I am sitting in a café on the Boulevard St. Germaine and just ordered my last café crème. Tomorrow, I fly home to the United States. It goes without saying that I am heartbroken, but I have said the goodbyes that were necessary for the time being during numerous ambling walks through this incredible city. Up to and including today, I did something new every day I was here.
I wrote a piece in NYU Local about falling in love in Paris, and focused on how this city makes love seem greater. The truth is that it was not Paris that made me feel that, but the commitment to doing something new each day. It is so easy to get comfortable, even in a place as boisterous as New York, and not leave your neighborhood. I did it all the time. When I first moved to New York I ran through lower Manhattan frequently, and got lost almost as frequently. Though I never stopped exploring fully, I got lost less and seldom made excuses for wandering for wandering’s sake. I was on a schedule.
Wandering is the best thing I did this semester. One could say I fell in love with Paris, but that isn’t accurate. I adore Paris. But you don’t fall in love with places; you fall in love with people. One of our last nights, several of us were drinking wine and talking and enjoying being together before we all went separate ways to India, Hungary, Los Angeles, England, New York and, for me, Chicago. I arrived at the party and left with the person I will miss most, and as soon as we shut the door behind us, we sat on the stairs and cried.
“I didn’t want to leave that room,” he said.
Everything I experienced in Paris will be with me forever. I am incredibly fortunate in that I am leaving Paris for New York, and can thus hardly complain. I will miss walking on the Seine far less than who I walked with, and sitting by the Eiffel Tower won’t be nearly as much of a draw without the people I laughed with. Now, when all my friends left and I am here alone, the city seems like an empty shell. Since it is not my home—it could be, but for now it is not—I look at everything through the eyes of memory now. I see ghosts of this boy and I walking everywhere, and feel an ache when I go to any of the places where we kissed. The metro is filled with thoughts of deep talks with a girl friend and bantering with a group.
Believe it or not, this is comforting. I have always been someone who put enormous emphasis on place for happiness, and now I see it’s only background. A very vital background—I still cannot imagine being fulfilled living outside of a city—but a background nonetheless. For the first time in my life I know I can be happy wherever I choose to live.
As a result of travelling to other cities, I spent more days with this one person than I did with Paris. What amazes me is that, in entire weekends spent together, we never got bored and until the very last minute (and now) we only became more interested in each other. One person had more in them than the entire city of Paris.
Places are shells, some more ornate than others, some more equipped with opportunities for us to put life into. But the life of a building comes from the architect who designed it, the people who built it, the people who use it and the memories they have associated with it. Otherwise it’s nothing but stone. I want to thank everyone who made Paris come alive for me, because otherwise it would only be a waiting opportunity. Now, Paris is a real place and I have some extremely strong strings tying me there.
I wrote earlier that love is not better in Paris than at home. That’s true. But that does not change the fact that love is the best thing in the world. I found so much love here.
I fell in love with someone and experienced love back. Art was introduced to me in a real way, and I found love there too. I was able to sit with friends and find no competition. So many bottles of wine with girls. The sad memories gave me love, too: being held in my bedroom and crying over the impending end, night after night; sitting on the grass and holding a friend I love very much while she cried and trusted me with a terrible piece of her past. My strongest memories, though, are of laughing. Laughing so much.
More than anything else, new experiences and people were cropping up every which way and though I could not meet them all, I tried and was rewarded with an open future. I no longer feel limited by my past and the regiments I set for myself when I was sixteen.
I go home tomorrow and will need a long time to heal. I’ll wake up alone and that will ache for some time. I will be surrounded by trees in Lake Forest, not Haussmann buildings, and everything will be English. It will be hard. But I am returning someone stronger, who learned she could do something new, knowing no one, and be frightened out of her mind.
On my first night in Paris, I cried myself to sleep and thought the semester would be filled with loneliness. The next night I was eating dinner with two people who would become some of the best friends I’ve ever had, with whom I share memories that are so precious I am grateful for the pain they cause.
Paris is alive for me now, but I have to go home. I do not know what comes next. Thank you to my friends, to the books and music, paintings, sculptures and streets that colored the days, and to the one person who was my partner through all of it.
I feel so much love right now, and I know that I carry that home with me.