On a sunny Sunday afternoon, just two weeks after leaving Ottawa, a week after arriving in Nantes and two days after coming back from the seaside, Feng, Mark, I, my sister and her boyfriend piled up into his car to go see my paternal grandparents.
Visiting this side of the family wasn’t exactly the goal of this short trip—my grandparents’ place was mostly a handy spot to see my dad for the first time since my parents separated. He moved out of Nantes last winter and he settled in a fairly remote place in Brittany. It was hard for us to come over for practical reasons.
I had lost touch with him the past couple of months after checking on him throughout the winter and early spring. My sister’s turn to be the helpline if needed.
She was the one organizing the meeting, probably the only chance to see papa this summer.
In hindsight, this Sunday visit was a recipe for disaster.
I was looking forward to seeing my dad but humans are complicated, so I was also dreading this moment. Deep down, I think I resent him for not trying to smooth things out with my mom. Let’s just say absolutely no compromises were made, he seems to be happy to start a new life and leave everything behind. “Including us, the kids,” an inner childish voice nags me every now and then.
The meeting spot was awkward because… ahem, let’s just say my siblings and I aren’t close to this side of the family. Like, at all. As in, none of us ever “met the expectations” and we aren’t the “good grandkids.”
To top it all, all the passengers in the car were pretty much everything the French conservative countryside hates—my sister, 31-year-old broke actress in Paris; her long-time boyfriend, 100% Parisian and very much older than her; Feng and Mark with their exotic eyes and me who not only married a Chinese guy but lives in North America.
I couldn’t help it—I was wearing my “no God, no master” t-shirt, a probably useless ultimate provocation.
We all met at my mom’s place, in Nantes. This is where the three of us are staying so it made sense but it was the first awkward moment because she wants nothing to do with our dad anymore and she knew where we were heading to.
“We should bring a cake,” my sister suggested two minutes before leaving.
“It’s Sunday!” I protested. “Everything is closed.”
“Cake,” her boyfriend agreed. “We need a cake. It’s just… polite.”
“I stopped giving a shit about politeness with them a long time ago,” I grumbled like a moody teen.
And so we all left my mom’s apartment to look for a cake.
We found fancy cookies in a tourist store. All the bakeries were closed.
Once finally in the car, we realized we had no idea how to get to my grandparents’ place. That’s how close we are to them, we don’t have their address.
“I have a GPS!”
“I have Google Maps!”
“Merde. Their place apparently doesn’t exist.”
“Same here. Can’t find the address.”
My grandparents live just outside Nantes but it’s this kind of place deep into the wine country where there’s no formal address and you don’t want to be found because the outside world is evil. Mission accomplished—we couldn’t find them.
The four of us argued over the best way to exit the city. Team Canada—Feng and I—said we should take the bridge across the Loire River, team Paris—my sister and her boyfriend—trusted the GPS.
The GPS made us drive around the same block three times. Team Canada was right this time, but twenty kilometres further, we were all lost for real. This time, it was team sisters vs. team the guys.
“How can you guys not remember where your grandparents live? Are we close? Yes, no?”
“We haven’t been here in a couple of years,” I admitted.
“And I’ve never paid attention to directions,” my sister added.
“Call papa,” I advised.
“Got it. He’s walking towards us, so if you see a guy coming off the bush, well, that’s him and it’s here.”
We saw my dad but still missed the sharp turn to my grandparents’ place.
“Wait… is that grandpa?” Mark finally said.
Oops. Totally forgot to brief him.
“Grandpa” was overjoyed to see us. Despite me, I was rather cold towards him.
My grandparents and one of my uncles did a fairly good job of pretending they were happy to see us.
We all sat down outside, drinking coffee.
I didn’t speak. Not that anyone was talking to me, mind you. My dad did try but I was mute.
I stared into my coffee cup for about an hour, then I got up and went crying in the woods. My dad ran after me. “Are you okay? Talk to me, say something!”
“I can’t,” I sobbed. “It’s not you! It’s just that… fuck, the whole situation is so fucking sad and pathetic!”
He tried to comfort me.
I resumed staring into my coffee cup, eventually traded it for a Coke, then went crying some more. Rinse and repeat for the following three hours.
I begged my sister to go as soon as it was socially acceptable to do so.
I just couldn’t handle it.
I didn’t know it would be so emotional.
Everything is fucked up this summer.