It’s 2013. I’ve been back in the United States for a little over a week, and I’ve already made a lot of changes in my life thanks to my study abroad experience. Some things are to be expected (and partially the result of my refusing to re-assimilate to American culture), and some things were a little more… well… I surprised a lot of people that are very close to me with some of the ways I’ve changed, am changing, and continue to change.
I mention in my “About Me” portion of this blog that a lot of what I was doing while I was abroad was discovering myself… who I was and am, and what I’m supposed to do in life. That’s all part of being a young adult in this day and age. I started my college experience in a stable, committed relationship from high school, and it followed me to college. I knew what I wanted to major in while I was applying to schools as a high school senior, so I declared that major in my first semester of college and unlike most college students… I haven’t changed it after declaring it. I’ve lived a very stable, safe, and predictable life since I became a legal adult at 18, save for a couple medical bumps in the road. I haven’t done anything to throw proverbial wrenches in my neat and tidy
and somewhat Stalinistic plan.
Studying abroad didn’t just present me with some new challenges that I’d never be able to find anywhere else, it literally laid out a set of wrenches in all shapes and sizes for me to chuck as hard as I could into my old life and start a new one… if I wanted to.
So I looked at those beautifully heavy wrenches, and I looked at my neat and tidy life… and I used those wrenches.
My mother distinctly remembers the moment she put me on a plane to go to Australia in 2004. I was 12 years old. I wasn’t by any means alone, I went with 40 other kids and four teachers with the People to People Student Ambassador program but… I wasn’t going with her. That was the last time she saw the tender little girl she’d raised. When she retrieved me in the airport three weeks later, I still responded to “Claire,” but I wasn’t the same girl anymore. I came back with a new sense of responsibility and independence. Even a small three week trip abroad changed me all that time ago. Knowing that, one can only imagine what a four month stay in France would do to me…
I knew standing in the hallway of the Washington Dulles Marriott in August that I would change. I knew my grasp of French would get better. I figured I’d develop a taste for wine. I knew we’d all change… I just never really knew how at that point. I remember having a conversation with Rouge (then in a committed long-distance relationship with a Navy man) talking about how she and her boyfriend almost got engaged before she left, and how they’d probably get married shortly after we graduated. She left him before we left Tours, and now she’s still with Nico, while he’s in Toulouse, and she’s with me in California. Rouge really changed. I stood in a slightly similar situation all that time ago, in a wonderful committed relationship with a wonderful young man. We weren’t near any engagements by that point, and if we ever talked of marriage, it was always very far off in the future, after I finished graduate school. I never saw myself as much of an amazing partner in the past. I have my medical issues, I’m going to be a bit of a burden (both financially and emotionally) on the “unlucky fellow” that decides to put the all-important “ring on it” in the future. That little image of myself was part of the reason I’d always tell people “he’s the only person in the world stupid enough to like me/love me/marry me.” France was a big reason I was able to kick that little self-depricating idea I had. Sure, people like my mom and my friends would always tell me “Claire, you’re beautiful, you’re hilarious, you’re intelligent, and you’re ambitious, you’re a catch!” and I always thought that they had to say that. Considering the amount of attention I got in France (and the attention I’m getting now that I’m home), I know that my mom and my friends were never saying those things because they were supposed to. They’re true. That little boost of self confidence has helped me a lot.
