France, Part 3
I’m in Paris. I am living in Paris.
When I last wrote, I was still in Les Sauvages. Half the deviantART group left on Friday afternoon. The people running this daycamp decided to throw some sort of soiree to say goodbye, in which they served us half-decent food for the first time in 2 weeks as some sort of “haha fuck you, we had good food all along and were just holding out on you” kind of declaration. It was bittersweet in some way–aside from the part where I spit on Djordje’s feet and then had a musical jam session with the accordion, the ocarina, the lone bongo, and a lot of maladjusted vocal chords–“The Aimee Spit on Me Blues”
Chase taught a bunch of us how to play cribbage. You just add your cards to 15 and 31 as you go around the table, then you play your hand against a card in the center of the table with runs, pairs, or sums of 15. The trick to winning cribbage is to pretend that you have no idea how to play cribbage and people will just selflessly point out your potential plays for you. That’s a legit strategy, right?
After dark, Chris and I ventured out of the camp up to the lumberyard so that we could be alone for a bit. On the walk back, there is this glowing yellow dot in the rocky wall aside the road. I initially think it some sort of video recording device (it’s absurdly paranoid that this is my first thought) but it’s an insect. And conjured from this are all sorts of memories of childhood summers with fireflies–though this wasn’t a firefly, just some variety of glow worm, difficult to reach on the ledge, and persistent in its bioluminescence, carried back to the camp perched on a stick… and then it stopped glowing–I guess its magic was only meant to be for passing eyes and feet that wander in the night, looking for secrets, looking for light.
I didn’t want to go to bed after that and I just found myself peddling my legs around the camp mustering silence, somewhat unnerved at the uncertainty of the next day. Tired, but heart frantically palpitating, mostly aware that from here on out, no matter what, everything is going to be different forever. Unlike everyone else in the group, I didn’t even have a train ticket. I had no schedule. I just woke up in the morning and walked around Les Sauvages, catching the sunrise. It was gorgeous and quiet and here I was in this little overlook with the biggest stranger in my life, myself, soft and self-interviewing, trying to figure her out because she’s such a dodgy rebus puzzle, doing things for no reason other than doing them. In so many ways, a beautiful life-affirming stranger, in so many more ways… someone I never know if I could crack, despite the fact that she is me.
Returning to camp, hug Luka goodbye, and soon after everyone else was ready to leave in the vans. Sam is standing there and I hand him a piece of paper with some lame note I wrote on it.
“You know she likes you when she gives you stuff,” and as the words fill the air, I hear Sasha say, “She’s never given me anything!”
I was all teary-eyed when I was standing out at the train station at Charles de Gaulle. It was a conflicting feeling because I was genuinely excited for myself. When I was standing there at the entrance to the RER with Chris, fumbling with the 20 unused Metro tickets everyone back at the camp had thoughtfully and collectively given me upon learning my plans, he pulled me close into him and kissed me with incredible ferocity and said, “You’re going to take Paris by storm.” I kept hearing the words over and over again after he had already said it–trying to envision a reality where I was torrential lightning and thunder and passion. But when you’re living these moments, they often just feel like they’re endless windstorms. You’re throwing your hands around trying to grab anything that’s not grounded to the floor lest you become like an astronaut with no perception of what the floor is relative to you or anything floating around you.
And as soon as he was gone, it was out there, a big picturesque view of a hallway leading to the train which would take me to my newest reality. So much to prove to myself. I didn’t want to tell him that as soon as he left, I immediately fucked up and fed the machine like 5 Metro tickets not realizing that the RER ticket was different, because it seemed like such a comical, ditzy error on my part, a novice to the whole system.
I entered the RER uncomfortably guarded and left it smiling. I had been force-fed all sorts of [mis]information about how the Metro is full of pickpockets and criminals and gypsies and how everyone was out to get me. I didn’t take a seat, I just stood near the door, clinging my luggage to my side, eyeing everyone around me cautiously as if they were all convicted felons who really wanted to steal… what… my panties? Yeah, okay.
I realized I had no idea where I was going. David’s flat is on Menilmontant but I didn’t know which stop it was. I decided I would get off at one of the stations in the middle of the list of stops, not even sure if that was going to be central. Given that I had no particular schedule, I didn’t feel too concerned. 2 men got on at a stop. One moved to one side of the car, the other closer to the door and they broke out accordions and played for 3 more stops. My eyes shifted from one person to the next throughout the car trying to gauge reactions from all the Parisians, surprised when they actually, despite dull listless eyes, gave the musicians money.
