It is often that case that, on the brink of an epiphany, I discover – to perhaps a greater shock – that I have already been living this newly discovered truth, deep inside me and imperceptible in any tangible form. And thus, when I finally understood that I would never again return to Geneva, I was perhaps even more surprised to discover that I’d already known this.
My relationship with Geneva is like that of a childhood companion: an acquaintance through circumstance rather than choice, and grudgingly accepted. And in the case of childhood companions, change might unite or distance said pair. In my case, however, the change was one-sided, emanating only from me, while Geneva remained static and stately. Perhaps this is what made it so difficult to part with Geneva: silently, she had posed hurdles and obstacles, presented me with various paths, and wordlessly watched as I selected that which I’d walk. Over the course of three years she had watched patiently, without complaint, as I blithered and blundered and generally made a fool of myself.
Clarification: I do not claim to have overcome said blithering and blundering, rather I am in its thick. Nor do I assert having blindly stumbled generally towards enlightenment, rather a self-selected path. Geneva wordlessly watched without judgement.
And this dichotomy, too, is noteworthy: Geneva’s steadfast commitment to stately permanence, contrasted with my dynamic teenage evolution. That the city would not parallel my quotidian change, that it was impervious to the affairs of people, was almost insulting. From one day to another I could experience a paradigm shift, I could be a different person, and still the city remained static, the flower clock still counted the seconds and the Cathedral du St Pierre still chimed at noon. The Mont Blanc sphinxes never once took interest in my human foibles, their frozen marble snarls unacknowledging of rain, or fireworks, or the blanket of snow that obscured their vision.
So perhaps, what I’m getting at, is that I invested a lot of emotion in Geneva; it was transformative for my current self. It symbolizes the watershed between childhood and adulthood. And so, as I sat and mused at the Caron bus stop for the last time, I finally understood that once I left for Ecuador, I would never come back to Geneva. That is not to say, that I would never return. But I could never return. Rather, a stranger by the name and face of Eva would, a stranger with a new set of eyes through which to observe Geneva. One glance through those eyes would shatter the single truth of my last three years.
And so I lived the truth described by JD Salinger* and Marcel Proust and a long line of authors. Life’s kaleidoscope of experiences are achingly ephemeral: they can never be fully recreated nor revisited, but rather exist as the result of millions of small coincidences. The same experience will be different a day later because that day you will have changed; a bittersweet impermanence. It occurred to me that perhaps it was foolish to hold onto Geneva as I knew her then. Surely I would return far more sage and thus could better understand and navigate her. But surely it is unwise to live an experience thinking that one could live it better, at a different pinprick on the map of time. As if I can confidently declare what is and is not wise. But it seems to me that a life seen through only one pair of glasses misses the richness of human experience. I hope to accrue a collection, that I could observe Geneva, Ecuador, high school, or anything else imagined to be eternally consistent, through hundreds of pairs of glasses tinted different colours.
And all this unknown to my conscious self, because the girl who had left Atlanta and arrived in Geneva three years ago was irretrievably lost in time and space.
*’The best thing, though, in that museum was that everything always stayed right where it was. Nobody'd move. You could go there a hundred thousand times, and that Eskimo would still be just finished catching those two fish, the birds would still be on their way south, the deers would still be drinking out of that water hole […]. Nobody'd be different. The only thing that would be different would be you. Not that you'd be so much older or anything. It wouldn't be that exactly. You'd just be different, that's all. You'd have an overcoat on this time. Or that kid that was your partner in line last time had got scarlet fever and you'd have a new partner. Or you'd have a substitute taking the class, instead of Miss Aigletinger. Or you'd heard your mother and father having a terrific fight in the bathroom. Or you'd just passed by one of those puddles in the street with gasoline rainbows in them. I mean you'd be different in some way – I can't explain what I mean. And even if I could, I'm not sure I'd feel like it.’ (16.24)