It started in Versailles. There you were looking at centuries old rooms coated in luxury, stained by the violence of excess. You found an older version of yourself--the one who once would have eaten up every little decorative touch in the royal bedrooms and every morsel about Marie Antoinette--tucked into a corner by the window, staring out at the Hall of Mirrors. There was your reflection of someone long gone, that you who used to make your living memorizing these facts of another age, another culture, a ghost not completely sure she had passed on to another realm.
You saw her again roaming the ground of this palace, lost in the excess. You watched as she searched for Marie Antoinette's cottage, the place the queen played peasant, desperate for a glimpse of something real after the painful glitter of the palace. Yet she was also painfully eager to put her stamp on the place as if to legitimize her past studies after viewing what she'd only read about in books. But you reign her in. You are weary of this empty place, this soulless husk of a time long gone. You let this old remnant go over escargot in the Rue Cler, happy once again to be who you are, where you are.
Yet this old life crosses your path again, this time in London as if a walk through Covent Garden has triggered her appearance. (You begin to wonder if you will ever be fully rid of her.) Here, too, she is disoriented, only half-aware that her time has passed. Like the old pleasure grounds of Covent Garden taken over by luxury shops and tourist traps, she no longer exists except in name. You mourn this loss, feeling history erode beneath your feet and yet are grateful for the firm grounding of the here and now--family, present enjoyment of a good fish and chips dinner, things you would have forsaken in the past to prove your knowledge, your mastery of something outside yourself.
She appears only once more, this past life, the path you could have taken had you chosen to remain a scholar-nun, wed only to your books, your research, your grip on dead things long past. You find her in Bath; here she is only a wisp of smoke, already faded under your appreciation of the path you now walk. She whispers to you on the Circus, the circle lined with Georgian Buildings, the hub of gossip, home to many an Austen novel (a fact, among others, she is proud to remember), yet her voice is only a rustle of leaves. Here too, the city is overtaken with over-priced shops and sad imitations of a life that once was. Here too, you say goodbye to the dust and memories that used to occupy your life so completely. Here too, you turn from her.
You have left the Circus, your old self disappearing like a puff of smoke, that path you could have taken paved over with yellow bricks such as those that Bath was built with. You watch it happen from the safety of your new path, carved from the desert stone, cured by the desert sun, nourished by everyday life. This is your path. As if to sweep away the last of your old life as you return home, you receive a message from your sister, a bright light clearing through the rubbish of the past: she is having a baby girl. You will be tia, you will be autie, to a little niece. All at once, you see what is before you now: new life, warm as the desert heat you are missing, real as your native soil beneath your feet. Family. The desert. The enchantment of daily life. This is your life.
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