We’re Jazz and We’re Insane
If I could write it all down, seal it in an envelope, and send it off to you, I reckon you could make something of it. I reckon you’d smile as wide as ever and laugh the way you do when you’re watching that show you love so much. I think you’d stop thinking so much about it all. I think you’d start thinking about me more than you thought you should. It’s poor timing on my part, really. For that I apologize the most. I don’t think I’m real good at apologizing. I’m sorry for that. I’m sorry I keep apologizing. You should know that I’m trying to write it all down for you.
If it wasn’t you it was me and if it wasn’t me it was you or maybe it just wasn’t either of us. I reckon it could have been anyone. But it was you. And it was me. And you’re you and I’m me. Maybe I’m you and you’re me and this is all nothing. I think it’s everything. I think that nearly everything is nothing because we’re really nothing and we think that’s everything.
I read somewhere that people are mostly the same. Different, but same. I think we’re all insane. I’m insane. I don’t reckon I’m crazy. I think you’re crazy. I think you’re the sanest person I know. I don’t feel sane around you. It’s a miracle I even speak at all when you’re around. I suppose it’s in the way you talk about life. I think you know how fleeting it is. I think you know how special it is. I don’t think you know I’m insane.
I’m sorry for lying to you so much. I reckon I wasn’t really lying. I reckon I just didn’t tell you everything that you wanted to know. That’s probably why you don’t know I’m insane. If I would have told you everything I should have told you then you would’ve thought I was insane. I don’t want you to think I’m insane because I’m not really insane. I’m just not really sane. Most people aren’t sane though. You’re definitely not sane. I think you think you’re sane but you’re not. If you stepped outside yourself for a moment you’d laugh at how insane you’ve become. Maybe you’d cry. Maybe you should stay inside yourself.
Maybe I won’t write it all down for you. I reckon you’d figure out you were insane then. Maybe I’ll write it all down for someone else to save you the pain. I suppose it’s painful finding out you’re insane because you don’t know what’s real and what’s not and what you’ve imagined and what I’ve imagined and what would’ve happened. I just know that I have to write it all down. I know that you’ll have to read it sometime.
I think you have a nice soul. It’s soft and lovely and casts a nice glow about you. I think you remind me of jazz music. I reckon it’s because you’re sharp. I don’t think I’m sharp. I don’t think I’d be writing it all down if I was sharp. I’m writing it all down because I’m insane. I’m writing it all down because you’re insane. You’re sharp, though. Maybe you remind me of jazz because my heart beats erratically when you dance with me. I think we dance a lot. I think we dance a lot without even touching. We dance to jazz music and my heart is the drum and your laugh is the piano.
I reckon you think I’m insane for thinking we’re jazz music. I reckon you can’t really control what you think. A million stupid things cross my mind a day. A million insane things cross my mind a second. I suppose the what-ifs slowly eat you alive. I suppose they make you insane. I think they made me insane. I don’t think you have many what-ifs. I don’t think you think of me at all.
We’re jazz music though and we’re insane. You can’t stop the music. I reckon if you tried then you’d be sane and I don’t think you’re sane. I think you’re just as insane as I am. I think you talk about being insane a lot when you’re insane.
You’re got really nice eyes. I don’t mean nice as in lovely, but nice as in kind. I reckon you look at life with kindness. I’d say that’s commendable, but I think most people would say it’s not. I think most people would say that you’ve got to look at life with cruel eyes because life is mostly tough. You’ve got kind eyes, though. I don’t think that’s wrong. I think it’s nice. And I mean nice as in lovely. I think you’re lovely and I’m trying to write it all down for you.
I like to walk around at night and watch the stars and count the burnt out street lights. I reckon that we should walk together. I reckon we should lie on our backs and watch the stars and talk about our insanity. I like to walk around at night and think about the ways I could write it all down for you. I like to walk around at night because I don’t feel alone at night even though most people do. I’ve got the moon as company and the stars for guidance. I suppose there aren’t many people out at night and I suppose people watch me through their curtains and think I’m lonely, but I’m not. I think I’m mostly lonely when I’m with you because we’re both insane.
I reckon I don’t write very well. I reckon my thoughts are all over the place. I reckon that when I’ve finished writing it all down you’ll be more insane and maybe I’ll be sane. I suppose that it’s probably worth it. I think a lot of things are worth it.
People are like water, I reckon. Some people are lakes and some are ponds and some are rivers and some are waterfalls. Some people are rain and some people are puddles. I think you’re the ocean. I think that no matter where I go, traces of you are everywhere. I think I’m a cloud. There’s a whole sky between us and I’m reflected in your eyes most days. I think that could make anyone go insane.
