jamais

| never (adverb) | /ʒamɛ/

Coming home each summer is strange; it’s like re-entering a parallel reality to which I have no access during the other eleven months of the year. Once at home, I find myself trying to reintegrate into a community of normal people who live normal lives. People who own more than a desk lamp and live in spacious homes with other normal people who they may or may not love.

And this summer was so especially difficult. I found myself confused, asking the universe and its so-called divine Power, “Why, why me? Why this? Why now?” And my unique situation only compounded my incredible loneliness, for who among me could attest to the specific brutalities of a meandering life? I had to watch as loved ones eyed me with pity, as they shook their heads in disbelief. Is hardship so rare that it warrants disgust?

I’m thinking of one particular occasion during which I was trying to justify a terrible thing I had done. I was sobbing, drunk, and my friend simply squinted her eyes and nodded. As if to say, “It’s your fault. All of it. Look at how you live.” In that moment, I knew that she could never comprehend what I was trying to explain. Our lives were so very different, and no length of time or verbose explication could truly force her to understand. I felt small, because I realized, that despite being a close friend, I was so very foreign to her.

My hardships would never be hers. She would never understand what it felt like to be torn between two countries or to have handed over her humanity to numerous, undeserving people. To be so lonely that you allow yourself to be manipulated and abused, because emotional pain is still better than being alone. To have an overwhelming desire to shock and betray, because you foolishly believe that attention is synonymous with love. To approach, curiously, the fringes of your own sanity, because flawed and strange was so infinitely better than being a normal person with a normal life, a person who owns more than a desk lamp and lives in a spacious home with other normal people they may or may not love.

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vivante

| alive (feminine adjective) | /vivɑ̃t/

Being alone defies social norms. From a young age, there is instilled in us a certain fear of solitude, because it is the terrible breeder of loneliness. That fear crystallizes within us until we are certain we cannot survive without the validation of another human being.

Further, solitude may be yet another gift reserved for men. As a woman, there are definitely risks in setting out on your own, risks that no man will ever have to consider. For example, men cannot comprehend that cold, instinctual fear a woman harbors as she walks home alone at night, even if it’s a street she’s walked a million times before.

But despite all of this, I urge you to go. Be brave, and the universe will open itself to you.

On Sunday evening, I set off for my second solo voyage to Kraków, Poland. During my trip, I spent many hours sitting at the outdoor cafes on the Rynek Glówny, sipping mulled wine, or coffee, or beer, and eavesdropping on what conversations I could comprehend. I was much less self-conscious than I was during my first solo trip, so I had no qualms about walking into a restaurant and asking for a table for one. The most liberating thing I’ve learned as an adult is this: despite what American millenials have been told, no one gives a shit about you. No one minds that you’re sitting alone, because they simply don’t care. So why should you?

It’s also much easier to blend into your surroundings if you’re alone. Unless you welcome unnecessary attention, most people won’t assume you’re a tourist. For example, a couple once approached me while I was sitting at a cafe talking on the phone to my dad. Once I finished my conversation, they approached and asked if I was a local, if I knew of any great bars, why my English was so excellent. I quickly offered my muddled explanation of why an American found herself alone in Poland in October. In any case, I knew the surrounding area quite well and told them to go to the vodka bar down the street.

When I travel alone, I do miss sharing my experiences with a companion. After all, what’s better than laughing and chatting over beer and a hot meal in a strange place? But I had decided that this trip was mine. After a traumatic summer that shorn me of my humanity, this trip was a reminder that I was still living. As I savored homemade pierogies in a warm pierogarnia, it was a reminder that I could still experience joy. As I walked the graveled streets of Auschwitz at dawn, it was a reminder that I could still feel unbearable sadness.

I am alive. I am well. And isn’t it lovely to be so?

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lunatique

| volatile (gender neutral adjective) | /lynatik/

I rode the backs of giants. Appalachia,
take me home.
The steep ascent
and
     swift
          decline, a darkness
so profound.

How I
miss the days
I
ricocheted
from    ashes
       the
into
     flames.

If this is what
well-being is,
I’d rather
perish
in the blaze.

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immigrée

| immigrant (feminine noun) | /imigʀe/

My palms
10drip
crimson
20with
the sacrifices I’ve made
for a country that
dodges
my embrace.

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héritage

| legacy (masculine noun) | /eʀitaʒ/

I
crept
outside the vacuum and,
God! How the world spun so
swiftly and
magnificently without
me in it.

