(This is the second in a short series of posts).

You’re not family orientated, Paul tells me, You don’t like babies; you don’t like kids.

I begin to question everything I think I know about myself.

Things move at a snail’s pace, and also, quickly.

Pete stabilises somewhat; is moved from White Plains to Mt. Sinai in the city. December drags on. I see a lot of Lady H; JRA. Christmas rolls around and I meet JRA at the hospital to drive back with her to Scarsdale for Christmas eve, only to have a car pick me up and take me to JFK from their house.

Christmas Eve and the first night of Hanukkah are the same, so we eat fish that Papa cooks, and we light the menorah and we listen to Jewish acapella groups on YouTube singing catchy songs about the Macabees. Grandma and Lady H ask me what my favourite Hanukkah song is and I confess that I know zero Hanukkah songs.

You didn’t even learn any in school? they ask, incredulous.

No. I grew up in California, I say, as if that explains it. I know one song, about a dreidel, but I can’t remember any of the lyrics and of all the holiday songs I know, it is probably the one I like the least. Merry Christmas, Darling, is decidedly not an Hanukkah song.

I have so much to learn.

But then my car arrives, and I have to cut my Christmas Eve dinner with them short and head to the airport. I am not going to Ireland. I am going to Argentina; Brazil.

The Christmas Eve airport is surprisingly painless, and I board my flight quickly. As soon as we are airborne, I take a Benadryl and put in earplugs, and tune out the world until I land in Buenos Aires on Christmas Morning.

After nearly a decade of avoiding family Christmases, the last few years have been chilly family holidays in Dublin. Paul and I would fight, and the holiday always ended with me in bed, watching The Sound of Music on my iPad, after having pretended to have eaten dinner. He would be furious at me about needing to eat on a regular schedule; I would be jetlagged and cold – desperate for my days of spending untethered holiday seasons in sunnier climes.

I reach passport control in Argentina and I feel nothing but relief – no anger; no sadness – that my invitation to family Christmas has been revoked. I continue onward – across Buenos Aires to the domestic airport – and on to a flight to Iguazu Falls. I’ve hired a driver to meet me at the airport, and take me across the border to the Brazilian side.

I am happiest when I am free, I think. I am happiest when I am on an adventure. When Paul and I first started dating, I’d said: Let’s go to Japan! And we did, early in our relationship, on a whim. I thought that he was as free-spirited as I was – ready to tackle new countries and challenges – but it turned out that he loved adventure only to a point, which became clear when we got lost in Rappongi and couldn’t find the restaurant we were looking for, and no one spoke English, and everything was broken, and it was boiling hot outside even at 10pm, and we stood in the middle of a busy street screaming at each other. 

I realised a long time ago that he is so successful in his life because he sets goals; sticks to them; never deviates. Even his adventures have all been carefully orchestrated – by assistants, and travel agents, and tour companies – and he sticks steadfastly to his itineraries. Rappongi was an aberration, and Paul wasn’t Andrew – who could be counted on to quickly remake every plan on the fly, even when his remakes were as terrible as the situations themselves.

With Paul, I had had to become the logistics person. Which I did willingly until I began to resent it.

I realised, more specifically and to my dismay, that when we got married we were on a different kind of adventure – one that ended with me quitting my job, and becoming a mother, and with the world eventually becoming smaller and smaller – first London, then Dublin, and then a small subsection of North Dublin called Dublin 4, where his entire family lived within actual sight of each other. Success could only be measured by achieving Those Things, and failure was not an option.

I never wanted any of that – and I had always been transparent about it. My world was very big, and the thing I loved most about myself was my crazy ability to pick up and pop up somewhere weird; to cherish my family from a distance; to look stupid with someone. I wasn’t afraid of failure anymore.

I reach the hotel in Brazil and it is situated on the edge of Iguazu Falls. The mist makes a rainbow into the sunset, and it is stunning and I am happy.

