I had always lived in Paris.
8, rue des Wallons. For as long as I can remember.
I had never seen anything else: I had never travelled before last year. That’s why when I had the opportunity to study abroad, I chose to apply far away. Really far. The other side of the world…Australia. When I was a child someone told me people there were upside down, and that they would celebrate Christmas in shorts.
It might seem stupid, but I thought the distance would help me find myself. Wherever I was. Maybe it was there.
I wanted to try everything. Start a new life. I was in the “Great Unknown” all my favourite adventures books were describing, experiencing a feeling I’d been reading and dreaming about since I was a child. A new culture, a new life, a new language ; that’s what I was about to see.
That language part was the most appealing, yet the most frightening. Of course I knew English, but I didn’t feel comfort-able with it at all. I am a writer; I love puns, poems and play on words in French. What would happen with a new code I did not have mastery of at all?
I had no idea how difficult it would be to deal with that new language, and that was the greatest part of the adventure. I felt lost in new linguistic difficulties, drowning in a world where I suddenly became voiceless.
Quarter past eleven. I’ve overslept, again. I’ve been here for a year, but lately I have felt constantly jet-lagged, trying to keep in touch with France by staying up late. I’ve missed it. I’ve missed my language. I dream in English now. I have even started using Australian slang. It all makes me sick.
Another quick glance at my phone screen tells me I have no new messages or calls. I go from disappointment, to sadness, then to mingled anger and disgust. I try to tell myself I am worth more than that. I try to believe that I am not the one who was losing something, that I am not the one who is going to regret something. But if I am perfectly honest, I feel like I am experiencing a forced weaning. It is emotionally hard, but also physically. I can’t handle the loss any longer. I need to hear that voice again.
I’ve always been passionate: maybe that’s my fault actually, perhaps that’s why it did not work. Maybe I loved too much. Maybe I was oppressive? I tried hard to put the fault on myself so I don’t feel hate, but it felt wrong: who chased the other? not me! It was not my fault. I couldn’t imagine someone chasing me and then changing their mind. It was unbelievable. It sounds stupid. Useless. “A total waste of time.”
I remember the first day we’ve met. I’d just arrived in that new country, and felt like discovering Melbourne’s cold nightlife. To discover a people, a culture… Everything was so different from Paris. My wandering drove me to a pub. A band was playing, people were drinking and dancing, but I don’t really remember any visual details. All I could focus on was a voice. The voice. It wrapped me in a feeling I’d never known before. A weird warmth; powerful, smooth but tough at the same time. It was like the voice wanted to say something. It could reach notes I’ve never heard before. It was calling me. Asking me to join, to stay with it forever. It said it would be there for me anytime. It said it would never leave me.
I remember that voice. I’ve never been able to detach from it since then. It was like it was part of me now, it penetrated me, it cast a spell on me, maybe. I entered that pub, without the faintest idea how much my life would change from that moment. Without the faintest idea how that voice would never leave.
Still no new text message, and it was pretty late. I found myself wondering what I did wrong to deserve that. All the people I love always end up leaving me at some point. Watching my phone screen with empty eyes, re-reading our conversations, memories of a relationship that started well. Finding this message from a few months ago:
« I can’t control it. I want to talk to you forever. I feel guilty for giving you all of my attention right now when I have so much work to do… but I just can’t stop myself. I want to talk to you, I really like it, I really like you. It’s hard to explain because it’s hard to under-stand. I don’t want to do anything else. »
At the time, I found it eerily cute. Today, I read it as a wake up call, a warning. It was too intense, too dangerous. Now I understand what that means, and that’s not because I speak English better. It was not a declaration of love. It was grievanc-es. It was complaints. It was the expression of a fear I couldn’t understand in time. I hadn’t taken it into account. Maybe that’s why it didn’t end well. We’ll never know.
