I just remembered a poem I wrote in French while attending an immersion program the summer of 1999. Like a song, I repeated three lines that spoke to how the summer had changed me and to how different I was from classmates. I wrote it during the final week of six.
And then I remembered the gut emptying feeling I experience when I realized I’d left my fleece jacket on the train, my warmest item, and I lacked the vocabulary necessary to tell anyone and was scared to admit to my crazy mistake. That was the very first day.
We weren’t allowed to speak English. It was a very small town. I figured not only would the teachers catch us but so would the locals who were probably spies for the school. I mean, why not? Fear makes us suspicious. Fear is unhealthy. Of all the times to break the rule, you’d think I’d have tried that first day which was actually night, fully dark by the time I exited the train and began the awkward search for whoever it was I was to meet. I don’t remember how I got from there to my host’s home but I did and I met an equally shy student who stayed in a room adjacent to mine.
We ate together but never at our residence. A man a couple of streets over provided all three of our daily meals. We sat around an oblong table with maybe six other students. Our chef was happy, kind, generous, and sweaty as he hurriedly got our food placed. He was never late, just made sure we had what we needed when we needed it. I can still see the white porcelain ramekins that held our individual pasta dishes. Fancy. I wanted to buy crates of the apple jam we’d often have at breakfast.
The Saint Lawrence River ran by our little town. I’d sit by the shore, mostly when the tide was out, mostly alone. By the time I found my people, it was just about time to go home. Somewhere, there’s a picture of us sitting at a table, smiling.
Insecure memories are weighty and still clear years later, so clear that I can’t believe I submitted my poem without which this memory lane wouldn’t be as sweet.
Je ne pu jamais
Je ne pourrai jamais
Être la même