Paris: Day 2 of my dream vacation.
The previous night had been spent celebrating my eighteenth birthday—the legal drinking age in France. The unusual bonding experience bar-hopping with my mother had been entertaining on my behalf, but her alcohol intolerance kicked in something fierce come morning. We had agreed to breakfast with someone we had met at the bar, so she made the effort to overcome her sickness temporarily. Élan had lived in the area for three years, just down the street from the hotel at which we were staying, and he had promised to show us around. The three of us returned to the hotel room, but my mother, about to spend the next eight hours projectile vomiting, shoved me back out into hallway, and I heard the bathroom door slam.
Once out of sight of the hotel, Élan smirked. “I told your mother she could trust me with you… I lied.”
The next eight hours were absolute hell.
It seemed that ages had passed since we entered Hakim Optical.
“I don’t like this colour of contacts on me,” Élan had decided. “Wait here.” He spent the better part of the next two hours arguing with the manager. “This colour is very uncomfortable on my eyes! The other colour I had was fine,” he insisted. “I want new contacts, for free.”
“Sir, we can replace this colour for you if you would like.”
“No, I want a different colour. This colour is uncomfortable.”
The manager rolled his eyes at me. He was not falling for this scam, and the story was getting old. Personally, I could not believe that, on my second day in Paris, I had already wasted a few hours of sightseeing trying to swindle free contact lenses! To top it off, it turns out Élan did not speak a word of French. Who was this guy?
On the way out of the store, Élan had to take his medication. Every 25 minutes that day, we stopped in the street while he dug through his bag, took out a notebook, and jotted down some notes, as well as the time and which pills he was taking. After locating the pills and his water bottle, he would fussily restore and rearrange the contents of his bag. Hundreds of tourists must have pushed past us as he took his time, and I quickly grew impatient. I couldn’t help wondering what all this medication was for; was I safe with this man?
We stopped at a squatter’s museum so I could learn some local history and check out the art; Élan grabbed my behind on the way up the stairs, and I spun around sharply. He apologized, and then did it again.
“How old are you?” he asked.
“Eighteen!” I snapped, disgusted. He was thirty-two years old, I had overheard him telling my mother at the bar, and I became vaguely aware I was in the presence of a pervert.
“Good. I like them young.”
Make that a pedophile.
I wanted to save the real sightseeing for when my mother was feeling up to it, I told Élan. I wondered if he could show me where people hung out during the day. He saw through my request, and asked if being alone with him made me uncomfortable. I was firm when I told him yes, and he grabbed my arm to stop me in the middle of the sidewalk.
“I thought you liked me. Last night at the bar you seemed to like me.”
“Élan… I was drunk and having a good time with my mom.”
“So you don’t like me now? I am so insecure, don’t do this to me. I want to spend the week with you and your mother! Don’t you want to be with me?” He was hurt, and I was disturbed.
“This is my special trip… with my MOM. You have been nice but I want to be with her, not with someone we just met in Paris.” He grabbed me again, and told me I was beautiful.
“I have seen prettier, of course,” he continued. “I sleep with models quite often… but there is something special about you.” I started to walk again, and refused to look at him.
Élan wanted to stop by his apartment to get his camera. He invited me upstairs.
“My bed is very comfortable. I am an expert in…”
“I’ll wait outside.”
We found a comfortable salad bar in which to eat dinner. Élan had attempted to take me out somewhere ‘nicer’ but I insisted on staying casual. Instead of having a seat across from me, he sat next to me, and watched me eat. Self-conscious, I began to ramble, mostly to distract myself. I complained of a sore back; he immediately rose and began to massage my neck. He was pushing hard, but the knots in my back were deep and my pain threshold high.
“Am I hurting you?” he asked.
“No, it’s fine. I’m used to it. But you really don’t have to…”
“Wow, you can take a lot of pain. If we had sex I could be so rough with you.”
I stood up and excused myself to the washroom. I paid the bill on my way back to the table.
