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People I Used To Know

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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