Frehel Diaries: Home is Where....
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It takes 17 hours for me to reach JFK. The cute custom’s agent tell me I have a nice smile. He’s surprised by the age in my passport. “You look so young.” Which by implication means that I’m not young, I just LOOK that way. “What’s your secret?” “I moisturize a lot and it runs in the family.” “I thought you would have some secret.” “Nope.” “Well, you have a great smile. Your husband is a very lucky man.” Of course, my husband. Still I’m so happy to be back I say thank you as I take back my passport.

Walking outside JFK, I am greeted by NY weather, which is like walking into a fetid sauna. I haul my bag into the back of a dingy cab and collapse in the backseat thinking, “I’m home. I’m home.” As we drive back to my apartment, looking at the buildings, I think about how unimaginably ugly New York is. It's all drab gray and cement. There's nothing remotely attractive about the chain stores shoved up against each other with only a bit of graffitti for artistic expression. Good God how I had missed it. The stench of dog pee baking on the sidewalks. Self centered parents with the strollers the size of SUVs. The loud inane cellphone conversations.Even those late night KY Jelly ads that I deeply deeply hate. I missed them all. Oh how I missed them. Dear lord how happy was I to be back in the world of predictable intelligible disappointment.

One of my return from France rituals is to have a decadent dinner with Bakerina and tell her the key points of my trip while drinking heavily so I can readjust my inner clock. We agreed to meet at the restaurant across the street. The first thing she wanted to know was, “Do you like him still or do you never want to see him again?” I give her the honest answer, "Neither, really. I do genuinely like him, but the relationship is doomed. I mean, I really have affection for him and wish him well, but if I never see him again-I won't be upset about it." I say it, but there is a slight twinge. It would hurt my ego in the faintest way if he didn't want to be with me, especially after all I have done with him, but that minor pain is overwhelmed by the truth of my statement. This romance will not last. It’s why he chose me to begin with. He’ll never come to NY and even if he does, in the long term, no woman will ever be an equal partner with Nana. He already has the woman of his life. He and I are perfect in this way-both distant romantic ideals that prevent us from dealing with the reality of our situations. Soothing pipe dreams, but that's only a short term solution. In the end, I wouldn't move to France for him anymore than he would walk with me instead of Nana.

Bakerina and I spend the rest of dinner talking about French logic, salted caramels, black cat panties drying on the line, memories of my father, and Breton cuisine. We laugh and drink and eventually slosh home. I think I am happy to be in my bed again, even if it is alone. I've missed my life here...or so I think.

Yet sometimes it is only the absence of something that we appreciate its greatness, its beauty, its value. I lie awake in bed looking at the clock thinking "It’s 7 am there. He’s sleeping. His daughter is also. Happily. Oh she’ll still whine and cry, but it won’t be about me. Not today.

Not today."

Frehel Diaries: Bang, Whimper
While I thought that we were taking Nana home to Mama and Papa Sauvage, we were actually taking to her yet another public "fete" with fireworks and beer, but not the dancing from the first fete. While the fete goers were more numerous, they stood on the edge of the field watching the night sky. There was no collective dancing, there was not the bacchic spirit of the last fete, but something closer to what one would expect at a fourth of july celebration-a bunch of people waiting for fireworks. And as soon as they are over, off the two of them scamper across the grass, walking in the darkness-leaving me in their wake.

We drop her off at his parents house and take their car. So that's one issue dealt with-there is at least a car that can get me far enough to a train station or something that will eventually deliver me to Charles de Gaulle.

After Nana is dropped off, we go to the beach. We sit in the dark, smoking and listening to music-looking at the ocean while smoking one last joint. "I'll miss you" he says. But I don't believe him. Generally I don't believe anything I hear when a man's mouth is moving...even if he isn't the one talking. I find it goes far easier that way because the amount of truth I hear uttered from the mouths of men I am romantically involved with could dance on the head of a pin and still have room for the entire higher and lower holy assembly, their dates, pets, children, floaty pool toys, and the entire cast of Ghandi.

