The station harbored a crowded rush hour. Something surged inside of me, an excitement unmatched by anything else. I zigzagged my way to the number one, the red line, the NYC subway. Moving around, transferring to the Times Square Shuttle, and then the Uptown 6, was all instinct. I didn't even bat an eyelash to get to my destination on the Upper East Side. Only years of living in one place, can things be done with such ease. It was a comfort I needed so much, a comfort I missed dearly.
Going back home, after such a short period in Paris, was full of ambivalence. Was it too soon? Should I postpone? I remember boarding the plane from Charles De Gaulle, the intro to P. Diddy's song “Coming Home” played in my head. Friends and Family were waiting for me. My daughter eager to see her grandmother, her BFF- Sophie, and all else she left back in her “other home far away”, as she puts it. Still, I was unsure.
The first night back, I had dinner with a friend, an outright All-American and a real blonde to boot. We laughed as we always did because that's mostly what we do when we are together, just laugh about anything & everything. As much fun as I was having, something still felt absent. Thereafter, all my subsequent reunions with friends I've missed so so much, felt pretty much the same, great but something amiss. Towards the end of my second week, I saw my All-American friend again along with our other good friend, the trio was reunited. We hung out, laughed, ate sushi, laughed, drank beer, laughed, and then I sadly left. At some point during our evening, one of them said to me, “Isn't it weird? You don't live here anymore.” I didn't live here anymore. New York was no longer my home. I no longer had a key to my front door. I no longer had the front door. I no longer lived in this place, meaning New York, a place that held so much of my identity, my life. When I thought of France, technically my new home, it didn't feel quite right either. I had a nice new apartment, made some wonderful new friends, and my husband was back in his homeland but where did that leave me...
After spending a final day in Manhattan before returning to Paris, I sat on the LIRR train ready to head back to my mom's in Great Neck. As I sat there listening to the noises of a bustling rush hour train at Penn Station, 9to5ers getting their alcoholic beverage on the platform before heading to their families, I felt pang in my chest. I knew that feeling all too well, only in times of great emotions did my heart feel that heavy. I tired to fight back tears by placing on my headphones and turning on my IPod. As I secluded myself listening to Mumford & Sons, I realized that I was still looking around at my old life. Although I had moved away from Long Island around the same time I got married, I looked at all the people who stilled called it home. So, I simply closed my eyes.
The music didn't help either. My mind raced, making it harder to fight back the urge to break. I did not do so when I left New York in February. I did not do so even in my most solemn states of homesickness in those first few weeks in Paris. I did not even break when I came back to NY almost two weeks ago. Why now? Why was it so hard to fight back those inevitable tears? I had enough, I had had my fair share of grief, and that is exactly what I had not wanted to admit to myself... I had held off the grieving long enough. I momentarily opened my eyes to see who took the adjacent seat to mine. A young Asian looking man, listening to his own IPod. He quickly smiled without making much eye contact, whipping out a newspaper. I turned to look out the window. The train was pulling out of the station with the platform speeding away, we entered the tunnel. I reached into my pocket and pulled out a tissue, turned my body towards the black window and wiped my tears.
Back in February, I read a book called, Almost French by Sarah Turnbull, an expat living in Paris. She recounts when tears took her by surprise as the plane left her native Australia, heading back to Paris. “But Australia is the home of homesickness and my history – a powerful whirlpool of family and friends, memories and daily trivia that I used to take for granted but now seem remarkable... I could drop my guard I didn’t even know I'd been carrying.” In that moment, I understood her words, felt their weight, and knew things were never going to be the same for me.
Now being back in France, seems harder than ever, monumental. Even hearing the word “Bonjour” sounds like an insult, a mockery on some days. It's more than being outside of my element, being the odd man out, that would not be a new role for me. Again as Ms Turnbull so well put it, “Living in Paris requires constant effort: effort to make myself understood, effort to understand & be alert for those cultural intricacies...” and at times it is downright exhausting!