(Part 2) Paris in June

The cold beer tastes good as the flavours rush over my tongue, the liquid is bitter and strong, cold and perfect. I stand watching for a while as people talk, or laugh, there is a group of four playing Settlers in the corner and a full table at the back arguing theology in high spirited friendliness. It’s like being at a huge family reunion and feeling oddly alone for the first time. Things have changed, and I have known it for months but have been unwilling to actually admit it to myself. Somehow I had changed, I had become a new version of myself and I didn’t fit in here any longer. Yes, I knew every single nook and cranny of this beautiful space, every room, every nic in the floor, all the traditions, all the people. This place had been home for much longer than the last three years. It stole my heart when I was a silly nineteen year old girl who believed she could do anything, be anyone, conqure anything, and 7 years later when I returned it had soothed my soul after learning life just didn’t work that way. I couldn’t just be anyone, conqure anything, do whatever I pleased and get my way whenever I wanted. These walls had stood witness to two me(s), and here I am yet again, merging into a new, older, wiser, somehow different version of myself all over again. I lean back on the ‘bar’ which is actually just a counter, the beer resting in my hand, the condensation is dripping onto my fingers, the smoke in the air gets thicker as two people huddle in the door light up. It isn’t a smoking area really, but that doesn’t really stop people, it’s the space where freedom is explored, rules broken and life lived. Still standing at the counter I try to figure out what is causing the deep lonliness tonight, here, where so many people are gathered, people I love, people I enjoy. It started in June I realize, things all started to change back in Paris, in June; yes I think to myself, that was when it all began to unravel so to speak. Everything had been so great before that, everything had been so normal before that. I had my life ahead of me before that, I knew where I was, where I was going (or staying as the case may be) and now it’s all so different, forever changed. I take another pull from the beer, not moving to join a table, not really wanting to start a conversation, just standing witness to the life I used to feel so fully apart of. I move my damp fingers down my jeans and place the beer back on the counter, then I pull myself up to sit on the bar so I can just sit, part of the throng but also alone, watching, thinking. It still beat sitting alone at home I thought to myself, being alone makes it all so much more real, more painful, more desperate. “The Bible is clear on this, God predesined our lives, our salvation is predistined” The theology argument heats up and catches my attention, the person in the seat beside the speaker turns to him and with exasperation she practically yells “you aren’t leaving room for free will in there! There is no way that God would pre-ordain someone to hell!” her eyes are on fire as her Ukrainian accent becomes thicker in her passionate argument. The two start quoting Bible verses at each other, the others sit and either remain quiet, or simply nod in agreement or disagreement depending on where they sat in the argument. It’s always been like this, the deep thinking is just as much a part of the community life here as the laughter and love. It’s been this way since the sixties when it became a safe place on the western side of the iron curtain to learn theology, and it remains this way today as these two argue in the cellar. While so many things seem to change, it seems that many things remain the same through out time, there really is nothing new under the sun, not even my current circumstances I assume. Change is never comfortable and I once again return to my thoughts I try to think back to that day in June when things changed and my life was turned upside down. The air in Paris in June is fresh, scented lightly with flowers blooming, it’s warm breezes flow down the streets and whisper love songs to the lovers walking the lane ways or sitting at sidewalk cafes, the fashionable ladies, the men who look like they belong on magazine covers (and probably actually do). The children playing in parks after a long day at school. It is not like any city I have ever been in before, there is romance there, alive and breathing, thick with passion and promises of love. It sounds silly to me now, it’s just a city after all and promises made are not always promises kept. I held the hand of the man beside me as we made our way up the Eiffel Tower, the view quickly coming in sight, all around me I could see the beautiful old buildings that had long ago captured my romantic imagination. We walked to the platform viewing the city from all sides, it was breathtaking. He wasn’t acting normally, if I hadn’t known better I would have thought he had a sever case of sudden fear of heights so I moved back from the fence a little and asked him if he was okay. He muttered something and took me to a bench close to the middle of the platform, well away from the splendour of the views, we sat and I turned to watch the people coming out, seeing the first moment that they saw the whole of Paris at their feet in their eyes and their smiles. It was a beautiful day to be in love in the city of love I was thinking. I turned back to the man beside me and he looked a little ill, in his hand was a box, and his words though I assume he’d planned something, came out like “so, will you?”. I stared at him, this is the moment that most little girls think about their whole lives; finding the man who will promise to love them forever, it should feel different somehow is a thought that flashes through my mind. I should be exstatic, right?. I do love this man, though I haven’t known him long, he is offering me what I have been wanting. A family of my own, a place to call home. I smile at him, and whisper just one word. “Yes”. The green shade lessens on his face and he opens the ring box and slips the solitaire diamond on my finger, then he leans in and kisses me. The commitment is made. The beer is now starting to lose the crisp coldness that I tend to enjoy so I tip the bottle up and chug the rest down before it has a chance to warm up anymore. Knowing that I wasn’t going to find here what I had thought I was looking for I head back up the stairs of the cellar and through the entrance to the courtyard. I stand in the cold for a while staring up at the black night sky, every star perfectly visable. I wish I could think back to Paris and at least have a memory so filled with love and happiness that the rest would feel worth it, but the truth, even then, was that I knew it was wrong. I was making the wrong decision but I had made a commitment and that meant something to me. I also really wanted to be married, I wanted a family and home and this was my way to achieve those goals; right? “Ugh”, I think to myself. “You’re such an idiot”! We had only been in Paris for the day, we were heading back to where he lived in England where we made all the announcements. I lay in bed staring at the ring on my finger, twisting it round and round and telling myself it would be wonderful, I was just nervous. We planned, set a date, we booked a venue, his mother and sister took me to buy a dress. Then it was time for me to return home to Austria, it was while I was on the train that I started having the worst doubts, the awful thoughts, the fears, the panic that I had made the very worst decision for myself and yet every single time I would talk myself down from it. I allowed everyone’s’ excitement to fuel my own excitement and I went on as engaged woman planning her wedding. 

To be continued…

Published by lauriehaughton

Author & Photographer

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