We are halfway through. If the exchange were a day, I imagine this would be the point where the sun creases over the sky and begins its slow but deliberate descent.
The exchange students must now regroup. Our friends who were staying only for the first semester are gone. We are not exactly sure who is left, and are reminded, yet again, of temporary nature of the year abroad.
In a recurring dream, I am at a final dinner with these people who have become such good friends. Here it gets confusing: I am wearing a one-shoulder green dress and I do not own a dress like this. Anyway, there I am, wearing I dress I do not own in a restaurant I do not recognize. (Bear with me, here.) Raising my glass, I try to tell the people at the table how much they mean to me but I am having trouble getting the words out. I do not know if this will happen. Probably not.
But it gives me comfort, because everyone is there. And you, reader, are by my right-hand side.
While I am home for the holidays, my family goes to one of our favourite restaurants. We
dash through the -28 degree weather to the entrance, with as little grit as you can expect from a family whose members were born minutes from the Caribbean sea.
Once at the table, we grin at each other and lean forward, speaking in hushed tones as though telling secrets. I know that anyone looking at us can tell we are an adult family. Average age around 35; children living in different cities, all over the world; communicating through Skype, FaceTime, and a family group chat. The contents of the conversations being, more often than not—is everyone alright, does anyone need money, have you completed this paperwork, have you paid these fees, when is this due. Poetry and news articles shared by my mum. The occasional exclamation in patois. Brief discussions about politics. When did we get like this?
People like to say, “Time flies.” Looking back at my family’s history; however it does not seem that the time has flown. It has passed, evenly.
It is clear to me that it has been a long time, especially when I peer around the table at my family. My father is wearing the sort of hat his father used to wear, a flat cap; my sister, a university freshman now, has her eyes shadowed by mascara; my mother is wearing her signature shade of dark red lipstick; I am wearing shiny brown shoes and a watch. We have all developed our particular styles but are all wearing black coats, as though this one aspect was carefully coordinated.
“First person to remember to remember our server’s name gets ten bucks,” Mum says under her breath. My family loves to play little games like this, where no one actually keeps score and no money ever changes hands.
Later: “Are we going to Jamaica this year?” The question is posed by my mother to the table at large. We are long past the days where our parents were the sole planners of our family trips. Now there are schedules to be thought about, vacation days to be organised.
“Yes,” Dad says.
My sister and I smile. If you are an immigrant you may be aware of the concept of on-years and off-years, where, some years, you go back to your small island and others, you don’t.
These periodic trips are important. They are like tacks, pegging us to our history. They remind us who we are and where we are from and where we were born. It’s been decided; 2018 is a Jamaica year.
I tell my family that I do not know whether I will stay in France for the summer or come back to Toronto. “I’ll go wherever the jobs are.” When I say this, I feel much older than I am. “If Toronto, I might look for a place downtown.” This, too, makes me feel old. But I am half-joking. Rent in Toronto is sky-high.
“I think you will have to,” my mother says, taking a bite of her lobster. When available, she will always order lobster, steak, a baked potato, and a virgin strawberry daiquiri. I know her order by heart. “I know you’re bored in the suburbs.”
“What? You’d let me get a place downtown?” I say.
“I think you’d have to.”
“Wow,” I say, and squint out at the restaurant, past the people.
Please, touch the art
I knew I was an adult when I walked past a wall of felt in an art museum that was meant to be touched but did not touch it.
Bedbug level: 12
My sister is coming down to France for a week. It will be her first time in Europe, so we decide to book a spontaneous trip to Rome over Skype. We end up having to put it all on Dad’s card because mine is not going through.
“What! Do you think I’m made of money?” Dad cries over the phone, when we call to ask. This is his constant refrain.
On skype, my sister and I giggle. I am reminded of a video on Facebook of a child throwing money out a window, with the caption, “This is what it’s like having daughters.”
As if it is not enough to rob him blind, we tease Dad relentlessly, sending him text messages with lots of ellipses and strange punctuation, just as he would send them to us:
No problem… putting it on your card… will reimburse 🙂 thanks,
Once the train tickets are booked, my sister and I search for hostels. I read out some of the worst reviews to her.
“On a scale of 0 to 10, where 0 is no bedbugs and 10 is bedbugs, I would give this hostel a 12, as in, don’t even fumigate, just burn it down.” We double over laughing.
I am sitting in a class called l’Europe et la mer dans l’époque moderne (Europe and the Sea in the Modern Era).
The professor made a huge show of singling out the foreigners in the class when we walked in, first to welcome us, and later, to reprimand us, saying, “I know in England you may eat in class but here in France we do not do this.” I roll my eyes at his assumption. I am not from England.
I work out how to fight back in my head. We don’t like being singled out every time we walk into a room, I would say in French. It makes it difficult to integrate. And at this point, when we are nearly fluent, it is frankly offensive. But I decide not to say anything because arguing makes me tired. Instead I look out the window and notice the sky is a cloudless blue.
My eyes shift to the syllabus, which has a painting of sailboats on the front. I think of how I would much rather be at sea, rather than discussing it. I want to taste the sea air and feel the sun on my legs.
I am reminded of something a colleague at my internship last summer once said to me, in the staff kitchen:
“You’re so young. Have you ever been in love?”
I shook my head sheepishly, retrieving my lunch from the microwave.
“Well, one day you’ll fall in love and you’ll do things you never thought you’d do. You’ll go—I don’t know—sailing, and you’ll love it. You’ll say, thank God I met you otherwise I never would have sailed.”