I'm taking you back to France, Normandy region to be exact. The last day of my love affair....
The morning comes and damn if it doesn't screw with my melancholy.
The sun rises on our last day together, its Friday, and after two cold days of rain and the darkness that had befallen our dinner conversation the night before, the sun had come out, bright and blinding, streaming through the sky lights in our hotel room. It wasn't the kind of warm softening sun after a storm, it was the kind of glaring harsh spot light that highlights all of the ugly faults, imperfections, and shortcomings. The kind of sun you turn your eyes away from and grab for your sunglasses, the kind of hangover sun that makes you want to slink into a dark silent room with the curtains drawn and wake up once its dark again outside.
Our last night together, I don't sleep. He is slumbering with his arm over his head, crooked elbow, hand almost on his forehead in mid thought. He's more than a foot taller than I and so I fit below his shoulders laying next to him in bed. But this night we don't touch, except when he jerks in his sleep and brings his elbow down on the top of my head. A surge of anger wells up inside of me, I want to punch him in the ribs. But I know that I'm feeling the irrational response of unresolved emotions and he didn't really mean to hurt me and still, I want to hurt him back, and I want to cry. Instead I get out of bed without waking him and go to the shower to let the water pour over me.
He's brought back breakfast to the room when I come out of the bathroom. He doesn't eat chocolate for breakfast this morning, the Nutella goes untouched on the breakfast tray. I drop my towel and try to get his attention, try to hug him, try to pull us back from the abyss. But this morning, on our last day together, the Nutella and I go untouched.
I gather myself and as we're packing to return to Paris I have an inspiration to go on with out him. He has to return to Paris before close of business on Friday to attend to some work things, I, on the other hand, do not have to return to Paris for anything. The sun has come out and I'm only a few miles from the beaches of Normandy. I'm not a World War II enthusiast, but it occurs to me that I've never been so close nor do I expect to be so close again and I remember that my great Uncle, my grandfather's brother, died on D-Day. I think of my family.
I make the decision to put him on a train back to Paris and to go on without him.
He seems to be caught up in his plans for the weekend. We are estranged and I'm ok with saying goodbye at the train station, its seems like a dramatic ending, but really it's not. I vaguely remember that we thanked each other, that kind of thank you that's necessary, but leaves something to be desired, and once he's out of sight I feel relieved.
I am proud of myself for making such a resolution to leave him, I recognize that not too long ago separating like that would have torn me to pieces. I go on to see the most beautiful part of my journey and I land on the beaches of Normandy where I am just blown away by profundity of the of human experience that occurred on the soil under my feet. 10,000 and more spirits left their human bodies, (the actual death toll seems to unknown). Young men with young lives and youthful dreams. They didn't get to have the long life I've had, they didn't get to experience the luxury of time, of growing old, of evolving, of experiencing some of their dreams come true.
Maybe some hadn't even had the experience of falling in love, knowing some wonderful physical sweetness, before they were mowed down with machine guns on this earth.
I drive in silence and stop and walk the solitary beaches.... I visit Arromanches Les Bains, Port-en-Bessin, Colleville, Point du Hoc, Omaha Beach and make a several hour sojourn at the American Cemetery. I get out of my car and I experience the collision of silence and heavy significance. Sun exposing the natural beauty of the beaches and the landscape and the graves of 9387 bodies, a monument wall with 1557 names of the missing dead, the total number of dead is massive, not including the bodies that were sent home to their own country.
69 years later, a lifetime for some, the beaches are still scarred with the symbolic burial chambers of thousands of men.
And yet, its so beautiful.
I take some amazing photographs and I feel grounded and I feel grateful to be alive.
I savor the silence.
When I return to Paris on my own, he blows me off saying he's busy with things and maybe we'd see each other on Monday or Tuesday before I leave to go back to the states. I miss his company and his french accent, I can hear his voice in my head as I sit and people watch at my favorite café in my neighborhood. When we were traveling and chatting we had talked about making plans with friends for the weekdays upon our return before my departure but our entire relationship has shifted and he doesn't invite me to meet his friends and I don't invite him to meet mine.
I stare off into the crowds, I let him go….
On my last days in Paris, I am full of grateful emotion. Snow falls in the streets and I come to tears on my walk home from a generous dinner with new friends at their home where they shared their love story with me, many bottles of wine, and the tradition of the Galette des Rois ringing in the New Year. All of us, Chloé and Fiona, Linda and Fahd, Jean-Baptiste and Jérôme sat in the living room, listening to music, conversing, and I was not lonely or alone.
I felt full. I had wished for snowfall in Paris for the holidays, a love affair, a great adventure, friendship, and every detail of my wishes had come true.
On my last night in Paris I attended mass in the same church that I had attended Christmas mass and as I exited the church, large snowflakes were falling in the courtyard where holiday lights still adorned the trees. I went my now familiar way home, floating, skipping, and tearing up all at the same time. At home in my apartment, my heart was full, my emotions were flowing, my bags were packed, and I opened one last bottle of my favorite French pinot noir and sat in the living room watching the snow come down from the sky out the fourth story window.
At eleven o'clock at night, the door security to the apartment rings a request to be let in. I go to the viewer at the door and I see him standing there. I press the button to buzz him in. I open the door, standing there at the top of the steps in my nightgown, when he comes up the stairs, I say, if I didn't know any better I would think you were drunk and making a booty call… but he doesn't drink and he repeats what I already know "I haven't been drinking". But I have. I'm down at least a half bottle of wine. Its eleven o'clock at night, I wasn't expecting him. I am packed and leaving at 5AM in the morning. I didn't know he was coming over.
