Marc and I met on a windy afternoon in September. I was sitting on the stone edge of the gardens surrounding Jeu de Paumes when he came over, dressed in grey joggers with windswept hair. No, I thought. I didn’t like him at first glance, but together, we went into the gallery. He’d been shopping for an 80’s sleeveless denim jacket that morning. “I get into these obsessions,” he said. He spoke in a soft voice of twangy-British, English words formed from the front of his mouth like the native French speaker that he is. His mère is French, his father British; he told me about his childhood in Bourgogne, his years in England, the flat he’d just purchased in Paris.
We stifled laugher in the galleries, whispering and giggling in each other’s ears.
Outside, afterwards, he invited me for a drink. “Do you have time?” He asked. I really didn’t, but I said yes.
Seated side by side at a cafe table, I raked my hands through my long hair. Time distilled reality into microscopic moments. “Une soude grenade et elle aura un Perrier,” Marc said to the server. I preferred his voice in French. I’d taken two postcards from the exhibit and had them out on the table. I considered writing my New York address on the back of one and sliding it over to him; I thought it would be weird not to keep in touch. I resisted. Leveling the small bottle above the lip of my glass, I pored the water, cut my eyes at him, tried holding back my smile. “Yes,” he was saying, “You’ve got that personality.” He thought that I was funny. He liked that I talked shit and teased. He said he could see how I’d be good at hospitality management.
Marc paid for our drinks. “Well.” He bised me goodbye. “Text me and let me know you got home safely.”
I turned back to look at him, tall and eloquently disheveled. Knowing him now, months later, I’m still surprised and grateful for all the ways that he is unexpectedly tender.
When he asked, “Are we boyfriend and girlfriend?” I swept all of my hair into my face. I let out an animalistic moan. This was not the agreement. I’m not sure about long distance relationships, Lizzie (jealousy, fighting, unbearable missing, boring conversations, etc.) What do you think? This was not what I wanted. This is sort of what I wanted. We checked ourselves in that very conversation. We were not boyfriend and girlfriend. We were two people on earth. Just some guy in Paris and a woman in New York.
I agreed to join him for a weekend, but after the first of the year. “Should I stay for two nights or three?” I asked.
“Stay for three nights,” he said. “In case you like me.”
Morning walks in Montmartre.
Marc’s voice. Two cafe crèmes and a thousand passing seasons outside of Cafe Des Duex Moulins where I came alive after my flight. 2-7-6-9-5 for the horses. Rides through the rain. Espresso and tea. Laurent-Perrier (“The beginnings of a big headache,” he said, firing open the cork. Must everything he say make me laugh?) Fernet and fizzy water. Ginger ale and rum (“Should I put ice in it? Americans love ice.”) The spontaneous and very drunk dinner on Friday that I was not, after all, too tired to go out for. The corner table where we bantered and laughed like two Americans. Magritte and the queues. Childhood stories. People watching. Surrealism. Ceci n’est pas une pomme. French football and American pretzels. Dozing on the couch. The dinner he’d booked for us at Blue Valentine. He had compared it to Brooklyn. I said the lights were too bright in the dining room.
“Can you see yourself living among these people?” He asked.
I leaned towards him from across the table. “I don’t like to tell people how I feel about Paris. But I will say, when I visit Paris, I feel the same way that I did when I use to visit New York before I moved there… You can look back through my journals,” I added. “These feelings prexist you.”
Le marche and a drive by Marc’s new flat. Cafe de L’indusrie for brunch, bright and warm with beautiful people. He read me the menu, but I already knew almost every word. Dusk, early. An American Season exhibit at la MEP. Speechless, in internal conflict affront American imagery.
At home, in his apartment, we were together on the couch. “This wasn’t what I expected,” I confessed. “I thought I would come over here and just have a casual fling.”
“Geography makes everything bigger,” he said.
This is when I covered my face and cried.
We walked, arm-in-arm, through the rain to see an American film. The cinema, all to ourselves. We sat in the back and whispered. Afterwards, we strolled from bistro to bistro, in the cool night air.
In bed, that evening, he took me through albums of his favorite photographs. “I know it’s cliche,” he’d said in the gallery on the day we met, “But I shoot with film.” It was the moment I decided not to resist him.
Let me know.
The morning I left
Cotton-candy clouds marbled the sky. Sunlight illuminated a golden periphery. The light really is different in this part of the world, but, as I’d told him, I still have things left to do in New York.
What had he said about Geography? That it makes everything bigger. I know, I would have told him, I would have explained, if I’d been able to tackle the words from my mouth. I had written a book on this very concept, how feelings defy–yet are warped–by distance, the reasons humans are moved hours across the earth, the very few things worthy of changing time zones, currency, language.
Let me know.
I knew, I already knew what I know now.
1,000 thank-you’s to Marc Paris for a perfect weekend.