I take the TGV, train de grande vitesse, from Chambéry to Paris, and then another smaller train to Bernay to stay with Pauline and Roger. Clémence now lives in the neighboring city of Evreux, where she is taking classes for university. I see her a few times for the week I am there, back in that small attic room. Then I have to go back south, ostensibly to attend the language classes that I have been skipping for the past few weeks, bored with repeating lessons that I went through just a month before. On the ride back, I spend most of the three-hour trip holding back tears, hiding my face against the window as the country blurs by. In French, the way you say “homesick” is avoir le mal du pays. You could literally translate this as “to feel the pain of your country.” But it’s not quite that. I am mostly feeling the pain of being in this country.
The second I arrive back in Chambéry, I call Pauline, begging her to let me come back. She calls me nénette, her pet word I’ve heard her say to Clémence so many times before. I am on a train back to Bernay the next morning.