On Sunday morning, I got up later than I intended (as I usually do). I reheated my leftovers-for-breakfast in a pan to give them a crispy edge, and I put a fried egg on top because that’s what my mama taught me. I microwaved some day old coffee and then I put on an episode of Barefoot Contessa because I like contrast.
The episode focused on the art of the cocktail party – how many hors d’oeurves to make, what kind of quick and easy cocktails you should provide for your guests. In the last few minutes, in answer to a woman who wanted some easy cocktails she could make after a 50-hour work week, Ina made her signature drink. A kir royale, which is black current liqueur mixed with champagne.
And just like that, a flood of memories. I was sitting in a dark bar in Caen, France with six girls I had just met a few days ago. They were all from the former Soviet Bloc – Azerbaijan, Belarus, Ukraine. They ordered kir royales, and I did too, even though I had no idea what it was. I was 20 years old, and I had wine with my parents sometimes, but most of my drinking was shitty beer, grain alcohol, and gin mixed with sprite. I was utterly lost. I don’t even remember what it tasted like.
Things I do remember:
The first day I arrived at an empty French college campus and stumbled around with my suitcases until I found the one occupied building. What follows is blank space – I know I registered for the (French language humanitarian) conference I was attending, unpacked my bags, met people from my program, but I have no visual memory of that. Instead, my next memory is deciding that I couldn’t spend the first night alone in my room. I was in France, damn it, so I walked down to the little town to explore. On my way, I ran into one of the guys attending the conference with me. He was from Germany, but spoke better English than I did French. I don’t remember what I drank. I think he ordered a Stella Artois. I was terrified, so I must have had the same.
Looking back on it, I’m stunned by how hard that must have been, buoyed again by pride that I didn’t just hide from my discomfort all week, nostalgic for the memories I’m losing. There was a girl there from Serbia who wanted to practice her English with me. She told me about living through the US bombings, about being afraid but also grateful. I taught about 12 Russian speakers that the English say “take a walk,” not “make a promenade” like the French do.
I have done hard things – a week in France by myself, studying abroad and getting trapped in Rome by a volcano (a story for another time, yeah?), two weeks in India, a couple Alternative Spring Break trips with a lot of manual labor, moving to Boston for grad school, quitting a job, standing next to two of my best friends while they get married, teaching classes. I’m proud of these things.
As I stare down an immense period of uncertainty, I have tabs open for publishing internships and for places to look for 9-5 office jobs. But I also have tabs for WWOOF, for writers in residence programs, for National Park Volunteers.
What happens if I forget the thrill of wandering out of my prison style dorm room, down a hill and into a small town, where no one knows me and no one cares about me, to drink beer with a stranger? Can I have both? Security and adventure?
Imagining the possibilities keeps me awake at night. But I’m not anxious. The particulars unsettle me, but the general state of possibility? Yeah, I think I’ll keep that open too.