I'm visiting my mother in Pensacola, Florida after over a year of living near the French west coast. She's hard at work, while I marvel that my travel battered brain and body are even functioning. It's about 15h00, no wait. 3 p.m. That's how we tell time here.
It's an awkward Monday. We have plenty of activities planned, but all of them take place after she finishes work, which I think is the best for me. I've got to ease into this thing, this way of life, and perhaps it's better to do here than my home city in good ol' Houston. I don't know anyone here so they can't possibly compare how I've changed, no matter how indifferent I feel to everything and everyone.
Mother arrives and says it's time to go. She's planned to take me to her weekly rendezvous at a Jazz Society, which I had no idea she even was interested in. As we leave into the rural countriness that is suburban Pensacola, I can't help but to be perplexed with all that I see. There is an equal distribution of rusty trucks and Ma n' Pa shops and/or restaurants, and a most unique car plastered with signs for "Dominque's Sho Nuff Reading School". The first Whataburger restaurant I've seen in 365+ days has me drooling more than I care to admit.
I am very nervous when we pull into the parking lot. It reminds me of when I first arrived in France, and was scarred frenchless to open my mouth. Sure, I had studied a little bit of the language and could work my way through it on page, but that hardly helped when I became surrounded with 20 French students who refused to speak English as a result of the same crippling insecurity and uncertainty which grips me at present. I adapted to them. It took a lot of months, but I did. So much so, that now I'm having a hard time switching back. Don't get me wrong. I completely know English. It's my instincts that need a reminder.
"Hi! Can we join ya'll here?" say a middle aged couple.
"Well, sure thing!" says my mom, as I give an awkward smile and nod.
"We just moved to town and heard this was the place to be. Do ya'll come here a lot?"
"I'm a member, so I'm pretty much here every Monday. We're both from Texas, and he's just visiting me on his way back. He's been abroad for a year, so I haven't even seen my boy since last year!"
"Oh, Oh really? Armed services?"
"Oh, no, no! He was in France."
They turn to me. White smiles shining. Eyes widened with kind prying curiosity.
"Oh la la!," begins the wife. "What were ya doing out there?"
All eyes on me. The place is filled with middle aged to senior citizens. The waitress carded me. I forgot people did that. What was I doing in France? Two nights ago I was walking the streets of Paris with a guy really named Francois, looking for his friend's flat for a party. We stayed out so late that we had to wait for the metro to open at 5 a.m. I slept an hour before leaving to take my flat, but over a year before that I left for La Roche Sur-Yon, which rings no bells to anyone, almost ever. What did I do my darling country town? Pfttt. It's too much to remember, and even more difficult to say.
"Well...I waz in the west coast doing an internship...um...It waz just at a small university there...and..uhh, I did some work az an English teacher at a college..No! I mean middle school."
"Yeah! And you picked up an accent too!"
"Oh yes he did," chimes mother. "I could hardly even understand him during Skype calls."
I'll I can do is thank God as the food arrives. I can stuff fried goodness in my face to replace the mangled phrases escaping from my mouth.
The music is so loud, and amazing, that I don't really have to talk to anyone. I few one liners here and there, and I turn my eyes back to the stage. My plate is soon empty, and I sit aimlessly taping my hand, and checking the time. It's about 9 p.m. I sit sideways in my chair. My jets are lagging.
"You want to go home baby?"