This is how I picture it in my head: I’m standing at the edge of this known unknown and I’m closing my eyes. I take a deep breath and I jump without looking back, eyes still shut. I brace for what is about to happen on the other side of the pond—ideally a perfect stuck landing, like a gymnast at the end of a routine, on my two feet, smoothly and safely.
I need a minute to absorb the impact force.
Then, and only then, I will open my eyes again.
I will stand straight, I will be strong and life will go on because it always does.
Yes, this is how I picture our trip across the “pond”, that body of water some people call the “Atlantic Ocean”. From Eastern Canada to Western France… and then from Western France to Eastern Canada because there is no such thing as a one-way trip.
Okay, technically I don’t jump—I’m the passenger in row 38E in the aircraft. We are lucky too, as far as immigrant pilgrimage goes, we have it easy—a seven-hour flight with one or two connexions in Montreal, Toronto, London, Paris or Amsterdam. Tickets are affordable and plenty of airlines fly this route. Logistically speaking, traveling between France and Canada is probably much easier than visiting family in the South Pacific, Asia or Southern Africa.
But emotionally speaking, the trip is still draining. I can remain stoic in tough situations but I can’t stand endings, any kind of ending, happy or sad, logical or unexpected. I always find the best part of books and movies is the beginning, for instance. I was that kid who, in the middle of July, was already dreading going back to school in September—and I didn’t even mind school.
Of course, all trips end at one point. A few days before the unavoidable departure, it still feels unreal to think that Monday, we are in France and on Tuesday, we will be in Canada. My brain can’t compute this logical fact. I’m shopping at Monoprix but I can’t picture myself fill a basket at Walmart twenty-four hours later. These two worlds can’t coexist in my head.
If I picture the different steps of leaving—packing, saying goodbye, going to the airport, etc.—,I cry. I can’t stand leaving my family behind, can’t stand thinking about the last dinner we will have together, can’t stand saying goodbye.
Fifteen years ago, I wasn’t crying when I left France because I was on my way to cool adventures. I also had a return ticket t the place I called home, conveniently my parents’ place. I did cry when leaving Feng, though. And then at one point, I started crying when leaving France and when leaving Feng in Canada or somewhere in the world. I did that for two or three years in a row before sorting out my legal status and settling in Canada. Now I cry when I leave France but I have zero reason to cry when I leave Canada since Feng and Mark tag along.
I wish I could cry in the bus to the airport but Mark is sitting by my side and I don’t want to traumatize him, so I hold my tears and read the signs about the risk of fare evasion looking for typo or inconsistency (none, the message is crystal clear). If I start crying, I have an excuse ready: something in my eye. But it probably won’t fly, even for the very illogical brain of a 4 years old. So I hide to cry. During the flight, every now and then, I escape to the bathroom and cry for five minutes, then come back to my seat and resume staring at the entertainment program that I don’t find super entertaining. I’m pretty sure the flight attendant suspect I’m doing drugs in the lavatory. Oh well.
I need the seven-hour plane ride to erase one file and replace it with another. The flight is like a catharsis. During these few hours up in the air, I’m no one, I have no past and no future and technically, despite what the sky map says, I’m nowhere.
I stop crying when we land. Suddenly, it doesn’t make sense to be emotional. I have a purpose. The page is turned, it’s time for a new chapter to begin. I’m not leaving, I’m arriving.
Everything makes sense again. I’m not longer French Juliette, I’m Canadian Juliette. I traded the world for another one but this new setting is familiar to me, I find my bearings quickly. I know how to talk to people, I know where I’m going, I even have some spare toonies and loonies in my wallet. I move quickly, with purpose. French file deleted, Canadian file loaded.
Life would be easier if I could make a definitive two-column chart of France versus Canada. On one side, a safety net—my family and France’s proverbial welfare state. On the other, the opportunity to be whatever I want, even if it requires me to be a Swiss army knife (and not always the sharpest one at the end of the day…). Buttery treats versus exciting exotic foods. Cramped living spaces and tiny streets bursting with activity versus big open space that sometimes feel very empty. Specialty shops versus franchises. Sarcastic and hedonistic French versus friendly and overoptimistic North Americans. A world with a past and a legacy versus a new country that will celebrate a “young man milestone birthday” next year.
Everything has a trade off. Maybe it’s best to just go with the flow.
In the end, it’s up to me, the chameleon, to make the most of wherever I am.