1.2.17

The story of an American dream

A few months back, I attended a story-telling class during one of my visits to Seattle. The team at Assembly Intiman provided us with precious advice and guidance on how to bring anecdotes to life, to insufflate in paragraphs sparks of emotion that will take your readers or your audience on a journey. The inspired us with vivid examples from The Moth. They explained how by bringing the story to life through with personal examples and necessary details, whilst never losing sight of the greater purpose, you could turn a story line into a richer experience. One of the exercises consisted in randomly selecting a topic and elaborating a plot on the back of that situational teaser... I picked up: "Your first crush". Here is how it ended up, after a few minutes of reflection:

"Close your eyes, and imagine. In a few months, my wife, two kids and I will move to Seattle, WA. The winter will be over and a truck filled with our boxes will be parked in front of the house we have just bought. The last reminiscences of snow will be still melting in the shade of the large evergreens. I have taken a big job at Microsoft, and I am about to embark on a career path that should be rewarding in many ways... A dream. Some would even call it the American dream.

But let me share a French dream. Her name was Nathalie. I was a young teenager attending the local high school in a small town back home, in the Alps. I was then relatively good academically, certainly good athletically and socially... well, I had friends. I did not drink. I did not smoke. And in that picture of perfection, the only thing missing was The Girl.

The year before, though, I got to know Nathalie during drama classes. As others performed the year-end play, we were exchanging connivent smiles in the promiscuity of the improvised backstage. No words. Just candid glances and smiles. As the summer broke, we parted ways for the holidays, but as our respective birthdays came, letters made their way to our mailboxes. Innocuous pieces of paper, peppered here and there of clumsy attempts to infer some sort of feelings. As many mountaineers, I am probably better at dealing with the grandeur of my surroundings than with the depths of my inner self.

Nonetheless, as school resumed, I rushed to the school gate to see in which class I was, and I could not avoid searching for her name, secretly hoping we would be able to continue that flirt between maths and geography. And she was there, her name just a few rows above mine on the pupil list of class 7D. I remember smiling at that discovery... Until she arrived and went straight in, without a look for me.

Nathalie the perfect girl. She was smart, and beautiful. Her eyes were green with hazelnut shards scattered around her iris as if a glass marble had been crushed into her eye. It is funny that thirty years later I still remember that detail because for months I was unable to look at her. I stared at her, timidly, but was unable to make eye-contact. I spent hours listening to lectures, half-present, with my gaze wandering her golden locks and my respiration slowly getting in tune with her own. I have looked at her back for hours, for days, for months in fact but without the courage to ever face her. But then came the warm, inspiring month of April. Encouraged by the bourgeoning nature (and the encouraging whispers of friends), I dared to call her out as she strolled across the schoolyard:

- Hi?
- Hi.
- Do you want to go out with me?
- No!

She had replied without the hint of an hesitation. So, as a good French, I turned around, shrugged and went back to my friends as if nothing had happened. Disappointed, deeply hurt, but utterly dismissive of the whole situation (as you rightly do when out of touch with your feelings). I was a teenage boy after all. What would you expect?

But she came running at me. Not Nathalie, her best friend. She confessed that, although Nathalie fancied me, she did not want to hurt one of her own friends who also had feelings for me. Yes, that made sense. Somewhat. Deceived by my own success... That was good enough for my ego, even if disappointing for my libido.

That same best friend called me back a few years later. She had found my number in the phone book and although we had respectively moved to different parts of town, she thought it was a good idea to let me know that Nathalie was still very much into me, but that she could not dare to reach out, after the schoolyard anti-climax. So, in a non-act of emotional courage, I grabbed my phone immediatl... a couple months later, and called her to invite her out. We went to the cinema, spent the afternoon together and as I walked her home our hands touched. An almost imperceptible brush of skin. We looked at each other. Eyes in eyes. I tilted my head. She titled hers. Got closer, and as our lips touched each other... Nothing.

Just like that, years of fantasy vanished in a brief exchange of saliva. So as I reopen my eyes, and look at these boxes that we have just finished to pack, I cannot avoid but think that my American dream may well just be another fantasy. But, you know what? I don't really care, as it is still very much worth living these dreams."

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