How I loved high school French class. I never gave a thought to how useful it may have been to learn to speak Spanish before embarking on a career in the service field. Once, though, I did attempt to use my French “skills” to converse with a West African family as I administered the Battelle Developmental Inventory on their premature twins. It was when they spoke perfect English (with a magnificent French accent) back to me that I knew that my days of interpreting, and my hopes of being bilingual, had come to an abrupt halt.
I can still repeat some of the canned ALM French dialogues that I practiced incessantly with “mon frere” and “ma soeur.” I remember making “choux a la creme” with Brother Thomas and the rest of the French Club in the basement of a fancy high rise in Oakbrook Terrace. It was great fun dreaming of visiting Paris with Mlle. Lukowski and my comrades from Catholic high school. I am pretty sure, though, that most of us entered the service field.
I did visit one of my college roommates, Amy, while she studied at Aix-en-Provence. We spent the same semester abroad; I stayed with a British family in London, where I frequented Camden Market, ate at Windmill Wholefoods, and hunted for Doc Martens. As I waited for Amy to finish in the classroom, I discovered a quaint rose park, espresso, noisette loaves, and the soulfulness that comes from spending idle hours alone, thinking and writing, wrapped in the lush solitude of the graceful spring air. I never did make it to Paris.
All of the students gathered in the same hotel for one night before dispersing via the underground, by taxi, or, most coveted: a ride in the host family’s car. Kelli shared my hotel room that evening. She also shared my curling iron, and, since she was the first to use it, she was the one to set her long brown hair on fire. We had much to learn as young travelers.
We have connected many times throughout the years. Upon returning to Illinois and resuming my post at Record Revolution, I often saw Kelli when she came to the store with her boyfriend, Max, who had been a longtime customer. We graduated and marched on with our lives.
It wasn’t long after Dan and I moved back to DeKalb that we attended a dinner for adoptive families at an Indian restaurant. Across the table, eagerly awaiting a baby from Guatemala, were Kelli and Max.
Our friendship involved the annual Christmas card exchange, an occasional cup of tea, and a chance encounter or two over the years. I knew she was around, but we were busy on both sides. Then, somehow, my fourth grade foster daughter landed in the seat right next to Kelli’s “baby” at the elementary school. The girls became fast friends. Kelli’s sweet girl could see beyond the layers of anger, fear, and pain. She could offer what I have often taken for granted: true friendship.
Perhaps there are people, places, or things that we would not like to see again, that you would prefer not to revisit. During my most self-conscious and anxiety-ridden years of high school, I must have been in a hurry to get the best square dance partner. Miss Lewis blew her whistle, and the boys and girls stood at attention on opposite sides of the gym. She blew it again, and I was first to move toward the line of boys. I was sure I would end up with a good partner this time. I kept going. She blew it a third time. Uh oh. I stopped and turned around, only to see that none of the other girls had moved. Completely humiliated, I made my way back to the line of whispering girls. I do not miss high school gym class at all.
When I took the little boys to Anderson Hall for a gym class, I entered through a side door. The smell of colored pencils, really sharp, brand new ones, came to me clear as the day I had bought them for my drawing class. Twenty-some years earlier, I had entered through the same door, sat on the same couch, and opened my pencils.
Her eyes sometimes break from mine, and she looks off into the distance for a bit. If I speak to her, she might mumble something, or she may have no words at all. I am sure that she has been reminded of something that came before, something that happened during her early years, years when things were uncertain. There was still love. There was still good. There just wasn’t enough. Now, when it comes back to her, when she sees it again, she must acknowledge it to remember who she is, lest she forget, and lest we never know.
The rows of Rubbermaid containers, complete with masking tape and Sharpie labels, are stacked nearly to the ceiling in the laundry room. A nostalgic mama and years of fostering have saved many late night shopping trips. It was in the “shoes 9-4” bin that I found the little Doc Martens that the big boys had worn more than a decade before. They would be perfect for Ethan’s fancy outfit for Grandma’s funeral. There was comfort, a promise from the shoes of a little boy, in knowing that when we say “goodbye,” we will, indeed, see her again. There, too, is comfort in knowing that when the sun sets, it will shine for another. I don’t really want to go to Paris anymore, but I am happy to sit among the roses and to drink espresso alongside my friend.