a few words about miss chelsea elizabeth...

she likes: making kites, dancing in the rain, adventures, little-while friends, letters, whole-leaf tea, crayons, bare feet, jumping in rivers/streams/creeks/waterfalls, language, catching the clock as it changes numbers, sleepovers, trains (big or small), cuddling & waking up before the sun rises, among other random things.

oregon-born, seattle-raised, bellingham-bred and franco-refined, she had moved back to the states from her affairs across the atlantic & now resides in columbia city with french husband & love of her life rémy. they spend most of their time taming the garden, taking care of their three chickens & two cats, and preparing the urban homestead for a new little chick of their own.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

i want to leave leave leave leapples and baneaneas...

so i had this stark realization yesterday.

first of all, the past year or so has been very...fluid, we/ll say. surreal. hard for me to grasp reality. whether it/s a side effect of a severe post concussive syndrome or just what sobriety for prolonged periods of time feels like i/m not sure.

ok, i wasn/t always inebriated if that/s what you/re thinking. but this isn/t the point of this story.

the point is that for the first time yesterday i actually came down from my usual detached position hovering above myself, floating around observing my actions without any interest or intention in interfering. for the first time since i can remember i had a sincere moment of lucidity.

i was sitting in a classroom during my last class for the day on fridays. i was "correcting papers", meaning i was actually writing a letter to my sister. it was one of the first times the kids were working so well that after walking around the classroom checking their work a few times, i had absolutely nothing to do. so i sat down and pretended to be working in the hopes that they would continue working peacefully, too. which they did. and i had this moment of clarity. i saw exactly where i was and knew exactly how i had gotten there. i connected the dots and realized that it was me who had gotten me where i am today. that i have done some pretty sweet stuff with my life so far, and that it was always me that decided what to do and when. sometimes there was hesitation or discomfort on the part of others (not just particularly parents, though i am aware of their concern for my wellbeing and/or future; moreso friends & family that i leave behind on these adventures that are becoming increasingly more time-consuming with each new excursion) which discouraged me or rather made me reconsider, made me question my actions. but stubborn me i usually pushed on and look where it/s gotten me.

i looked at my students working away contentedly and realized that it was me, i was the one who had personally slaved away for hours and hours and hours doing my own homework & creating worksheets & diagrams & analogies & lesson plans so that these kids could learn a language and that this reward - them working and understanding and succeeding - was the fruit of my labor. no one else/s. i saw that i was creative and fun and capable and really damn good at what i do. that the kids love me and that, more importantly, i love them, something i hadn/t really realized. i mean, i get up before dawn to bike, train, bike to work. i travel almost 20km on bike every day. even on days like yesterday when it was pouring rain. incessantly. all day. i show up soaking but still have a smile on my face. still find them all adorable. all 350 of them. that/s got to say something about both of us.

i realized that i have been questioning my future for so so many years, and i still question it, actually, on a semi-daily basis. "oh my god! what am i going to do with my life? oh my god! how am i going to do that? what am i going to do with my future, this terrible concept that we are always terrified of but in reality can never actually touch? what about my future?" and it hit me sitting there surrounded by whispered questions ("is 'my' mom in english 'me mom' or 'my mom'?" "if my 'step-mom' has children, are they still my 'sister'?") and answers ("if your great-grandpa died in the war, maybe you should put a cross next to him to show that he/s not around any more." "you spelled 'sister' with an 'x'; it/s not 'sixter'."). it hit me hard.

this is my future. this is it. this is my life. the life that i have built for myself. i am living in france, for chrissake. teaching at elementary schools. i don/t think i had really fully understood what that meant before. i don/t make a ton of money, but i am flexible. i am courtenay/s chameleon and i know how to adapt and make the best of situations. i go where the wind blows me and i don/t just survive; i live. i graduated from a university cum laude in four years with two degrees and since graduating i have found two incredible jobs across the globe that push me, that have challenged me, and that have made me grow in leaps and bounds. so what if they aren/t "careers"? so what if they are only going to last me a year or so? so what? they are giving me experience that others coming straight out of college and going into a 9-5 job that pays well and has good benefits aren/t ever going to get. i may not always have great benefits, but i/ll always find ways to make my own, damnit.

