I envisioned this post as a time capsule of sorts. While studying abroad in Nantes, France, I decided that I would one day want something that would be a one-way ticket to an experience of memory, a memory of experience. I wanted something that would make me feel as if I was transported back to the moment when I sat along the Erdre River with my two bare pieds noirs (literally “black feet”), dusty and darkened from wandering barefoot. So without further ado, I present the letter that I wrote to the most important person of my experience–my “host sister.”
I’m writing to you, but you will likely never read this letter. Mais si tu vois ça, n’hesites pas à demander à Nathalie pour une traduction – j’utilise beaucoup d’argot, mais elle fera de sa mieux. (If you do, ask Nathalie to translate- my English is replete with unique slang, but she’ll do her best.) I’m writing to you to explain the thoughts that rest idle when the words have run elsewhere. I’m writing to you because there’s no map to sincere gratitude that has sufficient instructions when you’re lost in translation.
The words “host sister” find their way ever so subtly into my conversation. The title comes easy now that it’s slipped its way into conversation with friends and family so many times. It’s easy, convenient, just a smidge endearing, but also quite amusingly incorrect.
We are not technically sisters. And while nobody would guess it, you’re not part of my host family either. (Though truly you are considered such, more or less.) You are a student, renting the room for two years now in this house we call ours and studying at the same university in this charming city. Our rooms sit side-by-side and are linked by the bathroom we share, like many other things.
I love that we are always known as les filles (the girls) in the house. We’ve taken to taking meals together, swapping cheese and sharing bread. I never get sick of laughing about the time when we gleefully put ribbons in our brother’s shoes on his birthday. I love that we’ll both bemoan missing Nathalie’s amazing pumpkin soup and tease the other if she does. I’m constantly amused by your endless love of coffee. And by the time you’re on cup #4, I know full well to join you pronto. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
It warms my soul that you rush to greet me, when you know I’ve had an unkind exam at way-too-early in the morning. You are the first one to ask me how it went. To tell me “ça va, c’est fini” (it’s ok, it’s over), when my lower lip trembles in response. Whether you knew that or not, I needed it more than anything.
When I bounce into a room, I love that you offer to make room on the couch for me. And share the blanket too. Blanket sharing is serious business in this world of friendship. I try to politely refuse every time so as to not make you move. And I laugh every time you shoot me a raised eyebrow and eye-rolling glance that clearly says “shut up, and sit your ass down.” You know me a good handful of steps beyond politeness.
I love that you put my host brother, Cyriaque, in his place when he gets sassy up in your grill. I love that we’ll eat seconds of dessert at any given chance because we rejoice in just how sweet life is. I love that you know my class schedule and that I know yours. That you’re my confidante for all questions bizarre and embarrassing (and believe me, I ask a lot). I love the way you talk to your 2 year old (?) nephew, like your heart is so full of adoration that every word is laced with a love plain and simple. You’re kind and silly, easy-going and always ready to answer my next question.
I loved that night you bought hard cider during our spontaneous trip to the grocery store — “2 for tonight, and 2 for another night,” you said. That we cooked dinner, filling the kitchen with music and soul-soothing laughter alike. I love that I uttered the words ‘Ryan Gosling’, and you took your hand to lips and declared, “Il est parfait!” as I lost myself to laughter. I love that we later hung out and watched The Notebook en français, with you reminding me to make myself at home in your room that sits mere steps from mine. I loved the risotto you made but loved the pride that shone in making it even more. I love that you asked me twice if I was forgetting anything before leaving…even though you knew I likely would anyway. That like my sister, you stopped me before going out, straightened my smile, and beamed saying, “Tu es jolie!” (you’re beautiful).
I smile from head to toe realizing how good of friends we’ve become so quickly, even with that transparent language barrier that tries to draw a line between two. I try to imagine what it would be like if I could speak fluently in French, or you in English. If this sweet companionship could be even better.
I love that I never guessed we of all people would be best friends. But I couldn’t be happier that we are. I wonder if we’ll keep in touch and what it’d be like if/when you were to come visit me in California. I think about how much you’ve given me comfort in being here and if I could ever do the same in return. I think about how much I’ll miss you. But above all, I wonder if you realize what all this has to meant to me…that at the end of the day, I would be proud to call you my sister.