We stood by an entrance to the autoroute between Nice and Cannes one morning. An English truck pulled over. He was going as far as Paris, but he could only take one of us. It was too good a ride to turn down, and Michael insisted I go. We promised to meet again at Charles de Gaulle airport, as soon as we could get there. Messages would be left at the information desk and we’d wait there every day between six and ten p.m. until we were reunited.
I got there two days later. He arrived, miraculously, an hour after me.
During the two days apart, we’d both had time to think. I was desperate to get back to the UK, to see my family and friends and to sleep in comfort. In the past month I’d slept in a proper bed only twice, and hadn’t felt hot water on my body since Venice. Understandably, Michael felt the same way. A parting of our ways was inevitable.
I pulled together enough money to get a Eurolines bus ticket to London. Michael called his father, who arranged at ticket to JFK for the following day and a room at a hotel near the airport for the night.
The night at the hotel was good and bad. Lovely and terrible. As we lay there in the dark, we both knew what was happening, we both understood that seeing each other again anytime soon wasn’t likely. Airline tickets were out of our reach financially and neither of our families could afford to continually subsidise us, even if they wanted to.
The next morning, the clothes we’d sent to the hotel laundry had come back.
We left the hotel with the past washed out of our clothes if not our hearts.
We headed off, individually, separately, alone.
I never told my parents that I was coming back. The look of shock and delight on my Mother’s face when she answered the door was incredible. She literally fell to the floor with surprise and my father came out to see what was causing all of the commotion.
It was me. I was home.
But it wasn’t me. I wasn’t home.