I call my family and wish them a Merry Christmas. I tell them I love them; they ask about Paul. I lie. I have no idea what he is doing, so I make something up. I do not tell them that three days before Christmas he served me with a Notice of Separation Event under the terms of our prenuptial agreement. I don’t tell them that no one will ever love me because I’ve had two husbands, or that if I just felt less guilty about the monsters in my genes, maybe I could make this all go away.

I say nothing. I listen to them; I listen to the falls outside my window as the sun sets.

Water flowing underground. Same as it ever was.

Sarah, Kat, Kim & I are continuing to host Reverb through 2016 as a way to share writing prompts and providing a space for writers via our Facebook group. Here’s (a very late entry for) July’s prompt. 

July’s prompt // Freedom: What is freedom to you?  How do you celebrate freedom in your daily life?

We are in a Copenhagen bar talking about our brothers.

We have run two half marathons in two countries in two days and I am shocked that I have finished. I say that running is mostly mental for me – when I run, I think about music; my dog; kissing and being kissed; the sun setting into the Pacific Ocean; running with my brother. I think about happy, positive things, because to become tangled up in the voice of self-doubt during a race is Game Over.

But it is a lie to say that I have just run 26.2 miles in two countries in two days by the power of positive thinking. I have just had both of my hips and a knee reconstructed and been diagnosed with a serious collagen disorder – whether I admit it or not – running is intensely physical.

We are here because in December, I had messaged a group of running friends suggesting we sign up for the Copenhagen Half Marathon – Smplefy; eee; Nat, and their respective partners, Laly, E, and Fox, who would come along to Sherpa. I’m not entirely sure why I did this, but it Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time. Everyone quickly signed on to this suggestion and added another half marathon in Oslo – even the partners were keen to go (except Paul, who begged off).

So we have each finished triumphantly, albeit for different reasons, and now we are in a bar, wearing matching shirts and our race medals, and we are talking about our brothers.

Nat’s brother died almost a year ago; Laly’s brother died about ten years ago. My brother is alive. I say this in my head, and I chew it and turn it over like a wad of gum in my mouth: My brother is alive.

It is not to diminish Matthew’s hard work to say that it is luck that he is not dead, but there is an element of happy statistics at play too. I listen to these women talk about their dead brothers, and it is real to me how close we came; how lucky we are. Sometimes, I think my parents cover up their raw memories of dread with Republican bootstraps and it was never that bad and stop being so dramatic, you weren’t here! But maybe when you’re in it, or when you’re a parent, you have to do that in order to survive what you’ve seen and how it all played out.

I listen to Nat’s grief – the depth and complexity of it; the nuances of the joy for the things that she experienced with her brother. All we can do is listen. Laly, too, knows that grief in a more intimate way than I do; I merely stood on the precipice and backed away.

It’s different when it’s your sibling, Laly says, It’s the only other person who knows the experience of growing up in your family. Also, it’s out of order.

It is out of order.

I remember my revulsion at the thought of losing the only other person who knew my family experience. He would disappear for a few days and we wouldn’t know whether he was in jail or dead – my mother would obsessively search the county jail inmate register – and I would try on the grief from thousands of miles away; seeing how that heavy suit of loss hung on my little frame.

I realise, now, that when I run, I prepare for every race with the thought of my brother’s first race – of watching him tie on the bandanna from his best friend’s funeral; of hearing his footsteps like a heartbeat beside me. I still dread phone calls after 8pm because I always used to think it was someone calling to say that my brother had died. I wonder why nobody ever dies during the day.

I look at Laly and Nat and wonder how they have borne the loss I narrowly escaped.

When Paul and I were out at the beach with my family this summer, a friend texted that he was in Atlanta with a colleague of his – a sorority sister of mine. I had been her advisor – she’d been in college when I’d taken the call that my brother was in jail and the world was about to end. I laughed and expressed my surprise – he sent me a photo of the two of them together. It was a worlds-colliding moment – strange and wonderful – a reminder of the way we are all connected; how past pain doesn’t necessarily taint future or current happiness/success. The photo came as I was driving back up the coast to see a project my brother was working on; managing in his new life as a builder. Sober eight years, he was working with a friend and he’d asked me and Paul to come see what he did for a living and switch his car back with my mother’s, which he’d borrowed earlier that day.

