France, Part 13
It’s 9AM and I’m sitting on the floor eating Fine Ligne riz et ble complet fruits rouges avec lait demi-écrémé, French for “whole wheat crap steeped high in warm white crap.” I’m watching children play in the schoolyard down below. And I’m tired. I didn’t get home until 4AM.
So here’s what I have learned about myself after last night: I have no idea what I am doing when it comes to relationships, romantic, friendly, professional. Whatever you’re throwing at me, I probably suck at it.
I rarely know what I want. I have no idea what’s “normal.” The older I get, the more out of focus my vision gets on what I should be doing. Part of me thinks that, at 27, I’m too young to be giving a second thought to such observations, but then I get on Facebook and see my high school classmates posting photos of their 9-year-old children and it scares me.
I’m scattered, disoriented, and rarely honest with people about what I want because I feel like the moment I say something, anything, they hold it to me permanently. And then I’m stuck with it. Not allowed to be flexible. Not allowed to change or be dynamic in any fashion. I get angry about this. And then I realize, I put the same expectations on other people. Don’t we all?
Last night, I invited Mike to a place called Pomme in 9e, which is directly between my flat in 20e and his place, which I think is either in 16e or 17e, sort of near Montmartre.
As I was walking there, I started to think about all the things friends far away have said to me about my life in Paris. They tell me not to squander the opportunities I have, that I’ll look back in regret. Go to the Louvre, they say, from afar. I think it’s trite advice because, first, who ever encourages you to squander an opportunity? But more importantly, I sometimes think there is value in squander—sometimes the things you need aren’t the same things everyone throws so much focus on—sometimes you find complexity in yourself when you’re living in utter simplicity.
It’s been a disquiet hurricane brewing inside of my west winds. I think if I get out and meet a lot of people, I will have more incisive precision on who exactly I am and what exactly I want. Other people’s personalities sometimes yank at parts of you you didn’t know were there. Sometimes not meeting someone, however, gives you more perspective than you would ever get spending hours with them. Like a couple of nights ago, when this guy stood me up. He was an expat. I thought this meant an American expat. But he meant he was a French expat who had returned to France. I didn’t know that was a thing.
I stood outside for 25 minutes waiting. And waiting. I grew indifferent to my own irritation with tardiness, thinking, “The French are fashionably late and I’m in their land, so I shall play to their ways.” This entailed standing outside in a billowy cloud of cigarette smoke and amusing cheek-kissing. I went inside and ordered a vodka Red Bull. The guy handed me: 1 glass with a splash of vodka. A straw. A spoon. And a can of Red Bull. 9 Euro. Laziest bartending ever. I’d say it’s wise to always order a whiskey neat in Paris, but the only whiskey I see is Johnny Walker Red when I’m out. I figure I’m not looking hard enough behind the bar but then I am met with icy stares when I lean in. Johnny Walker Red is like the Miller Light of whiskey.
And then, he never showed. And I went home. It was a humbling experience. It taught me that I am not above the typical douchiness of some people refusing to extend the courtesy of texting me or sending me a nice e-mail letting me know they are canceling on me. To some people in the world, I am that unimportant. Remove head from clouds. Wake up.
But it’s not the same with Mike. We are friends, it is clear. I cross the street at Menilmontant outside of one of many cheap clothing stores, where the giant mural of dancing skeletons screams, “C’est nous les gars de Menilmontant.” In white paint on the wet asphalt, the words shine in cursive: “Regarde le ciel.” It means look up to the sky. Stop dragging your head down, stop being so inside of yourself, just let the fingers of the atmosphere gently knead you and make you into whatever you’re going to be.
Pomme was a pizza place. And it was just okay. The French make an alright pizza, often following Neopolitan pizza traditions. In America, we have New Haven style pizza, which is the closest you get with the wood-fired oven. There’s the olive oil. And then the mozzarella, the basil, and the sauce. France does not seem nearly as obsessed with placing meats on pizza like Americans do. But when you get this in America, the pizzeria is typically more dramatic about making it part of the atmosphere, like you’re made to think that a wood-fired oven is high-scale or above the norm… and then you come here, and it just is the norm and you’re sitting in a simple booth in a place that is fairly cheap.
As we are sitting there in Pomme, after a couple of hours, Mike, who is very forthright in a very admirable way that I appreciate in guys, asks if I want to go back to his place and make out. And man was I confused.
I just didn’t feel anything. I wasn’t explicitly against the experience. I wasn’t really for it, either. I figure in another time and place, where nothing in my life were as it were, I might have felt more. He’s cute. And we get along, afterall.
All I could think is, “Well if I do this, maybe it’ll open me up to some other way I could be feeling instead.” Right now, I am a 27-year-old American woman living alone in Paris, France. And I am supposedly in love with a man who is wandering Serbia. For whom I traveled to Peru to see. After hours and hours of talking on Skype from Portland every night. Who makes me melt with just a single smile line in the corner of his mouth. Who drives me insane. On so many fucking levels. Who writes me e-mails at 4AM telling me how special I am. And it’s all so romantic. And all the other things I could purportedly pursue never seem to stack up to what it is I feel for him. And yet nothing about it is safe. And I am attracted to that uncertainty. And people tell me that I am naive for that. “Chris is a roller coaster relationship,” they say.
But I’m open to the idea that I am 27 and I do not know everything about the universe. And so I guess I opened myself up to the experience to either change what I know or confirm that all is right with the path I’m on. I hadn’t really said much to Mike about my situation. He knew it’d been about a week and a half. He knew things were rough. But I hadn’t let on just how rough. I thought I could keep Paris squared away on its own little feature branch, but now I’m starting to think that soon enough I’m going to have to rebase master on top of it, all full of life elsewhere. All full of him.
Mike and I walk under purple lights, by windows with mannequins wearing strap-on dildos and high-gloss black leather ass-less chaps. “Soldes!” in all the windows. I’m still not committed to the agenda. But I like talking to Mike. He’s nice. And he says smart and sensitive things that make me feel some affirmation that it’s okay to feel optimistic for anything in this cynical world. There is a movie theater and we discuss the possibility of seeing a movie, but nothing is playing of interest. Occasionally, a shadowy figure strolls past us. And outside of the general awareness that I am in Paris, I have no idea where exactly in the world I am.
We walk into Mike’s place. It’s a hostel operating under the guise of a hotel. He returns his key to the doorman. We continue to talk about books we are reading. I use his bathroom. He is staring out the window. He kisses me very delicately on the forehead in a doting fashion. And then on the lips. He’s very thin. And I follow along. Unlike the Greek guy, it’s not repulsive, it’s actually okay, but my heart feels heavier and heavier by the second, and soon I am pushing him away from me gently, so as to not offend, to be that lame cliche that meekly sighs, “It’s not you, it’s me,” and the 2012 addendum to that cliche, “and also, it’s this other guy.”
He’s surprisingly not put off by my pushing back. It almost seems like he expected it but decided to try anyway, in the off chance that it would be okay. And I sit down on his bed, and I start telling him the whole goddamn story…