Friday, October 17, 2008

The moments that made me want to stay

It's like this:

"Now when I was a little chap, I had a passion for maps. I would look for hours at South America, or Africa, or Australia, and lose myself in all the glories of exploration. At that time there were many blank spaces on the earth, and when I saw one that looked particularly inviting on a map (but they all look like that) I would put my finger on it and say, When I grow up I will go there." - Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness

I left because I was searching for moments that felt like magic. These are what I found:

Sitting in his mom's kitchen, drinking tea. His father built this house with his own two hands, but that was years ago. His father lays in a hospital bed, fully incapacitated by a stroke that forced his sons to cancel their 6-month trip to South America. We met two months later, three days after I arrived in France. I scan the living room as he makes coffee for himself. I laugh when I see his school photos because I forgot to realize that he was once a little boy, all knees and elbows, with a different haircut. All I know of him are his stories of traveling the world and his post-university days. It is strange to see the childhood home of a gypsy. The pictures of his mom and brother are familiar, although we have never met; they have his eyes, blue and kind. He sits next to me with a weathered atlas and asks me to show him where I live and where I've been. I tell him about California, Colorado, Arizona. He only knows America from television and movies. I finish my tea and move to the couch. He hands me his brother's guitar. I am an abysmal guitarist, but I play and sing the two songs that I know. When I hand over the guitar, he plays a classical piece that he learned during his time in Australia. I am impressed and embarrassed that he made me play first. He had told me that he wasn't very good. He lied. I wrap myself in his orange comforter and watch as the stormclouds across the Saone move closer to me.

The first spring day at Lac Kir. We hadn't planned on running into anyone we knew, but as soon as Susan saw me, she tackled me to the ground. I shrieked as she tried to kiss me on the cheek. Five twenty-something girls tanning on a picnic blanket. There is a speedwalking competition and we pass the afternoon screaming encouragement at strangers who wave and smile in response. Feeding pasta salad to ducks and chasing boys from la fac from who ran past. Our shoulders and noses were burned by the end of the day. The busses were running late and we waited at the arret for nearly an hour, all giggles and sore feet. We were starving by the time we reached Place Darcy. That was the afternoon we found our favorite resto and met new friends who would nap in the park with us in the afternoons after classes. The owners asked if we'd had a good day at the lake. Grins were our only responses.

Going out to Salsa even though I hadn't slept at all the night before. Eating Pringles and drinking kir at Susan's appartement while she changes three, four, five times. I spill wine on Shannon's new dress and spend the rest of the night apologizing. Eight of us try to silenty maneuver three flights of uneven, narrow, spiral stairs so as not to wake up the neighbors on the premiere etage and the rez-de-chaussee. We walk barefoot because those stairs scare us during the day, in flats. We laugh as we stand in the street, trying to balance on our 3-inch heels and fasten the straps. Susan has grabbed the last bottle of wine and we all share during the walk to Place de la Republique. Sasha is wearing an old pair of slippers and we are leaning on each other, professing our love and declaring how happy we are that the other is there. The broken glass in the dirt shines like stars as one of friends rides by on a bike that she borrowed from a stranger. A passerby shakes a low-hanging branch of a tree in bloom as he and his copine pass underneath it. Pink blossoms rain down on us, and we spin like little girls. When I return home at four the next morning, there will still be flowers in my hair.

Walking along the Irish Sea in a pair of borrowed clothes and I'm soaked to the bone because he threw me in the water, but for some reason I can't stop laughing. We are both barefoot and in summer clothes although it is only a few degrees above freezing. He holds me by the hand and tells me that this is the sunniest weekend Ireland has had in four years. He is holding a tennis ball in his left hand and hurls it into the sea. A blur of golden fur races past him, bobbing out to retrieve it. "You'll have a great story to tell your mom when you get home. Look at you, walking on the beach with a proper Irish bloke." He comes from a long line of storytellers and has spent a quarter of a century perfecting his craft. "Come back next weekend," he says, as if it were the easy, as if it were possible. "We'll do the same thing. We can make a bonfire. And I'll take you to the zoo to see the penguins. I know that you have penguins in your zoo, but the penguins in Dublin are the best in the world." For a moment, I almost let myself pretend that I can miss my flight to Paris and never return to San Francisco. He kisses me and his lips taste of the sea.

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