the feeling of France

family, france, grief, memoir, travel


I don’t remember the fireworks or the Eiffel Tower. I remember the feeling of standing on the Pont Neuf bridge on Bastille Day 2017, surprised at the mundanity of the moment. I was waiting restlessly for a sign, some sort of enlightenment or absolution that never came. I had landed in the country a few hours ago and needed this journey to have meaning. But the night ended quietly and I returned to the hotel a few minutes after midnight. It was now officially my birthday, and there would be no phone call from my dad this year.

At the beginning of 2017, I drew sketches for him while he was in his coma. I did a total of eight — of places we had visited or planned to visit — before the MRI scan revealed he would never wake up. A week later, he was removed from the ventilator. I struggled to draw anything with meaning or love after that. Of the eight, one was the Eiffel Tower. I had gone to France for the first time on a solo trip in 2014 and called him about it. He had always wanted to go but was wary of not knowing the language. I told him he could speak English there but that I could also take them and just use my broken French. Two years passed and we still didn’t go. On the eve of his surgery, he brought up traveling with me. ‘So, we got you girls your first car, paid for college and gave you down payments on your first homes. So I think that should be enough. No more money from us!” He laughed as he said it. I laughed too, reassuring him that he didn’t need to justify his reason. We were adults now, and of course we wanted him and my mom to spend money on themselves, to go travel and enjoy their lives. ‘Good, good,’ he said. They had already bought brand new suitcases for next year.

Sometimes I replay that conversation in my mind. I replay every part of the last 24 hours that I spent with him and his dreams of seeing the world. I replay our past family trips. I imagine how future trips would have unfolded. Sometimes I convince myself that I did take him to the Eiffel Tower in another time and space because I can recall his expression vividly. I close my eyes and see his fingers interlacing with my mom’s as they hold each other tight and glance up together in love. There’s so much wonder and joy in their eyes. Then I wake up and wonder if it was real.


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