mardi 6 juillet 2010

Le résultat du bac, he did it


The list


He didn't know that I was standing in the little crowd on the lawn in front of the Lycée Condorcet in Limay looking for him. He had left me at the car down the street, but I followed. From the car when I dropped him off, I could see and hear the lycéens, and I wanted to see them get their bac results; the closest thing we have to a graduation ceremony.

It's a ritual to gather at the school where your list will be taped up and look for your name and all your friends' names on the lists of those "candidats admis", to scream your delight and hug your friends, or to cry and be consoled. I parked the car on the sidewalk where it would fit and headed up the walk toward the students, the parents, listening to shout after shout go up, laughter and excited conversation. My legs felt unsteady. It's so hard when you don't know what you will find when you get there, and I hadn't expected to be there at all, although I had offered the night before when we talked about what it would be like for 624,000 lycéens and their parents and grandparents trying to get on the site at the same time to get their results. Besides, he'd need to pick up his file.

"No, Mom. It's okay. It's just as easy to take my scooter, and I'll go straight to work after."

"Are you sure? It's no problem for me to take you and drive you to work, especially if the news isn't good; it would be easier for you. Wouldn't it?"

"It's okay," he said, and headed up to his room, his strawberries still sitting on the table.

The evening had been better than I had imagined. He brought his laptop down to join us even, and "La Soupe aux Choux" was on TV, to get everyone to relax on the eve of so momentous a day, I figured. It was on one of the government stations, after all. I turned the sound way up, made Oxo noises gleefully and drank un ch'ti canon ou deux with our dinner.

Sam did not even frown and tell me to stop that.


I went up to bed when the sports talking heads really got going on le scandale des bleus, Raymond Domenech and the Fedération française de football again. I have my opinion, and it's working for me. We'll talk more about that another time, though. Today is Sam's day.

A little before 1 am, the phone rang and sent us into a panic. Audouin looked around, completely lost. I snapped on my bedside light.

"A côté de toi," I said, completely unhelpfully, looking at the phone. I'd have had to jump over him to get it. He looked at me. "Non. Le téléphone -- à côté de toi."

"Uh," he said, reaching for it and looking for the right button. "Ca doit être l'hôpital." I hoped it was.

"Unh... unh... hunh. D'accord, je viendrai doucement," he said into the receiver and hung up. "C'est l'une des secrétaires. Une stérilité. Je dois aller l'accoucher. La tête s'applique bien."

That meant that it was one of the secretaries in his department he had treated for infertility, so he had promised to be there for the birth, which is usually handled by the midwives or the doctor on duty, if the birth is complicated, and which was coming faster than anyone expected because the head was what one calls "well-applied" and helping things along. I grumbled. I always do. He works such long hours already, and this means neither of us gets a normal night's sleep, and the night before the bac results, to boot. We lay quietly for another few minutes before he got up to get dressed, and I turned on the light to go make hot soy milk and read myself back to sleepiness.

Only an hour later, he walked back into the house and returned to bed, shortly before Sam got up with a nervous tummy. I'd had mine already that day. I was feeling nauseous by then.

Sleep failed to return.

And then the alarm clock rang. It woke us up. We must have wandered into sleep.

"Mom?"

"Unh?"

"Mom? Can you sdfhrit zeozifjzr grg ergi?" Came Sam's voice from the other side of my door, the landing and his door.

"Unh? I can't hear you." His door opened.

"Can you drive me to Condorcet and then to work?"

"Of course I can."

I got up, took a shower and turned on the coffee machine and then the computer, returning to peel a banana while my eggs cooked and the coffee dripped.

"You want some?" I called upstairs.

"No. I'll eat later."

I printed out the itinerary down the highway and across Nanterre to the office and typed some phone numbers into my new SIM card. People I'd want to call with the results, if they were good.

"Can we go?" he said, coming down the stairs.

"Yes. There was a SMS from Anneso, wishing you tender thoughts."

"I saw."

"She sent you one, too?" He nodded. I tucked the directions and the map into my straw bag along with my nearly dead cell phone. I hoped I'd have enough battery left to call everyone I'd need to. I hoped I'd want to.

Every now and then, I forgot where we were going, and my breathing returned to normal from stopped completely. We talked about things being alright if it didn't work out.

"Do you know how many times your uncle repeated a year?" He glanced at me and shook his head. I showed him three fingers. He smiled and chuckled. "Three times: the quatrième, the seconde, and he didn't get the bac, so the terminale. He must have been 21 when he finally got his bac." He snorted a laugh. So, it could get worse.

Another uncle had also repeated the terminale for the same reason, and he now has an enviable position, just like the uncle for whom he is working, the one who repeated three times.

It wouldn't be the end of the world. He was right; do it on his own, prepare only the classes he didn't get from Spain to perfect his Spanish. It even sounded better than going to university by the time I had finished condoning his plan, reminding him of it, just in case.

More kilometers passed under the wheels of the car, and we arrived in the housing development that borders Condorcet. We drove up and down a few streets, knowing we'd eventually find it. We were both in a dream. A state of suspension.

"That's not Hugo's gate, is it?"

"Yeah. Head up there. It's somewhere near there." I negotiated a U-turn in front of a woman with a child in a stroller and headed up the street we had just almost left at our backs.

Walking up toward the entrance to the school, I realized that joy carries farther on the air than sorrow, and walking among the students, I looked at the faces. Most were happy. Some were serious. A woman walked by, speaking into her cell phone.

