The 10:34 to…
…Toulouse. For starters, the scenery on the southerly swing from Bordeaux to Toulouse improved dramatically over the Paris to Bordeaux leg. Villages with medieval walls and fortresses on hills, broad, winding rivers and handsome, prosperous farmhouses swept past my window. At one point I felt this amazing smile form on my face, coming suddenly out of nowhere. This trainhopping idea was working perfectly, and I was loving every minute of it.
I had emailed Danielle my planned itinerary, and that meeting for lunch would be possible either this day or the following. The train was a half-hour late leaving Bordeaux, and by the time I got to my hotel room Toulouse, the lunch hour for this day had more or less passed. I hadn’t heard back from Danielle anyway. I’d guessed she was quite busy getting settled in and maybe inundated by school already. No worries. I had bread, cheese, sausage and wine I’d bought for the room, and there was a quiet square behind the hotel, which was where I sat and had a picnic lunch.
Time had already dissolved in this new dimension of the multiverse I found myself in. I had to look at my phone to know what day of the week it was. Time re-emerged only briefly when it came to train schedules. Once aboard though, it wasn’t so much that I was traveling through time, as much as I was traveling without it.
I received Danielle’s email while eating my picnic lunch. Turns out she’d been as walloped by jet lag as me, and had just woken up. It was about 2:30 in the afternoon, and she suggested meeting for lunch the following day. I had scheduled a late afternoon departure for Arles for just such an eventuality, and we agreed to meet at the train station at noon tomorrow. There was a cafe across the street from the station, and since I’d be checked out of the room, I’d have the dead body I was carrying on my back with me. After lunch, I could just haul the cadaver back across to the station and be on my way to Arles.
At lunch that following day, it didn’t take long for our conversation to probe deeper into the subject of grief. Danielle is an intense, earnest and deep thinking individual. We shared more personal details, as well. I had to revise my original age guess. I’d assumed that as a graduate student, she was in her early twenties. But during lunch she told me she’d been living for fourteen years with a young man she’d known since she was eighteen. That meant Danielle was more a surrogate daughter than the surrogate granddaughter I’d originally surmised. (They do grow up so fast, don’t they?)
A wave of concern ran across her face when I told her of my divorce that had preceded being with Carolyn. “Why did your marriage end in divorce,” she wanted to know. That was not going to be answered in the course of a single lunch. Besides, over the decades, I had come to see the question more as why did my divorce begin with marriage. I explained as best I could that it was more about two people wanting very different things from a marriage, and that we couldn’t, even after thirty-seven years, manage to find a common ground.
“Did you ever think what might have happened had you and Carolyn married when you two had first met?” Danielle asked.
That was something Carolyn and I had actually talked about, usually at my instigation. “I was so all-over-the-place as far as what I wanted to do with my life then,” I explained to Danielle, “that we both agreed there was a good chance we wouldn’t have made it. Then there would have been a real breakup, and we wouldn’t have ever had the five wonderful years we wound up having together.”
“My partner and I don’t want to get married,” Danielle said. “I think I’m afraid of it.”
I told her with the divorce rate being what it is, her fear was not an unhealthy one. The two hours of our lunch seemed more like minutes. I told her she was a good listener, especially with someone who better expresses himself on paper rather than verbally. “You can tell a good story,” she assured me. “It’s easy,” I said, “especially when the story is about Carolyn.” I told Danielle that I’d include her in the cc list of the posts I was sending out on my trip, and she was happy to know that. I told her, too, the only way back to Gare Montparnsse in Paris, where I had a return bus ticket to the airport, was either through Toulouse or Bordeaux, and I chose Toulouse because the hotel was cheap and close to the station. That would be on the following Sunday, about a week away. Danielle said she’d be returning from her Fulbright orientation in Paris early that same evening, and that maybe there’d be a chance to meet one last time. We agreed to email upon our arrivals, and we’d see. We gave each other a hug, and as I watched her walk away I thought, I just had a perfectly enjoyable and intelligent two-hour lunch with a live person, when I had no intention of speaking to anyone other than the few words necessary to address a ticket agent, hotel clerk or waiter.
What else do you have in store for me, Carolyn, my love?