Departures: ramblings on a plane

I find myself
In a giant metal contraption
Hurtling through space
Toward the country of my birth
I have the salty taste
Of too many tears in my mouth

One of the flight attendants
Is a French woman
She is walking the aisle
Offering cof-fee, cafe?
And I am reminded of the times
You took me to France

Paris, where I bought a magenta beret
In a large department store
Because I wanted something special
And nothing says special like a magenta beret

Do you remember?
We were celebrating my 50th birthday
It was December in Paris and so very cold
You gave me a gold wedding ring
Covered in intricate Celtic knot work
To go with the rubies and diamonds you gave me
On the day we married
In a beautiful registry office in Surrey

But this one,
The one you put on my finger in Paris
Had the words truly, madly, deeply
engraved on the inside

We were in a fancy bistro in Paris
We ate too much. We drank too much.
We spent too much money.

Just as the chocolate gateau
was due to be served
The lights went out in the entire place
I gasped in surprise
And a kind of childish wonderment
As the waiters, all of the waiters
Began to sing Happy Birthday in French
I clapped my hands
And my laughter bounced off every
Candlelit table and reflected in the faces
Of the strangers who chose that night,
That place, to dine out in Paris and share
In a strange American woman’s birthday

I blew out the candles and made a huge wish
And for awhile that wish came true
Endlessly, in endless days and nights
of joy and laughter
And hope
And dreams
And belief

And then a few years later
You took me to Briancon
Briancon in the French Alps
It was September
No snow but I still ended up
Sick at the end

But before the sickness came
We spent sunny days
In French farmer’s markets
And open air cafes
And we found a restaurant
That specialised in fondue
Before we found
Our favourite restaurant
That served hearty
Country French cuisine
I wish I could remember
What it was called
We ate there every night

The town boasts
The most sunny days
In a calendar year
And there were sun dials
Absolutely everywhere
And the Alps towering
Over everything

We ate hard French sausage
And soft French cheese
With crusty French bread for lunch
And beautiful rich red wine
With everything

There was no television
No mobile phones
We took books everywhere
We read and walked and ate and drank
I was drunk
On wine
On the country
On the friendly French man
Who cheered me on
When I butchered
His language with my
American sounding Mais Oui
And you. I was drunk on you.
You were my rock
My calm
In the turbulent storm
That had made up my life
For so long
I leaned hard on you.
Too hard.

Today we said goodbye
You held my hand
Continued to be my rock
My stable place
As we both broke down
In Heathrow
Our last goodbye
My goodbye to you
To my adopted country
And just as I made it
Through the gauntlet
Of Airport Security
My boots still in my hand
Your Bon Voyage text
Chirped in my pocket
More French

I don’t know how you do it
Continue to love me
I am so very hard to love
I know one day you will stop
But not on this day. Not on this day.

We both know how we ended up
Wrapped in each other’s arms
With too many tears between us
In Heathrow Departures
Instead of joyful kisses in Arrivals

We have spend too many nights
In too much thoughtless talk
As our marriage unraveled
Before our unsuspecting eyes

And yet, still
That invisible cord between us
Tugs and pulls and stretches
And I feel as though
I’ve left my heart behind
I feel as though
I’ve walked off with yours
Beating hard in my chest

And even at take-off
While weathering
The onslaught
Of a child
Throwing a monstrous
Temper tantrum
I looked out my window
As the green hills of England
Grew smaller and smaller

I openly sobbed
Shook with sorrow
As familiar iPod playlists
Filled my ears
With yet more memories
And I finally slept

Until I heard that familiar accent
The French voice drifted toward me
Woke me up from my tortured dreams

And I remembered Paris
I remembered Briancon
I remembered the feel of you
The sound of your laughter
Your touch
Your goodbye

I don’t want to say
“We’ll always have Paris.”

But the truth is
“We will always have Paris.”
And so much more.

Briançon, Hautes-Alpes, France ~ photography by me, Robin Dalton September 2004
Briançon, Hautes-Alpes, France ~ photography by me, Robin Dalton September 2004

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