"Il a eu rattrapage."

Rattrapage. That's what Sam thought he'd get. I looked harder for him in the group gathered near where the bac ES results were posted, and then I saw his track jacket by the windows, his head bent scanning the lists for his name. I took a picture, and then another as he bent closer to the pane, and then he walked away, tall in the crowd of students and parents. I watched him and walked toward him. He was looking over the heads, but not for me. He thought I was in the car, waiting. There was the slightest smile on his lips, enigmatic. It looked like he was making an effort to hold himself together. His eyes continued to scan farther out over the people around him. The battery on my camera died. It didn't matter. He wouldn't have let me take a picture of him, anyway.

"Sam?" He looked down and saw me.

"I got it."

"You got it?" He nodded. "Oh, Sam!" I reached up to put my arms around his neck and give him a hug he did not return. He doesn't do that. I smelled his neck.

"How much?"

"I don't know. I have to go get my file and check for the grades online," he said, and then hesitated. His phone was ringing. His eyes were moving again. "I have friends to see, over there. We'll meet at the car." He was already on the phone, like everyone else around us. I pulled mine out to call the hospital, family that was thinking of him, friends.

He had his bac, and my chest felt tight still, only from different emotions. So hard had these years been. So full of doubt and frustration. They were nothing like my own school years, but here he was, with his baccalauréat dans la poche.

It was over.

C'était fini. C'était en fin vraiment fini.

Nom de Dieu. Nom de Dieu!



And when he joined me in the car, he read his file all the way down the highway to Nanterre. It was his turn to crow and make them eat their words, swallow their pride and their certainty that he couldn't do it. The teachers I mean, not the directors of the school. They had let him make his mistakes and his choices; they had lectured him brilliantly and squeezed my hand. We knew he was bright enough; we only wanted him to act like it, but I knew him better. He wasn't going to play their game according to their rules. He read me out his grades (they were in the file) in each subject and the teachers' comments and then the grade he got on the bac.

"You would have been right," I told him, "to do it on your own if you had to do it again."

"That's pretty much what I did this year for all the work I did during the year." He had prepared it in the last month before the test, figured it out and did what he thought he needed, and he was right.

I called a friend.

"And?" she said, knowing perfectly well.

"He got it."

"I told you so!" she exclaimed into the phone so loudly that Sam couldn't possibly not have heard. Hers was crow I wanted to hear, as the president of the parents' and students' association at his old school in Paris, the one he attended when we got here, and which informed him that he could go on to lycée, only not at their school. Hers was an opinion I valued above all others, and her belief in him had always made me feel a little foolish for my own reservations. "I told you he'd get it! Cover him with kisses for me."

"I will. I think he'll let me if they are from you."

And now he has completed this, and he is ready to take the next step and go to university. I'm ready, too. We did this much of our jobs, and he can do the rest. He thought long and hard about himself and about it, he researched the schools and the programs they offer, and he knows who he is and what he believes he wants. For now, it is law. He is ready to try that, and to consider changes, and I couldn't be more relieved or proud.

Years ago, the therapist looked at me and asked who would buy the groceries. When I replied that I would, she asked again and again. It was like an interrogation.

"You are aware, aren't you" she had asked, "that the children of single mothers do not do as well at school as those of two-parent families?" It involved intimidation.

I understood her. I did not go back, but I have revisited that challenge to my conscience and my decision making at every critical moment of his life, and I have often thought that I had chosen as wrongly as I had chosen well, only there was no way to see it in those terms. Don't we all, when we are becoming parents, take on the same challenge, the same responsibility, learning that we will carry it a long time and feel relief only longer away still?

And eight years ago I brought him here to live. He was about to turn eleven, and he didn't speak a word of French. I was about to make his life much harder. The compensation was that I was also about to make it much richer.

How does it feel today? It feels good. It feels great. Today I can think that I have done my job, and that I have loved it, and that I am deeply grateful.

The rest is his.

Driving into Mantes, I knew who I wanted to see. I filled the tank with gas and drove over to the garden store, the sister store to my old Florosny, where I had found Marie-Noëlle again not long ago. I wanted to tell her and to get the irises to plant down along the wall with the Rose of Sharons.

Arriving at the cash register just as they were closing for lunch, she spotted me and smiled.

"Comment allez-vous aujourd'hui?" she asked.

"Très bien. Mon fils a eu son bac."

"Ah! Félicitations," she said, her face lit up from our old Florosny friendship, our years living in neighboring villages, and being mothers. "Savez, je l'ai vécu aussi," she said. Leaning closer to me, she told me about her son, and how he had wanted to do a bac S, or science, to become a physical therapist. He is gay, she told me, and his gym teacher didn't like gay students and made things difficult for him. His father, she told me, didn't deal with it very well, thought he was a bon à rien. She shared his story with me, and how today he is something, and how he needs to hear that from his father.

"Ca viendra," I told her. "Je suis certaine que ça viendra."

"Je le pense aussi," she said as I was heading to the door, hurrying a bit to let them get to lunch, and then I turned back and saw her standing there with some of the other employees. They stood there in a row. They were all smiling.

"En fait," I rushed to add, "je suis venue vous chercher pour vous le dire à vous."

Everyone waved and grinned, like they all knew that I had done exactly that and couldn't have been happier.
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