July 14th 1996
Exactly three years ago, I woke up to an imaginary song of crickets in my Barcelona flat. I had dreamt about the stormy summer days, the contrast between the dark grey sky and the leaves of chestnut trees I would be seeing if I had been home. Despite growing roots in a foreign land, my mind spent a good part of my years abroad wandering in France, thinking that was what I was missing.
But when I would go back there for the holiday, something was off. For the first few hours, I knew, from the smell of the wooden house, my cats, and the traditional Sunday cake, that it was my house. But the more I was trying to relive the home I had longed for, the more it seemed to escape from me, as a dream you try to remember after giving yourself a few seconds upon waking, thinking you are still going to be able to recollect it all. Too late.
Everything seemed better in my mind. The storm was never stormy enough and the green was barely pastel. Because I was not 16 anymore. I had seen other shades of skies, other shades of grass, I had a bigger palette now and what had been seen couldn’t be unseen. I had started a series of “firsts” that would forever make me a different person, sides of me the one who had given birth to me would never know.
When you live abroad, it’s easy to mistake nostalgia for homesickness and truths for memories. There’s a return back home, not to childhood.
Only recently have I understood that leaving doesn’t mean experiencing a life parallel to the one of everyone you’ve ever know, it’s about telling them “When I return, if I do, we probably won’t understand each other anymore.”
On this Bastille day, I haven’t returned. I look back on that 14th of July 1996, and memory is like a tunnel I take to travel through time, conjugating the events of our life in different tenses depending on what side of it I stand.
I remember the garlands of plastic flags, red, yellow, green, hanging above the streets and seeing everyone rejoicing, on the way to the bakery, at the thought of the upcoming fireworks.
I remember being in my mother’s room, just her and I, in that legend only the two of us know, dark room lit by the outside glow of my childhood town, enchanted by that whisper: “It’s going to start.” Lemongrass sticks burning to repel mosquitoes, smoke carrying that secret; my sister was born already but for this little while, it’s still just going to be the two of us, in that quiet night. Before the fireworks start, waking my sister up as well as the time that will swallow us and spit me up 21 years later.
Not yet belonging to anyone but my mother, I would turn 4 exactly 2 months later, I would attend school for the second year, I would gradually be defined, become someone, part of society, but at that moment, time was like suspended particles in a sunray, we could slow it down so much it almost felt like we could go back to where everything had started. Like in those milliseconds in the morning when you don’t remember your name, I was no-one and everyone and everything was possible.
Contemplating from the distance the future to come, the fireworks and the people taking part in those festivities that give rhythm to time, we paused it. In front of us, in the mirror of the dressing table, we were admiring our beautiful last summer, just the two of us.