May 27, 2011 One could say I spent the majority of this past semester sitting on trains. There was the forty-minute commute to Reid Hall from my Parisian apartment every day, not to mention the countless back-and-forth trips I made to classes, museums, babysitting, and lunchtime rendez-vous with friends. I took a TGV (the high-speed trains that run across the entirety of France) with Kylie down to the Alps, took an German Bahn train from Berlin to Prague, boarded trams, the RER, a téléférique up a mountain and a funicular down Sacre Coeur. I became an expert in train travel, made special playlists on my iPod and learned to calculate exactly where to board at a specific station and where to sit for the best window-views.
On Saturday afternoon, I boarded one last train, one for which I had bought a ticket in October and for which I had planned ever since: the Amtrak Lake Shore limited from New York Penn Station to Utica. And then, after months of anticipation, I was home. I had known from the very beginning that I was coming back for Hamilton graduation no matter what. Even if it meant missing my last week in Paris, taking exams early, and saying goodbyes, I would be on a plane on May 21st, and sitting in the field house the morning of the 22nd. Some of my best friends were graduating, and I would not miss it for the world. As I wrote Nick in an email in February, “I will be there if I have to swim.”
And so, on Friday morning, I packed up my chambre Parisienne, took all of my postcards and calendar off of the walls, ate a final lunch with Marielle, hoisted my three suitcases, donned my Royal Wedding hat, and walked down Ménilmontant for the last time. The last week had been absolutely wonderful: the weather was perfect, my French finally stumble-free. I ate lunch with Lucia and cooked dinner with Anna, sat in front of the Eiffel tower at midnight with Kylie and Emilia, and ate sole meunière. Leaving Paris was bittersweet, as expected, but I knew it was not a final farewell, by any means. Marielle drove me to the airport, and we hugged in front of security, waving until I was past the checkpoint.
As my plane took off from CDG, I closed my eyes, sighed for one last time, and then smiled, like a giddy child. The next 25 hours were some of the longest, and most wonderful, of my entire life. I stayed overnight in a hostel in Heathrow in order to catch my 8 am flight, boarded the plane (from the sleek and futuristic terminal 5!), and, after 7 hours, touched down in JFK. I went through passport control and baggage claim, looking like a jetlagged fool as the American accents and humidity washed over me. I took the Airtrain to Jamaica in Queens, then the Long Island Railroad in to Manhattan, where I sat for 3 hours in a Starbucks, looking up at the skyscrapers, before my train left from Penn Station. A redhead with a multi-patterned dress, one hundred pounds of luggage, and a black-and-white bonnet, I have no doubt I looked utterly ridiculous. But, as usual, I hardly cared.
After a five hour train ride up the Hudson River Valley (which was sun-washed and breathtaking), I got into Utica at around 9, where Sharon picked me up from the train station, and drove me to campus. I got to Babbit, where I called Olivia, who ran downstairs to let me in, and hugged me so hard I nearly could not breathe. I went up to her room, where I met Catie, then Nick, Amanda, Michael, Ilse, Allison, Preetha and Mikayla. The next few hours were spent hugging, giving out presents, talking, laughing, being sassed and tickled, and generally in a state of blissful reunion. I had anticipated that night pretty much since the moment I left Hamilton, and had worried that, in the intervening time, my friends would have moved on, or been too busy the night before their own college graduations to deal with my return, and all of the energy it would entail. I tried to prepare myself for a group of preoccupied friends, for a campus that was different from the one I had left, for even the slightest of disappointments.
As always, I feared my expectations were too high. Keats said that the moment before an event, filled with anticipation and longing, is far better than the thing itself, that we anticipate far more than can ever be expected and, inevitably end up disappointed. Remarkably, for someone who has more excitement than most classes of first-graders on a sugar-high, I have never found this to be true. And on Saturday night, Sunday morning, and all through graduation until the moment I left campus, I could not have possibly wanted anything more than what I found. I laughed, I cried, I sat back on Olivia’s bed, prosecco in one hand and a box of macarons in another, and knew there was nowhere else in the world I would rather be. By eight pm on Sunday, I was physically and emotionally spent. I went back with my mother (who had come all the way up from Baltimore to pick me up!) to her hotel in Utica, intending to come back to campus to socialize for a few more hours, but fell instantly asleep until eight the next morning! I helped Michael pack up the Babbit kitchen, said a few tearful goodbyes, and got in my blue station wagon and drove back to Baltimore.
I am currently sitting in my kitchen, baking a batch of gluten-free fudge brownies, and basking in this feeling of home. Yes, I will miss France. Yes, there is a lot ahead of me to figure out. This summer, I will be in New York, working for a historical magazine, and living a block away from Nick and Emily, two of my best friends in the entire world. Life, at this moment, is nothing short of gleeful. So congratulations, class of 2011. I will miss you terribly, but have not a single doubt we will keep in touch. Au revoir, La Belle France. Thank you for a semester of food and laughter. Hello summer, Manhattan in the blistering heat; filled with expectation and (hopefully) discovery. And thank you to my wonderful, amazing friends, for looking out for me, putting up with my excessive energy, making me feel loved. Without you, I would be lost. Here’s to the future. To wild and ridiculous anticipation. May it always be unmeetable. And always, impossibly, surpassed.