You’ve got nice hands. I reckon I’m a sucker for nice hands. I like the way my hand seems to disappear when you hold it. I like how I could walk for miles with my hand in yours. You’re beautiful and warm and I wish some moments could last forever. I would have never left your side that day if I knew I’d never see you again. I wouldn’t be writing it all down if I knew I couldn’t talk to you anymore. It’s funny how life works. We’ll go insane. I am insane. You’re insane. I’m sane with I’m with you, but I never am. I never will be.
I reckon for a while I had your heart. You still have mine. I think you forgot you had it though. I reckon you shelved it and it’s collecting dust somewhere in the far corner of your mind. I reckon mine’s not the only one you’ve got. Maybe I’m insane. Maybe you’re not so beautiful. Maybe we’re just jazz music.
I like the way you smile. I reckon you don’t know how infectious it is. How it reaches your eyes and I can’t help but smile back. Maybe you do know and you do it on purpose. I suppose I am insane for thinking that. I’m just a cloud and you’re the ocean and we’ll never quite touch. I’m as much a part of you as you are of me. Every fiber and particle of my being is mingled with yours. I‘m too far gone to ever come back. I think that I was and now I’m not. I think that I’m not and now I was. Maybe I never happened and you never happened and we never met. I hope that we’ve met.
I reckon you’re a lot like me. I reckon you’ve got a good head on your shoulders. I’m not saying that I have a good head on my shoulders, but I think you do. I think I’m insane. I think that we think about the same things. You have a light about you. There’s certain way you talk that makes people listen. I don’t think you know that. I don’t think you know the affect you have on people. It’s in the way your voice gets deeper when you’re serious and it’s in the way your eyes light up when you’re telling a joke. Maybe it’s because you talk so soft and slow that people lean in and listen. Maybe they’re interested. I’m interested. I’m insane.
Strange and Wonderful Guilt
On being the other woman in the city of love
While this story is true, some names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.
It is the guilt that eats me alive. The intangible wreckage of what I’ve done wrong and how many people who’ve been hurt in the process. It’s been two years and it still haunts me that I let it happen and it haunts me that I still think about it at every second ticking away on that damned internal clock that resides in my heart. Or maybe it’s not even in my heart. Maybe it’s in my lungs because if I think too much about it I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe.
I’m worried I won’t ever feel the way I did again. I’m worried I won’t love so deeply, feel so hard. I worry that the memory has become so skewed that half of it, half of what I felt, is imagined, is a sick and twisted hallucination. I worry that the biting anxiety will never fade. It is crippling.
A year after the fact it began. The anxiety always starts in that dark place between my lungs where my heart sits tensely. It spreads quickly, like a wildfire in my lungs. I can’t breathe. I am gasping for air and receiving too little. My heart beats too fast. It feels like it will burst from my chest or suddenly stop, too exasperated to go on. I worry it will stop. I worry it already has.
I repeat to myself that I am not a bad person. I am not a bad person. I am not a bad person.
I think I am a bad person. I am the worst kind of person. I am a thief of hearts. Maybe that’s why my heart feels as though it’s already stopped. Maybe it is being punished for the damage it has already done. It is picking up the slack and killing me in the process.
Perhaps I’m not a thief. Perhaps what I stole was borrowed and given freely. Perhaps it is often borrowed and returned. Perhaps it was never loaned out at all.
This is what I carry with me: my dead beating heart and this stolen broken borrowed one.
On the rare occasion I wish it had been a one-night stand. I wish we’d made love and silently, grossly, realized what we’d done. I wish it hadn’t been this strange enveloping courtship that looked okay from the outside, that looked like everything being said and done was all alright.
I left my room in a hurry. It was dark inside and I felt like I would absolutely burst if I stayed inside any longer with my thoughts. He asked me where I was going and I mumbled “out!” and rushed down the stairs. I could feel the tears stinging my eyes. I had to get out.
When the doors opened and the cool night air hit my face, I slowed down. I walked away slowly, unsure if I’d ever come back. I thought about leaving a lot. I thought about finding a job as a waitress in some small town and renting out a room until I saved enough money to live in my own place. I could just sneak down some alleyway and disappear forever. No one had really asked where I was going. No one had really cared that I was going out alone at night in a German town, barely knowing three German phrases, none of which was “help! I’m being kidnapped!” Not that being kidnapped was the worst thing that could happen to me at this point. I was a mess.
I remember sitting down on a bench facing the dark river and watching the water swirl about, the currents creating dazzling images on the surface. I could see the lights reflecting off a bridge and, as the tears came, watched the view morph into a painting by Van Gogh. I’ve always liked Van Gogh. I appreciate the way he saw the world in swirls of light and color, even though his life was anything but life and color. He shot himself in the middle of a field in France.
I remember thinking a lot about jumping into the river. I don’t think I wanted to die. I mostly wanted someone to jump in after me and save me. I’d never been saved. No one had ever wanted to leap into freezing waters to save me. The one time someone leapt, he swam away to another river, all the while keeping a foot in mine.
