Returning from Abroad

ELLE CHIARADIO

I left for five months and everything changed. My French is better and I’ve forgotten what exactly a derivative is. There’s now a playground next to my parent’s house and the roads to my former high school were re-paved. At the restaurant I used to work at, I recognize only a few faces and my old boss now works in insurance; I never had the chance to say goodbye. One friend started testosterone and another had a baby, and I wasn’t there to celebrate either. A United States President was impeached and Iran’s military leader was killed by an American drone and I landed in an airport filled with troops headed to Kuwait. The world is stranger, my world is stranger, but as much as I missed while I was away, I can’t help but feel like I’ve abandoned a different life that’s now sitting in a suitcase, waiting to be reopened.

I’m constantly saying the phrase, “In France, we,” only for my brother to jokingly remind me that I am not French, and maybe I should be using the word “they.” And as right as he may be, “they” still sits on my tongue in a nasty flavor. I know the chances of finding a single restaurant in the United States serving quenelle, a recipe which begins with putting pike into a food processor, are about zero and I’m constantly frustrated by the poor conditions of the road and the lack of public transport. Worst, I’m dying to travel, only to find myself without a destination or means of getting there, missing the high-speed trains that could take me to Italy or Switzerland or Germany or Spain in hours. I find myself wishing to combine the two, a France that is more American or an America that is more French, but I realize that doing so would only spoil them both.

I struggle with reconciling both the gratitude of missing nothing more from my life here and the sorrow that I take a break from my life there — two lives that I can’t seem to recognize as the same in my own mind. It’s a reconciliation I know I need to make and one I anticipate working on, although I’m not sure where it will leave me when I’m finished.

It’s been a good five months, and although they’ve definitely changed a lot, including me, I can say for sure it will never be something I regret.

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