Day 2 of me releasing stories inspired, in some way, about Vancouver. This one’s interesting because it actually takes place in Paris, calling upon the terrifying last days of my exchange there, but it is very much inspired by the growing fear of leaving Vancouver, questioning what it means to leave your place of love in the first place. Restlessness, yearning, being split–and all that other complicated stuff.
Time only makes sense when you’re wishing it away. When you’re dreaming of the next place, the bigger cities the higher views. And then the carpet rips from under you, you see the world down there and it’s a drop you can’t understand, at least until you understand time isn’t horizontal it’s vertical, and that it’s all going down from here. Morning number 0.
It’s the last of the days when sleep no longer makes sense: when skidding down sideways off rainy streets is your daily breakfast, and skipping over bridges at dawn is the new normal. Another dawn is waking across the ancient city, and outside the sky opens on the golden arches of the hundreds of Cathedrals and on the spiderweb riggings of the metal tower—another glass for the empty café’s and basement bars, let’s hear a shout for childless playgrounds, let’s catch a train to an abandoned castle. Let’s jump in the cage of endless Paris, jump and dash until you realize that while the city’s endless, you are not, and the pull of real life is much stronger than any pull for any man in a badly out of season Lacoste shirt.
At what point did we lose control?
An attic apartment, the orange glow from an Ikea lamp. Tipped chair and bedsheets spread over cabinets. In the low-ceilinged spaces different wine residue makes experiments with the air. Bleary-eyed vision as we crouch around in a half circle at the center. The Amelie soundtrack skips back to its side one for the seventh time of the night, and the chatter above it has that ropy, restless, 5-AM edge. It’s one too many Truth-or-Dares for this fucking time in the morning. Jan presses his head to stay awake; Dezzy’s long since drifted into the carpets; Naz and Alon are making badly timed flirts with their dares (the kind of playground shit that’s probably gone on too long by now), while Sarah tries to get those last truths out of the rest of us before it’s finally time to pack it in.
There gets a certain point when none of us know why we’re still here—a point long-since passed by dawn. It’s like the repetition could stop the clocks, a reverse skipping record, so we all just skip back to our last day in Paris indefinitely.
Really, though, it’s just you and him. Leaning up against the banner, his long jaw presses into his shirt. Sometimes it seems like he’s drifting off, and then he reaches back and wakes to the room with dazzling clarity. And his dark eyes, hitting that Ikea light, always bounce back to you.
What are you doing? This wasn’t how it was supposed to be asshole. Everything’s gotten a little fuller and a little stranger, and sometimes these days you catch yourself thinking about him and it’s like trying to remember something from early childhood, like a fall down the stairs or parents arguing in a far room. In other words something delicate and deep is unsettled when his glances meet yours across the semi-circle. Oh God: it’s ending.
Not like it wasn’t coming a long time. These days you’re better off found hanging hands over the rails of bridges; that night a week ago: you, sobbing into the moonlight till the hapless smoker, in his own mist of confusion, pulls you down to ask if everything’s ‘allright.’
“There’s just a lot that’s changing. Sometimes… it all just sneaks up on you.”
“What, girlfriend problems?”
And you can only laugh at him and the city and the moon. Because this kind of goodbye takes on a certain wavering unreality.
So a night like this was heading our way for a long time. And why then are we spending it inside? As if by a revelation, you leap up and climb the attic ladder to the leaning roof. Outside it’s Paris, as usual. It knows how it’s done: it’s shown a billion people ten billion mornings, and you, you’re just another hapless expat.
But, this, this out here. Do you know the sound a morning makes? The stuttered shuddered breath of a half moon making its almost-arc? Melting into the twilight of the day. The sun glinting in off the windows, melting red in the freezing air, the frost on the pipes and weathervanes. The sun rises on all of those thousands of lives—incredible, every day upon day for life upon life, contained under the thousands of peeked and pointed rooftops, breaking out across your human horizon like a grey and untamed sea. This here’s the sun that’ll follow you across the Atlantic to your old life, this here’s the sun that will take you back to where you came from like the Chaperone of the Debutant after a night of really-ever-too-much-fun. But they back there (back then?) in Canada, they don’t know you’ve dug a life for yourself out here in such a short time. They don’t know what you’re leaving behind.
“It’s okay, I join you now?” As always, the initial chirp of his words catch the shivers at the edge of your neck but, as always, the resounding sentence soothes in its own assurance, that confident sarcastic grin of his falling tones.
You nod like you already knew this would happen.
Breathing through the open window, his palms catch the wide edges of the eves as he gazes out on the horizon. His sleeveless Lacoste shirt waves in the light wind. “Big day ahead.”