Since I had to, I went to bed, thinking about all the things I might have misunderstood since I’ve been living in that strange land. I speak English, but I feel like there is a language I don’t speak. I can’t understand feelings. I can’t express them anymore. They’re different over here. When I finally understood the real language barrier, I felt like someone just had just stolen my right to speak. One does not simply translate a feeling. Even though I was trying to scream my feelings out loud, my voice just couldn’t reflect them. And even if it had, they couldn’t have reached anyone. I was voiceless.
Everything reminds me of that story, and I wonder if I’m ob-sessed yet. I remember we use to talk about words a lot, about how they could make us closer or drive us away. Our scales were so different, we used to have fun comparing them.
Then we’d laugh. “Have you ever noticed how when you repeat a word over and over, it becomes funny, and makes no sense anymore?” Maybe those were the words I loved. They sounded better when pronounced by that voice. I’ve always thought I was talkative, but it’s usually small talk, like I have nothing interesting to say. Like I couldn’t express the things I had to say. I think we both felt that way. I could have chosen music, like you did, but I chose to write. I could have written songs instead. I still hear that voice telling me they were hiding “more secrets about me than I could ever tell you.” I loved that idea, and I studied each song just like I used to study literature, phrase by phrase, word by word, searching for a hidden mean-ing in every voice variation, in any string vibration.
I thought we were able to communicate, but our linguistic repertoires never tuned. After one or two misunderstandings, a false note, a wrong word, everything stopped. Words hurt, they’re dangerous, and maybe they shouldn’t be carelessly touched, especially by my inexpert hands. I yelled for the last time, trying to express a feeling that didn’t exist in that coun-try, and that’s how we split, mutually misunderstood, maybe forever.
Yesterday, for my last night here in Australia, I decided to go back to that pub, and some weird coincidence decided that the voice was there again. I didn’t plan it, but I thought perhaps it was meaningful to hear it one last time, where we met a year ago. It was like a loop, or the end point of a great adventure. I don’t know if I wanted to live something more, to try once more, I just wanted to hear it again. I wanted to write the end of the story.
And while the gig started, I remembered. I remembered our laughs, I remembered our fights. I remembered our words, I remembered our fears. Nights spent talking about the differences between our lifestyles, and between our countries. Or the ones spent singing, listening to that voice, listening to that guitar. I remembered the songs, their lyrics resonating in me like they were saying out loud what I’d spent my whole life secretly thinking. That song especially, expressing that fear, that feeling to be in front of the unknown, to be a whole person. About this relationship that nobody knows how long would last. “I don’t know, a second? Or a billion million years? In the grand scheme of things, hell, I don’t have a clue. But I’m certain that this fraction, now, is really all we have, I’m just happy to be in this time with you”. And eventually, I understood. I knew the song by heart, but I had to wait for that day to finally get what it meant. I left before the show ended. I didn’t need to be here anymore. I enjoy thinking about us: how we could have spent our lives together, talking another language we’d have created, playing with our differences. But we couldn’t. We didn’t end up togeth-er. There were no emotional reunion, no heart-rending cry at the airport, no kiss under the tropical rains of the Southern Hemisphere. No voice begged me to stay. Nobody tried to block my way to the gate. I entered my plane like nothing was holding me in that country… nothing did. The link’s broken, and all that remains from this voice are the few CDs I kept. I can hear it, but I’m not sure my own voice will ever reach anything down there. Maybe it will send a scrambled, indecipherable message, in an unknown language, through these words or others, yet unknown.
I discovered, travelling, that we don’t just learn a new language; we create it. I’ll never speak English; I’ll master its sounds, its words, its grammatical rules as much as I can, but I’ll use them all to speak my own language, a new one that comes from my experiences, and that’s spoken by nobody else. Maybe we don’t need the others to build ourselves: we just need a voice, resonating in ourselves forever. The ones from those songs which, I hope, will keep inspiring me for many years. I may have not found my way at the other side of the world, but I found that voice, and that’s more than enough.