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monde

| world (masculine noun) | /mɔ̃d/

I am sorry I couldn’t hold the world for you;
I have not the strength of Atlas,
and the weight of it bruised
my shoulders and rolled
10down
15      my
20            spine

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mourir

| to die (verb) | /muʀiʀ/

Have you ever mourned the loss of someone living? Have you ever bent before a sadness whose power brought you to your knees?

They ask if I believe in God. I say, “I bow before my sadness, and its invigorating madness; its presence holds more power than an idol ever could.”

I do not kneel before an altar, but before the page, finding more comfort in words than I ever could in worship. I read, and I weep. And this corner of my room embraces me like the arms of a mother as my mind churns and churns and churns. How will I ever find the words? Brown-eyed Narcissus, why do you write? Because I can no longer listen to those voices in the middle of the night, asking me to review my life’s regrets and questioning all the loyalties that I’ve kept.

Do I dare? Oh, do I dare to taste the moonshine on my lips? And everyday I wake and sigh. And, yes, I do admit I am surprised to feel the sunlight on my thighs. Such a sorrow should not exist unless it’s teaching me to die.

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étoiles

| stars (feminine plural noun) | /etwal/

I remember those first days back in the United States: the immensity of it all; those wide, open spaces dwarfing me. At night, the sky seemed infinite. I grew dizzy as I spun around counting silver stars and listening to the constant hum of crickets and bullfrogs. And I loved driving on those winding mountain roads whose twists and turns were as familiar to me as the ridges on the palm of my hand.

I have missed home…

You see, I’ve never been a gifted student of the sciences, but as an immigrant, I’ve become painfully aware of Murphy’s Law and Social Darwinism. Murphy’s Law: Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. This is especially true in a country that has been infamously labeled a “bureaucratic nightmare.”

I realized this, not for the first time, as I stood in line at the Office of Immigration in June. I had first arrived a month prior to verify that I could still renew my visa in Lille, even though I had accepted a job in another region of France. The woman assured me that I could come back two months before the expiration of my current visa, no problem.

However, I arrived weeks later with my proper documents and realized that I no longer had any free pages left in my passport. I had already waited in line for thirty minutes, so I chose to speak with someone anyway. I explained that I was applying to renew my visa, and I was met with confusion and incompetence. First, the bureaucrats said I could not renew my visa in Lille. They told me to try the prefecture in Nancy, my new city. (However, I did not yet have a permanent address there, which is required in order to renew a visa.) They then said they weren’t sure what to do, but that I should come back in a week.

I immediately applied for a new passport, which arrived from the embassy within a week, and travelled to Nancy to find an apartment. Once there, I went to the prefecture and realized there were no appointments available to renew my visa. I then figured I could simply apply for a new visa in the States. But once reviewing the online schedule, I saw there were no available dates until September.

For weeks, I obsessively checked online until someone cancelled their appointment on Aug. 5th. I booked it immediately and thought my problems were solved.

Today, I arrived at the French Consulate in Atlanta (a five-hour drive from my home in Tennessee) only to be told that my employers never sent my work contract to the Office of Immigration, and without their literal stamp of approval, I could not apply for a visa. Sucks to suck. Screw you. Next!

I stumbled out into the sun and wept. I emailed and called my contacts at the university to explain my emergency, but France is on vacation until August 16th, so I received nothing but automated responses.

In addition to Murphy’s Law, Social Darwinism has taught me that only the strongest immigrants will survive the intricate and endlessly infuriating bullshit of French bureaucracy. And despite my anxiety, my lack of sleep, I have surmounted every obstacle. I have always found a Plan B and C. I have told myself, “Okay, if I can’t renew my visa here, I can do x or y or z.” I don’t give up so easily, but I admit I’m exhausted and angry. There’s a sense of betrayal that accompanies this resistance. Perhaps it’s my narcissism, but I ask, “How dare you? I chose you. I gave up so much to move to your country.” And…why?

I feel so impotent. There is literally nothing I can do, and so I am left screaming profanities in my car and begging the universe to heed my plea: “Please, please, let me get back to my life!” I have a fucking life there!

So what do I do? Must I wander aimlessly across this vast, dusty, beautiful continent of mine? If it comes to that, I’ll take my dog, and together will pierce that infinite sky. And I’ll drive days and days until I’ve driven through Texas, Oregon, Alaska, New York, and Michigan, until I’ve wrapped my arms around all the wonderful people sprawled across this wild, gorgeous nation.

