Saturday, January 16, 2010

My Other French Aunt and Uncle

In the 1970s, my parents spent two years in West Africa as peace corps volunteers. While they were there, my mom's sister joined them for a visit, met a Sean Connery-lookalike Frenchman completing his “service militaire,” and the rest is history. I have two lovely French cousins who are among my favorite people in the world, and visits to see my aunt and uncle in Brittany are heavenly, relaxing orgies of delicious food, full-bodied wine and good conversation.

This past September, I acquired a second set of French aunt-and-uncles. (After all, one really can't have too many.) By rights, they should belong to La Moustache, since my new Oncle D is Moustache's mother's brother, and Tante M is his girlfriend. However, I've adopted them instead.

Tante M is a teacher, like me, but she retired last year. Thinking she'd be sad when the new schoolyear started, she and Oncle D planned a visit to New York in September. Hence they unwittingly ended up chez nous in Brooklyn, right smack in the middle of our breakup.

This could have been a very awkward situation, and I won't lie, there were moments when it was. I was alternately furious and devastated, and would sometimes pull Moustache into our bedroom so I could vent my tears and recriminations away from Oncle D and Tante M. At first, we pretended that everything was fine between us. However, one day when Moustache was at work, I was talking to Oncle D and Tante M about my career, and told them that I might be moving to Boston. Oncle D interjected, “But what about Moustache? It would be so hard for the two of you to be apart!” I paused, unsure what to say. Then I decided to go with the truth: “Well, you see, Moustache might be leaving me anyway. He's thinking about going on a trip around the world, and he doesn't want me to come.”

I would have stopped there, but Oncle D and Tante M's reaction was empathetic and sincere, and they encouraged me to say more. They told me that they couldn't imagine going through so many difficult things simultaneously. They talked to me about their own past relationships and divorces, and confided that therapy had helped them figure out what they wanted out of a relationship and how to move on when it wasn't working; I shared stories about my own Wise Woman, and told them of my frustration that Moustache refused to get therapy or talk about his feelings. A few days later, Tante M stepped into my bedroom with me and said, “I can see how sad you are. Let it out.” I cried and cried as she rocked me in her arms.

I left shortly thereafter, fleeing to a friend's house to avoid having to spend more time with La Moustache. Oncle D and Tante M encouraged me: “You can do it! Just don't let yourself look back. Keep up your strength.” They called every couple of days while they were still in Brooklyn, and we met up for coffee. After they went back to France, they continued to support me via e-mail; Oncle D even sent me a recommendation for a book about divorce that he thought I should read.

La Moustache's parents used to come for long visits at least once a year, and I eagerly looked forward to them. I was particularly close with his mother, who I considered to be almost like a second mother or an auntie to me, and losing that relationship was one of the many hard things about our breakup. I feel so lucky that Oncle D and Tante M came along when they did, and that I can maintain a relationship with them since they're not as close to La Moustache.

A couple of days ago, Oncle D posted a video on his Facebook page with a message beneath it: “It's for you Heathen.” It was a video of a French singer singing a song entitled, “Le premier jour (du reste de ta vie)” – “The First Day (of the Rest of Your Life).” It's totally cheesy, and I'm sure it would make La Moustache roll his eyes and make a snide comment. And I love it.

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