The next day is rainy. There will be no going to the beach, but Nana's horseback riding class is taking a little trip to the beach. The Sauvage decides will wait for them at the beach, in the car, so he can go take pictures of her.
When I was Nana's age, I actually owned a horse. I don't talk about my equestrian background often, but I rode dressage for years and even placed a few tri-state competitions. In the US children are most often taught to ride on horses or ponies, but in France children are taught to ride on shetland ponies making this experience, like almost everything else in France, fairly surreal.
We land at the beach, and we sit and wait. Finally the procession arrives. About 20 shetland ponies with riders of varying heights and ages-the eldest appearing to be 10 and the youngest looking about 4. They come down the beach and finally park all the ponies, and this is where things turned unexpected, the children dismounted and removed their riding clothes. Underneath they wore swimming trunk and suits. They jumped back on top of their horses and out they went into the ocean. Of course, by this time the Sauvage was out by his daughter-snapping pictures of her changing, walking up and down the surf to preserve every stage of her immersion on film. The horses, shockingly, went so deep into the water, only their heads and their riders were visible. The children and the horses paddled around out in the water-the whole time the parents standing out there snapping pictures and chatting with each other. I stayed by the car, as always, not quite part of the picture. My presence with them would have been awkward and certainly the Sauvage, despite his fluency in the language, didn't have any idea how to actually serve as a liason to ease my acceptance into French culture.
After an hour, the horses emerged and now the riders dismounted again-this time changing out of their swimming clothes and back into their riding clothes. This was a considerably more difficult and chaotic process, with children evading parental attempts to dry/dress them in order to prolong the ride. Taking adventage of the chaos, other children played tag, chatted, teased, and chased each other. Finally, the entire crew was redressed and mounted. They began walking back and the parents, after a few pleasantries, dispersed.
Suddenly nobody knows where you are,
your suit black as seaweed, your bearded
head slick as a seal's.
Somebody watches the kids. I walk down the
edge of the water, clutching the towel
like a widow's shawl around me.
None of the swimmers is just right.
Too short, too heavy, clean-shaven,
they rise out of the surf, the water
rushing down their shoulders.
Rocks stick out near shore like heads.
Kelp snakes in like a shed black suit
and I cannot find you.
My stomach begins to contract as if to
vomit salt water,
when up the sand toward me comes
a man who looks very much like you,
his beard matted like beach grass, his suit
dark as a wet shell against his body.
Coming closer, he turns out
to be you - or nearly.
Once you lose someone it is never exactly
the same person who comes back.
Despite my annoyance at his amusement and my concern about the episode of the vodka shots, the evening was pleasant. An oceanside dinner with his usual bitching about tourists, and then parking by with beach in the dark to smoke and listen to the ocean. There were no college students dancing and laughing in the dark, but it seemed that again the emotional tide of trip had changed. Perhaps it was the hypnotic sound of the ocean crashing onto the beach, perhaps it was the memory of that first night at the beach-mysterious, sensual, and ecstatic, perhaps it was merely that I had a few nights left and I knew I was going back to the lonely apartment, that sexless life. If I was stuck here, I might as well ride this man like the mechanical bull in a southern dive bar for all he was worth.
But this was not to say that things were the same between us. As Sharon Olds points out at the end of her poem "Feared Drown" "Once you lose someone it is never exactly the same person who comes back" even if the loss is not "real" but only perceptual. And thus even though our romantic relationship seemed to have returned from the brink of utter destruction, it wasn't the same relationship as it was before. I now knew, instead of suspected, I could no longer trust him to take care of me, or trust him at all.
And what had he learned of me? Perhaps that I am not a woman he should trifle with lightly. But he had learned too late, abused my trust too much. I would give him my body and enjoy the trip, but I no longer believed in him. And in this the language barrier protected me, for if he was able to talk easily with me, he would have sensed the change in me-the distance and distrust.*
Or perhaps not. Perhaps even now I give him more credit for being interested in my wellbeing than he deserves. that even now I still believe that there was more to our relationship than brutish lust and loneliness, but rather some sort of genuine affection and care.
As it was, it seemed not being able to communicate was the key to the functioning of our relationship.Thus when we returned to the hotel there was no whispered conversation, just the sound of stifled moans and the rip of light green Italian lace.
* After all I still didn't know what had caused the brak up and thus had no guarantee that he wouldn't do it to me again before I left. In regards to the cause of the break up, I had my suspicions-namely his parents and his daughter. It's also possible that this had more to do with cultural values i.e. if you watch French films-dramatic break ups and passionate reconciliations are pretty common. He may not have realized (as exemplified by his surprise that I wanted to leave Frehel) how seriously I would take the break up episode. On the other hand, it may just be that he was selfish moron with little concept of how his actions would impact upon me.