The first time we said goodbye at the train station I felt all was precisely how it should be, we agreed he was leaving and I was going on without him and then he was gone. I went and had a lovely day. The second time we say goodbye, in my apartment on my last evening in Paris, after eleven o'clock at night, and a half a bottle of wine, it gets messy, the wheels come off.
He says he didn't expect me to be so emotional, and I replied that I warned him I was emotional and I hadn't been sure if it made any sense for us to see each other again after our last goodbye.
We went to the living room where he caught me listening to Coldplay and the bottle of wine sitting on the coffee table, one glass half empty. I remember him saying that I needed to stop listening to Coldplay and that was why I got so emotional. We sat on the couch and looked at my pictures from the last day of my trip to the World War II sites. He kept repeating he was tired and had to go.
I began crying and blubbering about why he had shown up at all. He said "I did what I had to do. I had to return to Paris that day." I looked at him standing there in new shoes a new jacket as he told me "I wanted to see you again but I didn't expect you to be so emotional. " He hugged me as I cried and I remember thinking or saying out loud that I didn't want to be strong, I wanted to feel, I wanted to cry and be emotional. He uttered those words that no girl ever wants to hear.... "You're a great girl, Chloë." He called me by my full name. "You'll go to Peru and you'll be fine." I agreed, of course. Repeated back to him, Yes. I'll be fine.
And then he left.
I doubt any time lapsed at all, upon that door closing behind him but it felt like slow motion time lapse as I grabbed for my phone and I typed the words to him "Did you have to leave? Can you stay the night with me?" And he responded that he was on his way back, but that he would not spend the night with me.
The second time he enters the apartment, there's no holding back.
"And you already know how this will end. Just ask and you'll receive beyond your wildest dreams. And you already know how this will end. You already know." - DeVotchKa
The second time we argue and kiss and argue some more about the practicality of our situation, voices raised, me crying, both of us posturing against each other's accusations of who should have done what and when and how it could have been different if only... I cry that there's nothing practical about our meeting or our coming together or anything else about the way I'm feeling. He asks why things changed in Caen? and I asked him why he didn't talk to me about what changed? Why hadn't we seen each other? What now?
And as we argue we are kissing and holding each other. When he pulls away and says I taste like wine and no wonder why I'm emotional, I've drank the entire bottle, I recoil in defense and retort that he tastes like garlic. He had been at dinner with his friends and I was sore that he hadn't spent my last evening in Paris with me. He said he'd had dinner planned for months, I responded that I didn't know if that was true. On our trip we had both talked about the plans we might make together when we returned to Paris, I had dinner with my friends on Monday night and I had wanted him to come with me but since things had gone sour I didn't invite him to go. It was now very late on Tuesday and he'd shown up at my apartment unannounced after dinner with his friends, knowing that I was leaving at 5AM in the morning.
He said he couldn't stay to help me with my bags in the morning, he wouldn't even have a metro to catch at that time and he had work in the morning and it was just not practical to stay the night with me and that he hadn't come over to have sex with me, he had only come to say goodbye. He was not asking me to, but making the point of why did he have to be the impractical one and why wouldn't I be impractical and change my flight and stay longer? I responded that I would have done just that, I would have changed my flight and stayed longer if he hadn't blown me off over the weekend.
I remember him holding my hands as we were debating the impracticality of our situation and his fingers picking the nail polish off of my deteriorating manicure. I remember him calling me by my full name, speaking to me, and chipping at the red polish. When he left the second time, I ran out the door after him in my nightgown, hugging him on the stairs, probably wanting to kiss him, knowing he was leaving and there was nothing I could do to change any of it. When its messy like that you can't exactly pull it together for a goodbye kiss, that only happens in the movies with actors.
In the end the mess was perfect too. It felt good to fall to pieces. Once he was gone for good I broke into that sobbing ugly cry, the one where you let your head hang and your jaw drop onto your chest sobbing with open mouth, tears obliterating your eyesight. You know, that super ugly cry you do when you know he's gone for sure and he's not coming back. And I thought of walking into my house in Seattle and for the first time realizing what a big empty home I'd been living in, and thinking surely there's room enough for two, or even more.
I have no regrets. And in the end, he left in the night and I caught a cab to the airport in the morning…. My plane took off and as I was flying over the French countryside covered with snow, I was sobbing again, but my heart was opening.
When I landed in Amsterdam on my way back to Seattle he had emailed me:
"I wish I could have given you the perfect ending you wanted. I cared for you, and I was truly honest. I know that it was the same for you....."
Damn it feels good to cry. In the end the mess was perfect too. He was a genuinely caring lover and made love to me. I was happy to feel feelings again. These were great gifts. Our time together will go down in my personal life history Top 10 Fun Fucking Times of My Life. And after a love affair in Paris, the heartbreak almost felt like a proper ending.
When I returned to the states we corresponded briefly about our experience.
He told me that after I left he thought to himself,
"You're no longer Chloë Rain. You've got the sun in your heart now."
I responded to him, "Who says things like that???? Where do you get this stuff from???" And he said "I just say what I think." But I loved what he said.