I didn’t jump in, however. I sat and cried and allowed myself to feel miserable for an hour. I created my own river of tears and no one interrupted. What I really wanted was someone to text me or call me and ask where I was.
No one did.
I probably wouldn’t have been having such a hard time with everything if it weren’t for those five seconds; those quiet, peaceful five seconds that may as well have just been a dream. The five seconds when he fell asleep and wrapped his arm around me before realizing what he had done — what we had done.
It started as a small flame biting at my ankles and warming my perpetually cold feet. I was kindling, but it didn’t stop there. Soon it had latched onto my skin and seeped into my veins. I was filled with burning hot embers and it didn’t hurt. It made me feel alive. The all consuming and life giving fire fueled me. It was powerful. It was lovely. It was love; love is a fire…
But know that fire is dangerous. It can wipe out entire forests and take down homes. It can entice you with its orange glow and mesmerizing flickering, but it won’t hesitate in melting your skin off. You will be incinerated. Only a small pile of ashes will remain. I was ash for a long time.
I track my days by tragedies and hair color. When tragedy arises, I dye my hair. Red for a cheater, brown for deception, blonde for death, and black for the worst of them. Black for the incarnation of all three: a cheating, lying killer, black for the color of ashes, black for the color of night, and black for the color of cold hearts.
Hemingway once said “never to go on trips with anyone you do not love,” which I think is grand advice when traveling because you so often tire of your company. I think he left out the rest of the sentence though. It should have ended with “…or anyone who does not love you back.” I suppose the first sentence could be applicable for the someone who doesn’t love you back because then they wouldn’t be traveling with you, but that’s beside the point. My point is: don’t go to the city of love with someone who is in love with someone else. Another helpful point is: don’t share a bed in the city of love with someone who is in love with someone else because they might fall asleep and accidentally spoon you into falling for them.
I spent three months studying abroad in Europe during my sophomore year of college. During that time I was able to visit many countries, my favorite of which was France. Paris has this air of romance, history, and mystery about it that can never truly be understood. Not to mention, the food is spectacular and, no matter where you turn, it’s always beautiful. I travelled to Paris in the month of November with two male companions. This is, what shall be known as, The Paris Incident.
To be clear, there are two parts to this story: Germany and France. Before France and The Paris Incident were the two months prior to them. These two months are the Germany months and are crucial in developing a full understanding of what exactly happened to me to cause me to dye my hair pitch black and go on dangerous walks by myself where I contemplate jumping off a bridge not to die and cry my own, warmer, river of tears.
We begin in September, the month we arrived in Germany, and move toward November, the month we travelled to France. Our home base of sorts was in an old town north of Munich. The town was charming and full of old places and small alleyways that led down to tiny cafes and secret waterways and it was centered around a giant cathedral that you could see from any which way. We lived in a large hostel on an island and had to cross bridges to go into town. The town, at first, didn’t seem very big, but after wandering around for a couple hours, you soon learned that this old town was actually quite large and full of hidden gems. One of these gems was a small café that I soon spent too much money at and became friends with the owner, a busy German who spoke English in a British accent.
We spent most of our study in that small town and would, every so often, travel to other German towns to learn the history. Once a month we had one week off to travel anywhere we wanted. There were rules, of course. You couldn’t travel alone and you couldn’t travel in a guy/girl pair. You could, I later discovered by experience, travel alone with two members of the opposite sex. One girl could travel alone with two guys. I still haven’t decided if this makes one very safe or very not safe.
Back to September, I was the first to arrive in Germany and had the pleasure of waiting for the rest of my companions to arrive, too. When he sauntered up to the bench, I was wary. To be frank, he looked like an asshole. He was dressed like a typical jock, complete with a baseball hat pulled low over his eyes. No doubt so he could look ladies up and down without being caught. He sat on the bench next to me, taking up too much space and otherwise asserting his manliness. I half expected him to spit chew into the waiting trashcan.
The fact that he looked like an asshole should have been a great foreshadowing of what was to come, but I forgot all about that when he adjusted his hat and looked me in the eyes for the first time and I got lost in his features. He had deep brown eyes and a five o’clock shadow I instantly wanted to touch. When he stood up and walked over to our director, his saunter was less conceited and more natural than I had previously judged. He was tall and lean and when he finally talked, his voice was perfect. It was soft, but not quiet and I wanted desperately to curl up next to him by a fire on a bearskin rug and listen to him read poetry and sip hot cocoa before losing ourselves in throes of passion.
It wasn’t until we were in the car driving to our new home that I decided we were most definitely soul mates. I secretly glanced at the music he was listening to and was excitedly shocked to find he was listening to my second favorite, and mostly unheard of, band. I couldn’t help myself as I murmured the lyrics out loud and watched his head quickly snap in my direction; I swear his head could have left his shoulders. A look of complete and utter adoration and enthusiasm lit his face as he mouthed, “No Way.”