it eased a lot of tension. a lot of pressure i/ve been carrying around for myself. a lot of stress. it showed me what certain people have been telling me all along, but i just wasn/t listening or didn/t fully understand. i can be whatever i want to be. i can do whatever i want to do in this life. i can. and more importantly reminded me that i am made to do great things. so great things i will do. i will never accept less than incredible. i will live my life according to my desires and i will work hard to achieve my dreams. what/s the point of dreaming if you never truly believe you can get there? what/s the point in teaching our children that they can grow up to be whatever they want in this world if we don/t even believe it/s true ourselves? if we aren/t doing the things we dreamed of when we were young? well i/m seeing that it/s so much more simple than we think it is. we can. and i will. it is not selfish to do what you want to do with your life. and it is not selfish to be happy. it is human. it is healthy. and it is how i will live my life.

thank you so much to all of you who have been there supporting me through all this, watching me grow. maybe i/m a late bloomer, or maybe it/s the cleansing of the rains or the poking of the daffodils & the promise of spring, but i think i/m finally coming into myself. and thank you for being there with me through it all. i love you.

in a world where you can be anything, be yourself.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


so i/ve been, like, scared to do shit since being in france.

i mean, not totally. i/ve done a bunch of crap. but i felt sort of like i had lost my sense of adventure. then again, it is winter. meaning going hunting for waterfalls & on random excursions in the woods are not always super pleasurable or enticing.

almost like, i have been SO independent for the past few years, especially in taiwan & then with the whole getting to france even though i had no clue about anything, no real contacts (at least not anyone i had ever met), no idea what my job would entail, etc etc, that now i/m sick of it. like that episode of friends where rachel decides she wants to try to go out to eat alone for the first time ever & then likes it. but then there/s some guy who comes up to her & she realizes that it/s not so fun. i don/t know. i/m sick of eating lunch alone. but i/m not going to eat in the cafeteria with 3rd graders and all the other teachers are 40-yr old bitches. well, not all. but most.

however, i/m getting the itch. the run around get outside & adventure itch. & today i finally scratched. & it felt so. damn. good.

today, i went rock climbing & it was bitching. i should have done this years ago. & now i/m going to go socialize with some bitching irlandaises & their friends.

i rock, rock.

Saturday, March 8, 2008


!!!!!!!!!!reader/s warning: explicit content & extravagantly long entry!!!!!!!!!!!!

it was the day before my birthday and i felt like shit. i was supposed to go to vichy to dine and dance with the other assistants. there was a party some peruvian was throwing and i was not envie de rester là à vichy for the whole night. i wanted to sleep in my own bed & not wake up with a raging hangover on someone else/s floor the morning of my birthday. i wanted to wake up in my lover/s arms, under a soft down comforter, with the prospect of coffee & pancakes with maple syrup & birthday presents.

leigh was in clermont with her sister, shopping & tooling around. kathi was in clermont, shopping. dan was away in paris with one of his classes. that meant the majority of the clan was already in clermont. i proposed a dinner in clermont instead of a dinner in vichy. save everyone (i.e. me) a train trip & avoid me having to awkwardly leave early enough in the evening to catch the last train back to the city. leigh was d'accord. thomas was not. he reluctantly & with much complaining made the trek. certain complications led to us ultimately having a quickly thrown together mexican feast at my place. thomas, leigh, leigh/s sister, mateo, and briefly rémy (while on his break from work) ate delicious burritos & tortilla chips (a rare find in france) with homemade guac, sipping on belgian beer. it felt oddly like home, except with strange actors replacing real friends. the illusion of whole yet oddly empty. i couldn/t quite place where, but something was missing.

they left, hurriedly, taking a taxi to the train station, leaving me & mateo in an awkward void of movement or sound. i filled it with a few more drinks & then we left it hanging there alone in my apartment, us two on our way to les frères berthom to meet up with some more replacement friends.

