- Your Crazy is Showing
Right away when I arrived in France, settled in at school, and figured out how to use the computer lab, the first person I emailed was my French teacher. I gushed to her about all the wonderful quirks of my travels and my new situation. She responded quickly and positively. She was happy for me.
A few days later, she emailed me again, this time to chew me out, somewhat playfully although she really was mad at me. She had seen my mother in the office at school and mentioned my email--she didn't know I hadn't contacted my parents yet, not even to let them know I had reached my destination safely. To be fair, I didn't really know my mom's email, and I just hadn't found time to call them yet, what with the seven-hour time difference and all. But on some level, I was also enjoying the independence from my parents.
"Sarah, that was so embarrassing for me!"
I told her I was sorry. I worried that the experience had shocked her a little and made her realize how much I preferred her to my own mother at that point in my life.
As the weeks passed and the newness of France wore off, I often struggled with feeling isolated and lonely in the French countryside. I didn't have a cell phone, and in those days, neither I nor anyone I knew had a Facebook. Sometimes, I'd get overwhelmed at how much time I had left before I could go home. I really wanted to be there to learn the language, but even that gave me a headache most days.
I felt like my French teacher was the only person in the world who could understand what I was going through.
My subconscious helped me out a little bit by featuring her in some of my dreams. I had started having dreams about her years ago, but they seemed particularly precious to me during my trip.
"I was trying to climb some stairs, but I started falling. At the bottom of the stairs, I saw a curtain of hair hiding an angular face. I ran. She opened her arms wide, and we just embraced for the longest time. She kissed me on the cheek, and then her face got all scrunched up from crying. I was bawling, too. Then I kissed her on the cheek. We just cried.
"Even though I know that would never happen, that was awesome. Each time I dream about her, I get so happy, I wake up! Pisses me off!"
I missed her so much. I could have written to her every day, but I knew I had to be judicious. For years, I had been trying to play it cool, trying to hide my crazy, but now that I couldn't see her every day at school, I could feel myself starting to unravel.
In my sadness, one day, I wrote to her.
She didn't respond for a few days.
I sent another email: "Um, hello?"
She wrote back right away saying that she had been super busy but that she would write more soon. The next day at school, I logged onto a computer the first chance I got and saw that she had sent me a nice, long email, encouraging me.
"She said lots of helpful things and gave me hope for the future. She capped it off with, 'And before you know it, you'll be driving to my house, unannounced, to surprise me in my pajamas.'"
This actually happened one time when a student stopped by her house on a Saturday and she answered the door in her pj's, so it was a story all the French students knew.
"I don't think any visual has ever made me so happy."
Her students knew where she lived because she would have us over for French dinners. We'd each bring a French dish and try to speak entirely in French as we sat around her long, wooden dining table.
"Passez-moi le sel, s'il vous plaît."
How cool is this lady, that she would invite a bunch of teenagers into her home? She loved us, and she loved her job. We could tell.
After dinner, we cleared the table and formed by the sink a stack of plates that needed to be hand washed. Lots of the students were lingering to help out, but since, by then, I had become a professional Lingerer and Helper, I somehow managed to secure a position rinsing the dishes as my French teacher washed them. I've never been so exhilarated to do dishes in my whole life.
"I realized only after I bought these plates that they don't fit in my dishwasher, but I liked them so much, I didn't care!"
I had my memories, a few, rare dreams, and the occasional email to comfort me. She, on the other hand, was probably doing just fine. Her life was going on without me. In fact, I was sure that the other really good French student, Morgan, a level behind me, had taken my place as prodigy and after-school lingerer.
In my restlessness, I sent her several over-the-top emails throughout my trip, and each time I did, I worried that she was seeing a little bit more of the crazy. Gradually, her response times got longer, and her emails got shorter. The more she pulled back, the more I panicked, and the more desperate I sounded in the next email.
By the end, I was nervous about returning home and seeing her again. Would she come to my homecoming party? Would she still think I was just as cool as she thought before? Would we still get to see each other at school, even though I would be too fluent to enroll in French IV?
"I don't know why I'm all sad; I should be excited to see her. After all, she kept in touch a little (with the help of a few prods) and helped me through a tough time once.
"But still, we'll do something together, and then, poof, she won't care about me. I know it. Maybe now that I can speak French better she will still get a kick out of me, but I'd also like to talk to her in English, to make her laugh. And it's even more difficult because of Morgan."
While I had been risking my life in France, trying to impress fair lady, another student had taken my place as the protégée, the adorable sidekick. Not that I knew this Bible story at the time, but this was some Uriah, David, and Bathsheba bullshit.
Sure, I had volunteered to live abroad for six months because I wanted to, but on some level, it had also been to impress my French teacher. In that regard, the trip had manifestly backfired, thanks to all my long-distance flailing. I had a hunch that she had become disenchanted with me, with how much work I was.
Maybe she was starting to question what the heck she had gotten herself into.