Paul stayed back in Oxnard, and I drove up to La Conchita to make the switch and see Matthew on the job. To travel that weird bend in the 101 where the sun sets over the coast and blinds you if you time it wrong; to see how far he’d come; we’d come.

As I am sitting in this bar in Copenhagen, thousands of miles from the depths of my brother’s addiction and from that day on the California coast, I think of that moment of seeing my brother at work; of that photo of my two friends; of the bend in the 101 where the sun sets; of the fear in the eyes of everyone around me the day I got the call that my brother was in jail. I think about how lucky I am. I hear Nat ask How do you explain this grief; this loss; to your partner? And I think you can’t explain it; I think your partner won’t ever believe it; I think about how addiction ends and loss is just a snapshot in time, but grief gets you, like a noose, and it works its way around your throat and never really lets you go, even once you are free.

 

The world has been fairly awful over the past few weeks, and I have no real desire to comment on it at this point. I think we all have a responsibility to ourselves and each other to be actively engaged in current events, but as a privileged, white Western woman, I think I have a lot of listening to do before I start making proclamations about The State of The World.

As recent events have unfolded, I have watched about half my friends take serious political and moral positions and share them on social media. I have watched the other half post photos of something called the Spouse Challenge, wherein they post a bunch of photos of themselves and their spouses to show the rest of us how much they love each other. I have gotten a little bit of crap (some good natured, some not) for not having a Hot Take in either direction.

Because Paul does not use/understand social media, he finds things like the Spouse Challenge deeply intrusive and upsetting. I find them unnecessary. We are the sort of people who don’t sit next to each other on planes because we both like the window seat, so the thought of us posting photos on social media celebrating Our Love in order to prove it to the world is…ridiculous.

We both came to this point in our lives, and this relationship, Gently Used. It would be weird to pretend that I’d never loved anyone before Paul, or that my entire life Up Until This Point had had no meaning, or bearing, on Anything I’m Doing or Experiencing Now.

With all of that said, here is a brief playlist for your enjoyment detailing the past decade of my romantic history, and how I got to where I am now. This has absolutely nothing to do with politics, police brutality, gun control, race relations, or how much I love my spouse.

Okay, maybe a little bit with why I love my spouse.

Bonus points if you can guess which of these songs corresponds to which era.

This is the fifth in a brief series of posts. Here are the firstsecond, and third, and fourth.

It is May.

An old friend comes to town and asks me to dinner. It is one week until my surgery date. You’re so calm about all this, my friend remarks.

I shrug. But I am glad my friend is here – this is a surprise; we have History dating back to the California Coast, and there is quite a lot unsaid between us. There is a lot of comfort in these Things Unspoken – those weird, unshakeable friendship ties that friends never have to talk about; the stuff that spans time zones, and continents. But maybe I am a bit shaken by the visit, too – always waiting for the next arrival or departure; always expecting the other shoe to drop.

I walk home in a still-cool New York night, happy and full, like an early Joni Mitchell song when her voice was still high and the melancholy was just an undertone. But then I take a phone call outside my own door that devastates and infuriates me; that throws me into a tailspin where I feel I must pretend to be my own twin sister for a week to make up for being rude to the doormen. At the time, this seems like an excellent solution to my behaviour, but in retrospect, perhaps I am not admitting that I am also unnerved by All The Things I Cannot Control.

Paul arrives into town a few days later, the weekend before my surgery, and we bicker about mundane things. It is nerves, I know, but he takes this to heart and I know I need to be better about this. Bickering has never bothered me – my parents are champion bickerers and love each other deeply. I have always seen coldness; neglect as signs of trouble in a relationship – not the day-to-day sniping. My parents say We Yell Because We Care, and I honestly think they believe it.

