by Ciera Miller, Nostalgia Contest 2nd place winner
I have been feeling nostalgia lately. Nostalgia for your nine meter room, down the hall your kitchen that’s only open every other weekend, three floors above the rez-de-chaussée where someone I never had the chance to meet played Let It Go on your piano three nights a week. Nostalgia for people who spoke Greek, who spoke Portuguese, who spoke Spanish, Persian, German, Italian—oh, and I can’t forget French. Camille ne me pardonnerait jamaissi j’avais omissa langue. France, you wouldn’t forgive me either.
Did you know nostalgia comes from the Greek nostos, meaning return home, and algos, meaning pain? In the late 1600s, it combined with the German Heimwehe, coming to mean homesickness. Though I’d never thought of nostalgia as something having to do with feeling sick or being in pain. I knew nostos—I knew wanting to return to something that once felt like home.
Nostalgia makes me think of the night I met Marcelle and she spoke to me in her perfect English in her perfect British accent about traveling and about books, like someone I’d met growing up. It made me think of when Guilherme made a big deal about giving me a bise because I was American, and Americans don’t kiss each other on the cheeks in greeting. He reminded me of my guy friends at home who make a big deal over hugging me before I leave. When Camille confessed she had a crush on one of the other international students and her blushing cheeks and her waving her pointer finger at me and saying, “You can not tell anyone Ciera!” in her thick French accent, like we were two 12 year olds confessing our secrets to each other at a sleepover. Cooking with the Greek girls in a crowded kitchen on the weekend, wearing chefs’ hats and dancing around like we were playing dress up.
I never knew nostalgia as melancholy. Melancholy was in Because of Winn-Dixie, when Opal took a bite out of a Littmus Lozenge: she enjoyed it at first, gave Winn-Dixie a bite, but then her mouth turned sour—and that had nothing to do with the taste. Opal said there was a flavor that made her sad. Miss Fanny called it melancholy. A sweet sort of reminder that holds a sad place in your heart.
Dear France, you are my Littmus Lozenge. At first bite I remember all the fun times we had. Mymy singing the Dora the Explorer theme song with me as we walked down the street. Finding Jonathan on the stairwell almost every time I left my room and having the most awkward conversations known to man kind. Meeting Dani every Wednesday morning on the walk to class, the wind tugging tears out his eyes and him swearing, “I am okay, I am not crying, it’s the wined? Is that how you say it?”—“Le vent?”—“Oui, yes, wind—wined?”—“Wind”—“Thank you so much, oh God I am late—”
The second bite punctures my heart like when you accidentally prick your finger while sewing. It hurts for a second but then there’s a dull ache the rest of the day. This is where algos sets in, unfamiliar and daunting. Missing the laughter we shared, the weekly hangouts, standing in the hallway cracking jokes while waiting for our professor (who was late every week). No longer being able to hop a train to Paris or London or Amsterdam in the middle of the week to check a landmark off my list. Knowing that I will probably never have the opportunity to go to all those places again.
Nostalgia is a double-edged sword. One edge makes remembering so happy, makes me laugh and smile, wishing for those memories to repeat. But the wishing leads to the other edge, where desire for what once was makes your heart hurt. Remembering hurts, makes you sorrowful, makes Opal’s mouth turn down. The same goes for you, France: I wish for those memories to repeat but my wishing leaves a sour taste in my mouth.
Dear France: tu me manques. I am homesick for you.
Ciera Miller attends the University of Maine at Farmington, studying Creative Writing and International & Global Studies. She has published work previously on The River as a co-editor, and she has written articles published in The Farmington Flyer. She believes that coffee is the best of all the food groups.