my reality: a tale of two languages

I think if someone were to take my brain out of my skull right now, it would come out soaked in color and memory.

I’ve been holding the strangest things so close to me over the past several weeks, none of which are physically tangible. I’ve been clinging on to what I can remember and what I’m scared two months will take away from me – the people I love. It’s almost shameful to admit, but my worst fears right now involve someone I love being seriously injured while I’m overseas. There’s no way I’d be able to get to them in time, if things were truly bad – at minimum, the travel time is 10 hours, and that’s if I can get a flight out of Pau directly to Paris. How would I ever be able to forgive myself? Part of me suddenly feels so selfish for coming here instead of staying with my family. I have always known that I love my family more than anything in the entire world, but it’s never been such a factor in my day-to-day life until now.

When I lie in bed and try to sleep at night – I’m not usually very successful – I pass the time by pouring over my memories of home. I miss everyone, so much, but the harder I try to conjure up the memory of a hug the more difficult it becomes. It’s when I’m not trying, when I’m just letting myself live, that I can actually feel normal again.

God, it sounds like someone died, the way I’m writing. My poor mind has never been this out of place. I think my subconscious has jumped out the proverbial window. My entire being no longer has any idea what to do with itself. Wonderful.

Perhaps I’m stating the obvious, but I think a big barrier that’s preventing me from connecting with the French is the language. For the most part, I know what they’re saying – it’s responding that’s nearly impossible for me. But even just walking down the cobblestoned streets of Pau, it’s hard for me to comprehend that, to a passerby, everything is different. Where I see a tree, the person next to me likely sees “un arbe”. Simple, but it changes the way the whole world is perceived. A tree is a tree is a tree, to me at least, but to a French person the word “tree” is simply not the true name for something. No, that particular honor belongs to the words un arbe. What is true to one is not even approaching reality for another.

My mother has always spoken wistfully of a universal language. I, personally, have never been in favor of the idea. It would make my life a hell of a lot easier right now, but I’ve always held a deep appreciation for the nuances between cultures. It’s what makes people unique, but it’s also what separates people. Growing up in the United States, I’ve never really fully comprehended this. I can travel across an entire continent and expect to hear the same language from sea to shining sea. The French don’t have this luxury. If I drive a little less than an hour to the south, there’s an entirely different language. Six hours to the east, another one as well. My poor, memory and color soaked mind can’t understand it. English is its reality. Being shown an entirely new one is an extreme and abrasive adjustment that its rather reluctant to make. I’ve had to coax it gradually from its corner. I suppose it’s coming along.

At the end of the day, I know I’m getting used to France. I now expect to order my food in French, and English is a delicious treat I let myself savor for hours after it’s done. Standing outside the chateau a few days ago, I saw a man in a Red Sox hat. Naturally, I said something to myself along the lines of “Oh! Boston!” – how could I not? I didn’t expect him to know what I said, but he turned around and smiled widely at me before moving on with his day. It felt like coming home – something so simple as a Red Sox hat.


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