We arrive early at the Hospital for Special Surgery on the Monday morning – they take me back immediately to prepare me and they tell Paul they will bring him back shortly. I have done this every summer for three summers in a row, so I know what I am in for. But for Paul, this is his first time taking anyone in for a surgical procedure; this is his first time being solely responsible for another adult human’s well-being.

With this in mind, and in advance of my surgery date, I have called my best friend – my sister – Jade, who agrees without hesitation to come in from California to take care of me after the operation. It is not that my husband cannot take the time off of work. Rather, it is that I am stuck with the belief that no waspy woman worth her salt would have a man come man a sick room. This is simply Not a Done Thing. My belief is dated and sexist, but I know that while I love his company, my husband cannot do the basics without step-by-step instruction, and I Do Not Want the Hassle Right Now.

Is this wrong? Am I a bad person for this; am I anti-feminist – for asking a woman to do the work that women have always done? Or is it right and safe for a woman to ask another woman to care for her during an injury or illness?

The surgery is a success and I wake up quickly in the PACU.

After a few hours, I really really have to pee. But this surgery is performed under spinal anaesthesia and my legs are only barely awake. The nurse brings me a bed pan instead of taking me to the bathroom. I see Paul’s eyes go wide, as the nurse lifts me up and puts what appears to be a puppy pad beneath the bed pan. She then lifts me and moves my bandages out of the way as best she can, before setting the pan beneath me.

I’m, uh, gonna give you some privacy, Paul mumbles. I’m going to go get a coffee.

The nurse rolls her eyes, and I start to laugh. Paul has reached his limit.

They always do this, the nurse assures me after he is gone.

It’s better than my first husband, I tell her, I was in the ER at St. Vincent’s a lifetime ago, and the moment the doctor touched me, my ex passed out into the bed of the woman next to me. 

The nurse clucked approvingly, as if to suggest that a husband who walked away from a bed pan was definitely an upgrade from a husband who Simply Couldn’t Deal in the first place. I am inclined to agree, but in either event, I still know it was best to import Jade. That I maybe I am sexist, but I am not wrong.

Eventually, they let me leave the hospital and Paul leaves for the airport as soon as he gets me home. There is a gap between when Paul has left for the airport and when Jade arrives, so Strand and Sam and their dog, McGee come to babysit me. It is a month before their wedding; my house is a disaster because we are renovating a bathroom and the contractor is taking forever to finish; but Strand is familiar enough with Needing to Babysit Me When I Come Home From the Hospital that she seems unfazed by the whole thing.

She is a saint.

Thai food arrives in waves, because we have ordered it, and friends who live downtown have also Seamless’d an order to me. Everyone knows that I love Thai food. Jade arrives shortly after the Thai food comes, and walks in to find me surrounded by dogs, blondes, noodles and Pringles – the detritus of demolition and construction all around.

This is the first in a brief series of posts.

It is May, 2013, and I am standing in a hipster bar in the middle of Amsterdam in the middle of a long afternoon-into-evening.

I have just come to The Netherlands to receive terrible news. To soften the blow of having to tell me how bad this particular situation is, a group of lawyers is taking me out for drinks. But I am jetlagged and angry about How We Got Here in the First Place, so I have become rather tipsy, rather quickly. But instead of paying attention to the Dutch happy hour and the attorneys who have graciously arranged it, I am frantically texting with a man I have loved for a long time, trying to focus his attention on me. In my head, I feel I am the embodiment of a Joni Mitchell song – winsome, wistful, lonely, pining for a man who is not ever going to be mine alone.

By now dangerously tipsy, I message the man a loaded question – a question that is meant for winesoaked lovers’ lips next to each other in bed, or the shadows of a bar, and not from halfway ’round the world via electronic pings. I ask him: Don’t you love me and want me to be happy?

He replies: I want you to be happy.

