Sunday, July 24, 2011

The 30-Hour Day: Before and After

I've been back in the States for two weeks.
Coming back-- "home," as I once called it-- was quite the adventure. Of course, it was really just the end of an adventure (as much as I try to convince myself it was just another beginning, it felt very much like an ending). Before I left, it took me a very long time before I actually believed I was leaving. It started quite symbolically, really. My very last night in Beckerich, I stayed up late trying to pack. When I finally went to bed, I wanted to switch my bracelet from my right wrist to my left (I always wear it on the left-- I had switched it during training because I wear my throwing glove on my left hand). When I took it off, it broke. This was the bracelet that my host family gave me the day they picked me up in Brussels. I wore it every single day, and the fact that it broke the last day I was home was very...finalizing.
I didn't finish packing that night.
Actually, I never really finished packing. We had to leave at 5:15 on Friday (we spent the night in Brussels since we live too far away to leave Saturday morning). Since I never really believed that I was leaving, it felt too weird to be packing. Plus, I have never been good with deadlines. I finished my suitcase and I ended up having to send 45 kilos home in boxes, but I left papers on my desk. Then, when we actually had to go, I just started crying. It was so much harder to leave my beloved second home, not knowing when I'll see it again.
Here's ma maman with the two boxes I sent home-- we had to de-roof to fit them in the car more easily.

We spent the evening walking around Brussels. Our hotel was only 300 meters from the Grand-Place, my favorite place in the world. Although I went to Brussels relatively often during the course of the year, I had never gone with my host family, so I got to show them around a bit while we were searching for a place to eat. We ate at one of the touristy "moules-frites" places, just at the mouth of the street you can't walk down without getting a marriage proposal if you're there after 8. We each had our own bowl of mussels, with a small side of Belgian fries. My host mom insisted on eating hers with mayonnaise, in the Belgian tradition. Topped with a nice dark beer, this makes the Belgian national dish. We swapped the beer for a glass of white wine, though.

After we finished dinner, I showed my family the Delirium Alley, which houses the Delirium Bar as well as the assorted Floris Absinthe, Rum, Whiskey, & Cocktail Bars. Then we walked around the streets for a little while, also passing Celtica, another favorite AFSer haunt. Finally, finally, we found ourselves in the Grand-Place. While I have seen it at its most majestic, lit against a black starry curtain, my family was not quite as impressed by it as I had hoped. Although, the lingering light and thin drizzle made them wish to avoid lingering. So I wandered across the uneven cobblestones, my face towards the heavens, ignoring the light rain. I paused at the mouth of the street and gave one last, lingering glance at my favorite place in the world. And, in turning my back on the tower, I said my first real goodbye to Belgium.

The next day, the airport, saying goodbye to my host family without really knowing when I'll see them again. It was the hardest day of my life. Tears and tears and tears, a Belgian flag, signed by my Rhéto class, wrapped around my neck like a scarf. The passport line, the longest line I've ever stood in, looking back and seeing my host family, but no longer able to speak to them. And waving goodbye before crossing the barrier and crying like I never have into Johanna's shoulder as she cried into mine. The 30-hour day had begun.
Eight hours on a plane across the Atlantic in a windowless windowseat, with only The Sun to brighten the trip.
Four and a half hours in JFK Airport, goodbyes and waiting, waiting.
An hour and a half on a smaller plane to Burlington, Vermont with Mathilde, relishing the green.
Another four hours in the Prius with my parents, the ferry, so much English.
All the while, a dreamlike trance. This isn't real.
And then, my house. My home? Short ceilings. Everything, the same.
I say goodnight, brush my teeth, and cry myself into sleep.
The longest day of my life.
I called my host family the next day, and we have since Skyped once, though we often send each other messages on Facebook. Things are weird. The eggs are so white, the bread so tasteless (I make my own), and the shopping carts, cars, meals, streets- are so huge. Gone are the cobblestones, replaced by black cracking asphalt. Gone are Beckerich's springs, replaced by the grand St. Lawrence River. Gone is the Jupiler, replaced by Budweiser and Coors. And gone, gone, is my heart...scattered across the world, pieces with each of my exchange student friends, school friends, and, mostly, my host family.
Now, my English doesn't slip too much, but I'm living off Quebecquois French at Mathilde's. in general, I haven't been doing much. I went through everything I own and found a lot of things that I just don't feel the need to have anymore. I had a small graduation party and I have been getting things ready to go to university at the end of August, where I will be living in La Maison Française- the French language and culture residence hall at Naz. And I have been spending some time with friends, of course, though not as much as I thought I would.
And now, this life ceases to feel dreamlike. My memories are becoming the dreams, despite all I do to keep them from slipping.

Dites-moi que ce n'était pas un rêve.