Last spring I briefly dated a Frenchman. His name was Adrien, he was Parisian by pedigree--a fact he made immediately known--and was working as a consultant for Deloitte after completing his MSc in Mechanical Engineering at Berkeley. His job required him to travel often--so often, in fact, that he'd hop on a plane on Monday to Salt Lake City, live in a hotel from Monday through Thursday, and return on Friday for a three day weekend.
"I'm flown wherever my current project is based," he explained, proceeding to give me a laundry list of past haunts that included Newport Beach and Miami. He added that his project in Salt Lake had been going on for a year and would likely last another six months minimum. This didn't bother me though. I wasn't looking for anything serious, nor did I have the time to devote to anything serious. It was somewhat a relief that I could go about my business during the week when he was gone and see him when I had free time on the weekends.
We were sipping coffee at Strada one evening when he asked if I'd ever seen the George Clooney movie "Up in the Air." Largely not of the movie watching sort, I replied negatively. "Well," he sighed. "That's basically my life. I'm always on a plane. Always up in the air."
As I sit here one year later, although I may not be on a plane nearly as much as he was, I can relate. It's the second day of my last scholastic vacation in France and I can't fathom how quickly time has passed. I also can't fathom how hard--strangely--it's going to be to step on a plane back home to the states in not too long. And while I am excited to return home, I can't help but feel--already--a sort of bittersweet sadness to leave. I'm entirely cognizant of the fact that I'm 90 percent likely to be returning for another two years, and it's struck me that while in October I initially had a freakout/breakdown/crisis about leaving my homeland for another two years, now I seem to be freaking out about going home. My life is once again up in the air as I wait to hear back from grad schools and potential job offers for next year.
Being up in the air--literally and figuratively--is simultaneously exhilarating and terrifying. The feeling of being the ball whipping around the roulette table seeing where fate will let you land. The overwhelming sense of possibility and freedom that comes with uncertainty has a dark side that forces one into the free fall of vulnerability. And vulnerability is a hard, hard thing to accept.
After a few more sips of my vanilla latte I peered across the table at the Frenchman. "Do you ever miss Paris?" I asked. He let out a smile and said yes, that he was looking forward to an upcoming vacation to visit his parents. He was happy to be getting on that plane to go home. "I always gain weight when I go back," he laughed. "My mom fattens me up with French food." For him, another trip up in the air meant a way home. A trip with certainty. But also a trip with a deadline and finality to it.
So perhaps this feeling of being up in the air is a blessing in disguise, because for now at least I can't be pinned down to any one thing, much in the way I feel that I can no longer be pinned to one country. In France, I feel American...but I fear in America, I'll feel like a an expat with strong French underpinnings. This sentiment is best echoed by a quote in a book I'm reading written by an Australian expatriate who married a Frenchman. Plain and simple, she says:
It is a curse to love two countries.
And the only way to solve the two country debacle is airspace.