It is clear that I have made A Terrible Mistake. I gather up my things and leave the bar. I meet my colleague for dinner like Nothing Ever Happened. By the door of the restaurant there is a large, ostentatiously displayed wheel of stilton. My colleague fusses over it like it is a puppy or a baby. We English love stilton, he explains, as if that excuses his behaviour over a wheel of cheese. We finish an unmemorable meal by ordering a cheese plate – the stilton is standout. They cut it freshly from the giant wheel.

It is after Midnight when I arrive back at the hotel and I put myself to bed.

The next morning, I am up early to catch a plane to Edinburgh to run the 2013 Edinburgh Half Marathon. On the flight, I sit and observe the bracelet I am wearing, which I inherited from my grandmother – my mother’s mother.  I am flying on what would have been her 100th birthday, and the bracelet is stamped with scenes from Don Quixote.

photobracelet

My grandmother was a tiny, peculiar woman, and had been the mother of four children – two boys and two girls. She had lost one of her daughters at the age of six weeks. Years earlier, when my grandparents had still been living in their house in Florida, and I was a tweenager, my grandmother and I had gone through her jewellery and she had taken tiny enamelled pins out from a case.

Those were Margaret’s, she said. Before that moment, I’d never even known such a person had existed, or that my mother had had a sister. Margaret had been born with an oesophageal condition and the surgery to correct it had failed. The absence of Margaret had left a hole in my grandmother’s heart that my mother could never fill. Perhaps any parent who has lost a child will confess to this; perhaps any after-born child will bemoan it. It did not occur to me until much, much later that maybe the Complex Grief was why my own mother and I were not particularly close: Those sorts of gaps; wounds couldn’t close so easily in just one generation.

The irony does not strike me at the time – that I have been chasing a non-existent love and fighting off imaginary giants. That my own Complex Grief has had a hand in tanking my first marriage and subsequent relationships. I just think that I am honouring the dead.

My friend Smplefy meets me in the Edinburgh Airport with a sign that says International Woman of Mystery, and I laugh for the first time in days. We go to pick up our race numbers and talk about running, and Scotland, and Things That Are Easy to Discuss.

I am grateful.

That night, we part ways early so we can each prepare for the next day’s race. I message my mother before bed, hinting at my romantic failures. You just need to put yourself out there, she advisesNobody is going to come into your office and sweep you off your feet. I roll my eyes from 6,000 miles away.

For once, I draw the blackout shades in a hotel room, because it is 10.30pm and the Scottish night is still purple and blue. It is beautiful – I could drink it in forever. But I have to go to sleep because I have to run the next day. I am filled with missing, and longing, but I am limbo because he wants me to be happy. I should be happy. Alone.

The next day, Smplefy and I meet at the Start, making it by the skin of our teeth, and running the course in the unusually pleasant Edinburgh morning. We run past the landmarks, through the city, along the North Sea. It is Perfect. My heart is breaking, but it is a Perfect Day.

I run a slow race, which is confusing. My body feels like it cannot work. I am in good physical shape, and at the finish, my hip seizes for the first time. I blame a twitchy IT band, and jetlag, but I am baffled.

That afternoon I shower at the hotel and cancel my reservation for the night; opting to head back to London then onward to New York. I have failed; I am failing. I am inordinately sore. My then-assistant manages to get me on the last flight out of Edinburgh that afternoon and by evening, I am safely back in London, my grandmother’s bracelet clanging on my wrist as I exit the Tube and make my way to dinner with my friend PG.

It is the end of May, 2013.

I do not know then that within days, someone will walk into my office and sweep me off my feet – and will later become my husband. I do not know that the pain in my hip is not my IT band – it is a serious cartilage injury that will sideline me for a more than a year. I do not know that the bracelet on my wrist and the story behind how I came to possess it will later hold the key to unlocking a serious family medical mystery; that I will be fighting a different kind of giant.

I live in a doorman building. In my New York City Life, I have always lived in doorman buildings.

In my last building, the staff were Family. The doormen knew all my girlfriends by name. They cheered me on for the Marathon, and got special permission to wear the t-shirts I made instead of their uniforms on Marathon Sunday.

