The future was wide open

I pick up two pains au chocolat and two croissants at 8h30 at the Place Charles Michel boulangerie, this frigid Paris morning with my breath escaping in clouds, and then I’m clicking back to my apartment in my high heeled boots. In my mind, I’m Parisian.

At home, I set the table: jam, coffee, sugar, paper towel napkins, and eat with Beth, a friend visiting from Ireland. My host mother wishes us “bonne journée” on her way out the door. I wash the dishes, we head out to the elevator then to the metro, and I say goodbye to her at La Motte-Piquet as I hop on the line 8. I read the direct matin; the car twists through the underground. There’s a French man singing and playing guitar at République, a baby in a stroller on the line 11, then I am coming out at the Christmas-decorated Jourdain station in front of the cathedral, passing the marchés and gyro stands to Rue de Rigoles. This is my commute.

I make coffee, sit down to work on a violence report, listen to a women I interviewed last week on the phone speak to the lawyer in the office next door. This time, she’s not crying. I take a break; it’s nearly lunch. The morning is quiet, just three new interns watching a movie on the women’s rights movement in France and the phone ringing every so often.

It’s the way things end. I watch it all slow down around me the moment before it fades. I try to inhale the last moment when every step is a last step. For though I know I can come back, I only get to live the experience here, like I am now, one time. Next month, next year, in ten years, I won’t return in the same shoes. I will have stepped somewhere that has changed me; I will know things I don’t know now. Much like the shoes I am wearing back to UNC next semester, they will be new.

There’s a discomfort knowing this: the end, the change. I’ve thrived for a semester when I didn’t know I was capable of thriving. I’ve been nourished where I was starved. I’ve been happy; my mother tells me she can hear it in my voice. To know what it’s like to feel right and have to leave — the feeling churns in me. So maybe I’ll pack my bags when it’s dark, fold my scrapbook into the lining of tears and cling to journal entries on the plane ride, to pictures of Italy and the Eiffel Tower.

Then I will be where I was. A campus in North Carolina, aching for the messy living room in Strasbourg, the waterfall on the Arno. Instead, there will be 18 hours of classes, the two majors and a minor, two jobs I left I behind, the sorority events, the women’s rights group activism, the unfinished documentary, the mission trip fundraising for Spring Break in Jamaica, health advocates, meetings, libraries, a social calendar. I want to say, Paris taught me what it’s like to live and, mon dieu, now I’m gonna live. I want to finish learning how to play guitar, buy a canvas and paint, complete the novel I started, drink coffee after sleeping in, write articles. Do what I love.

Give me a language and I would love to learn it, give me a book and I would love to write it. But give me that American university, those bricks and that stress, and I will shudder under the weight.

2 thoughts on “The future was wide open

  1. I ache with you, my dear. I understand part of that pain. Even though I have yet to experience that part of the life in Paris or europe for that matter I felt it this summer in Puerto Rico for sure.

    My heavy loads and stressed life of architecture has gotten the best of me this semester. I’m exhausted. I want change, I can’t wait for next fall.

    yes! its official Prague 2010 here I come.

    We need to see the world together my dear. I can feel it, we have so much in common about our similar lifestyle and ways of seeing life. I want to take my travel see the world, help change. Once you get back (sadly enough) we need to scheme. you & me. backpacks. couch surfing. lets see the world. experience it

    alright ill stop being cheesy but I love you and miss you a lot.

  2. i am living in your room in the 15th this semester. the words you wrote in this entry are exactly what i am running through my head every day, trying to savor this culture and experience when i have become acclamated to, and which is growing on me more and more with every day passing. and the goals and the future events you stated are exactly what are hitting me. i don’t know what to do, i feel like time is racing and i just let myself sit around wherever. i felt the need to time myself and accomplish things for myself while i am here, but then i say to myself, there is no need to striving to do anything but soaking up the sights i see everyday, the french i hear, speak and write, and the interactions with the individuals i will probably never see again. i can already see the memories i just created last week are going into a part of my mind that i will look back on, and regardless of how low my emotions were, they’ll be branded as paris, and they’ll be beautiful to have experienced. i am already sad i only have 1.5 months left, and i’m going to live up to it. i’m glad i read your posts.

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