Monday, June 8, 2009

Why parting is such sweet sorrow

My time in France is rapidly coming to a close, and there's not a thing I can do about it. Up until this point, my leaving felt like some vague, faraway day that would never actually arrive, and so I hadn't spent much time thinking about it. Before, I had more than a month left, and honestly, with more than a month left, what can you not do? A month is endless. But now I have less than a month, three weeks, to be exact, and that is a whole different story. Less than a month is a rapidly escalating countdown, a slow, relentless death march accelerating quickly into a scrabbling slip-slide to the edge of a cliff, digging in your fingernails and holding on for dear life. Three weeks left with Hervé, a fact we spend most of our time pretending to ignore. Once and only once, he whispered, "You're abandoning me?" and pulled me tight. I fight the urge to start and end sentences with "after I'm gone." After I'm gone, who will kiss your neck and search out all your ticklish spots?" "Here, I want you to have these books. You can read them after I'm gone." It's starting to feel like one of us is dying. It's starting to feel like it's me.

The summer light here is a miracle of sorts, and the last lingering traces of daylight remain until almost 10:30. "And the days will keep getting longer until June 21," Hervé mentioned, ever the optimist.

"Yes, but then after that it's sad," I said, in my glass-half-empty way, meaning to
explain how after the solstice I just can't enjoy summer in the same way, knowing that from that point it's just a long, slow slide into winter. But before I had a chance to explain, Hervé let out a sigh and pulled me close, and I realized his thoughts had automatically jumped not to what I had thought was the logical conclusion to my sentence, but instead to my soon and forever departure. I squeezed his hand and left the rest of my thought unfinished. It didn't seem to matter anymore.

I try to imagine leaving, I try to imagine saying goodbye to someone I will probably never see again. Instead I picture my toothbrush in his bathroom, him having to get rid of it after I'm gone, and the thought nearly brings me to tears. How many days would he leave it there before dumping it unceremoniously in the trash bin? I make a mental note to take my toothbrush with me when I leave, or to quietly dispose of it before I go. Or would that be worse? To be gone without a trace? I think of the last time I said a forever goodbye, how the toothbrush, deodorant, clothes remained after everything else had gone. It turns out that at the end of a relationship built upon brainwaves, neurochemicals, and millions of jumbled up words, the only things that last are the objects you leave behind. And even now we discover ancient societies from their pottery shards, their trash, the bits they threw away. A million years from now someone will find a Tampax next to a half-used stick of Old Spice, and think, Here a man and a woman lived together. But that will be all they can know, because for all their permanence, objects are strangely untelling. I left his clothes, his hair gel, his tootbrush untouched for a full two weeks, because their absence felt stranger than their presence. I cannot think of similarly inflicting Hervé with the presence of my objects in the absence of myself, and so, yes, I will take my toothbrush, my deodorant, and my moisturizer with me when I go, I decide, these few scattered toiletries the only physical trace I have left there. But, yes, I will give him my books to keep, after all. He can read them after I'm gone.

And so it is that I can only think in terms of the practical, the tangible, and not of the fact that soon we will whisper together in the middle of the night for the last time. That there will be a last kiss, a last touch, a last lingering gaze. And for all my talk about him not being my "soul mate" or "the one," he is dear, and quite possibly the most genuinely nice guy I have ever met, and I will miss him terribly. In the midst of the mess of brainwaves, neurochemicals, and jumbled up words, comes this thought: All things must end. But I don't want this to. Not yet. I have three weeks left. I have to make them last.


  1. how about a long distance relationship until you can work something out together? it's not so hard these days, with technology.

  2. Wow. That was powerful.

    I went through the same thing when I was an English assistant in France in 2006. I started dating a Frenchie right when I got to France and was with him for the duration of my stay, even moving in with him near the end. Around month 6 of the 10 months we were together, I starting counting down to my impending departure with an extreme amount of dread, and my heart would stop when I would think of the day I would have to leave him. It didn't help matters that he wasn't into long distance and that there was no hope for continuing our relationship!!

    As my departure approached, there were many fights and tears, and as for the last goodbye at the airport, it was something like out of a movie with us bawling like babies and holding on to each other for dear life before I absolutely had to go through the gate. Suuuuper intense, and I felt like I was gonna die.

    I also went through the same thing where I worried about my toothbrush being left behind, and nearly lost it when a few days after I got back to Canada he called me to say that I had left one of my sandals under his bed but he hadn't touched it or thrown it out because it was too painful for him. Sigh! I feel your pain only too well! Damn bi-cultural/international love!

    Love your blog, by the way, and always look forward to your posts!

  3. Why leave at all?

  4. :(

    I'm kinda with Clouds on this. Maybe it's worth trying a long-distance relationship. Then, if you're finding that it's not working, the end will be less intense.

    But if he's not your soulmate or "the one," is the long-distance thing worth trying?

    I know. That wasn't helpful at all. I'm sorry that this is so difficult.

  5. What a beautiful post. You made my heart ache. Good luck.

  6. Without knowing what your professional aspirations are, I feel compelled to suggest anyway - why not try to enrol in a programme an an ecole d'alternance? You work and study at the same time, though the hiccups are's something to look into. Also, thre are private schools that recruit English teachers fairly often. I know this may not be your 'calling' but personal aspirations reign supreme here non?
    I'm in France as well and even though the diffeences here are some days unnerving and other days amazing, the mix is enough to want me to stay. Having met mon boo ici only makes it all the more...more.
    Your blog is fantabulous.

  7. Oh wow... I am just reading this now! Enjoy the rest of your time here in France! : ) I hope you keep up your blog when you go back, I really enjoy your posts!