I heard the words as if they were actually being whispered into my right ear. A chill surged through my body stronger than I had ever felt. I immediately abandoned what I had been working on, and began an online search.
I had to go for at least two weeks; that was the minimum. But would it be enough? Would that be sufficient to answer a question that had resided inside of me for as long as I could remember: Why did I have such a strong, and as yet unexplained, affinity for France?
It entered my dreams at night, appearing as distant memories, as if I used to live there. I yearned to speak the language as though the words were buried somewhere in my past. Since I was a little girl, I had surrounded myself with scenes of Paris and Impressionist art, longing to travel back in time to live in la Belle Époque. For me, anything to do with France felt like . . . home.
Home. As enigmatic and inconclusive a word as love.
Dorothy had crooned “There’s no place like home,” but that was only after her house was dropped out of the sky and she’d met a talking scarecrow and consoled a whimpering, pathetic lion.
James Baldwin wrote, “Perhaps home is not a place but simply an irrevocable condition.” Irrevocable condition?
Helen Rowland stated in her book, Reﬂections of a Bachelor Girl, written in 1909, that “home” was “any four walls that enclose the right person.” Her assessment on love and matrimony elaborated on her position, and, in commenting on a superstition that one should never get married in the month of May, she had added, “Why not include the other eleven months?” I would have liked to meet Helen Rowland.
Something was missing, and I knew what it was. France. I could never feel whole without going there.
I suddenly decided that two weeks was most certainly not enough. And if I was going to go for three weeks, why not just make it four? My heart had fluttered as I reached the final step. I hit Purchase. I quickly opened my e-mail, and there was the confirmation from Air France.
This was it. I was finally going. Why had I waited so long?
Because deep down inside, I knew. I understood that once I went, nothing would ever be the same again.
I looked around at the people seated near me on the plane and wondered who was returning home, who was embarking on an adventure, and in which category I belonged. Maybe both.
Despite the last-minute booking, I still made sure to have an aisle seat, albeit in one of the middle rows. I could just barely see the large LAX letters pass by outside the window as the aircraft gently taxied toward the runway. I caught my breath. When you have fantasized about something since childhood, it seems a bit surreal once it is actually swirling around you, a dream on fast-forward.
I felt the plane make a wide turn, facing off with the runway. It stopped and sat stationary, my heartbeat matching the sound of the engines that began to roar faster and louder, signaling imminent departure. I fixed both feet flat on the floor and looked up at the ceiling. Suddenly the plane lurched forward, generating speed as it pierced the air. Runways are for this reason, to gain the necessary momentum to approach the same velocity reached in flight. Incitement—acceleration—takeoff. Held true for anything in life. Can’t fly by remaining rooted to a spot on the ground.
I gripped the armrests on either side of my seat as I felt the lift coming—not out of fear or apprehension, but from the sublime happiness of knowing that the next soil we would touch down on would be in France. I smiled wider than I ever had in my life as I readied for the best part.
The plane grew lighter as the nose rose, then the back wheels, and finally we were completely off the ground. Soon, all that peeked through the windows was blue sky as we soared away from the ground below.
About seventy million tourists visit Paris every year—one of the top vacation destinations in the world. But there’s a big difference between a simple holiday and an unwavering yearning for a distant place that burned at your very core.
Harbored inside all of us is a part that guards secrets and wisdom, that longs to be heard. This foresight had revealed to me long ago that once this venture began, everything would be changed forever.