This worked as a catalyst. Soon we were comparing other music we loved and sending favorite poems back and forth. We barely knew each other two days and we were already planning where we’d travel during our three weeks of vacation that were mixed in between classes. We’d start at England and we’d most definitely travel to Paris together.
In those first few days we did a lot together. I was mesmerized.
Our friendship developed through long messages on Facebook. Understandingly, this seems like a very stupid thing to say. However, not much credit has been given to social media in the developing of forbidden romances and how the typed word can be just as romantic as the written. He initiated the conversation by sending me a poem by ee cummings:
From one fan to another,
somewhere i have never travelled,gladly beyond
any experience,your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near
your slightest look easily will unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skilfully,mysteriously)her first rose
or if your wish be to close me, i and
my life will shut very beautifully ,suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;
nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility:whose texture
compels me with the color of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing
(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens;only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody,not even the rain,has such small hands
Of course, in my typical overthinking fashion, this poem meant everything. The song he’d been listening to on that fated day was entitled “Such Small Hands” and this poem, that the song we both loved was based loosely after, was also an anthem about being unable to understand why you were so drawn to another person. It was a love poem and it was so obviously a love poem to me.
We obsessed over Hemingway and Faulkner. We excitedly passed along music we loved. We shared poetry by Bukowski and debated his cynical view of the world, all the while claiming we weren’t in the least obsessed with death. I shared my poetry with him and he loved it. He was the first person I shared it with. I even let him read a piece I’d written about him. We shared books. He made me read As I Lay Dying and several short pieces by Hemingway I hadn’t read before. I, in turn, made him read Life of Pi and countless poems I loved. We even wrote poetry to each other, creating an elaborate tale beginning with wanting to kill ourselves from boredom in class and ending with the tragic tale of a girl born with male anatomy.
Later, after I’d moved away, he’d describe our friendship as “a strange one…but a wonderful one.”
It was only on the third day he brought up her and only because it was forced out of him. I remember all nine of us were sitting in a semi-circle with our fearless leader Kim, still trying to figure each other out and get to know one another.
“So, Chris, you have a girlfriend, what about the rest of you?” Kim asked. We later learned that she was the master of relationships. Her wicked ways had already brought together several couples that had taken this trip before us. One of the couples was even engaged. Kim was in her late twenties and the daughter of the program’s director. She was beautiful in a funny way. She wasn’t model thin or celebrity sexy, but she carried herself well. I’ve always heard that confidence is sexy, but never actually believed it until I met Kim. Men flocked to her. Some handed her their phone numbers and others tried seducing her with big blue eyes and gorgeous smirks. I think we were all a little dumbfounded by the insanity of it all. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little bit jealous.
“Well, I’m single,” a girl to my left replied to Kim in a funny nasally voice. I high-fived her and everyone laughed at her bluntness. A bearded fellow to her left jumped in with a “same.”
“I’m taken. We’ve been dating almost a year,” a pretty girl next to him smiled adoringly.
Everyone looked to her left: Him. It was his turn.
He didn’t answer right away and Kim had to prompt him.
“I’m not single.”
I swear he looked right at me and the entire room melted away for a moment. For several brief and stupid seconds I thought that look meant “I’m not single because at last I’ve found the one! It’s you, Shannon! It’s always been you!” My heart leapt into my throat.
“Oh?” Kim was the first to reply. “Tell us more!”
“We’ve been dating about two years.” I swallowed hard. Everyone looked a little bit surprised. No hint on Facebook nor talk could have alluded to the fact that he had a long-term girlfriend back in the states. Trust me, I’d done my Facebook stalking. He appeared perfectly single and, from our talks, perfectly ready to mingle. He wasn’t single, however. Maybe he was mingling with me, but he was taken.
To get one thing straight, I’m not an advocate of cheating. I had already experienced the stinging pain of finding out the man I was seeing was seeing someone else at the same time. He thought it was best to tell me by slowly losing contact, until one day I asked and it happened to be the same day I found out my uncle and cousin had been killed in a tragic plane crash, but that’s another story.
I think people who cheat are pathetic. I think if you truly loved someone, you wouldn’t cheat on them. Cheating wouldn’t even enter your mind. I think if you cheat, you don’t really love your husband or girlfriend or what have you. If you cheat, you deserve to be dumped. If you cheat and your partner takes you back, you’re lucky. I would dump you.
So, I backed off. While maybe he was flirting with me and possibly trying to hide the fact he was in a relationship, and that wasn’t a very respectable thing to do, I respected his girlfriend. I respected this unknown female waiting back home for her lover to return. She deserved a little decency on my part. I definitely would have appreciated it if my boyfriend was flirting with a girl and she refused his advances.
Needless to say, I didn’t back off for long and, looking back, if I had been her, I would have hated me.