He walked me to a taxi stand, and when a car finally pulled up, he asked if he could call me tomorrow. I hesitated and he pulled a notepad out of his bag. I told him I didn’t know the number of the hotel; a blatant lie. The hotel card was safe in my pocket. Instead, he scribbled his number, and thrust it into my hand. It looked foreign to me—many more digits than in Canada. I wouldn’t even know how to dial this. Not that I was planning on it.
It was not until a full five minutes later – the entire time spent halfway inside the safe zone that was the taxi, teasingly close to freedom – that I escaped Élan’s rant about how he could see himself with me in the future, and would I please call him? Please? Shutting the door was the only thing I could think about, and I breathed a huge sigh of relief as the driver pulled away from the curb. I handed him the hotel card and asked if he could drop me off at that address. He scrutinized the card, and three blocks later, dropped me off on the sidewalk claiming he was not familiar with the location.
I stood alone on a Parisian sidewalk and cried.
Half an hour later, I was dropped off on the correct street by an older taxi driver toward whom I was extremely thankful. I tipped him well, and then smiled gratefully at the door man as he buzzed me in. I ran up the stairs to my room; I knocked; my mother opened the door; I threw my arms around her and began to sob.
“I missed you,” I whispered.
Élan called that night. I unplugged the phone, and told the concierge we would be taking no more calls for the evening.
I just came across a page in a notebook from about 2001 that I remember so clearly. I was waiting at the airport with my headphones on, and decided to give a little project a try. I focused on the lyrics, and for every phrase I heard about relationships, I jotted it down and moved on to the next song.
Once the page had been filled, I read over it, and scrawled across the top, “Part 1: The Romance, Part 2: The Reality.” The following is what came of the exercise.
You were like nothing I’d ever known
Loving you came easily to me
You needed love to light the shadows in your eyes
You became the light on the dark side of me
Two worlds collided, I didn’t want to miss a thing
I was living for the only thing I knew
There was nothing in the world that could change my mind
Who needed them when you meant everything
I’ve never felt so good since then
I don’t ever wanna feel like I did that day
Get over the faithful yesterday
Face to face with something I couldn’t have admitted
Look carefully, the result of the pain you committed
I could see the glow slowly fading from your eyes
Who needs a heart when a heart can be broken?
Everything’s made to be broken.
Everybody’s got a story that can break your heart.
I’m happy cause I smile but how much can I fake?
Still waking up late at night crying tears
Is it safe to look within?
Is it gone? Tell me what went wrong
I’d rather be alone than unhappy
And I don’t want the world to see me, cause I don’t think that they’d understand
It’s the human connection that kept us apart
Without you in my life I’m completely incomplete
This is what you do
You make me come, you make me complete,
You make me completely miserable.
I bet most of you recognize at least a few songs out of there! I challenge you to pick a topic, try the same thing, and share the results below.
***This is a postcard story (aka. a story that fits on a postcard) I wrote for my Creative Writing class in university (’04-ish).
Out of Sight, Out of Mind
They are walking, tout les deux, through the market but a short drive from Hull. She has bused from her home in downtown Ottawa; he has borrowed his sister’s car for the evening to see her, and to remind her that he’s there. Remind her that he cares.
He lights up and offers her a cigarette. You are not my father. She accepts and assures him this is not typical behaviour, mother need not know. He acknowledges this much, and they find a corner table out front of the café. Reclining comfortably, he recreates her childhood; she shifts in her chair.
« Votre mère et moi presque ne nous sommes pas mariés de tout. »
You are not my father. She nods as though this was common knowledge, and scrutinizes the stain on the table. Is it spreading?
« Ha! Sa mère désapprouvait ainsi. »
She looks ashamed, and he hesitates. Suddenly the smells emanating from the kitchen’s back door are suffocating.
« Tu n’avais pas su? »
“It’s fine,” she says. You are not my father. “Sort of funny,” she adds unconvincingly.
« Tu sais que je t’aime. »
« Tu ne me doutes pas, bien sur? » Leaning forward. Concerned.
“No, it’s fine. I love you too, Papa.”
Reassured, he settles back into the chair, and they both take another long drag.
“We must do this again sometime,” she says.