Most of my daily life before France was spent in cotton-knit blend shirts printed with playful swirls in every color known to man… and most of the time, I’d put the print on them myself. I looked like I belonged in Berkeley, CA, not in Los Angeles, much less in France. It was safe to say that my wardrobe was 40% tie-dye, most of which I’d made myself, and the rest of it was obnoxiously colored. I knew that taking an accurate sampling of my wardrobe to France would be suicide, so I enlisted the help of a few of my more fashion-forward friends to aid me in rifling through my clothes to decide what was “Paris-appropriate” and what wasn’t, and to go shopping for things that were absolutely foreign to me at the time, like cardigans, waist belts, tights, neutral colors, and pumps. Not a single piece of tie-dye made it into my suitcases. I didn’t notice how much my fashion sense had changed until I came home and went through my closet and dresser drawers to pack up my clothes to take back down to Southern California before the start of the new semester… and I’m surprised my face hasn’t permanently morphed into a state of “utter disgust” as a result, because that’s what happened whenever I saw a piece of tie-dye… all of which ended up in the “only when I’m jogging/sick/staying home” pile, otherwise known as “not to be worn in public.” Don’t worry, it’ll still be around for nostalgia… perhaps stretched over canvas and hung on my living room wall, or cut up and repurposed into a bathroom rug, or hiding in a bucket to be used as a car washing rag… what? It wouldn’t be eco-friendly to just throw it away…
I’d always lived a life that was very “black and white,” meaning there was always a right and a wrong, never a “grey area.” I understood that there were rules, they were there for a reason, and even if I didn’t necessarily understand the reason (I always assumed it was because I was too young to comprehend it), I always followed them. When I was younger, I’d often judge people who did things in the “grey area,” or when they knowingly broke the rules. This was a big reason why I actively chose not to drink in college, and I was a designated driver/sober sister at nearly every party I attended. Even if I wasn’t going to any parties, all of my friends had my number and knew to call me to come rescue them if need be, and this happened a couple times. At the time, if I drank, I would have been underage, so I never did it. In France, it was legal for me to drink, and it was socially acceptable for me to have wine with lunch and dinner (both at home and at restaurants), so I did it. I managed to go a little overboard a couple times, but I learned my lesson. I always used to say that I’d never drink. It never appealed to me. Drinking to an excess still doesn’t (again, I learned my lesson), but having a glass of wine with dinner, or going out with friends for a cocktail (now that I’m of legal drinking age in America) sounds fine to me. The point is, not only do I recognize a “grey area,” I don’t judge people for doing things that fall into the “grey area” anymore… and I do a few things in the “grey area” myself every once in a while.
I’ve always been very independent, and I’ve never been much of a fan of people trying to take my independence from me. Even when it’s something as simple as when someone takes me out for coffee, I’ve been known to argue over the tab and insist on paying for what I ordered, just because I have the means to do so, and I want to prove that I don’t need anyone to do it for me. That much hasn’t changed. It never will. I managed to get accustomed to doing even more of my own thing while I was abroad, and I wasn’t about to give that up when I came back to America. The way I was changing was morphing me into a completely different person… maybe not too far off from the person I was in August, but certainly from who I was back in my senior year of high school. For the past four years of my life, I’ve still been holding onto a big piece of who I was in high school. I can’t become who I’m supposed to become if I keep that death grip on who I was back then… and I’ve come to realize that as a result of my stay in France. A part of who I was in high school was unintentionally holding me back, placing tiny yet tough chains on my wrists to keep me where I was that I never noticed before. That’s where I threw the last wrench, and it was the hardest and heaviest wrench to throw… because I had to throw it at someone. My boyfriend and I were wonderful for each other in high school, and we did fine for the first year or so of my college experience, but both of us are really starting to come into ourselves now that we’re becoming adults, and the ways we were starting to change weren’t really compatible with our relationship anymore. I needed to take some time to myself to really discover who I am all on my own, to “date myself” for a little while (to put it in the corniest way possible). He first fell for the “me” in high school, and she doesn’t exist anymore, save for a few tiny shreds… I can’t put him through this identity crisis that I’ve willingly thrown myself into, that’d be cruel… so I set him free. I know now that I need to discover who the “real me” is, and I need to love her before I can truly love anyone else. I need to discover myself, embrace who I am (and all the crazy things I may do), and learn to love myself. Once I understand who I am, I’ll be able to explain who I am to someone else… and once that time comes, we’ll see if that “someone else” in my life is someone from my past that might take me back despite everything I’ve put him through, or if it’s someone completely different.
The universe works. I’m letting the cards fall where they may.
It’s 2013, and I’m leaving 2012 behind. I’ve turned my back on the shattered remains of my old life left by four French wrenches covered in my tears and my fingerprints. In the wreckage, you’ll find a whole mess of tie-dye, a shriveled and broken excuse for self-esteem, an old rule book printed in black and white… the old “me” from high school, and the sweet and charming young man who loved me through it all that I had to leave behind in order to move forward. I’ve chosen to keep the horizontal stripes, blazer, and skinny jeans on my back, my college and my majors, my glass of table wine, my new-found self-confidence in myself as a friend and partner (romantic and otherwise), my dependence on cheese, and my grey-areas. It’s 2013, and I’m moving forward. I’m on a new journey to find myself, and to discover what amazing things I’m going to do in my life, all on my own. If all the lore is true… I already started it with a little good luck… I kissed someone I’d just met at midnight. That’s definitely something Old Claire never would have done.
Le mal se fait sans effort, naturellement, par fatalité; le bien est toujours le produit d’un art.
-Baudelaire. “Éloge du maquillage.”