I think what perpetuated the entire incident between us was that we sat, in the infamous words of Bonnie Raitt, “just a little too close.” I remember one night we were driving home from a town about 45 minutes from the city we lived in. It was late, I was tired, and sitting between him and our friend Chris, when I reclined over the both of them; my feet resting on Chris and my upper body on him. To be honest, I thought both of them would push me off. They didn’t and he put his arm around me.
I’ve always loved a good man arm. I think forearms can look really nice and I fall in love with biceps all the time. His arms were really nice. He was muscular, but not in that semi-disgusting “my muscles are going to pop out of my arms” kind of way. He was athletic and his physique was hinted at. He had large hands that easily dwarfed my own. As I sat curled into him, with his arm tightly around me, I felt safer than I’d ever felt before. I felt like I was home. I felt wanted. I felt protected. I felt his body pressed against mine and I felt the soft spot between his sternum and his shoulder cushioning my head. I felt his heartbeat. I felt him tap the beat to our favorite song on my arm. I felt him fall asleep. I felt his chest vibrate when he talked. I felt warm. I felt alive. I felt.
This was my downfall. This was our downfall. From then on, every road trip became him and me in the back seat together. Sometimes I’d fall asleep in his arms. Other times I’d pretend. Sometimes we’d each put in an ear bud and he’d let me pick what we listened to. Other times we’d listen to our own music and he’d tap the beat on my arm. He always wrapped an arm around me. He’d rest his head on mine and I’d feel him fall asleep. I liked that. When the van would stop short, his arm would tighten around me and I’d feel his muscles tense as he kept me still, as he kept me safe.
I think everyone sensed what was going on. Particularly the night we’d checked into a hostel in another German city. Studying abroad, we often stuck to a schedule. We’d study in class for a week, travel, as a group, with our professor to a German city and study the history for a week, and then have a week break where we’d be able to travel in small groups to a country (or countries) of our choosing. It was a Friday night near the end of September and we had just arrived. The hostel we’d be living in had large flights of stairs that were beautiful dark wood, but seemingly endless. We had to walk up one flight in order to check in and I, jokingly, demanded to be carried up. At once, four arms lifted me up and carried me to the top of the stairs. It was, of course, him and our good friend Chris. I thanked them lavishly in an over the top British accent and we walked together to the front desk where our group was meeting in a squiggly semi-circle. We were given our room assignments and let known that dinner would be served in a half hour. The girls had one large room while the boys had another. We were on separate floors as more of an accident than choice. As we were being given more instructions (we would be allowed to roam the city on our own after dinner), I was joking with him about how I needed to be carried back down the stairs to gather my belongings. Before I, and everyone else in the room, knew it, I was being thrown over his shoulders fireman style. To my surprise, his surprise, and the surprise of everyone watching, our vertical tower became a leaning tower. Our leaning tower quickly collapsed until we were both in a crumpled heap on the floor.
I remember shouting his name as we fell and I remember him twisting his body to absorb the fall and I remember hitting my head against the wall. I remember everyone turning to look at us on the floor and I remember a man opening his door to see what all the commotion was only to slowly close the door and retreat into his room. I remember laughing and yelling that he couldn’t pick me up and he argued that he’d only lost his balance; that he could lift me easily.
Kim saw right through everything. She knew that this literal fall was also figurative. She knew he had a girlfriend. She knew I didn’t have a boyfriend. She knew this wasn’t how boys with girlfriends acted and she knew that this wasn’t how a respectable single woman acted. She knew a lot and, as I looked up from the floor and found her face, I saw a mix of emotions. The worst of these emotions was disapproval. It only flashed for a brief moment before she laughed like everyone else and asked if we were okay, but I saw it.
Our professor for the week was from my university back home and he brought his middle-school aged daughter with him. She started off relatively shy, but quickly opened up to a couple of us girls. After I had stood back up from my fall and we had all returned to our rooms, I made some backhanded comment about looking like I was in a relationship with him and the girl was genuinely shocked to find out we weren’t dating. She had assumed we were and said how cute we’d be together. I just laughed and told her about his girl back home before announcing we should all head down for dinner and walking trance-like down the long, brightly lit hostel hallway.
When we left the hostel later that night to explore the city on our own, he carried me bridal style for a couple blocks to prove his strength.
I remember returning to our German home from this adventure two weeks later and walking around town with our arms wrapped around each other. It didn’t matter that we weren’t alone and that some of our group was with us. He stopped short and laughed, his arm tightening around me. I asked what was so funny.
He looked me in the eyes with a lazy grin.
“I almost kissed you.”