i drank my way from feeling shitty to not feeling, passed the midnight mark with a serenade & a kiss and made my way home drunk & stupid. i woke up the next morning with a killer migraine, a living room full of passed out people and a ginormous cardboard box taking up most of the kitchen. apparently i had dragged it home the night before despite desperate pleas from the others, convinced that i absolutely had to make a rocket ship that night. attempting to avoid a drunken brawl, they let me struggle to carry the thing, a good two times my size, a kilometer or so to our home, observed me battle with the winding staircase & watched me somehow squeeze it through the doorway, where i promptly abandoned my prize, forgetting all plans to voyage to outer space with the promise of leftover mexican food so near. by morning i had forgotten (or chosen to ignore) this memory. i had a house full of mouths to feed and hardly any food (or desire) to feed them.

determined not to let the presence of others ruin my dream of pancakes & presents, i spent hours cooking for six. of course no one would eat until i was finished, which ruins the point of pancakes in the first place. pancakes are simply not delicious when reheated. it/s a simple fact. but seeing as the majority of the party had never consumed pancakes before, they simply didn/t understand. we ate lukewarm pancakes adorned with much too many condiments & i returned to bed to nurse the pounding in my head.

most of them left, except for mateo, who tends to hang around as long as humanly possible, eating all of our food & taking over half of the apartment to watch movies & play video games with the volume turned up obnoxiously loud. it being his best friend & all, rémy spent most of the day by his side, trying to get past the same part of a some obnoxious game for hours on end. i convinced rémy to give me drugs to help my head, which it temporarily did, and we headed to the park to attempt to slack. unfortunately drugged hungover slovenly chelsea is not acrobatic magician chelsea, and i spent the majority of the time shivering on a blanket watching the other two goof off. at least someone was having fun.

mateo left, rémy & i dined on chicken nuggets & a weird version of tater tots, and i went to bed, still in pain, and not envie to work the next day.

be careful what you wish for.

i woke that night to intense chills & a fever-y cold sweat. i could barely make it out of bed to call in sick at work. the director of the school urged me to go to the doctor. i told him i would, knowing i wouldn/t and crawled back into bed. i spent most of the day sleeping or feeling sorry for myself or a combination of both, and got up only briefly that evening to force down some soup. i went to bed early, cranky, not wanting to work, but not wanting even more to call in sick. what is it about the american work ethic that makes us feel guilty about calling in sick, even when we are? i always feel like they think i/m faking, and it makes me want to work sick rather than have them think i/m lying.

i woke up the next morning feeling better & made the trek to vichy. i taught. i ate a kebab while waiting for my train. i returned home bright & chipper, in a good mood, determined to take advantage of the sun. i was playing chess with rémy when quite suddenly & out of nowhere i got an intense migraine. in-tense. i crawled into bed, light- and sound-sensitive. in and out of sleep. rémy reluctantly left for work, unhappy to see me sick again. when he returned on his break i was in so much pain i was in tears. unsure how to handle the situation, he gave me doliprane (essentially tylenol) and went back to work, told me to call if there was a problem, said we would go to the doctor/s in the morning.

the pain escalated. i couldn/t sleep but it hurt to be awake. i couldn/t have the lights on. i couldn/t handle sound. i emailed my doctor at western for advice, convinced i had somehow sustained a minor head injury that had re-opened the door to my suffering almost a year prior, with all the post-concussive drama of last spring. the pain could only be compared with the pain i had dealt with for those long months. i called leigh, asking whether she thought it was serious enough to go to the emergency room. she told me to call rémy and ask him to call the consulting nurse to get a medical opinion. the problem was that the big big boss was at rémy/s work that night for observation purposes & i did not want to cause a scene. so i called my dad instead, hoping for a better suggestion, one that did not involve disturbing rémy. he said that if i/m calling the states for advice, it/s probably serious enough to be taken seriously. he urged me to get over my fear of être embettante and call rémy. go to the hospital.

instead i sent a text message to delphine, my neighbor upstairs. "delphine, it/s chelsea. i think i maybe might potentially need to go to the hospital. do you think you could maybe possibly take me? thanks. kisses." she found me sobbing in my room, unable to function. her boyfriend mitch helped me to the car & we quickly made it to the hospital on the other end of town.

oh, so have i mentioned before that everything in france loves to strike at the most inopportune times?

