Real Life

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Whenever someone asks me what I study, or what I do, I usually respond with the following:

"Well, here in France, I am just studying French to learn French. In my real life, I study history and hope to work at a museum."

I didn't think much about it. That is, I didn't think much about it until a few weeks ago, on my way back from London.

I was standing near the door of the ferry, waiting for them to dock and let us off. Across the way, there was this guy. He kept looking at me. In my half-asleep-it's-too-early-for-this-shit daze, I assume a serious, blank expression and focus intently on the Brittany Ferries logo on the door.

"You're American, aren't you?" He announces.


I turn, and walk towards this guy, ready to give him a firm talking to about not drawing attention to your American-ness. Standing next to him, I respond softly, "what gave me away?"

"Well, you're wearing a Patagonia jacket, using a Samsonite suitcase."

Right. The French typically do not go for bright purple fleece jackets. Thank God it's too cold for my Chacos (they're tucked in my closet at my apartment).

I chuckle, and the conversation continues in the elevator and on the shuttle from the ferry dock to passport control. I explain that I'm studying abroad in France for four months, and learn that he's doing a cross-country road trip with some friends.

The inevitable question is asked: What do you study?

I give my usual response: "Well, here I'm just studying French. In my real life, I study history and work in a museum."

Then he looks at me, and says something I've been thinking about ever since:

"This is real too. This is part of your real life, if you make it. If you want it to be."

I probably stopped in my tracks. Luckily, it was my turn at passport control so I was able to temporarily distract myself. At the door, I showed him where to catch a cab and I trudged towards the bus stop.

This experience often does not feel like my real life. Some nights, I don't want to go to sleep for fear that in the morning I will wake up in my bed in Denver, and all of this will just be a dream. No matter how real, raw, and emotional it gets, I am always afraid that it will be gone too soon.

Don't get me wrong, I miss home. A lot. I miss my parents, my friends, my professors, Starbucks, Reese's, and Illegal Pete's queso. I miss seeing the mountains every day, and the clearness of the Colorado blue sky.

But I love France more than I miss queso.

I am in love with this place. I am in love with the Chateau, the cathedrals, the beaches, and the people. I am in love with the smell of fresh baked baguettes, rain, and the smell of cigarette smoke (even though it simultaneously repulses me). I am in love with the language I speak with less and less effort. I am in love with the way the words roll off my tongue when I order a pain au chocolat at my favorite boulangerie, or when I greet my professor at the coffee machines. I am in love with trains, the chaos of train stations, and the adrenaline rush when you barely make it onto the platform. I am in love with seeing new places, and finding the beauty in places I know well.

I am in love with this life.

So no, it doesn't feel real. I have a hard time accepting this as my real life, because I am terrified that it is not. In some ways, it's easier to accept it as an addition to my life, as a beautiful interlude, or almost as a break. It is not my real life. It's too good to be my real life.

How can something so good be real?

But why shouldn't it be?

Soon after my encounter with Random American Guy, I watched the seventh Harry Potter movie with my host mom (part 2... en fran├žais) and thought of this:

France is not happening in my head. I'm actually in France, actually traveling.

But I'm terrified that it will be just in my head when I leave this amazing place, and it will live there for the rest of my life.

I'm just over a month away from returning to Denver. I don't want to go home and have my life return to normal, as if this beautiful experience, these amazing four months, this journey I've been on, I'm afraid that it will just be in my head.

I want this to be my real life. I have changed in ways I could never have imagined - and I like that.

I'm afraid that this reality will fade to nothing more than a memory. Even when I'm no longer breathing in the beautiful Normandy air, I still want this to be very real. 

I think I'm going to take Random American Guy's advice: This is a real part of my life. It's not a dream, it's not a fantasy, and it is most certainly not a break. This is my life, and it's amazing. 

Have you ever been so in love with an experience, with your life, that you were afraid to let it go? How do you handle it?

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