IV: A Hug and a Handshake
My parents and sister flew with me to Paris in August of 2003. Though I did not know it at the time, that week together would be the last time that I would see them for eleven months, which I think was longer than any of us had anticipated. It was my junior year in college; it would be spent mostly in this city, with short spates in Barcelona ,Lyon and Chalon-sur-Saône.
As the plane touched down at Charles de Gaulle airport, the French sky was gray and my stomach was sinking. What the hell was I thinking, I asked myself as we taxied to the terminal. I had only taken one year of French in high school and two semesters of it in college. And here I was, about to be excreted intoParis, stuck here for a year.
At first, I was annoyed to have my family fly over with me; I was at that age. I was so hell bent on becoming a slut (or at least trying to) that any delay in achieving that goal was intolerable. In the end, though, I was glad for it. They did help me brave the perilous tasks of setting up a bank account and signing up for a cell phone plan, although this did result in me being an unprepared interpreter at times, groping certain wrinkles in my brain for words that I remembered studying but not speaking (account, ATM card, rollover minutes, subscription, early termination fee).
For the first few days inParis, we all stayed in a hotel room together in the seventh arrondissement; it was close to where I would be going to school. One evening, we hauled one of my suitcases to my host mother’s apartment inNorthern Paris, who had invited us all over for dinner. I would retrieve the second suitcase the night before my parents and sister returned to theUnited States, which was a small number of days away.
On that final evening of their time inFrance, we consolidated my remaining belongings into the remaining suitcase in the hotel room where they were staying. We had had the concierge page a taxi for us (taxis were strangely difficult to come by inParis, a common complaint). When we received the phone call in the room indicating that one had arrived, my mother hugged me and made me hug my sister. My father walked me down to the street.
The taxi driver took my suitcase and asked for the address, which he indicated he knew how to get to. I petitioned for a moment.
“Well, see you in July,” I said.
“We’ll call you every so often,” he said.
We continued to stand there.
The taxi driver reminded us of his existence, either through a grunt or a throaty “Ready?”
To each other my father and I said something along the lines of “Okay,” or “Take care,” and ended up in something that was halfway between a hug and a handshake.
I climbed into the taxi and my father turned around, walking through the automatic doors, which swallowed him back up.
In the short drive to the eighteenth arrondissement, my eyes, a bit blurry with the prelude of tears, remained fixed on the rearview mirror, so that I could stifle my sniffles every time the driver looked back.