It was sort of like the time I was skyping my my best friend, Clara. I was reclined in a chair with my legs draped lazily over his lap and she asked to see what he looked like. I turned my computer screen toward him and the rest of the room and he said hello. She talked excitedly in my headphones about how attractive he was and I smiled and laughed. He watched me carefully and asked what she was saying about him and I watched his smiled fade as I told him we weren’t talking about him. She remarked that his voice was perfect and I laughed and agreed. That’s when he stood up and grabbed me and held me down on the floor and tickled me. Like he felt he should be talked about or that he should somehow be important in my life. That Clara should know we were something. Not that she didn’t know already. Not that most of our small private college back home didn’t know already…
Being with him was like driving two hundred miles per hour down the highway. One false move and we’d be toast. One tiny movement could cause some catastrophic collision enacting a domino effect that would quickly start toppling long-term relationships and scatter pieces of the wreckage all over the highway. We travelled to wrecked places together. We travelled to concentration camps and stepped somberly into crematoriums. We stepped over bones and ashes of a generation now extinct. We looked at things left behind: missing shoes, buttons, dentures, and wedding rings.
The most tragic place we visited was Paris, a place untouched by Nazi work camps and exterminated Jews, a place where a revolution shook the city to its core and toppled government powers. Paris was and is a place of romance and tragic love tales. It is the place of my tragic love tale.
We traveled to Paris that November with another companion: Smith. We needed him to come with, as the constraints of the contract we signed to study abroad prevented us from traveling in guy-girl pairs. Ironically, both of them had the same name and in order to keep them apart we called them by their last names, hence the name Smith
Life is a funny coincidence. I think Smith was interested in me and I, of course, was not interested in Smith but was interested in the other man who was interested in someone else and I think that’s how life works a lot of the time. We’re all never quite on the same page. I think the man I loved who loved someone else was the most confused about his story. At first glance, you’d think his book was about me. It certainly appeared that the page he was on was mine and the page I was on was his. Try to argue this when we walk together down St. Germain-du-Pres with our arms around each other. Our stories were intertwined for a little bit. Until the bright lights of reality flashed in front of him and he let me go. I think he was writing two tales. One on me and the other on his lover. It’s okay, in Paris, to be in love with two people at once, but as a tourist you have to leave eventually and you really can’t stay stuck in fantasy forever, so the story he wrote about me was left behind and forgotten. Luckily, I remember it all.
Love is funny. I fell in love at least once a day when I rode the metro in Paris and that’s heartbreakingly poor timing because the metro is one of the worst places to meet people. There is no easy way to converse with an attractive man across the car when there are 10–15 people between you and the inconsistent rocking of the train further inhibits movement. The metro is an easy place to fall in love. You can lock eyes with any number of people and fall in love with the way they stare back. It’s a forgettable love, however, you never can quite remember the exact shade of brown his eyes were or the way he was dressed. You do remember that for a moment, a single moment, you felt something that made you feel alive. Your timing may be poor and you might get off at your stop without even speaking, but you felt it — that small spark of love that makes this life worth living.
We flew to Paris on a Saturday. We arrived at the airport we’d be departing from a couple hours early and had to sit around and wait to board. This would have been completely acceptable had I not been extremely hung-over. I remember wandering the airport, searching for the slightest hint of ibuprofen, but all I could find was snacks and alcohol. Not to mention, every bottle that looked like it could contain pills was written in German.
When we finally made it to Paris we took the metro to our small hotel. The railcar twisted and turned through the underground tunnels at lightning speed and a nearly indistinguishable French voice announced what stop we were at. Our stop was Richard Lenoir, which sounded a lot like “richarrrrr lewaaaaa.” Needless to say, we had to keep a sharp eye out for the names of each location on signs at each stop.
Our hotel was very tall. A steep winding staircase, that seemingly was the staircase to heaven, led all the way to the top floor. I never did find out how many floors there were. There were no elevators and the staircase reached into a thick blackness that no man, woman, or child should ever face the burden of climbing. You’d probably need an oxygen mask in case the air got too thin. I didn’t have enough money for one, so I opted out of climbing. We were on the fourth floor. Our room consisted of three twin beds. Two were pressed close together and one was a couple feet away at the foot of the other two. After Smith threw his bags onto one of the conjoined beds, I took the separated bed. I didn’t want to roll over into his hairy arms during the middle of the night.
We had a fairly good routine down for our morning and night routines. I’d be the first to awaken. It took me longer to get ready than the other two, so I’d get a head start. It took a lot of rushing, but I was usually able to look relatively impeccable by the time I got around to my duty of waking him up. It goes without saying that it was I who was the woman he awoke to each morning. It was my smiling face he opened his eyes to. My whispered “good morning” he heard first. This was all his idea. I’d wake up and get ready, then I’d wake him up, and, after he was ready, he’d wake up Smith.