I got off at Nation. I didn’t know where I was going, but luckily discovered that Nation connected to Line 2 which runs to Menilmontant, which is in 20e. I was really shocked by how many black people were in the Metro station. I wasn’t expecting it, but there are a lot of French-speaking immigrants from northern Africa. One woman was holding a KFC bag. I started wondering if that whole fried chicken stereotype has any footing outside of the United States. I felt extremely weird even thinking about this, as if not pondering the ramifications of our fucked up society is my onus, as if I’m going to be one of those people who claim they don’t even notice skin color. I recognize skin color just like I recognize hair color. I don’t know why this is a huge deal–as if I were going to get offended if someone commented that I got a tan since the last time they saw me. I also recognize that I spent a great majority of my life in a part of the world where I was constantly bombarded with people’s idiotic racist “values.”
Regardless, I took the diversity positively. When everyone looks different, you can’t trust yourself to make snap judgments about anything… all you can do is evaluate body language and personality and go from there. A little girl got on the train in roller skates and did pirouettes, occasionally waving at me. I waved back. It was hot inside the train. The Paris Metro is the oldest metro in the world and its cars reflect it. There’s no AC.
When I got out at Menilmontant, I took a deep breath as I came up the final steps into the open air, because that was my first moment. It was soggy outside but outside of soggy, vibrant bursts poked through the seams of the city, blades of grass, bold red awnings. Literally at a crossroads of Menilmontant and Menilmontant, unsure what was right, I say, “When nothing is right, go left.” Except left was not right. Right was right. But I don’t mind. It’s pharmacies and flower shops and things I don’t care about.
As I turn back around after quite some time, knowing this is now wrong, this man approaches me and he is showering me with so many words, “jolie” and so much other fluff. I don’t feel jolie. I feel like a light apparition with a boulder tethered to my neck that I have to drag around. The words are flattering regardless and I just kind of smile and nervously laugh. This is not Taken. My father is not Liam Neeson. I will not be put on display in a glass case. This guy placed his hand on my wrist and said, in English, “Hey. I would like for you to have coffee with me. Now.”
I was impressed with the boldness of that request. Why are more people not this ballsy? Why am I not this ballsy? Why do I never say exactly what I want. How far in life would I be if I just put it all down, walked right up to people and told them exactly everything I ever wanted? And how much authority would I command if I did just that? But then it all crumbled because when I said no, he offered to pay me. Welp. But the principle still stood. It’s now sitting on my back-burner.
David’s flat is in an unassuming building. I didn’t have the entrance code. I waited until someone showed up and followed them in. But there was a second door with a different entrance code. I was trapped in this tiny lobby. The intercom didn’t work. I didn’t have David’s number. I didn’t know if this place even existed. No wireless to connect to. I just sat, waiting for any clue.
Despite everything being really okay and viable, I had a complete internal meltdown here in which I bullied myself relentlessly with so much derision that I felt embarrassed to have dreams and aspirations. I had that realization that there was nothing to return to or fall back in to. I had to figure this out for myself. No “or else” to be found between the lines. And I felt like such a fucking pansy, thinking of all the people who came before me, who braved cold and ill and danger to explore the unknown and just… did it because it was the only choice they had. Someone had to be the first person to climb K2 and I’m certainly not the first person to pass through the lobby here.
Blind luck eventually got me to the flat though. You fail until you succeed. Don’t give up. My bedroom is a desk and a bed. It looks out to the east.
I like it here, but I am truly alone for the first time in my life. I met Raoul the other day who I am practicing my French with. He’s patient and kind and understanding but he doesn’t know me and our conversations are fairly limited in scope thanks to a language barrier.
My friends all are jealous that I am here but the time zone difference is really something and I am lucky to catch just a few words with them every day before I exhaustively pass out at 4AM.
And I miss Chris so much. I miss how he always finds a way to put a positive spin on anything and everything. And I miss his encouragement and truly knowing he believes in me and thinks I’m strong enough to do this for myself. But fuck, I do not want him to see me or hear me cry. I just want him to be right.
So I just pass through time. It’s lonely right now, which is a hard feeling to cope with when I’m not that kind of person. I just celebrate the cognitive dissonance by letting my exterior harden. The world can’t see me being a hot mess. I have to harden the fuck up. I have to accept that this is how things are and that it’s mine to own. If I don’t let myself live it, I’ll never grow from it. There’s so much going on around me, so many delicate sounds, so much meteoric impactful blows of poetry bound to rile my senses in some fashion. If they see me cry, they see me cry. But they aren’t going to see me break.