I made it back to Paris in one whole piece, although I'm a bit rattled. At the turn of the year, everybody seems to have moment of reflection, even if only for a second. My reflections have been torturing me since I stepped off the plane in Detroit almost two weeks ago, and I suspect they will be torturing me for many months to come.
The real problem is this: I came to France suddenly, and expected only to be here nine months. Now I've been here 50 months, and I'm wondering how long I am to stay. Do I want to climb uphill forever and settle on living my life here, or do I want to go through some terrifying bouts of depression and return Stateside? Both prospects look frightening, but what is the best decision when it comes to career, family, old age? I can't know any of these answers, but I feel I am nearing a point where a decision will have to be made (I only have 1.5 yrs left to get my degree, and The Next Step will have to be prepared for at least six months in advance. Since I'm a timely person, I would like to know a good year or so ahead of time).
Dragged into this equation is, of course, The Boy. We've been together for over four years. We were dating before my sister dated her husband, and long before my brother met his wife. To neglect his importance when making any sort of decisions about my future may seem normal to some people simply because we don't have rings on our fingers, but to me it's all the same. That said, should I know after four years of being with him if I want to be with him forever? Because I don't. And married people at least pretend to be sure of going the whole nine yards together.
I spent a lot of time feeling sorry for myself this holiday season. Going home is always lovely, but I miss The Boy terribly. It doesn't help when you hang out only with married couples. Every time we sat at a table and we had to bring that seventh or ninth chair around, I felt like the odd one out. Whenever we hung out - in the living room, at the table, wherever - couples sat cuddling, holding hands, or being silly with one another. Except for me, of course, which may explain why I was so glad to have the dog around.
I'm not whining, nor am I angry at any family member for being happily married (the nerve!). But I am saying that it begins to wear on a girl after awhile. And this is the fourth Christmas that has been this way. And what's worse is that I'm positive it won't be the last. As a matter of fact, as long as I'm with the Boy, I'm pretty sure that every Christmas will be this way. He doesn't care: Christmas means little or nothing to him. But it bothers me, even if it may seem stupid or insignificant to him.
My brother got a karoake machine for Christmas. The family sat around and cooed into microphones for about an hour after opening presents. Although it wasn't what I would necessarily call great fun, it gave us a few chuckles and provided some family sing-a-long time. While I was washing the dishes and trying to block out my brother's rendition of Ike and Tina's "Proud Mary," I had a moment: The cultural divides between The Boy and I are more important than I had thought they were. He can't come home with me for Christmas, and even if he could, he wouldn't know any of the songs in family sing-a-long nor would he be interested in playing Scrabble or Outburst or any of the other games our nerdy family considers entertaining. The thought depressed me. There will always be that wall.
What depressed me was not so much the fact that he doesn't know the words to "Sweet Home Alabama," but that he never will know them. That even IF we were able to hang out with my family in the US sometime, he wouldn't be able to participate in any of the things we do when we're together. That that's just the way it is, and I can't expect him to master not only American English but also American culture and history and pop music and television just because it would make two weeks with the family a bit easier or more fun.
It's wrong for me to figure these things, which are so external of our relationship, into the plan. But the truth is, they really, really matter. I'm willing to accept that he never wants to get married, that he insists on the first-born being a boy, that he thinks women should be curvy yet thin. These are culturally-developed thoughts he has, and I accept them in the same way he's willing to look past my so-called "feminist" streak, my blaring need for approval and success to the point of competition, and my constant overanalysis of everyday events. But these are the things that the two of us have incorporated into our personalities, and we've accepted them as part of one another. What I'm starting to let get to me are the external things: Thanksgiving, "God Bless America" and references to Seinfeld during the course of conversation. I don't think he lets these things bother him in our relationship (that I don't know the words to any Koffi Olimode songs, for example), why are they so damn important to me? And would I actually prefer to have a 100% American boy who understands all that stuff in the same way I do, anyway? I doubt it. So why do I let them bother me so much? Is it just the holidays? Or is it just more of me pouting because I'm alone while everyone else is with his/her honey? Or what the hell else is it?
Later, I went out to see my friends from high school. At various points, we laughed so hard we cried. I felt at home in a way I haven't felt at home in a long time. We talked and made fun of one another and choked on food and prided ourselves on still remaining friends despite barriers of time and distance. I found myself wondering why I live so far from them.
Later, I heard myself saying to them, "You know, I'm sort of thinking of moving back to the US. Nothing's for sure, but I'm going to have to decide about that soon."
"What about The Boy?" they all asked.
"Well, if I move back here, it would have to be without him. Which is why I'm having such a hard time with the decision. If you had told me six years ago that I would be sitting here telling you girls that I can't decide what to do with my life - should I stay in France with my boyfriend or move back to the US to be closer to my friends and family - I would have laughed in your face. But I can't figure out how I feel about any of this. I think either way I choose to go, I'll be losing out."
So 2004 will be a year of deliberation. The jury will have to make its verdict by December. I'll be carefully weighing the evidence, because my future hangs in the balance.