so turns out the hospital workers were on strike, meaning there were mostly interns or students there, considering it was the middle of the night. turns out i had a fever of 40 (104), which was most likely what had caused the migraine, but they weren/t sure why. meningitis was their prime candidate, so after taking some blood (the intern had to try four times before he got the vein right) they decided that the standard procedure for a temperature so high accompanied with severe headaches needed to be administered. this procedure would be a spinal tap.

now let me reiterate that it was basically interns "taking care" of me. i cannot quite describe the anxiety that caused me with mere words. suffice it to say it is quite unsettling to hear a doctor try to reassure a nervous intern that a spinal tap is easy and that she needs to not be afraid of hurting the patient because that/s just part of the deal. sticking a giant needle into someone/s spine is not going to be a pleasant experience, so she needs to just do it. and at this point they didn/t even know i wasn/t french. they weren/t exactly trying to be discreet. nervous whispers made me nervous. past a certain point in the lumbar vertebrae there is no risk of paralysis (the spinal cord ends, leaving a sort of dangling mass of nerves etc) but i was still scared shitless. and with good reason. just do it, she did, and in the wrong spot. which the doctor was not discreet about making common knowledge either. she promptly pulled the giant needle out and did it herself. yesss! going from no spinal taps to two in under a minute! if only everyone could be so lucky!

they finally gave me something for the fever/pain, and told me they wanted to do an mri in the morning, meaning i would spend the night in the hospital. fabulous. rémy stayed as long as someone who has just finished an eight hour shift is expected to, then went home in the early hours of the morning to call my schools & let them know i would not be coming in for work and get a few hours of sleep.

the next day was inconclusive. more blood was drawn. urine was requested & given. tests were administered. no results. they couldn/t figure out what was wrong with me, meaning they didn/t want to let me go. we finally called rémy/s mom who came in demanding answers & eventually got me discharged even though i still had a rather high fever and felt like asshole. overworked & understaffed, they prescribed some drugs for fever & pain & let me go.

i took some drugs & tried to feverishly sleep. i woke up in the middle of the night to intense abdominal pains and violent diarrhea, at one point accompanied by vomiting. can i tell you how fun that is? both ends at the same time? it is quite the party. the best part was that i hadn/t really eaten much for three days. it was now early thursday morning & the last time i had eaten was tuesday morning while waiting for my train. i was vomiting bile & a combination of drugs mixed with water. a pretty green color.

i spent all day thursday clutched in the fetal position or shitting my brains out. massive explosive painfully violent diarrhea. in the afternoon, when i felt a bit better, rémy suggested taking a shower. he thought being clean might make me feel less like a ball of nastiness. moving was painful, but lying immobile was equally so. why not? while helping me clean the yuck off of myself, rémy barely audibly wished me a happy valentine/s day. i started crying. what a sad sad horrible worst valentine/s day ever. i apologized for being such a mess. he said to stop, that even though he was in the shower cleaning diarrhea off a hysterical mess of a girl it was still the best valentine/s day he had ever had because he was spending it with someone he loved, something he had never done before. i was speechless. now if that/s not love, i don/t know what is.

rémy spent the afternoon running around town trying to figure out my insurance situation. apparently my file was missing forms, such as oh, my claiming social security for example basically because my contact is a basketcase and never has any idea what the hell is going on and hadn/t informed me that there was anything of the sort to fill out. the prospect of more hospital bills stressed me out but i was willing myself to get better. i simply had to. and soon, too. because...

my underage sister was coming to visit in a day, meaning first of all that i would like to actually be conscious enough to hang out with her and second of all that i would have to make the trek to paris to pick her up from the airport. i could not send a replacement, though a few offered, as (her being a minor and all) i was the person designated to show my id and be present in order for her to disembark, a stipulation which could not be changed or avoided.

friday i still felt shitty (literally) i still had a fever of 39 (102), but was determined to convince my body it was better simply because i had to. i tried to eat some rice in broth, but after two or three spoonfuls it was two or three trips to the toilet so i stuck to my trusty water. around 6pm rémy/s dad came to take me to the train station and reluctantly let me go. "you must really love your little sister," he said as i said my goodbyes. i laughed. "yes," i replied with tears in my eyes. "yes i do."

