The morning birds sing sweetly into four ears, their owners my charge and me, listening together with two words to describe the artists. I say bird, and Victoire says oisseau, but we both agree that we love their sound. “J’adore le chanson de la matin.”
Her tiny legs wrap around my waist as she takes her perch, and I take us through the slow-swung gate to school. Here, she greets her friends, Brune, Leon-Paul, et Margot, as they hold their parent’s hands and greet me with “salut la nunu de Victoire.”
“Bonjour,” I say, “vous etes pret pour l’ecole?”
“Oui oui,” they say reluctantly, slipping out of their jackets and reaching high enough to stuff their scarves into their cubbies.
I give Victoire a hug and an “au revoir, I’ll see you later,” before I leave her, waving once more through the window, then I am all mine again. At least for the next six hours.
At this nearly nine am moment, I always debate my immediate future. The promise I made myself at seven to return to sleep seems less important now that the sun has risen. Perhaps yoga, a happy medium between the meditation of sleep and the rising crack of tired bones saluting the sun, will take its place.
It is this peace that I missed during my time in America. This soft entrance of sun passes through my window and yellows the wooden floor under my pink-striped mat.
Downward facing dog folds me into two sides of a triangle, then a chaturanga into an upward-facing dog pulls my heart through my planted hands.
A few warrior flows later, I bend over my folded knees and press flat hands into each other for a namaste.
Now it is time to check the bus intervals, which one arrives in which ten minutes, and I pack my ambitions into the yellow side bag my mom gifted me for Christmas. I choose my French workbook, throw in my Virginia Woolf, laptop, and notebook.
Arriving in five minutes
and the station is a three-minute walk
but does that mean from my room and down the stairs
or from these floating coordinates to the next
and by that time, will the bus be passing or stopping
in this delicate interval.
Like the negotiations of a love affair
I don’t want to be too early, too desperate,
left in the cold, waiting.
And what if it doesn’t come?
Or it stops too long at a different stop,
and I look a fool for counting
on the virtual promise it tells my phone.
I can’t trust anything behind a screen.
What lies my apps believe.
What time stamps pass with minutes ago that never came.
So when I dress and bundle and pose,
and the wide window winds the corner
I sign in my cold relief
and raise my hand to say- take me!
Yet my chest still tightens
until the doors stop rolling and open
just for me.
I flow through a dozen or so pages of Mrs. Dalloway as the bus rolls through the twenty-minute ride, and as always, I jolt up at the last moment when I realize the mass of people descending past me.
Republique, the center stop of Rennes, swells with the crowd and observes bursting flocks of birds that fan out like open arms and circle above.
While this crowd walks in universal black jackets, I miss the bright orange puffer I left in San Diego. Today I don my yellow race jacket, the left breast labeling me correctly with “Maxwell” under a yellow car patched over a neon orange stripe as a callback.
It may be conceited, but I cannot help but derive pleasure from the clinging looks of passers-by. I suppose that is my downfall, wanting to be seen in a crowd, yet I also believe it is my power. Without this desire, my life across seas would be exponentially more frustrating.
There are plenty of people looking when I settle in and open my French workbook.
They say that when you begin to speak another language, you start to develop an alternate personality. Not entirely, of course, but you are not quite at ease as you are in your mother tongue. Thus, you pay more attention to what you say and what others say; you don’t act and react with nothing but that single and between them. You pause, think, digest. You speak, however incorrectly, with more intention.
A friend of mine tells me she likes her English personality more; she feels sweeter, more endearing with her words. For me, speaking French means experiencing social anxiety for quite nearly the first time.
This foreign feeling hovers around my lips as I speak a word, and worry I will not be understood or seen as rude for the words I blurt out unexpectedly. It is a strange one, this feeling, and one that I am grateful for experiencing.
Before entering France and trying to live among the French comme ca, of course, I was sympathetic to the plight of immigrants and foreigners, but it was the type of sympathy that hollows without understanding. Not forming into arrogance or disdain, but in a dismal overlooking of the intricacies and everyday difficulties that face those living in a country that speaks their second language (or third, or fourth).
Since arriving here, I feel the gravity of every interaction. I notice conversations in a way I never have before. I appreciate everyone who speaks with me with love akin to that I feel for my friends, even if it is simply the girl at the bus stop asking me if her bus has passed or the person sitting next to me with a tattoo I can compliment.
I feel like a child, and everything is brilliant and bright; it can be glaring sometimes, but it fills me with an unquantifiable wonder. The whole world extends beyond my fingertip in colors I have forgotten vibrancy in.
It is a new world, unlocked inside me just as much as it is out.
I only wish my love for the language meant I could learn it faster, but alas, the world is still the world, and my intelligence measures the same in France as in America.
The World our Mind Conceives.
Are we infinite in quantity, and
is it in quality that we deplete?
Are we thus lessened by our lessons
the lectures we copy through eyelids, and
do the synapses snap ancient electricity
trading the colors of that one unimportant Fall,
for the words that make this one
in parallel life.
Tell me if it is true,
that memories pixel from HD to SD
each time we take a new face
and hold its picture inside.
And if this is true, are we different models?
Do some of us come with more storage?
And as babies, we lie there,
crying because all we have is empty space
and we are hungry to have enough to choose what we keep.
But then, do we have a choice
what has and holds us?
What haunts us in new dreams we remember
in faces that burn into our brains?
Does it take us til 80 to run out of space? And for some
is it earlier? And only then there is too much
and we record over parts of ourselves,
sacrificing our grandchildren’s names
for our father’s smile, but starting
with an x over yesterday
and a perfect transcript of prom.
Or, somehow, is the mind simply a home
filled with furniture we’ve built or inherited,
creaking frames that sound but remain soft,
warm and known as we sink deeper.
A cafe, latte, and croissant later, I have scrawled my mind through more than my diary and close my eyes to the headache my French practice invites.
Before long, it is time to return to school and my Victoire. The 3h35 gate opens with a hum, spilling forth with children hungry and excited to return home.
Victoire asks me again to carry her home, and I say yes because she is a free weight at the gym I conceive through my day.
We walk through her day, coloring between stenciled animals, carrots at the cantine, and cache-cache with Leon-Paul while I pair her sentences with their English counterparts.
She asks what I have done, and I continue this balancing game, finding the quality of English she will learn without crying and nodding through the exchanges we have that live on one side.