We go back to the hotel and try to make love. Neither of us can, I'm thinking of the trip the next day. I'm sick at the very thought of it-him...I'd like to think it was emotion but given his track record I don't think he deserves the benefit of the doubt. Afterwards, he immediately falls into gently snoring sleep. Me? I lie awake in the dark listening to him breathe and trying not to think of everything that can go wrong on the trip home. I try to think of the beautiful serene blue of the Ocean, the peace of sitting and watching it, but it keeps being drowned out by missed train connections-my inability to understand the French railway system-not making my plane thus finding at the mercy of the one employee at Air France who wants punish non-French speaking Americans for their hubris. This vacation is going to end exactly how it started, I fear-courting disaster which will strike at exactly the moment I think I can relax. Soon, though, I shall be back in the realm of the known, of the predictable, of the well fore seen event.

At five, I stop lying awake staring at the white walls of teh hotel room and begin to get ready. He continues to sleep until fifteen minutes before we have to leave. I'm all ready-showered, pack, fully awake. I've been sitting in the window looking at the view from our hotel-trying to enjoy everything until the last minute. He, barely conscious, throws on some clothes and helps me to the car without saying a word.

We load my bags into his parents car. We silently makes our way to Lamballe, about a half hour drive. I stare out the window silently. I'm counting the hours and minutes before I get. I'm reviewing all the steps to my upcoming trip: train, check in at CDG, get on the plane, get off the plane, get cab, weep with joy as I hug my cat. We get there and he orders my ticket. I'll have to transfer, I silently curse. We have time to go to the cafe across the street. I explain I don't want anything to eat or drink-I'm sick with fear. But he still gets me a coffee. We drink our coffees slowly quickly and go back to stand on the platform silently.

The train arrives five minutes later. He hugs me and kisses me.“Oh my sweet Bunni,” That’s all he says. Once. I tell him "You don't know what I do for you," he tries to disagree, but he really doesn't know. I know, but the train is here and my french is sparse. He helps me with my bag into a seat and then gets off the train without looking at me. He stands on the platform outside my window-looking at me through the glass. A sad serious expression on his face. This very well could be the last time I ever see him. And I who have intimidated men, as Voltaire once did, with my wicked wit. I who am known for my ability to know just what to say. I was speechless. Not for my lack of ability to translate, but because I, for the first time, could think of nothing to say. I simply wave. Sadly and briefly.

The train lurches. I’m on the long way home. It is, of course, unfair of me to expect that he would drive me back to Paris. It would take him 14 hours if he drove continuously under the best conditions. The train trip, despite my fear, is easily done and far more comfortable than the car trip without AC. I sit part of the time writing in my notebook, and part of the time regarding the quaint Peter Mayle-esque farm houses we pass.

I find myself thinking about the vacation despite my intentions. I think about what the Sauvage said to me. Without me, his life will be simple. His daughter, his parents, his friends. The familiar terrain of the place he grew up. The language he knows. The life he has chosen.

And me? Well, my life is never simple. With or without him, it will be complex and difficult, but certainly it will be easier to understand. I am going back to the world of being in control of my words and thus my own destiny.

Nothing goes wrong on the trains. I arrive at CDG with two hours to spare-enough to buy lunch and do my tradition perfume shopping at the duty free. Although I didn’t plan on calling anyone until I returned to the United States, once my train arrived in CDG I found myself picking up the first phone I saw without even thinking. I dialed my mother, and true to form, even though it was six o’ clock in the morning her time, she picked up.

I start to cry. I start to cry because I am so happy to speak English, to hear it spoken, to talk to someone who knows me. To not have to struggle and strain and blunder and equivocate and speak precisely and be understood with ease. I never thought I could miss a language so much in my life. We chat for the most expensive 20 minutes of my life. I never imagined it would cost so much to talk to my mother, but when the credit card bill arives later I pay it without flinching. It was worth it.

