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After Three Months in France, I’m Back in Vancouver. This is What I Want to Remember.

“We know that we will have to burn to the ground in one way or another, and then sit right in the ashes of who we once thought we were, and go on from there.”

– Clarissa Pinkola Estés

When I first arrived in France, for the first month and a half, I had frequent nightmares about waking up in Vancouver, and feeling as though France had been a failure. These nightmares coalesced into one final nightmare where I lost all my teeth, and had to live on the streets, homeless.

I’m back home now, and living for the time being with a very close friend. I realize now that I don’t have to do the transition back alone. It’s not a weakness to need help. I don’t know why I thought it was before.

I write this sitting inside of 49th Parallel in Kitsilano with a cup of drip coffee, quickly going cold, sitting in a saucer to my left. I woke up at 6:30am feeling restless and filled with a yearning to write and capture what I’m feeling right now.

Less than a minute before the train arrived (I took a train to the airport from Toulon to Nice, France), my roommate and I hugged and said goodbye. It was a really good hug. Warm and acknowledging, but also with the exact right amount of pressure. I felt her start to cry in my arms. My first thought: surprise that in only two months of living together, I’d meant that much to her. But then, I realized that I was crying too.

Two days before, we’d sat in front of the fire in that small country home, listening to it crackle together in silence.

She made that house in France feel like home.

Her and her little cat, called by many names including ‘le chat’, ‘Monsieur Chat’ (I came up with that one) ‘mon petit bébé’ (only used by Angèlique), and of course his actual name… which I can’t remember. We rarely used it.  Oh! ‘Pepito’.

I remember the nights, while waiting for the pasta to cook, we’d push our backs into balls balanced between our skin and the wall, and make noises that sounded like we were in the midst of sexual ecstasy. How hysterical our laughter, when we imagined what the neighbours would think if they could hear us — which made us moan even louder as the balls worked their way into the knots of our muscles.

I’ll also remember the elaborateness of the meals we shared together. How we’d set the table with a nice cheese (always) and biscuits, two large beer bottles filled with water, and two steaming plates of something stir-fried, boiled, or broiled. So expertly and efficiently, by the end, we’d set and clear the table together. There were no apologizes for something done by one and not the other. There were no thank you’s. The routine which surrounded our meals was a mundane dance that we’d choreographed together, and I realize now how much I looked forward to it every day.

And then during dinner, how she’d laugh – LAUGH – at the phrases I would come up with as I learned ‘French’ (she spoke nothing but French) with her help. Things like “j’ai besoin du temps libre pour mon tête,” which I said one day after my brain was a little exhausted from all the extra work I’d tasked it with in listening to and understanding a different language. Or the time I said ‘jambon’ instead of ‘bonbon’ when talking about Halloween. Oh, she was still laughing about that one a month later.

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And then, of course, were the memories I created on my own. Like the day I finished writing my first short story, and how HUGELY I smiled as I fell asleep that night. Yet as sleep came close, small edits that I needed to make bounced into my mind: words that weren’t quite right, phrases which could be more succinctly arranged. I wrote these down in the notepad I kept beside my bed to change when I woke up. The intimateness I found with that story – so in-tune with its pages that I could edit them without looking at them – is an experience I can’t wait to have again.

Like all relationships, this takes trust.

How to trust myself; how to trust those close to me; how to trust my voice.

This is something that I learned in France. I learned that inspiration is only the first step in the long process of creation, and that it is important that we respect our inspired moments and see them as valuable; important that we find the ability to resist the urge (and this is practice – a decision made over and over again) to beat inspiration down with ‘reality’.

It takes something obscene and child-like in ourselves to follow through on inspiration with work, and trust that we’ll be carried somewhere amazing because of the bravery it took to lean into nurture, and to believe in our own power as creators. I learned that I have the ability to make that choice, even though I haven’t always. I’ve missed many opportunities not because of fate, but because – although I’d been inspired by the idea of it – I believed that what I wanted wasn’t meant for me.

Something else I learned, is that there are certain things I don’t want to talk about anymore.

One of those being my voice.

I read through some of the old posts on this blog, and I realized how often I talk about disliking my voice.

I realized… that’s not true anymore. When I feel the sensation of vibration that my voice makes in my body, I feel good. I feel proud. My relationship to my voice has changed, and is continuing to change in an incredibly healthy way. This is good, but it’s also sad. In the way that it’s sad to lose a fantasy that once fed you; strange to finally feel the hunger pangs. How malnourishing – parasitic – some of the beliefs we have about ourselves can be.

On the plane ride home from London to Vancouver, I cried. I cried as silently as I could so I wouldn’t be heard by the woman sleeping beside me – a mask over her nose and face. But the pain which sprouted my tears ran deep, and it felt as if France were tattooing itself into my heart, reminding me of what I’d learned there about myself; knocking against the tension that builds in every maternal throat that tries so hard to protect us from acting in a way that will draw attention, and when I didn’t answer right away, leaving a message at the door: “don’t forget me.”

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Since being back, I’ve been scanning the familiar Vancouver streets looking for the faces of my friends. Hoping to run into someone who knows I’ve been away, and who will greet me with an ecstatic hug “Christine! You’re back!!”

Funny that about an hour after writing that closing thought, I saw a familiar face waiting in line for a coffee at the café. “You’re back!”

Yes. Yes. Ooooh. Yes.

It feels good to be home.