Tuesday, July 29, 2014

A journey of 32 years, and 12 days

It's been a number of months since I last posted anything here, and I'm doing some looking back as well as some looking around at the present.

London, July 2014 - getting ready to time-travel

The grey mid-day light of the Gare du Nord wasn't anything unusual.  Sunday, July 13, 2014 was a bit of a grey day when we left St.Pancras / King's Cross earlier that day, and there had been summer drizzle as we'd crossed the French countryside after emerging from the Chunnel.  I was a little sleepy from our very early departure, and a bit queasy from motion sickness and coffee on a nearly-empty tummy.  And in the midst of the thoroughly routine and explicable, I was puzzled by my sudden rainstorm of tears as I stepped off the TGV Eurostar and began dragging my new rolling luggage down the platform to begin an adventure in Paris.

I was back.  How was this possible? 

And I was overwhelmed.  Why did this feel so hugely significant?

Thirty-two years before, my 18-year-old self  had entered the Gare du Nord with my ticket and luggage, and stepped onto the TGV (Train Grande Vitesse--the first French high-speed train at the time); at the beginning of a life-changing first trip to France right after high school graduation.

All these years, and all these life-changes later, I was back, on the 2-year-anniversary of a day that had changed my life forever. 

I guess it makes sense that the eclipsing light and dark in my heart at that moment would overheat my emotional circuitry and result in a tearful overflow.

How was it possible that it had only been two years ago that my life looked like an unsalvageable mess; facing the prospect of what I thought would be years of empty loneliness and abandoned dreams?  How was it possible that I was here in Paris, travelling for free as a working chaperone, in the company of 19 terrific teenagers, two new adult friends, and a man who makes me laugh and learn every time I'm with him?

As it turned out, it was not my first moment of gratitude that went beyond words and into joyful tears, and it would not be my last on this 12-day trip. 

July, 1982 - happily bringing back les baguettes

In mid-July of 1982, I was an optimistic high school graduate who had studied French since junior high school and had fallen in love with all things French, spending a summer with a warm and gracious French family on a farm property outside Lyon.  I was eagerly soaking up all they had to teach me about life in this lovely country: the language, the food, the people-first pace of life that was full of long, leisurely visits with family and neighbors, sitting at tables under the courtyard trees, sharing jokes, stories, and amazing food, and imagining what life held for me in my truly bright future. 

In mid-July of 1992, I was a 28 year old single woman, working as an ESL teacher in Nashville, TN, and wondering what had become of my original plan to travel the world while teaching, wondering if I'd ever find my soulmate, wondering if I'd already asked too much of life, hoping that the best was yet to come, while worrying that perhaps I'd already missed it.

In mid-July of 2002, I was a sleep-deprived, homeschooling, California housewife, in late pregnancy with my third child, having witnessed my husband survive his first suicide gesture, and wondering what kind of family this yet unborn child would be grow-up in, as his father struggled with his inner demons while trying to survive the Silicon Valley ethos of throwaway humanity and 22-hour workdays. I had no more dreams or plans for the future, other than getting through the next day, keeping all my babies safe and healthy, and maybe catching 40 winks from time to time.

Somewhere in early July of 2012, I came to a moment when I could finally accept the truth:  I could no longer let my four children live under the reign of terror of an increasingly paranoid and abusive man who was my husband and their father.  And on the night of July 13, I made a stupidly risky last-chance move and broke the news of my decision to Andre: that he needed to get help, immediately, or I would have to take the children and leave. Several hours of arguing and thirty minutes of silence led to the awful moment when what was left of Andre Hedrick left us, with a .22-caliber semi-automatic rifle in his hand, a rifle that held, that night, 20 rounds in the clip that he'd loaded, secretly, in the garage earlier that afternoon.  My mis-assessment of the risk I took by telling him of my decision almost cost us all our lives.  Some guardian angels somewhere were working the late shift, I guess.

Thirty years.  Plus two. 

And in those past two years, I have seen my four children emerge from trauma and loss and start rebuilding their lives, complete with successes and failures, false starts and unexpected opportunities.  I am in my second year of a two-year graduate program in counseling psychology, a field that has interested me since my high school days.  I'm working as a trainee two days a week in a community counseling center and looking forward to a second field placement as a school counselor in the Fall. Since last November, I've been spending time with a fascinating, hilarious, multi-talented, man with an insatiable curiosity, a big heart and a great big, hearty laugh. 

And it's because of that life-enhancing friendship with that wonderful man, that I found myself on the train platform in the Gare du Nord, keeping that 32-year-old promise to myself, to return to this lovely city and REALLY see it and experience it. 

If time allows in the next couple weeks, I might even get back to writing a bit of a travelogue, coming full circle to the place where this blog began a few years ago:  a chronicle of travel and what I learn along the way.  I certainly have the photos to share.   

July, 1982 - on my one-day whirlwind tour of Paris, I promised myself I would return.

July 14, 2014 - I promise myself that the next time I'm photographed in Paris, I will take off my glasses, check my hair and use good posture (!)


  1. Thanks for sharing your journey with us! We're so glad that you have found light and happiness!

  2. Thank so much for reading, Christine. I'm grateful for your long-distance friendship :-)

  3. You have come through so much with grace and humor Val. It is such thrill to read about your return to France with a light heart, surrounded by love.

    And yes, posture please ; )

    1. Yes, Madame Yogini, it is time to make a habit of engaging my core, standing and moving through space with the energetic height I was given, huh?

    2. Indeed. My thought when I saw the photo of you with the baguettes was, "JULIA!". Use that energy lady!

  4. My dear cyber friend....thank you for being so real about everything that you have gone through in your life. One day I would love to meet you face to face and embrace you and tell you how special you are right to your face ! lots of love Sharon

    1. You know, Sharon, with all the odd ways that life turns and the world shrinks, who knows? South Africa would be a wonderful place to visit some day. (Or you and your husband could celebrate your empty nest by taking a vacation in the San Francisco Bay area... :-) Heartfelt thanks for your kind words.