the three and a half hour train ride to paris was a twisted version of my own personal hell. i used the train toilet more times that i have ever used a train toilet in my life. i was that girl who was in there for 20 minutes at a time, making others waiting wonder whether there was actually someone in there or if the lock was just broken. but i couldn/t help it. the only time i felt remotely okay was when i was sitting on that porcelain heaven, when the very real possibility of me unwillingly shitting my pants could be avoided. of course, it being a friday night, the train was packed full, and of course there were two young lovers sitting directly across from me, intensifying my nausea with their french loviness and her typically french cuteness.

upon arrival in paris i was informed it was too late to take a shuttle to the airport, so i battled with the late night metro system, taking two hours to travel what should normally take about a half an hour, arriving at the airport around 1am. i burrowed in my sleeping bag outside a restroom, waking every half hour or so to spend a half hour on the pot.

the prospects of seeing someone i love so intensely, someone from my life in the states, someone to remind me that life back home is not just some dream perked me up in the morning. i felt significantly better while waiting for emma. when she walked through those doors, i cried. it felt so good to have her in my arms. i ate an entirely banana while we waited for her luggage. slowly but successfully. i didn/t have to immediately shit my brains out, which i took as a good sign.

we made it to the train station. we made it on the train. i bought a sandwich & gave emma the contents, ate a tiny tiny portion of bread and felt okay about it. we slept crumpled together as the french countryside passed by in blurs of amber & rust. i awoke to intense nausea and took refuge on the floor in the end of the car next to piles of luggage. the abdominal pains had returned, this time even worse than before. i counted the minutes until our arrival, watched emma sleep, jealously watched a fat girl devour sweet after sweet. the french equivalent of little debbies. of doritos. of twinkies. of cheeze-its. when we finally arrived in clermont, rémy/s mom & sister were waiting for us to take us back to the apartment.

by the time we got back rémy was already at work. i urgently needed to lay down. i felt bad, considering emma had been in clermont for approximately one minute, but i could not risk venturing out for long periods of time due to fatigue, dehydration, and the possibility of urgently needing a toilet and not finding one. she wanted to take pictures. i told her to go ahead and wander as long as she was careful & home before dark, expecting her to take a trip around the block & come back. not sure what i was thinking. it was her first experience out of the country, besides canada. she was 13. she speaks minimal french. then again, it/s emma, the most social person on the planet. i/m not quite sure why i was worried. she returned all a-smiles having already met a few boys at the nearby soccer fields & having ventured up to the nearby cathedral. jetlagged, she lay down beside me, the both of us in and out of sleep.

i awoke to even worse intense bouts of abdominal pain, followed by intense abdominal contractions, meaning me & the toilet at it again. and the vomiting had returned. shitting & vomiting for a half hour straight led to a session of shitting, vomiting & crying, i/m sure scaring emma a good bit. she called an sos doctor, and we begged in broken french for a house call. they assured us someone would be there soon & we passed out. when we awoke it was dark & strangely quiet. the doctor hadn/t shown. no one had called. and i felt even worse.

the abdominal pain was mounting, unbelievably. i called rémy/s mom in tears. she called the doctor, the doctor showed up. he didn/t know what was wrong and decided to give me a shot. a mix of pain killers, fever killers & anti-diarrheal meds. this should nip it in the bud, he essentially said. unless it/s something really nasty, the pain & diarrhea should stop within an hour. if for some reason it doesn/t you NEED to call us back and we will send an ambulance. he effed up, somehow cutting himself in the middle of injecting chemicals into my arm & had to finish with a poke in the feisses (butt). i was in too much pain to even care.

annick (rémy/s mom) showed up just as he was leaving. she took care of me. made me tea with herbs from her garden. brushed the hair out of my eyes. massaged my neck & scalp. rubbed my back. listened to my explosive diarrhea. checked my nasty stool when i thought i saw blood. told me everything would be okay.

rémy got home from work around 1am. annick went to the 24h pharmacy by the hospital to pick up the pill form of the drugs the doctor had injected in me. i took them & passed out. whatever painkiller they had in there was STRONG. my sleep was drugged. bizarre dreams. as if i knew i needed to wake up & make it to the bathroom, but the drugs were stronger than my own conscience. when i finally stumbled out of sleep rémy/s mom had returned home to get some much-needed sleep. but my sickness had not subsided. it had, in fact, intensified. my watery stools now came with an undeniable quantity of blood, and when i wasn/t on the toilet i was doubled over in pain. more than an hour had passed since the shot & the pill-form of the drugs and now not only was i still shitting, i was shitting blood. it was time to return to the hospital.