“Long. We’ll see if I get any sleep.”
“What, drinking absinthe with friends all night isn’t a guarantee?”
“As long as I don’t pass out and miss my connection.”
“Yes,” with that feather of an accent, he seems to weigh the word in his mouth, take pleasure in its Englishness. “Yes. That would be unfortunate.”
“How long do you think I have?”
It’s not been so long since you’ve really known him. It was probably another god damn Truth or Dare game, these couple a’ months ago, when you really saw him. Understood things. About his parents in the south near Marseilles, about his sick sister and the family farm. But now it all seems to simple, and as he gazes out on the sea you know he’s thinking of those dreams caught in La Defense, in these catchments of the sky. You also know he’s thinking about you.
“I’ll come back.”
“D’accord,” he responds with half-pressure.
“No, really. It’s not so hard to get another plane ticket. I got here in the first place, right?”
“Oh yes? And then what, sir, then what will you do? Throw down plates in some café, make small talk with your petite phrases, and make a life of it?”
Just making it work on a Starbucks scholarship, hanging around this city that only makes sense in rapid time, in those short explosions of comprehension—for what, a promise, a hope, another catchment in another sky? He’s right.
“Besides,” he adds. “Your French is terrible.”
Laughter in the morning. We reflect each other in it: you give, he gives, and suddenly the air between is the warmth the night was missing. His shirt catches the gold, and you never knew till this moment that T-Shirts could be easels. His smile rests as he hazards a gaze at you; it catches in your throat.
“It’s gonna be allright,” I say.
“How Canadian of you.”
“Okay.” But the smile’s still there. “So what about this girl, this Stacie…?”
Stacie. Stacie Amorenti. Emphasizing the last name, as if she’s so foreign now (here) that your mind can only call her up via search engine, parsed through all the Stacies you’ve ever known.
“Stacie. Yes—Stacie is wonderful,”
Beautiful, smart, driven, somehow kind when it all boils down to it. But now she only comes in disembodied flashes, in clips of elbows or noses or the lithe jump of her hands in that amazing volleyball game. She checked off every box—you know that—but, then, what was the list about in the first place? And then Paris, and then Paris, and then Paris. Was it all just to get away from her?
“But Stacie is finished. W-with me, that is.”
“Hmm,” that French hmm, unparalleled in its mastery of implications. Entire worlds passed between us with it. Goosebumps are growing on his hands, on those fingers crawling closer to yours.
“Fuck. You know, if you’d been like this from the start. I dunno. Everything could’ve been different.”
“And this could’ve been a very different year?”
He turns out towards the horizon. “It was a very good year anyway.”
Oh God. Fuck no, breath it in, swallow them down. Your heart rides on the precipice, you gaze at a deeper chasm. The sun’s in your fucking eyes: the sun’s in your fucking face: it’s not over, not of this is over…
“Yeah,” you push out each word like they’re stones. “A very good year.”
“Well, to the rest, and to the better?”
“To the rest, to the best.”
Grabbing a cigarette, he lights and takes the longest drag of our lives, he breathes in with all the thought, and exhales smoke as if saying I’ve seen this all before. His eyes hold the Parisian world of one-too-many-lovers and the stars of one-too-many-nights. But maybe there’s something new about this for him too.
“Do you think any of this will get easier?” you ask.
“In a while?” Shrugs. “Maybe. For now, probably not.”
“Will I ever see you again?”
The question’s never answered. You’re seized with that kind of longing-for that’s always better remembered than beaten dead anyway. That kind of memory to chew on and cry over on the plane. None of this will come to anything anyway, but then, you can’t help but imagine something like a life: the cabin in Louanne, the rushing through the streets of Le Marais every dusk, the mornings the mornings the mornings. Fuck. Something about this was never meant for words anyways.
Because you can make a religion of goodbyes. Offer up your prayers to the saints of the almost-was. It’s easier this way: to make your lives in the luggage compartments in trains, to take snapshots of whatever’s in the gleaming rearview, so you can laminate those shots and award them on the wall you’ll never own. It’s easier this way: making romance over coffee tables and bad half-finished letters, letting it grow when it’s easy and he’s an idea and you’re a posterboard, when it’s not the third morning in a row and you’re losing the cool. It’s easier this way: hop around enough and you can still hope for something normal, something accepted and well defined by the parents and the politicians and the priests. But then—on the rooftops of Paris, your last dawn with your first guy—what am I praying for, anyway?
You grab his hand for the last couple minutes of the first morning. There are calluses, and it’s cold out.