People I Used To Know

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It's Sad to Live Without Trying, Graffiti in Uruguay, January 2015

It’s Sad to Live Without Trying, Graffiti in Uruguay, January 2015

I have a list of people I wouldn’t mind hearing from again. In reality, this list exists only in my own mind, and “wouldn’t mind hearing from” sounds oddly formal. Let’s just say that if I had a chance, I would connect again, even if briefly.

This list includes those who endured endless hours of philosophy classes in cold classrooms with me, those who shared a quick smoke between class periods, my former teenage crush and his friends with whom I spent long boring weekend just “hanging out”, friends from elementary school and the many other people who were, at one point or another, part of my childhood, teenage years and the life I left behind in France.

The last time I saw most of them was on a hot day of June 2001, when we all we gathered in front of our high school to receive the prestigious Baccalauréat exam results, posted not online but on the doors of the lycée. This French rite of passage marks the transition from high school to university, from adolescence to adulthood. Tears were shed, excitement shared and drinks were had. My little group of friends and I had all passed. We were free to start a new life. We all had plans: some were moving to Paris to attend university, other had signed up for two years of prépa to tackle competitive entrance exams to les grandes écoles.

We would stay in touch, it went without staying.

Except we did not.

I had chosen to run away from Nantes. I had found an internship in Hong Kong, and I had arranged for distance courses with my university in Paris.

A month later, I was settling in Kowloon. After a few weeks of loneliness and culture shock, I started to realize that life in Hong Kong wasn’t for me. But I didn’t go back to Nantes—I left to Latin America with Feng, then discovered Canada.

Life happened. I became a backpacker, an immigrant and a Canadian citizen.

I did spend nine long months in Nantes in 2002, between a trip to Latin America and one to Australia. Feng was in Canada, I had gotten back to France, we were both working to save money and travel again. I stayed at my parents’ and tried to reconnect with my friends. After all, it had only been a couple of years since high school.

But that I had left. And I had missed a lot.

My friends told me so, explicitly or not. I felt it too.

I had missed relationships ending and new ones beginning, I had missed pendaisons de crémaillère in first apartments, I had missed months of eating store-brand pasta because the cost of living in Paris is higher than in Nantes, I had missed first jobs, driving licence exams, first rows of exams at university.

I had missed tragedies too. A few months after we graduated from high school, a close friend of mine emailed me to let me know her father had committed suicide during the Christmas holidays. I was in Panama at the time, nowhere close enough to comfort her. I knew her well, I knew her father. I’m still deeply regretting not being there for her. Like she put it when we talked in person a few months later, “my mother was surrounded by her friends at the funerals—I had none.”

I’m not on Facebook by choice. If I was, I could probably find many of my former friends. Or not. It’s funny, many don’t have an online presence. It never ceases to amaze me. Surely, the girl who used to dance on the tables whenever we were at the bar should be online, right? And the guy who spent his weekend playing vide ogames, he should hang out in forums, shouldn’t he?

You’d think so. But apparently not. My lame and pathetic attempts to Google first and last names usually yield no relevant search results.

This is one of the reasons why I don’t blog anonymously. First, after seven years of blogging, I think it’s pointless. And also, my last name is unique enough that anyone looking for me can find me easily. This is my “message in a bottle”. If you are looking for me, you can find me fairly easily.

A couple of years ago, a friend from high school got in touch. It was a nice surprise. Meanwhile, I’m left wondering what the other ones are doing. Do they have kids? Do they have cool jobs?

I’m not stalking people for social comparison. I’m not competitive. I love my life but I chose a different path, so I can’t compete anyway. I didn’t attend the best private schools and prestigious universities, I don’t work a high-profile job like doctor, journalist or lawyer, and few French will place Ottawa on the map—it’s not as cool as living in LA, NY or Paris, anyway.

No, I’m just… curious, I guess.

I’m happy with my life.

I hope they are happy with theirs.

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About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.

14 Comments

  1. Oh I know this feeling. Unlike you, I was actually forced to “run away”, as most of the “friends” I would make in school don’t see me again since my father the diplomat would be posted somewhere else and he would take the family somewhere in a foreign city. Hence, I rarely have friends I still keep in touch from back then.

    That being said, I agree that this is also one reason why I don’t blog anonymously. They can Google me, except that sometimes I get Googled and contacted by people I don’t really want to contact me. Whenever folks like these contact me, I wonder, what do they want, why are they contacting me again, our lives are so different that I have a hard time imagining what we would talk about. And yes, I don’t have the ability to respond, and most of the time, I just delete their email without responding.