this time, though still interns, they seemed competent. i felt secure. i felt taken care of. they wouldn/t let me leave my bed, meaning i had to shit nasty phlegm-y bloody diarrhea in a bedpan, which wasn/t too pleasant. but whatever. they drew more blood. they pumped various liquids into my iv, to rehydrate me, to nurture me (considering i hadn/t really eaten in about 6 days), to take care of the pain, to try to stop the diarrhea. they took various liquids out of ivs. blood. urine. one lucky intern got to stick her fingers up my butt to check out the situation. they x-rayed my abdominal area. all inconclusive. they had no clue what was wrong with me. joyous.

i spent all morning being poked & prodded. around noon the doctor/s assistant came in to tell me i could go home. it sucks to be crampy & have diarrhea, she said. but we don/t know what/s wrong & we can/t do anything else for you. we/ve written a letter of recommendation to a gastroenterologist if needed. we think you just have one helluva flu/gastro, but it should get better in a few days. take these drugs, drink lots of fluids to replace fluids lost & eat only pasta, rice, bananas & applesauce. good luck.

i spent four days lying around at rémy/s parents/ house trying to get better. spending most of my time in the bathroom, some of it in bed, even less on the couch. eating a few spoonfuls of rice here & a potato there. feeling generally miserable & weak. emma was occupied with rémy/s sisters & parents. turns out she saw more with them than she probably would have seen with me had i been well. so i guess there/s at least that. i was really really worried i was ruining her trip here, but i/m happy to say she had one helluva time.

we returned to the apartment wednesday afternoon. made the trek up to the top of the park at montjuzet. and when i say trek, i mean it. never has a walk been so tiring. jesus h. barely made it to the top. i was eating solids, though not much. considering no matter what i ate still came out as slush, emma & i went out to dinner, a delicious chinese restaurant near the cathedral, then to the cinema to see "into the wild" (great great movie, one which you should definitely see). we came back & packed. rémy got home from work around 3:30. slept for a few hours. woke up around 4. made our way to the train station. took the 5am train to paris. tooled around. i/m actually amazed how much we saw in one day, and on little-to-no sleep & with me still feeling nasty. but we did it. & it was actually rather fun.

emma made it to the airport safely. made it home to the states in one piece & with many stories & pictures. we made it back to clermont in one piece, but still watery stools.

the diarrhea lasted another week & a half. at first i tried really really hard to be good. to eat the right foods. but nothing changed. so i took advantage and ate whatever the fuck i wanted. healthy. unhealthy. solids. liquids. veggies. junk. it all came out the same. for a while i thought i had a parasite. it was just ridiculous, the quantity of poo that i was bringing into the world. i shat on average somewhere around 10 times a day. in two weeks that/s almost 150 times. one hundred and fifty times. is there like a record for that or something?

funny, though. my mom sent immodium ad with my sister, which i didn/t know until a few days ago. as soon as i found out i took two pills. i have not had one irregular bowel movement since.

still don/t know what was wrong with me. honestly don/t really care. i feel better. that/s what/s important. still a bit tired. going back to work was really really hard. it takes a lot of energy, working with young children, and there were a lot of "ends of my rope" this week, but i made it through, and in the end that/s what counts.

so now it/s the weekend. it/s somewhat sunny, though freezing cold. it snowed this week, threatening the many many trees & flowers that were already starting to bloom. i might venture outside but i might not. i went to the library yesterday & checked out a stack of classics. already half way through fahrenheit 451 & loving it. might stay bundled up in sweats & drink tea & eat chocolate & do puzzles or contemplate how i/ll fix the half-finished chess game i/m losing when rémy gets home from work. i/m still a little sad & i/m still a little lonely, but spring is just around the corner & i can feel the sun creeping into my demeanor. i can feel my good health returning. i can feel myself wanting to be happy. i just need to hold on a little longer. as they say, the darkest hour of the night comes just before the dawn.

here/s to the sunrise.