A miraculous thing occured today, I made every deadline I was supposed to make! I didn’t oversleep, miss a cab, forget breakfast for the girls, and most importantly, we made the train to Nice!
Not only that, but I used my fractured French to find the platform, figure out which of six trains, and which coach to get on! Incredible!
So about the midpoint of our six hour trip through the southern farmland of France, we got hungry. I found the car with the train food and got in line behind a woman who looked familiar. She was about my age and spoke French with an interesting accent, but fluently. She turned to me, and asked me something incomprehensible.
I replied “Uh, Je regret, je parle Francaise terrible.” I’ve found that line usually gets a smile, and communication starts rolling.
“It’s ok, I just asked if you were standing in line for lunch, I haven’t made up my mind yet.” AHA! Her fluid French was American accented!
“Well, hello! So you’re an American too! ” A frown creased her pretty forehead.
“No, no. Of course not. Not at all. I’m Canadian.” Oops, another American ethnocentric boo-boo. I tried to rescue it with a joke.
“Canadian! Oh! A French baggage inspector told me a joke.” The woman smiled indulgently. “I was asking about accents, and if he could tell the difference between ours. No, he said, we all sound alike to him. But if we have an American accent and don’t like guns, then we must be Canadian.”
The woman chuckled. The line was interminable, so we started to chat. She introduced herself as Sarah.
“What brings you to France?” she asked.
“Oh, I’m on a sabbatical of sorts. My older three children are in college, and all have the same winter break. The youngest is bright enough to keep up online, so we are spending three weeks wandering around Europe. How about yourself?”
Her eyes widened, and she took on a distracted air.
‘I’m here to clear my head. I was raised in Quebec, and fifteen years ago my husband and I moved to Aix-en-provence for his job. He’s a nuclear physicist. We had to move to Laguna Beach a year and a half ago, and put the house in Aix for rent. Now the renters are gone, and just in time, because my husband just told me three weeks ago he’s dumping me for his 24 year old yoga instructor. ‘ She smiled self-deprecatingly. I mistook her smile for politely waiting for me to respond. Then my brain caught up with the conversation. My stomach started to sink.
“And now, here I am, how trite. Telling my life story on a train to a complete stranger!” Tears began to well in her eyes.
“No! No, it’s ok. Nothing is ever easy. Let’s keep talking long enough and I’ll tell you all kinds of ‘husbands-dead-too-early -from- cancer stories,’ like mine! Really, it’s ok. ”
She looked down, and then chuckled, darkly. “No, really? Has he been gone long?”
“Two years last July.”
“I’m sorry. That’s terrible. Now I’m in a terrible spot. I have a ten year old and a twelve year old who were born in Aix. I could move them back right here, slide them right back into the same schools and live in Aix. But when I get back, who knows? I mean, I’m not supposed to tell them their dad’s being an asshole, right? Dumping me for someone that could be his daughter.”
“It happens. More than you think.”
“I guess. But now were supposed to go back and pretend to be merry for Christmas? One happy family? I’m completely screwed. I haven’t worked in fifteen years, I don’t even have working papers for the States. It’s so complicated.”
We got our food and moved to the standing tables. She continued to tell me her complicated story of fear and abandonment.
Eventually, we traded stories, and that terrible sisterhood of incompetence started to emerge.
“I just don’t think I can do this by myself. I mean, my kids are ten and twelve.”
“I get it. I felt the same way.”
“What am I going to do? I was always the domestic one. Now I have to manage all the business ends of a family.”
“Intimidating, isn’t it? But you strike me as competent.”
“I don’t know. How did you figure it out?”
Hmm. That Question. How to summarize going from a complete, non-functional basket case to the competent person I am today.
“Well, not to preach at you, but I’m a Christian. I had a pretty sturdy set of helpers from my church from the very beginning. Lots of other folks too. All sorts of exotic flowers in God’s garden came to my aid. I had to surrender a lot of my pride, and ask for the help I needed. ”
“Hmm. You’re lucky you’re religious. I never wanted to be in a church, and neither did he. Now I sort of wish we did.”
“This might be news to you, Sarah, but you don’t have to be religious to go to a church. Jesus doesn’t keep score. And you know what else? He understands nasty. He understands mean. He understood me when I was being unlovely, angry and bitter. Thankfully, most of that is behind me. I get lonely now, sure, but I’m never alone.”
The train was pulling into Aix.
“You strike me as strong enough to get through this, Sarah. You can do this. I am, and if I can, anyone can. ”
She gathered up her things, trying not to cry.
“Well, it’s been nice talking to you. Good luck.”
“You too, Sarah.”
God bless you, Sarah of Aix.