Our nights were my favorite. We always watched a movie before bed and sipped on some form of alcohol while we did it. I started out in the middle of both beds, the crack between them small enough that I wasn’t uncomfortable. As the week progressed, however, the crack grew and I soon found myself sharing a bed with him. Of course, I later found myself under the covers. I complained that I was cold and secretly overheated under the blankets. This became a routine. We’d set up our movie, he’d scoot over to his side of the bed, pull back the covers for me, and I’d slide in beside him.
Paris was a marvelous city. We stopped for lunch one day at a café in a popular square downtown and I can’t remember the name of the street or the café and that is a terribly awful thing to forget on a particularly good afternoon. The café was inexpensive and extremely crowed and we took this to be a good sign of good food. We had to wait awhile to be seated as there were three of us and three is not a very pleasant number to seat when most of the tables hold only two people or four people which means we’d either be very squished together or taking up an extra seat in an already crowded place. We waited a long time to sit and during this time we stood in a corner and watched the other patrons eat.
There was a mother and her child near us. The father kept leaving the cafe and coming back to the delight of the little girl. She was gorgeous with light brown skin and curls that bounced as she squirmed in her seat. Her mom was beautiful as well with the same curls and a darker complexion. She smiled at me a few times and even though the two of them took up a table for four and were taking their time, I didn’t mind one bit.
I might have minded more had I been standing alone and not with a strong arm wrapped around me and a pleasantly comfortable chest to lean my head on. I might have minded more had his head not been gently pressed against my own and his steady breathing making my hair tickle my cheeks. I didn’t mind the waitress who smiled at us standing there together even though she had no way of knowing he wasn’t mine, but just a warm friendly body.
What bothers me is the amount of people who assumed we were together and voiced it and he didn’t seem to mind. There was a man behind the counter of a döner place who asked, as we were paying, if he was my boyfriend. We laughed uncomfortably and he explained that we were just friends and I hated every moment of it. If I was his girlfriend, I don’t think I’d like it very much if people thought he was dating another girl.
In that small café we stood together like that for a long time which was probably only ten minutes but I like to make moments like these last a long time by taking in everything around me. To our immediate right there were three people who had finished eating and drinking and had begun to discuss business and I couldn’t help but think what a terribly inconvenient place this cafe was to discuss anything at all because of how loud it was. Straight ahead of us a man sat by himself and we stood for a long enough time in front of him for him to both order and receive his meal and I felt bad for standing and watching him eat because I get uncomfortable when people watch me eat. I also felt bad that he was alone in a place full of people eating and drinking together. He might have just been on a lunch break, however. I don’t remember if he had a wedding ring. All I remember is the warmth of his arms and the pressure of his lips on the top of my head as he kissed me.
We were finally seated in the far corner of the terrarium with an excellent, if not crowded, view of the square. The waitresses were nice and very attentive. I’m very sorry that I cannot remember the name of the café. The food was good and cheap and fast and the surrounding area was nice. It might have been off of Montparnasse. They brought us an extra table so we could spread out a bit more and, after being held for so long, I zoned out while looking out the window.
There were couples sitting across the street from us at a fancier restaurant. I couldn’t help but wish it was me and him in our dressy clothes trying our best not to laugh at the absurdity of our French waiter telling us all about foods we’d never be able pronounce the names of. French is a bizarre language. It’s like they start their sentences and words clearly and give up in mumbles at the ends. I guess that’s how our relationship began: clearly friends until the messed up jumble we became at the end.
We visited the Louvre and the Musee d’Orsay. I’d been to the Louvre before, but didn’t get to spend as much time as I liked. This time we all split off and wandered around on our own. I was always a room or two behind him. I imagined we’d find some secluded bench and comment on some strange painting all the while scooting nearer and nearer to one another until our lips brushed slowly against one another’s and we’d have to find a maintenance closet to settle our wild urges.
I caught him in a nearly empty room with large paintings from floor to ceiling all around and in the middle, creating a myriad of makeshift hallways. He was stopped looking at a renaissance painting and I lightly bumped into him and complained that there were no bathrooms to be found anywhere. He laughed and pulled me into a hug. We were alone and surrounded by art and I remarked coyly that this didn’t solve the bathroom problem and he laughed into my hair and held me tighter. I like to think that these moments weren’t brought on by the fact that he missed his girlfriend and I wasn’t just a surrogate body. It seemed real enough.
The Musee d’Orsay was wonderful. I’m an obsessed fan of Van Gogh and the museum had a special place just for his pieces. Not to mention, the collection of impressionist and post-impressionist pieces were outstanding. All three of us made our way through the museum separately. We each took in the art around us on our own. I didn’t try to catch up with him. I didn’t want to. This was important to me. We spent more time in that museum than any other place we visited. Occasionally we’d bump into one another and remark on the beauty of it all, but we’d separate again and breathlessly wander.
