Danielle (And I am not making this up)
When I decided to self-publish the journal I’d kept of the time Carolyn and I were first together in 1972, I gave all the real people fictional names. Carolyn’s became Danielle. She liked it. “Very French,” she told me. In these recent years, whenever we fell into conversation about that time in our lives, we called it “visiting Danielle.” In many aspects, from traveling alone to beginning again in Paris, this current trip carried a strong feeling of “visiting Danielle.”
Following my successful withdrawal from the ATM, I took an outside table at a cafe across from the Gare Montparnasse train station to eat and wait for my hotel to be available. Shortly after I sat down, a young woman jostled in behind me. A great scraping of chairs and clamorous rearranging of tables to accommodate her oversized luggage ensued, the young woman seemed to arrive with all the chaos, confusion and high purpose of the Roosevelt Administration. It all sounded as if she was a party of three or four. She took a seat across from me and dove into her phone.
Two things then occurred that piqued my interest, neither of which had anything to do with her attractive blonde looks. (Even were I interested in such things, which I am most decidedly not at this point in my life, she appeared as if she might be almost half the age of my oldest daughter. That meant that both the young woman’s mother and perhaps even her grandmother would be too young for me.)
No, what caught my eye when she put down her phone was that she opened a journal and began writing in it. For several pages. Then she put down her pen (I still can’t get over someone that age actually writing anymore.) and picked up a paperback by the French philosopher Michel Foucalt. This was no typical Millennial, at least not one I’d come to condescendingly stereotype. Still, I was enjoying reading A Year in Provence on my phone, and had no interest in starting up a conversation. (Not that I normally have an interest in starting up a conversation in any context, but definitely not when I’m into a book as much as I was with Mayle’s account of buying a home and living permanently in France. Carolyn and I had talked about doing the same thing ourselves.)
Conversation with the young woman did ensue, however, when she turned to me and asked if I’d watch over her luggage while she went to the WC. Upon her return, the ice broken by that earlier request, nationalities were exchanged, along with reasons for being in Paris and additional travel and study plans. When I explained the purpose behind my train hopping, she was most sympathetic, admitting she was still grieving over the loss of her father and grandmother. So much so that she was using her Fulbright Scholarship to earn an MFA at the university in Toulouse to write her thesis on grief. “I want to understand why it is that other people can’t seem to share our grief the same way we do.” I had no immediate insight to offer her on that question, but I shared a lot about Carolyn and I, and how this train trip was about coping with losing her and finding a way to move on without moving away from the life we had together. I told her I was writing about this trip, and sharing it with family and friends who were all still grieving over Carolyn’s passing as well.
She was fascinated by all of it, and asked me to email her the pieces I’d written about my current trip. That was when we finally got around to introducing ourselves. “I’m Reid,” I said, and extended my hand. She took it and replied, “Hi Reid, I’m Danielle.”
Yeah, I know. It was a Moonlight Graham, Field of Dreams moment, most definitely. And in that instant, I understood just what kind of journey I was embarking on, and what dimension of time and space it was occurring in. It might be the French rails, but I knew now I would be boarding Cat Stevens’s Peace Train and riding on Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Celestial Railroad.” Later, when Danielle emailed to acknowledge receiving the posts I’d been sending out about this trip, she asked that we stay in touch and offered to meet for lunch should my itinerary take me through Toulouse. I’d already decided I’d work my way south in the direction of Provence to pass some of the places I was currently reading about in Mayle’s book, and Toulouse was on that arc. It seemed an extraordinary thought, but it certainly appeared I had not seen the last of this Danielle. Somewhere, I knew, my first Danielle was smiling. “Our story is a good one, isn’t it sweetie?”
Yes, Carolyn, our story is a good one, and I understand more about it with each telling.
Time to get rolling.