She is alarmed by the crying "What's wrong?" she says. Nothing, nothing I tell her. I'm just so relieved. I make sure nothing horrible has happened-no one has died, fallen ill, been sued, lost their job, eaten my grandmother's cooking and also leave messages for my cat sitters. I swore I wouldn't do this. I mean, does seven horus really make much of a difference? My cat would tell you that it can make a serious dent in her trying to flush herself down the toilet schedule, but generally I try not to trust anyone who regularly bathes using her own tongue.

I tell my mother I will talk to her when I land. Getting on the plane is deceptively simple. I expect some sort of complication-security to take umbrage at the package of caramel salles I'm bringing back for Bakerina or my boarding past to be for a flight that left yesterday. After all, nothing in my life is simple not even a flight. Yet the flight takes off without a hitch.

Every time I’ve flown back from Paris, I’ve cried. I try not to, but suddenly I find myself thinking of all I have experience and before I know it my cheeks are damp every time I leave France. I thought I wouldn’t cry this time, I began to long to be kissed. And I thought of him. Those kisses. Soft and gentle. Falling asleep being held. I am going back to my familiar, but empty bed. To my predictable, but empty nights. To... And suddenly my eyes are filled with tears. I put Wonderwall on my Ipod as tears slide down my cheeks. I think of it as our song even though we have never listened to it together. Even though he doesn’t know that we have a song, and probably never will.

Because, as I said to him on the platform, he doesn’t know what I do for him. I’ve rebelled against what I’ve spent years cultivating. I put my trust in another person. I trusted him to take care of me. When I was in high school, I had a dream that bats flew down my throat choking me. The dream was vivid and terrifying; I told my therapist. She asked me to talk about the bats, what was so disturbing about them? I couldn’t really figure it out and so we chatted about them for a while-was it disease? Was I scared of rabies? Was I afraid of being bitten or cut? No, no, no. Then it came to me. “It’s because they rely on each other. Because they are a community.” Because of what has happened to me over and over again, I’ve lived like a chateau from the Middle Ages-with a moat and a large vat of hot tar on hand-isolated, but easily defended should hostile forces invade.

But to make this trip, I had to put down the bridge and invite the barbarians at the gates inside. Tap the keg and let them jump up and down on the Victorian divan in their muddy sneakers.

He, of course, doesn’t know this about me. Doesn’t know that I use my tongue like a barb wire fence. Doesn’t know I would rather risk bodily harm than put my faith in another person. And most likely he’ll never know. He’ll never know how hard all of this was. That I had to embrace the one part of myself that I do the best to hide, to forget, to suppress. That he asked the impossible of me and because in France everything is possible, I was actually able to do it.

And he’ll never how much I didn’t want to cry on that plane. And yet, I did anyway. Just like everything else on this trip, when I least expected it while I thought of him holding me and saying, “My sweet Bunni, my sweet Bunni.”

Frehel Diaries: Nobody's Girl But My Own

After the drowsy afternoon, the Sauvage takes Nana and myself to the creperie next door for dinner. Nana is in a foul temper, particularly whiny and disruptive to the point that even her father is short with her. In between pouting whiny tears, the Sauvage and I try to talk. For some reason he is asking me about the US. “How many states do you have?” he asks. I'm shocked he doesn't know, but then again it's not like I know how many countries are part of the EU (27). When I tell him 50, he's shocked. He makes me repeat it a few times convinced that I am saying the wrong number, until finally I write it down. He asks me about where I live in NY, and I end up drawing a little map of NY marking the Hudson and East River, the Statue of Liberty, and Central Park. I try and explain that I live in what was "Little Germantown" AKA Yorkville. I notice other diners looking at us, the oddness of our little family. The American girl trying to explain using drawings and broken French, and the two Bretons acting as if I am trying to convince them that Bigfoot is actually the Attorney General of the US. (Of course, remember, these were the same people who were concerned that the Governator was going to become President.) It becomes clear to me at this late date that what separates us isn't just the language or the ocean, but, even after all this time, a profound lack of understanding. Has the language barrier allowed me to feel more accepted than I am? Suspension of disbelief to the power of 10?

