Wednesday, November 06, 2013


Back from a lunchtime run today, I sat in the break room and thumbed through Facebook on my phone, distractedly eating away at my data limit, when I read this:

Interesting quote from a Lars Gustafsson novel, articulated by a character who spent his life wandering the globe, remembering the small town in Sweden he was from - "And my mediocre shadow walks there, among the others. The shadow of the one who stayed at home. Or the shadow who remained. . . . There's just one thing that irritates me about that shadow. It's that it feels more real than I do". Well put.

This was posted by a friend from Bothell, Washington, currently living in New York City by way of Phoenix, London, and L.A.  He's a regular blog reader, too -- so apologies, J, if I've lost track of the geography. Now, there's assuredly an intellectual laziness (or worse) implied in drawing grand conclusions about ones life from ones Facebook feed. Still, I can't deny that it said exactly what I've never been able to find the words say.

I've been crossing shadows elsewhere on Facebook: the astrology-minded friend reposting articles on the dark changing of the seasons, the autumnal equinox and the moon in Scorpio or something like that. Veils being lifted, worlds drawing close.  I don't ever click through.  My worlds drew closer, briefly, when Europe switched back from Daylight Savings Time a week before the US.  Suddenly there were only five hours difference between Central European and Eastern Daylight Time.  The Sunday after the change I flew back from a week on the East Coast, where I'd been first in Delaware to visit with an old friend (Astrology friend, as a matter of fact), then on to DC for a college friend's wedding.  My shuttle driver in Paris blamed the time change when he was late to pick me up at Charles de Gaulle Airport.  I waited for him for twenty minutes on the sidewalk on a Monday morning at 7 o'clock, under the concrete awning at the departure level of Terminal 1, with lights too bright and a sky too gray to tell if it was night or day.

Arrival at the departure level.  Jetlagged.  Terminal 1 at Charles de Gaulle, which doesn't make any sense even on the best of days.

I was headed more or less straight to work, and was worried I wouldn't be able to speak French after a week immersed in English and a paltry three hours sleep on the plane.  That fear was rapidly tested when the shuttle driver, a second-generation North African, picked up our conversation where it had mercifully been left off a week before on my way to the airport.  In short: America was the promised land.  France was broken in every possible way.  I was a fool to have left.

One hour on the way there.  One and a half hours on the way back: there was morning traffic.

"If you permit me, Madame [Parisienne], you may end up moving back.  You never know.  You just may move back."

And I nodded and agreed with as much enthusiasm as I could muster, on the way there because I was counting on him to pick me up on the way back, and on the way back because I was too tired to do otherwise.

It was full October daylight by the time we arrived in Versailles, and my street was covered with soggy leaves and downed branches from a windstorm that had hit during a night which for me had never existed.  I briefly saw the kids, who jumped into my arms then scampered back to their Legos, then I showered and drove to work.  At the coffee machine with my colleagues, I laboriously found my words, immersed as I'd been in English for a week.

I suspect now that it wasn't the English immersion that got me but rather an immersion in a life that is no longer mine.  During my stay I spoke and thought American, I lived in an American house with American schedules and American rituals.  When I was introduced to someone, I said "Hi" and "Really?" and "Oh yeah, I know!" just the way I knew I was supposed to, even if the timing felt off, just a bit (perhaps discernible only to myself).

I like to tell people in France that I was born French but I was just born in the wrong place.  When I say this I'm thumbing my nose at my country of birth, a place where I feel I never quite fit in.  If I don't fit in in France, I have an excuse now, after all -- and in many ways I do fit in better, naturally, but that's a whole other discussion.

And yet.

And yet.

There's that damn shadow.

I'm at a point in my life where I see possibilities narrowing and a future becoming concrete and constrained.  There's also the veil and Scorpio and all that; the knowledge of the finite. Welcome to nearly forty, eh?  The what-ifs become all that more poignant because I know I don't have time to go back and do it over differently, even if I wanted to, which I don't given I feel that without ever having to search I ended up in the best of all possible worlds.   But (to stretch the metaphor of a Facebook post much farther than reasonable) the shadows get longer late in the day, do they not?

There was a windstorm in Seattle last week. My dad told me about it over the phone. All the leaves dropped off the trees in the space of one night.  I thought about the leaves on the ground in Versailles the morning I came back... and it was almost like I was there.


og said...

Beautiful. My Italian husband (living in the U.S.) feels like he doesn't have a home country anymore. We talk about moving to Italy but then I think I would feel displaced, as much as I love the idea.

Anonymous said...

I love this. I have always felt the same way--uncertain if it's my upbringing as "half" first generation American, or something more fundamental. I married a German but we lived there only a short while--he never felt he quite fit in Germany :) Have you seen "la double vie de veronique"? I sometimes wonder if I don't have shadow lives--continuing to exist in places I have lived, where I have created energy, memories, where people have thoughts about me. Saskia!