I spend my last day reclaiming Paris, walking through the sweet monochrome of the Marais, into bookstores and little designer shops. I’m tired from a restless night under thin sheets. It was too cold in the apartment and my wet hair kept me up like a boyfriend stealing the covers.
Frantic French teens run along the Rue de Perche, yelling things I cannot understand but a hostility I can feel. In the center of the fray are two red-faced boys, both scrappy and twelve and utterly terrified, waiting to throw punches. The uninvolved goad them on, finding an easiness on the periphery. Passing them with an unaffected calm, a man with white hair cradling a black poodle in one hand, a cigarette in the other.
The boys continue to holler.
Most of the children here are quiet, peaceful. Young boys and girls walk through morning streets with their parents, holding each other’s hands while they travel over cobblestone. Sometimes I fear I would be too serious with my child – were I to ever have one. I fear that I would too often try to impress upon them the importance of each moment. I fear that I would force them to notice the changing colors in every sunset, to see the endless nuance of life. I fear he or she or they would hate me for it, shrugging me off like a child tired of their mother’s suffocating kisses. “Mooooommmm,” they’d say, “I don’t caaaarreeeeeee.” And a decade later they would rebel against me, choosing instead to see nothing, choosing to fly through life in a forcefully ignorant haze. They would become one of the people who surround themselves with things, bury their lives in noise so they never have to confront themselves. Everything keeps moving so you don’t have to think about how pointless your existence is sometimes. Everything keeps moving so you can convince yourself you’re not just another lab rat on a hamster wheel.
I walk around the small neighborhood I’ve called home for the last ten days, wondering how I feel about Paris anymore. Without love or infatuation or whatever it is I once felt here, Paris is just this empty, gray place with narrow streets and people in nice clothes. The reflection of lights on the Seine makes you sad. The sparking Eiffel tower on the horizon makes you feel alone. This city laughs at your loneliness.
Just when I’m sure I hate this place, I come upon a courtyard, breezy and cold, filled with a few straggling tourists and an appropriately nosy security guard. Gravel crunches underfoot. There is a tactile nature to this place – a seeing and feeling and hearing that the quietness brings. I find comfort in the silence of this time. I sit on a damp bench and note how my hair catches in the breeze, fried bits of blonde straw over my pink nose. My skin prickles against the cold.
I feel myself well up with tears because why, oh why would anyone ever want to take this away from me – this life that I have – knowing how much I care for it, even when imperfectly alone in perfect Paris. I would die for the possibility of living forever, if that were even logically achievable. I want to yell and scream and tear fistfuls of grass from wet soil, red-faced and tear-stained, an impossible American child missing her toy before its even been taken away.