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pavé

| cobblestone (masculine noun) | /pave/

I have friends who have spent months traveling alone through South America and Africa, so you may scoff at my one-week solo trip through Scotland. But it was nothing short of a personal victory. Long ago, I had determined I would never be able to travel alone. It’s not that I didn’t want to, it’s that I didn’t think I was brave enough to do so. I envied those men and women who could set off by themselves for weeks or months at a time. I so admired their fortitude. Me? I was a lonely coward.

But I did it. And, no, it wasn’t easy. There were moments when I felt so lonely I could barely function. I’d retire to my hotel room and cry. Most of the time, I felt invisible. I assumed that everyone everywhere knew each other, that they were all whispering about that strange, stupid girl sitting alone at the bar. I recognized these paranoid delusions and told myself to relish the solitude without self-deprecating.

I noticed I was often treated differently because I was alone, as if I was being penalized for setting off by myself, as if I needed another person’s presence to validate my own existence. There was that brief moment of confusion after having said, “Dinner for one, please”, a phrase I had been terrified to utter but to which I soon grew accustomed. A lone woman is a thing of wonderment, but society will tell you it’s a thing of pity.

But most of the time, my mind was too occupied with my new surroundings to remember the sorrows of home.The streets of Edinburgh smelled strangely of black licorice and lemon essence. Store fronts advertised homemade fudge and Scottish shortbread, woolen scarves and kilts, and whiskey and cigars. I enjoyed walking alone. I could stop for coffee or a pint when my feet started to ache; I could take my time climbing Arthur’s Seat in Holyrood Park, not having to prove my physical prowess to anyone; I could spend hours marveling at the jars of pickled kidneys and uteri at the Surgeon’s Museum without feeling pressured to leave; and I could guiltlessly eat Indian food four (or five or six) nights in a row.

And as I made my way through the Highlands, whose hills were strewn with heather, I didn’t feel the need to share this experience with anyone. I selfishly cherished the billowy clouds perched atop the mountain peaks like birds on a gable; I relished my evening cocktail and the magnificent breeze as I cruised along the inky waters of Loch Ness. I treasured those moments as if they were something I could cradle in the palm of my hand and safely lock away for a later date. If only I could. I’d save them for those days when my grief felt insurmountable, telling myself that if I focused hard enough I could feel the cobblestone beneath my feet.

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magie

| magic (feminine noun) | /maʒi/

There’s an episode of my beloved television show 30 Rock in which Liz Lemon visits Cleveland with her boyfriend. She falls in love with the city, which is infinitely more friendly and clean than her hometown New York City. Upon returning home, Lemon recklessly considers moving to Cleveland with her boyfriend, but Jack Donaghy reminds her that this is simply evidence of the “vacation mentality”, that what she experienced in Cleveland was only a mirage.

Vacations exist in a vacuum. For those few days (or weeks or months), you are free of all banal activities and responsibilities. You are able to experience a place without the burden of jobs or studies, commitments that plague the locals. Instead, you get to spend your time eating, drinking, and visiting the best of what the city has to offer. Lucky you. But the vacation mentality is dangerous, because it will have you enrolling in Italian courses (or Spanish or Arabic or French) and researching ways to move abroad quicker than you can swallow that shot of Limoncello.

I spent the week in Rome visiting my family, and I brought my boyfriend along to meet them for the first time. This was my third time in Rome, and I’m thankful that I decided to give the city another chance. You see, I wasn’t thrilled during my first two visits. It was unbearably hot and dirty, and I don’t like spending a lot of time in large, noisy cities. However, this time, I got to see Rome through a fresh pair of eyes. This was my boyfriend’s first time in Italy, and as an ancient history buff, his excitement was contagious. Additionally, the weather was perfect: sunny and breezy. And I got to eat my favorite foods: creamy gorgonzola risotto, spicy salami and gooey mozzarella, lemon gelato, and the satisfying crunch of bruschetta. On top of that, the locals were welcoming, smiling, shaking our hands, and speaking to us in an accented mixture of English and French.

I felt deflated when I returned home last night. Home, where the skies are notoriously gray, where my apartment walls are just a little too thin, and where the food is just a little too bland. I am in mourning.

So many of my travels shimmer with magic and impossibility. I miss the warm, cosy pubs of Dublin and the fragrant spice shops of Marrakech. I miss the emerald fields of Normandy and the cerulean fjords of Norway. But most of all, I miss the taste of basil and tomato and the warm days I spent in Rome. I hugged my mother for the first time in six months, and when I let go of her, I left a part of me behind. Now I’m incomplete, mourning the loss of something I cannot place and longing hopelessly for the sun-baked streets of Italy.

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