I knew, after looking at my map today, that I was going to be back in the same neighborhood I lived in for four nights when I first moved to France some years ago. I spoke carelessly about it earlier today, “Hey, look this was where I stayed! They have great burgers in that restaurant.” At the time, it was just a point on a map that marked a familiar place. I didn’t think then that the feelings and memories that would consume me as I stood in front of the building would be this strong.
I walked slowly towards the building marking every moment with a memory: This is where I had lunch, this is the bridge I crossed almost every day, the streets to the metro, the outdoor terrace I sat out one Sunday afternoon staring out at the water looking for answers. And this door, I’m walking towards now, this is the door I walked through five years ago with my two huge suitcases after the taxi dropped me off from the airport.
I counted the years again in my head to be sure. Five years! WOW! What has changed? I wanted to stop to answer that question, but before I could help it, I was standing inside the building. I walked even more slowly towards the front desk, past the security guard who stared at me strangely. I knew he thought I was lost, and to be honest a part of me was. There was the bar I sat at most nights while looking up apartments and that’s the hallway that led to the hostel bedrooms.
The girl at the front desk of my old hostel was staring at me now. I pretended to not have noticed it was my turn to walk up. Then I bought more time by pretending to not know how to speak French. The session was short-lived – she was a native English speaker. I asked for her directions to the nearest metro station even though I could close my eyes and still find that station easily.
I went back to the memory of me sitting out by the water. I remember all the questions that floated through my mind: where am I going to stay? Would I love my new job? How long before I find an apartment, but more importantly, what am I doing here? I was calm even then. Silently, giving turns to each question floating through my mind without bothering to answer any. The night before I moved to France I wasn’t ready to leave. I had gone to the airport to ask if they could change my flight and, the next thing I knew, I was on the flight leaving —forced to say a premature goodbye to my family. And there I was sitting out calmly on that breezy Sunday afternoon in October, staring out into the water looking for answers.
The memory of my “old self” took her attention off the water to stare at me. Her eyes bright and glistening with the reflection of the water. She was looking at me for answers. She wanted to know if I knew now the answers she was staring into the water for.
It broke my heart to disappoint her again. I still don’t know the answers, but your journey will be worth it. You will meet people, find family, learn so much, grow, and find happiness. I don’t have all your answers yet, but I promise you it will be unforgettable.
Then & Now – October 2012 vs. October 2017