Monday, 20 April 2020
France. That's my answer.
Asked the question, "What is your greatest achievement?" obvious answers come to mind. But, whether I have middle-child status to thank for this or not, I have always hated conforming. So, clear and clichéd answers I give you not. In fact, I don't even like the question. Why do I have to have just one? I guess you could turn all pedantic on me and state that the word 'greatest' was used. Q.E.D.
France. That's my answer. Getting there, being there, living there. It was one of the most - and least - obvious things to do at that point in my life. I had ticked off study, work, travel, home, marriage and children and might have simply continued down this path. What would that have looked like? Next step in my career? Nicer car? Home renovation? BBQs on Saturday with good friends? Increasingly brief communal family moments? Dissatisfaction with the mundane or the routine? Who knows? Perhaps, I am being overly dramatic, overly pessimistic but I know that I would have struggled with continuing the trajectory that I was on.
“It was just a normal morning. Almost exactly five years ago. I was making tea in the kitchen. Bobby was still in bed. And we get this knock on the door. I opened it up slowly, and saw the police standing there."
My daughter kept speaking. I closed my computer and sat back in my chair. My son kept playing with his Rubik's cube but edged closer to where she was sitting on the deck, separated from us by a metallic fence.
"They went straight back to the bedroom, and walked up to Bobby. I heard them ask: ‘What’s your name?’ And he said, ‘Bobby Love.’ Then they said, ‘No. What’s your real name?’
Even my husband looked up from what he was doing.
We had arrived on the deck individually, no doubt hoping to give some moral support to my daughter in self-isolation.
"It didn’t make any sense. I’d been married to Bobby for forty years. He didn’t even have a criminal record. At this point I’m crying, and I screamed: ‘Bobby, what’s going on?’ Did you kill somebody?’ And he tells me: ‘This goes way back, Cheryl. Back before I met you. Way back.."
Despite it being a sunny day, despite the fact that we were outside, each cradling high-tech devices, her reading aloud of one of the stories from the Instagram account of @humansofny felt more like a scene from a London living room during the Great War. She was our radio and we were tuned in attentively.
Since that day, Covid 19 confinement has imposed aeons of family time: multiple opportunities for talking, sharing and debating. Not unlike when we went to live in France.
My intention in writing this is not to reduce the seriousness of the health pandemic that we are living through now, but back then, on arrival in France, there was fear, there was uncertainty, there were moments of intense frustration and even anger, there was little outside help and a lot of the information coming through to us was hard to understand.
There was also shared joy at minor successes, solace in diary writing and time to chew the fat around the dining room table or squashed into the car for our hour-long morning and afternoon trips to school or, thanks to an empty social calendar, to sit and have a coffee under the quince tree, or play 'pin the tail on the donkey' (map of the Haute Savoie region) in order to select a destination for a family outing...
Just being there, living there, making it through each day was a great achievement and, with the exception of not being able to choose where to go, not unlike this period in our lives.
But, back to Bobby. What did happen 'way back', before he met Cheryl? I will give you the pleasure of heading to @humansofny to find out. (This excerpt is Part 1/11)
To read more of our family's French story, click here for your copy of 'But you are in France, Madame'.