When I had made it through the entire museum I went back to the rooms filled with Van Gogh works. I stood close and admired his thick brush strokes and wavy lines. I tried to imagine how he saw our world and the pain he was in. I could understand him, in that moment. Paris was so beautiful. It was beautiful to share it with someone I cared so deeply for. It was beautiful to walk arm in arm down cobblestone streets and admire all the pretty storefronts and petite cafes. Yet, it was painful. It was painful to know I was in the city of love without a lover. It was painful to be wrapped in a warm embrace and know it would end. It was painful to feel his body next to mine and know another woman craved it halfway around the world. There is a beauty in pain. There is a beauty in wanting what you’ll never have and taking what was never yours. There is a beauty in feeling.
True to my love for Van Gogh, we visited the city he died in. We were meant to go to Giverney, but stumbled upon Auvers-sur-Oise when figuring out how to get there and I jumped at the opportunity. This was the place where Van Gogh painted the wheat fields and the church. This was the town where he committed suicide and is buried. I could, quite possibly, place flowers on his grave. I could look at exactly the same things Vincent looked at and imagine how he saw them. I was ecstatic and my companions humored me.
Upon arriving, the town was decidedly dead. We were most definitely not in Paris anymore. Beggars no longer roamed the streets and the air was clean and pure. The change of pace was nice and well needed and the town itself was beautiful. However, it was off-season and many of the Van Gogh attractions were closed for the winter. The gates were locked to his small room where he died and I remember grabbing hold of the bars and staring longingly at the building, hoping some Frenchman would see my poor soul and let me in. Unfortunately, no one took pity on me.
There were signs all around with Van Gogh’s paintings and you could look at the painting and look up at the actual place he painted and my two companions followed me around town as I hurried from one to the other. I stopped short at the sight of the church he painted. I had seen it once in an episode of Doctor Who and never imagined actually visiting it. We all stepped inside quietly and looked around. Smith peeled away from the two of us and we soon found ourselves in a side room just to the right of the altar, completely alone.
At times I wish our relationship had been a one-night stand. I wish that it had been completely evident he had cheated on his girlfriend and that we had something — even if it was only one night. I wish it hadn’t been this strange courtship where we joked about making out and shared a bed. I would have preferred he threw me down on a bed and got it all over with instead of massaging out a cramp in my leg under the covers and giving me his jacket when I got cold. I would have preferred the extent of his cheating to have been physical and not emotional. We were not friends. We were something more. And it pains me.
We were alone in that small room in a completely silent church that my favorite artist had painted and he told me he was sorry everything was closed. He told me he was sorry that I wasn’t able to see as many Van Gogh sights as I would have liked. He told me he was sorry and then he held me tightly in his arms. I don’t know how long we stood wrapped up like that. I know that I suddenly felt very much like Van Gogh. I was standing so beautifully in the most painful arms. And I felt completely alone.
There’s not much else to say. Paris was our city. It was the last time we were able to be us, whatever that meant. After we were to arrive back home in Germany, there were two short weeks left and he would return to her. On the train ride back, he held me closer and tighter than he ever had. I think we both felt that whatever we had was ending; that we had to stop this twisted relationship we’d been so blatant about; that this was our last moment to be together in this way. He had to have known what it looked like from the outside. There are pictures of us standing too close and hugging too tight. There are long Facebook messages and many witnesses. I know that he had to have felt something. Too many people gave us the look. Too many people asked if we were dating. We were not friends. He dated me and he dated another woman at the same time.
He messed me up. I couldn’t say his name for a long time without feeling as if I’d burst. I couldn’t decide if I loved the way his name rolled off my tongue or hated the way it did. The taste was bittersweet in my mouth. I stopped believing in love for a short time. I stopped believing in true love. I couldn’t believe a man who was in love with a woman could behave this way with another woman. I couldn’t believe that he didn’t love me enough to leave her. I couldn’t believe that I had fallen in love with such a despicable person.
He had the audacity to invite her to our college over Valentine’s Day and shout hello at me from a bridge with her hand in his. I almost shouted back that there was a time he didn’t mention her at all. There was a time when he felt jealous when I gushed over an attractive man walking the streets in Paris. There was a time when he rolled his eyes and told me to shut it. There was a time when I reminded him I didn’t complain when he talked about his girlfriend. After that there was silence. There was silence as the weight of what he was feeling caught up to him. In that moment I knew he felt something. In the moment he walked past me on the bridge with his oblivious girlfriend, I almost reminded him that there was a time when he and I had walked across a bridge half a world away as he slipped an arm around me and forgot even she existed.
This was the time when I was almost a mistress in Paris with a man I will never name because he doesn’t deserve to be recognized. This is my story, not his. This is my awful, wretched, beautiful pain. Although he spread through my bones like a wildfire and incinerated my heart, I rose from the ashes. I’ve fought harder. I’ve loved deeper. I’ve burned brighter.
But, still, I am not entirely okay.
I worry too much about being fallen out of love with. I worry I’ll be cheated on.
I worry my love is not enough.