Places and People and Things and Ideas
It has been ten years since I was first in Europe. A third of my life away. It was Paris then and it is London now. It was ingenue then and it is teacher now. It was a world and a lifetime ago, and I feel all those rotations of the earth in my body, in all the stories I have lived and told since then. Life moves quickly. Paris at twenty was a dusky sweep of January street lights, of bridge painters, long afternoon hours spent in cafes with glasses of wine and pages of my journal. I had arrived there among other students, but knowing no one. I cherished my solo walks down back streets, my eager and bumbling exchanges with shopkeepers in my best French, a language I knew only by the vocabulary post-it notes I had used to wallpaper my dorm room. I sat in the Luxembourg Gardens on mornings crisp enough to reveal one's breath, and I dipped a baguette into jam and watched the birds brave my presence for the crumbs. I read Gertude Stein and Eliot and Lowell and Hem. I thought, I know what it is to be me now, in this new place, with no one claiming me, no one with preconcieved notions, no one to rush me elsewhere. I can be as much and as little as I want. And I was. I did. I danced close with strangers in jazz clubs, tossed coins into the Seine at 4 a.m., felt my blood racing down and up and out and back and pounding pounding alive alive alive. I had a boyfriend back home, but I didn't want to go back. I had a family who had tucked sweet notes into my suitcase, but I didn't want to go back. I had my life planned, but I wanted to scrap it. Run off. Be the girl without limits, who lives in the intoxicating haze of no accountability except for the page you write with your own ink. Paris. I wonder if you've changed? London at thirty has been less romantic, more full of alarm clocks and puddles and sliced white bread, but also the giggles of teenage girls and antics of teenage boys and the thoughts of one who is accountable for all of them. Ten years ago, this would have been a weight. But today, with these fine lines around my eyes, with these years of leading classrooms of sixteen-year-olds through Julius Caesar, I lead them to The Globe and am warmed at their recognition, I take them on the Tube and give them high fives when they return hours later having mastered that web of colors, and I am content walking around St. Paul's Cathedral with Ally and Ashley, listening to all the youth in their dozens of street stories, and not wishing that I was anything other than me, thirty, in a baggy red rain coat with frizzy hair and a heart full of all the roads I have traveled. I think, I know what it is to be me now, in this new place, with my loved ones thousands of miles away, with them a thousand miles the stuff of my veins, with them being my everywhere home. I am as much and as little as I will ever be because--as sentimental as it sounds--I am loved in particular ways. Big ways. Waves that undulate across oceans and borders. I marvel at the tomb of Queen Elizabeth the first in Westminister Abbey, I wander past the Oxus Treasure and massive busts of ancient pharos in the British Museum, and I coast through Hyde Park on a smooth rented bike that reminds me of two white ones rented back in southern Minnesota with my darling, and I feel my heart squeeze, my heart squeeze, my love running out and in and up and away and down and far flung, and I am so thankful so thankful that I have a husband at home, who I want to go back to, a dear family at home who I hold with such tenderness, a life that I did not foresee, in that it's turned out so differently that I imagined it on the edge of the Seine, French wind in my hair, poems on my tongue. Those poems are still there. Still here, tonight. But now, despite the beauty and wonder of the elsewheres, they are full of the nouns of home.