On the other hand, can I fault him for not understanding my life? I keep trying to imagine what his childhood was like here-growing up in this beach town. Try to imagine what his classes were like in school-him hanging out with other boys-playing what? Were there dances at school? Does he even have the vaguest concept of what a school bus is? Did he walk to class? These seem like minor things, but when you take them in all together, I begin to realize how little we have in common except our propensity to make crazy romantic decisions.

The Sauvage is driving us to his parents house to drop Nana off, but she insists he pull the car over by the beach at Sable d'Or. She jumps out of the car. The wind is blowing hard and whips her hair in a mad dervish. She laughs and claps at the chaos of the wind and the beauty of the night sky. Even though the Sauvage and I are both in the car, I am the one who feels outside of the both of them. He looks at her with pride. "That's my girl" he tells me. As if I hadn't noticed, as if there was any way I could have thought otherwise. There will never be another woman in his life like her. And I know in that moment that I'll never be his girl...or anyone's. I'm nobody's girl but my own. Always have been, always will be.


Frehel Diaries: L'Etranger
After our nap, the Sauvage is going to take me to the beach where will sit and eat kouing-aman. Unfortunately, his car won't start. While this means that we can't go the beach to enjoy kouing aman, the more important issue is how the hell can I make my flight if his car is dead? While we are trying to start the car, his parents drive by with Nana. Sure enough the car pulls over and Nana comes running over.

There goes my romantic afternoon, I think.

Despite the fact that she hasn't seen him for only two hours, she runs and hugs him. She chatters at him alternatively hugging him and refusing to allow him to talk to anyone else for five minutes. When I went to high school, there was this clique of female lacrosse players who each day when they saw each other would screech and run at each other, hug, and jump and down squealing like they had just won the lottery. This happened five days a week for four years. Of course, we made fun of them. It was so contrived, so fake, this pantomime of desperate over the top exuberance at seeing a classmate and friend. And Nana's display struck me as the rudimentary form of that. I wondered if they have lacrosse in France.

Finally the Sauvage and his father discuss the car situation. His father asks me if I MUST return the following day. Stuck as I am in this town, there is no way I can contact AirFrance in order to change my flight (I knew this from my previous escape attempt). I think about it, do I h ave to go back? No. I don't have work. The cat sitter, if I can contact her, can continue to watch the divine Miss P.

But I so desperately want to go back. I tell myself it's because I don't want have to pay extra fees, but really I am tired of this life on a swiftly tilting planet where men go from adoring to callous and back again in a matter of hours. I wanted to be back in a world that I understand. A world where I am not at the mercy of a man.

After a discussion, the parents drive off leaving us with Nana. We go back to the hotel room. They lie on the bed, Nana playing her gameboy. I sit in the window until the Sauvage motions for me to come over and lie between them.

He falls asleep almost immediately, and Nana shows me the game she is playing-the sims pets, which thankfully is in English. After showing me how to play, she starts a character for me. I don't really want to play, but she takes such pride in coaching me that I go along. Before I know it, she's asleep too. I lie between these two-and for a moment I wonder who these people are. Sure I’d invite them into my life, but what is that really? I live my life out in the open. Inviting someone in? I do that on a daily, an almost hourly, basis, hardly an extraordinary offer on my part. And my life in NY is so disconnected from others that I’m not inconveniencing anyone except my cat. But these people have welcomed me into their lives. Accepted this person who comes from a country known only to them through TV shows and movies. This person who they know so little about and understand almost nothing of what she says. They don’t know my mind any more that they know what I’m capable of. They’ve invited this nymphomanical anthropologist into their midst. I’ll paint them as ridiculous savages for the entertainment of others. I’ll sacrifice what tiny chance I might have at happiness in order to get it. And all of them too.

And their vulnerability and their trust touches me, but not enough. Not enough to protect them even as I am awed by the sacrifice they do not know they are making.

After an hour or so, Nana wakes. She is pleased with the progress I've made, convinced that it is the product of her tutelage. I hand the game over to her and watch as she plays. Her hands are beautiful and delicate. Her dirty blonde hair falls long over her shoulders. Yes, she will grow up to be a diabolically beautiful woman.But who am I to accuse her of monstrousness?


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