d'Aller Jusqu'au Bout (to go until the bitter end)

Now, Into Today

Now, into Today…

The snowflakes have melted away. The sun streams through the gray skies as the morning comes into view. The fire in the fireplace has faded away since, and my journal has returned to its usual state of being closed. Closed—but always there. Waiting on the nightstand by the fireplace adorned by her sword and beside the vase with fresh flowers. The journal still soaked with tears and embroidered with the beautiful phantom of the pressed lily, which still kept its vibrance all these years.

After that entire episode, I find myself mulling over my tears in the rocking chair, my legs too weak to push me back and forth nor to elevate my body from its fragile state bombarded by tears. But somehow, remembering was…refreshing. Inscribing it all again—rejuvenating. It lifted my burdens and allowed me to analyze it all better. To understand, after the longest time, most of the things I didn’t understand then. I always believed moving on meant forgetting. It doesn’t mean that at all.

On the last rock forward, the chair helps me up, and I shimmy to the window, feeling powerful to be tall again. The world is just waking up now—taking in the warmth and beauty of the day. Even though it’s the last day I saw her…maybe it doesn’t have to be so sad. All the time, anyway.

Sigh. It’s finally time.

With a lazy combing through my hair, I straighten myself up to go out—attired in my usual blue coat which I always find myself wearing. It’s my favorite. The air is so calm today—uplifting. It hugs all my troubles away, leaving me with a smile. Passing the flower shop, I pick up my order, two dozen white lilies, and make my way out of town. It will be another long journey today, but not as perilous and arduous as the one I just returned from. No. nothing will be as difficult as that. But no matter the journey, you shall be waiting at the end, and that gives me to hope and heart to continue.

The walk is comforting, nostalgic. I follow the unmarked path to her house, where she always leads me. It’s so strange to me how it looks exactly the same—without the mark of time—and feels the same to the point where it feels like, sometimes, little Jeannette is still there, washing the dishes, practicing her hymns and prayers, admiring the garden outside. It’s sweet to know. I leave a lily there for her to pick up.

I follow the Loire River, with all its ebbs and flows and tos and fros as it winds about the valleys and plains. Such a sweet river. It seems so strange now that it was barely considered mine back then. Has it always been a part of me? Or did I just steal it? Haha. Either way, it brings me joy now to watch it flow along without a care in the world. Along my path, I place more lilies for her to find, each one signifying another special day we shared. One at the castle, my old house; one by the riverside, another at Orléans, and more to scatter beside the other towns. Each to stand beside her likeness imbued in stone. Strong—but gentle.

The wind sweeps across the plains, and I run along, youthfully, to follow its call. It returns me to that sacred but somber spot—the last patch of ground which her feet graced. My love. Once I came to after being with Mathieu, I had set a marker by where she last stood, consecrating the ground as her place of remembrance. A small stone pillar which reaches to the sky, etched elegantly with her name and pieces of scripture. After that, I often came by to add another decoration or symbol of her life to bring meaning to her grave. A small cross like the simple one she held, her standard of white she carried, a modern French flag to symbolize what she was a part of creating… Fresh flowers that would often stand beside her to remind her the tenacity of life and the beauty of the simple. A hidden box buried behind the stone filled with my stupid poems and letters… And I’d often rearrange the objects or add more to my liking. So as not to overcrowd and not make it look like my shrine of depression. Just enough. Just right. Now it’s mostly just the flowers, the standard, the cross, and the flag. I can almost see her smile.

Kneeling to the ground, I offer the wrapped bouquet of white lilies, and, with a smile, call out, “Bonjour, Jeanne.”

As the morning fades to afternoon…as the afternoon transforms to evening…as the stars peek their way through the beautiful sky of pink and orange, I stay and chat with her. Tell her all about my misadventures later that day, the memories that stood out to me. The smiles she gave me which still continue to light my heart today. In fact, even as night falls, there are still things I wish to tell her, but I’m sad that I’m running out of time. I pretend to lock those sentiments in my heart to bestow upon her later—that night as I fall asleep.

My heart refreshed, my burdens lifted, I stand, my knees and legs barely willing to carry me home, and I continue to smile. Just as she’s always wanted me to. After all, being there with her again brought out my best smile. All thoughts of her always do. Gently, I put my fingers to my lips and then transfer the kiss to the grass where she once stood.

“I love you.” I whisper, the undertone of my words the music of my heart. “It’s always nice to visit you, my sweet.”

It sounds silly to say something like “See you again,” or “Have fun the rest of today, all right?” or even “Smile for me, cutie,” because I know she’s always doing all of these things—in every whisper, every thought of my heart, every sweet sentiment, every blessing. And so, I merely smile and nod before making my leave once again to home. Dear Paris. I’ll leave a lily for you there, too, my love. For you will always be close to my heart—close to home.

The walk is nice and quiet. Contemplative. The stars are full like a garden in bloom, and the moon guides my path. With the horizon in sight, I find myself reaching for it as I walk along—to what lies beyond as well as behind me. I wonder always just what awaits me? Especially now, during this time of simplistic days and beautiful moments. Either way, I know you will be there beside me no matter what may come, my dear. You won’t let me go down without a fight—whether it is something bad or something good. And, in the end, we will both stand beside each other with smiles on our faces and stars in our eyes.

Back at my home in Paris, it’s good to take a while to relax again. Just to be by myself, relaxing, wondering what to make for dinner. With a sigh, I relax in the chair, my eyes wandering to the journal across from me. Of course. The journal. All my memories, good and bad, now imbued.

It’s strange. Through all these days, I’ve always seen her story as sad. Seen it only as the ending, but—in writing this book and revisiting those days—I realize now that’s never what it was. That it’s much more than that. Good as well as bad. And it was never the end—but a continuation. As her spirit still shines and her smile still finds me from the sky. And so it’s always been. I don’t need to regret my actions or to forget the pain or to move on or repent. She’s always been here—they could never take her soul. The good memories we shared. Her power and inspiration.

Maybe—I see now—that’s why she told me to smile then. Because she was fulfilling her will—transcending to be my guardian angel, where she’ll continue to protect me. The patron saint of France. That her sacrifice and courage would never be forgotten. Immortalized. That she’d—as she said—remain. Always. Intrinsic even in memory.

So I should smile, now and every day, for she’d love to see me happy. And I am happy, knowing that we’ll always be side-by-side, still and forever, just as we had then, walking together until the bitter end.

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