The last time I saw my father he was wearing a toupee that looked like a year’s worth of dryer lint, a worn-out Carolina t-shirt, the blue almost white now, green golfing shorts, and penny loafers... [+]
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“Come on, come on, come on, before the moment's gone”
The lyrics of “No. 1 Party Anthem” by the Arctic Monkeys rang through the summer air. It had been a red hot summer, right from June, covering France with its stifling blanket of sun. And even now, at the end of August, it continued to stifle vacationers.
“I would love to have one last swim in the sea,” said Ilse, pensive as ever.
It was the end, the end of the summer, the end of the vacation, the end of adolescence. They were going to go away, each to a different place. Paris for Jules, Lannion for Edwige, Lille for Simon, Munich for Ilse. They would be a long way away from each other. They would be leaving Beauce where they were born, leaving their parents, their friends, their so simple, so easy, little life.
“Well, let’s go,” Jules suddenly suggested. They all looked at him, dumbstruck. But they understood. They wanted to. To go away for one last time, together. To go away for one last time before they separated. Questions started tumbling out. How would they get there? What about the new term? And their parents? And money? Panic ensued. Total improvisation. But it didn’t matter. A bit of madness, now and again, couldn’t do any harm.
“We’ll go now. Come on, before the moment's gone,” was all he said, with a sly smile.
They took the Clio belonging to Jules’s mother. They left immediately, before anyone could stop them, and they waited an hour before they told anyone. They were going off to the South. They were going to see the sea. Immediately, their parents’ replies flew back. They were not very pleased, and thought their behavior irresponsible. What about their classes? No more than two days. They didn’t have a lot of time. And not less than six and a half hours of driving to get there.
“We’ll sleep under the stars!” exclaimed Edwige.
“We’ll go swimming by moonlight,” replied Ilse.
“We’ll eat... hamburgers on the beach?” suggested Simon.
And they all burst out laughing, while Jules listened to them, saying nothing. He was thinking about the future, with a wry smile on his face, and his eyes on the road. He was wondering if they would still be speaking to each other ten years from now. They were all setting off in different directions. Journalism, political science, teaching, medicine: even their studies were dissimilar. They would change, grow older, more mature. They would become adults. They might grow distant, not talk to each other any more, forget each other. Orléans, Bourges, Clermont-Ferrand, signs for new cities sped past on the highway, like years that had just run their course. Goodbye school, hello university.
From time to time they stopped. The car needed gas, and fortunately, they had brought enough money. At rest stops, they joked and played around, hooted with laughter and teased each other. Just for a moment, just for a journey, they were children once again. On the road, they were no longer adults in the making; they were simply themselves: Edwige, Ilse, Simon, Jules. Four friends, four eighteen-year-olds, suddenly terrified at the idea of growing up. With their stomachs in knots, and a growing anxiety, they resumed their journey.
“We could decide not to go home. We could just keep driving, traveling, stopping from time to time,” Jules said suddenly, breaking the silence that had settled over them since their last stop.
He sensed they were afraid. He sensed their apprehension. He sensed that they had become aware of what awaited them.
“You mean a road trip?” asked Ilse, voicing the question in everyone’s mind.
“A road trip in France... it doesn’t sound quite as classy as in the United States,” retorted Edwige.
“It would be a road trip French-style. We’d go through Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, we’d come back through Rhône-Alpes, Franche-Comté, Alsace, and then why not go as far as Nord-Pas-De-Calais?” suggested Jules, whose irony was palpable, despite his very serious air.
They all looked at the driver, then burst out laughing. He smiled, glad to have known how to change their mood. They would have all liked to continue driving along this A75 highway forever, rather than returning to their parents, rather than going away to study, rather than going a long way away. But they would go back. This was only a last-minute panic, anxiety about the new year, the fear of the unknown. It would pass. In the meantime, they were all there, on the road. It was nearly eight o’clock in the evening and they still had at least two hours to go. When the traffic got moving again, they drove and drove, without stopping, until they arrived. And when they finally saw the sign for Montpellier, they couldn't help releasing their joy and excitement. Without looking for somewhere to eat, they made their way to the first beach, and ran down to it. Pulling on their swim suits, the only extra clothes they had brought, they threw themselves into the sea, which seemed to be calling to them, pulling them far out, away from that unbearable heat.
Their laughter hid their fear of the future. That evening, they forgot all about it. That evening, they were smiling, This was the end. The end of the summer, the end of the vacation, the end of adolescence. But not the end of their friendship. Tomorrow, they would take to the road again. This was the last breath of their adolescence. Now, life was starting.
Translated by Wendy Cross