A few years ago, I would have said, without question, that I wanted to get married in the Catholic Church, would want my children to be baptized, and that Catholicism was a central part of my identity, even if I was something of a “cafeteria Catholic,” that picked and chose but overall, accepted the authority of the Church. I planned to follow the rules and live happily ever after, living a life that was modern but informed by tradition, and follow my parents’ example of two people so similar that my father’s “blood brother” is my mother’s actual biological brother. I wanted a guarantee against heartache, and I wanted to fit the mould.
I thought my background was what defined me, and I thought that whatever happened, America would be my home. When I stumbled across someone who fit the future I thought I wanted, who listened to the same kinds of songs as my dad and was similarly tough on the outside but sweet on the inside, I really thought I found my match. My intuition nagged at me though, and it took me a long time to realize I was in love with my clear vision, with my certainty, and most of all, with the idea of loving someone who made sense rather than the reality of actually loving the person you love.We never actually dated, we shared our feelings for each other the very day we had to say goodbye. Distance separated us soon after finding each other, but I still held on to the hope that, like in the movie the Notebook that he admired so much, if I held on faithfully and kept putting myself out there, somehow things would work out. We never actually dated, we shared our feelings for each other the very day we had to say goodbye.
I met Captain America right before I moved to France,as an English teacher, thinking it would be my only opportunity to travel and that I would go back to the life I had planned. I was completely wrong- my life was changed forever, even if I refused to acknowledge it.
One day during my studies in Paris, where I returned after finishing my stint as an English teacher, thinking it would be my last hurrah before starting “adult life” in America. managed to stop thinking about him long enough to have a great evening out with my friends, when a handsome stranger appeared. I followed my intuition and let him buy me a drink. Two months later, on a trip he’d already planned before meeting me, he met my parents. And they loved him, to their surprise.
He did not like going to museums. He was not a Christian. He was from Africa. I had never heard his mother tongue spoken, or realized it existed, before meeting him.
But he was kind and good and it felt nice to be around him. It was easy, and unexpected.
We stayed in touch when my studies in Paris ended, but when I came back to Paris to work, I thought he had lost interest, and truthfully, I was afraid of starting something that couldn’t give me the happy ending I had pictured in my mind since I was a little girl. I was afraid things would be too hard, and that in his own heart he’d prefer someone from his own community.
But every six months or so, we’d exchange news, but we didn’t see each other. My long and drawn out heartache over Captain America, who never managed to see me in the three years we were alternately close friends or stopped talking completely as I tried to move on with my life, taught me that when a man wants to be with a woman he will find a way. And if he doesn’t, it’s because he doesn’t want to. And so I largely forgot about my African boyfriend, slightly embittered that he couldn’t seem to find the time.
Captain America finally exited the stage for good when I told him I wasn’t sure if I would extend my work contract in Paris or come back to America, but I was leaning towards America. By that point, he had lost his superhero glow, but he had supported me during the challenges of my early expatriation and always pushed me to follow the call to Paris. In retrospect, I think that was his purpose in my life. I stayed in Paris.
Three and a half years after the last time I’d seen Mr Africa, he sent an email asking how I was doing. I responded to it right away, and he didn’t ask to meet. But still, the day after a good friend who had seemed to be quite happy and well-adjusted wrote a note explaining why he planned to take his own life, I heeded the nagging feeling from my intuition to contact him, expecting nothing more than to end with the feeling he didn’t care enough to make an effort to see me even if he wanted to know I was doing ok.
To my surprise, we really talked honestly, and I discovered he thought I didn’t want to see him. And worse, that he had a girlfriend, even if he told me I was beautiful after I sent a recent photo. He told me he’d become an old man with wrinkles and white hair and was having health problems he would rather discuss in person. Needless to say, I was eager to see him.
And finally we met, this time not by chance but by choice. His hair was as perfectly jet black as ever, and his complexion was no paler than usual (no he’s not black). And to my surprise, I was not nervous or anxious or stressed, I was overjoyed to see him. The happiness of seeing him again, of having realized I’d had at least one really good man in my life, was overwhelming. I beamed for two days straight, thinking, to my surprise, not of moments of high romance like skating on the Champs Elysees in Paris (I fell a lot, actually) but of little everyday things, like watching tv together (and I don’t even watch tv). As it turned out, his health problems were easily resolved and things weren’t so bad as was initially feared.
Now, having seen 38 countries, a total of 33 more since we met, I identify more as a human than anything else, I have distanced myself from the Catholic Church because I believe in feminism more than the hierarchy who corrupt Jesus’ teaching to preserve patriarchy, I run my own personal public awareness campaigns for the women and children of Syria on my facebook page, I have felt the betrayal of family members who voted for a president that brags of sexual assault and calls immigrants murderers and rapists, I am a student of Buddhism, and compassion is my religion. And I love France, despite all its flaws.
So, after 3 years working abroad and four years in France total, while I am not blind to the challenges that arise when people of different cultures try to get along together in a community, let alone build a life together, it’s an adventure I am willing to take.
Life doesn’t always follow the formula, and the “rules,” when examined, were often put in place not to keep us safe as we were told, but to keep us from asking questions- to keep things the same, that the powers that be should not be called into question. The sickest part is that humans support their own oppression- because they are afraid of what’s on the other side of the mountain.
Me, I am blowing a kiss to Mr. Africa.