Just when I think I’ve come so far since my miscarriage – or even since I started writing about it – something reminds me of the ways I’ll always be affected. Like this afternoon, when I was catching up on Grey’s Anatomy, and started spontaneously crying every time they cut to a scene that dealt with Callie’s pregnancy. Not happy tears, either. Angry, bitter, injustice-of-the-world tears.* So Dawn, when I come over to watch the next few episodes with you, be prepared for my perfectly timed emotional collapses.
That’s really all I have to say about that for now. It’s a beautiful rainy day, the kind that makes San Diego feel more like my other one-time homes: Normandy, Wales, Seattle. I’ve spent the bulk of the afternoon baking, and drinking obscene amounts of tea. (Though, given that one of the things I’m baking is beer bread, switching beverages is starting to sound like a good idea.) The weather, and the quietude of an afternoon spent in just my own company, is making me homesick for France – specifically, for “my” village of Quincampoix, outside of Rouen.
When I was on the verge of turning 16, my children’s choir went on tour to Paris and Normandy. In two of the cities we visited, we stayed with host families, and in those family settings, depending on the size of the home, some of us were separated from our designated roommates. At the time, I spoke no French, though I was a very good high-school-Spanish student, so when I learned that I would be staying by myself with a family in Rouen, I was terrified. Adding to my apprehension were the facts that this family had no daughters and spoke no English. Yet somehow, over the course of my three-day stay, I became one of their own. I’ll let that story speak for itself – please ignore its grammatical clumsiness, and the misspelling of the word “gazing” (as “grazing”) toward the end.
Seven years later, as I prepared to return to France for the first time since that tour, I wrote a letter to my family in Rouen – this time in broken French – asking whether they remembered me, and whether I might be able to see them sometime during my sejour. They answered almost immediately: of course, of course.
During my study abroad, I lived in Lyon – one of France’s largest cities, almost a four hour train ride from Normandy. So for the first few months I was there, I forgot all about my plans to go see my family, and let myself get wrapped up in the culture shock, the excitement, and the difficulty of it all. It wasn’t until late October, when I came out of a midnight showing of Coffee and Cigarettes to find a voicemail from my tumultuous ex-boyfriend – the first I’d heard from him since we’d finally, painstakingly called things off a few months before I left – that I realized I needed a break from my fabulous foreign-exchange-student life.
When I got home that night, I found my French flatmate, Emma, was still awake. As we indulged in some coffee and cigarettes of our own, I made her listen to and try to decipher the voicemail with me, and then I admitted that I needed to get out of Lyon for a few days. It was her idea to call my Rouen family – I’d told her about them before – but I was scared.
“What’s the worst that can happen?” she asked, in her beautifully accented, perfect English. “If they’re not at home, leave them a message. If you can’t understand, pass me the phone and I can speak to them for you.”
So I called. Isabelle and Dominique were at home, and I made it through almost the entire conversation – right up until I needed to get details about train timetables, and wanted to be sure I had everything right – without handing the phone off to Emma. We planned my visit for the second weekend in November.
When I got to Quincampoix, it was as though I had never left. Isabelle and Dominique looked exactly the same. The cat and the dog were the same. The boys all looked the same, just a little taller. The village felt so familiar, and everyone was so friendly – even the butcher was nice enough to sell Isabelle a chicken sans tete ni pieds, on behalf of the squeamish little American.**
There by myself – away from my fellow American students, and English-speaking French roommates – I was forced to speak, listen, eat, sleep, and breathe in French. It was the best thing that could have happened to my mastery of the language and vocabulary (Isabelle and I once went on a town-wide scavenger hunt for cilantro, because I didn’t know the French word for it), and because my brain was so occupied with language all day, there was no room for thoughts of my ex-boyfriend; there was no time to whine about how much I missed the California sunshine. It took all the mental energy I had just to exist and communicate.
For the remainder of the year, as well as the next while I was living in Wales, Quincampoix became my go-to mental cleansing place. Having no daughters of his own, Dominique spoiled me as though I was really his; Isabelle took me to movies, whispering to me to make sure I understood some of the more subtle plot points, and always made me sandwiches for my train rides back to Lyon. Together, they drove all over Normandy with me, showing me different parts of the region and sharing its history with me. I took my friend Trisha to Quincampoix; I took my ex-husband there; I took my mom there. Isabelle and Dominique welcomed everyone I brought and made them, too, feel like part of the family.
There is still nowhere I’d rather go to escape my own life than this tiny village (and I’m so sorry I have no photos to share… Damn kaputzed laptop). I haven’t seen my French family since shortly after my wedding, when four out of the five of them came to California and stayed with my parents for a week or so. When they heard my marriage had ended, Isabelle and Dominique sent me a card, along with a beautiful necklace, to let me know they still loved and supported me:
Given the amount of mental cleansing I’ve needed to do over the past few years, I’d give anything to be able to get back to Quincampoix.*** When I started this project, I imagined I would end it with something fabulous, like a trip to see my French family, because that was the most healing thing I could think of – even more healing than, say, getting pregnant again. Unfortunately, with just a few months to go, it doesn’t seem likely. So I’ll just keep telling myself I’ll get back there someday, and satiate myself in the meantime by reading French books, watching French films, decorating my apartment with Eiffel Towers, and eating croissants or full-fat cheeses with a shameless disregard for the calories involved.
*I also finally watched Up the other day, and have decided it’s the saddest movie ever made. Seriously, if not for Dug, the whole thing would be pure disaster. (And yes, I sometimes feel that way about my Doug, and my life, too.)
**The rumors are false: the French are some of the nicest, most customer-service-oriented people I have ever met in my life. In most cases, you just have to get outside of Paris to find them. (I mean, if you had to deal with self-obsessed, self-righteous tourists all day, wouldn’t you be kind of rude, too?)
***Except, apparently, the money it would cost me to get a new passport and buy a plane ticket.