply the way things are right now.

Back to normal is a given. But when?

This boat is a lawless place, like a floating parent and child frat party. We're not in France, not in England. It's no-man’s land. A boy just ran past me in Cookie Monster pajamas holding a plastic ball from the pit and laughing like a maniac. Let us off this thing.

I can see land. The lights in the distance promise we are reaching the shore. Soon there will be no more water beneath us. No more floating, drifting, but solid earth beneath our feet. Purchase.

Will I feel heavy, lacking grace, and swiftness when my feet hit the ground?

I've written more about leaving France over here at Momformation.


Laree said...

Thank you for sharing your life. I love the peaceful quality to your writing.

blumpastor said...

Having just moved from England back to the states a few months ago, I know exactly how it feels. You feel torn between two lives. You feel guilty about wanting to get back but then once I was back, I missed England terribly. My three year old still asks to go back almost every day. It takes a while for everyone to get back to normal. Sleep deprevation lasts a while too. Good luck.

Anna said...

Another wonderful post. Best of luck in the upcoming weeks. Still winter here!!

mooserbeans said...

Such a beautiful post. Thank you for sharing yourself with us. It takes courage to show your true self. Safe travels and good luck back in Vermont.

Seamingly Sarah said...

forgive me as i type this one handed while i use the other arm to hold a nine pound sack of sleepiness. this is beautifully written betsy. thank you for giving us these glimpses into your life so we might see a little bit more into ours.

Tina G said...

Oh my...I feel like I was right there with you. Beautifully written. Safe journey home.

Irishmama7 said...

May your family have a wonderful Easter and the safest smoothest travel home. I am sendding you an endless supply if hugs and soft places to land on when you just need to drop and rest. Oh Betsy I wish I could give you something more than just a comment and so I will pray for you and your family. And hopefully you may rest in him.

Mimi said...

beautiful post.

I know how you feel. I've lived in Australia, France, England, Norway, Germany... Some as a child, some as an adult.

It's difficult to leave, but nice to come home. It takes a while to get re-acclimated to home. Living abroad changes you.

Good luck in your further journeys.

Anonymous said...

Betsy! Betsy. Betsy. Your talent at writing!!! Do you even KNOW how TALENTED you are???!!! Your woreds. Wow, woman, you HAVE it. Thank you so much for posting. I have been waiting to hear how you are doing. I'm not even joking, the last few days I keep checking your Babycenter blog and here to see how you are doing. Thank you so much for being willing to share those very personal and intimate and deep emotions and thoughts. My heart goes out to you. But you know what?! on a happy note?! When you mentioned that you are looking forward to going back to your life at home, my mind suddenly flashed on this winter and you posting about a snowy day and.... back to your real life!!! It was such a normal happy thought, I wanted to tell you! Okay, enough exclamation marks now. Keep on truckin' mama. (from Liz in NJ)

Lorrie said...

Look forward to bumping into you back in VT. But I will miss the late nights spent reading your blog.