    • Yes, I guess reconnecting isn’t that easy. Were you shy when you were a kid or did you make friends easily? Going from one place to another takes some resilience I assume.

  2. This was a really moving article… I have to admit I couldn’t stand missing everything, when I was abroad. That’s the main reason I decided to come back… I think moving away is easier the younger you are: you can have strong and lasting relationships, but I think high-school relationships mostly aren’t as “mature” as the adult ones can be.
    Anyway, I only have one friend from those days, and I don’t care that much about the other people I wanted to run away from. But I truly hope they’re happy with their lives too.
    The one strange thing is that from what I’ve heard, most of them have several kids and a steady life (sometimes, I envy them) but this is a very different life from mine!

    • As far as I know, very few of my high school friends have kids. One close friend had a daughter (the one we really didn’t expect to… you know, start mothering! But it fit her career plan, have the kid first then start her career), that’s it actually.

      You’re right, moving early in life is easier. I mean, Canada or any other place would have been the same, you rarely stick around your high school friends anyway.

  3. I feel the same way very often. There are so many people I would love to reconnect with. I am on facebook, but there are still friends I can’t find on there and it isn’t quite the same as being friends like we used to be either.

    • Yes, I’m sure FB can be frustrating. It’s not really true friendship, just… you know a way to “see” people and glimpse into the life they show.

  4. A lovely and interesting perspective – I actually feel the exact opposite. I keep in touch with one friend from high school, and the rest have gone their separate ways and I’m okay with that. In fact, although I’m on Facebook I’ve actually ignored requests from very old friends, because I just think it’s weird that they could know stuff about my current personal life. I’d be interested to hear a little blurb about them, maybe – but not to start up a new friendship, I don’t think.

    • It’s interesting to see another perspective. To be honest, I think I’m mostly curious, I don’t really hope to start up the friendship again because so much has changed.

  5. I’m feeling the same. Funny but thanks to my bai jia bei project some very old friends found me and I confirm : they are doing fine and will be happy to send us a wish !

  6. That’s tough.
    Sometimes I think losing contact with people (which in many ways is a natural part of life) is one of the great tragedies we experience. Truly, tragic. Life is just too short. Yet, somehow losing contact happens anyway.

  7. Tu sauras qui on

    Chère Juliette,
    La vie est parfois étrangement faite… je passe sur ton blog tous les 6 mois, comme ça, histoire de savoir où vous en êtes.
    Récemment, je suis revenue après les attentats de Charlie Hebdo pour voir si tu avais une note sur ce journal qui a tant contribué à notre éducation. J’ai pensé à toi pendant ce mois de janvier et à nos débats politiques sur les unes auxquelles nous avions échappées.
    Et là, cette nuit tout particulièrement, à 2h45, à l’occasion d’une insomnie, je reviens sur ton blog et tombe sur cette note.
    J’espère pouvoir t’expliquer le “cette nuit particulièrement” très vite… et il devrait valoir le détour.
    Cela étant, je me permets de te rassurer. Nous avons tous eu des trajectoires quelque peu différentes et je ne pense pas que la distance géographique soit prépondérante dans cet “éloignement”.
    Au lendemain du bac, un éventail de possibles s’offre à nous et on y répond sans nostalgie ou crainte.
    Finalement, ce qui compte, c’est de se souvenir et de se croiser, à l’occasion d’une coïncidence ou d’une note postée.
    Bises,
    F.
    PS : tu as pris un coup de vieux sur ta photo de profil !

    • Chère je-sais-qui-surtout-au-style-de-l’écriture,

      Tu fais évidemment partie des gens que je suis, de loin, sans trop m’approcher parce qu’évidemment, je ne suis pas là et ça serait bizarre voire malvenu de m’immiscer. Mais tu es là. Tu as peut-être raison (ou p’tête pas, hein, je ne vais pas NON PLUS te donner toujours raison), ce n’est pas forcément dû à l’éloignement géographique. C’est sûr qu’on a pris différents chemins… j’en reviens toujours pas de l’assurance avec laquelle tu es devenue mère, j’étais sciée. Épatée. T’as mené ta barque avec la conviction que tu affichais à 18 ans, mais chez toi c’était pas qu’une façade.

      Du coup, je vais me demander le pourquoi du comment de la nuit…

      Pour Charlie Hebdo, on étions en Argentine, je suis l’affaire sur les médias locaux et même si mon niveau d’espagnol est meilleure qu’avec la “Senora Jimenez”, pour le coup, la distance a joué. En fait j’en reviens toujours pas.

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