Dear 2015/2016-School-Year English Teaching Assistant for Lycée Jean Moulin,
More than anything, I am perplexed by the black-and-white photograph of a woman playing accordion that you left (off-center) on the wall of (y)our living room, my dear predecessor. Of course you left furniture here, a little bit of dish soap, a roll of toilet paper, even the bath salt makes sense: but why that singular piece of paper that could have so easily gone home with you? Why did you leave behind this picture of quintessential France for France? This France in two dimensions, in black-and-white, in 1940s jazz?
Paper travels easily, so I read this singular break in blank wall space as a deliberate act. I mostly assume that it was a gift for whatever future you knew would replace you. I assume you are generous, choosing to love the person that would take over your life here.
And, for some reason, I want you to know that the person that took over your life here, who now possesses your accordion photograph, is a vegetarian, just like I am told you were. I only have a fingerprint here or there to build my image of you from, but I want to tell you that I think we are fairly similar, you and me. I am American, not British, but I have certainly been described as “nice” in the same way that people talk about you these days: meaning that I know you too are quiet, I know you like books (you used to hang out in the library a lot, I am told), I can easily conjecture that you struggled like I have to fit into the niches of this small town. Or maybe you didn’t and I am only projecting (isn’t that all this is). There is no way to tell, really.
Perhaps I am wrong in the image I have made for you as all love and generosity, anyway. Perhaps you did not love that future which ripped away your home to give to me. They say that ghosts are usually the result of violence, of unfinished business, and I can certainly feel you lurking in my life here.
I have always been obsessed with ghosts, my dear predecessor, like the memory of a past France haunting that image in our living room. I am, of course, obsessed with the ghost of you. The ghost whose shoes I fill daily in the classroom, the salle de prof, my place of residence. The ghost against which I can feel the teachers comparing me every time they comment on my lessons, or when they tell their classes “Lizzy will do this, just like the old assistant.” I am obsessed, I think, exactly for this sake of context. I want to be my own person. I want to be an adult, but I cannot get rid of that teenager–like the ones we teach, predecessor–whose worth only came from her comparisons to those around her, frantically obsessed with others only for the sake of being better than them. The same teenager enchanted by an image of France where a woman could look so happy, alone, with only her accordion. I need to stop seeking your ghost.
But I still want to ask you, my vegetarian, what was you life like outside of the classroom? Did you struggle like me? Perhaps it is wrong, anyway, to assume that leaving the picture here was an act of generosity. As a former Francophile trapped in an Anglo world (like I assume you would have been to do TAPIF), I can immediately identify with the photograph’s sentiment about the dreaminess that France can have from afar. It has the same ambiance that lives in La Vie en Rose, the film Amelie, and all those Eiffel Tower souvenirs floating around America. The same enchanting sentiment that a real life anywhere has a tendency to invade, for lack of a better term. Was leaving this paper here an act of generosity or disillusionment? What did you think of your France in three dimensions, mon assistante anglaise?
You, predecessor, are still but a projection, and I want our images to be the same just like I want them to be nothing alike. What kind of teacher were you? What did you think of Pézenas? Why did you leave that picture here?
Who are you?
The 2016/2017 English Teaching Assistant for Lycée Jean Moulin
(Also, this definitely comes from reading Ander Monson’s Letter to a Future Lover a little too much)