In my current building, the staff are Political. They play favourites. They are careless; sometimes even mean. For instance, they have sent my laundry off to the wrong laundry company Just Because – which turned into a multi-day drama where the offending doorman gave my phone number out to the woman whose laundry account they charged, and even after I paid her back, she repeatedly called and texted me to complain – as if I had scammed her.

There were so many things wrong with that situation (from the sending of my laundry to a random company, to giving my contact details to a stranger without my consent, to forcing ME to pay for something I didn’t want), that it was laughable. It was something that simply shouldn’t have happened in a luxury high rise. It was something that would never would have happened in my old building – and if it did somehow happen, the building would’ve paid for it; no one would’ve gotten mixed up with strangers angry-texting strangers.

Also, we recently begun renovations on our apartment, and my relationship with the staff had deteriorated considerably. They kept finding “issues” with our construction, each of which set us back weeks and cost thousands of dollars. The setbacks meant I couldn’t use my living room or kitchen…for weeks…and had to go out every night. Being that social had left me irritable.

With that for context, a few Mondays ago, I went to dinner with a friend, but on the way home, I got into a rather heated phone conversation over something over which I had no control (this was a conversation unrelated to the building, btw). I am not normally one of those women who stands outside a building screaming into her mobile phone like a petulant teenager, but on that night, after half a bottle of wine, and several weeks of demolition dust, I hit a wall.

So I stood outside my building – unwilling to go upstairs into my destroyed apartment – screeching. Flailing. Gesticulating wildly, as if the person on the other end could hear my hands. In my younger days, I might have even thrown the phone against the wall, but I was slightly older and with the one shred of sanity I had left, I remembered that our IT guy told me that he was going to start charging me for phones if I kept losing them and/or breaking them.

Out of the corner of my eye, I could see my doormen watching me making a total fool of myself on the street. It wasn’t late enough for me to have privacy for my tantrum, and people who were out walking their dogs were actively avoiding me on the street. I could see the doorman who asked me every night where I’d been hovering at the desk at an angle where he was in my direct line of sight; I could see his colleague angling for a better view.

A ten minute eternity later, I slunk into the building, not making eye contact with the doormen. Then I went upstairs, and changed clothes to come down and walk the dog. Naturally, I acted like nothing happened. But on the inside, I was panicking. Because in our building it was fine to be selfish or stupid, but you couldn’t be embarrassing without consequence. And I had just behaved quite embarrassingly.

Then, a solution dawned on me.

On the way back in from our walk, I said loudly to the dog (within earshot of the doorman), C’mon Roo, let’s go back inside and see your Auntie.

The next morning, I did the same thing – except I walked the dog at a different time than usual, and I changed clothes each time I came in and out of the building and took my rings on and off for the rest of the week.

That Thursday, I left for a one-day trip to London, which was the perfect time to bring my plan to its natural conclusion. I travelled with only my trusty bright orange backpack, which was hard to miss as a piece of luggage. Upon my arrival, home the next day, I extravagantly greeted the doormen, then went upstairs, changed clothes, threw what I had been wearing into an old overnight bag, and left again.

Leaving again so soon, Miss S?!

What? No! You didn’t know? I’m her sister. I’ve been visiting all week – we’re twins!

As the doorman’s jaw hung slack, I walked out of the building, went around the corner, put the bag in my car, and changed back into my clothes in the back seat of my Jetta (much to the chagrin of the parking attendant). Then I walked to Starbucks to kill some time before coming home as myself again, just as Paul was arriving.

Since the week my nameless twin sister came to visit, every single member of staff has been exceptionally polite to me – presumably because they are unsure whether their experiences have been with me or with my twin.

I am sure there are less drastic ways to deal with judgmental doormen over what probably seems like a minor incident, but if you have never lived in a NYC doorman building, you simply wouldn’t understand.

twins-1-copy

But Paris was a very old city and we were young and nothing was simple there, not even poverty, nor sudden money, nor the moonlight, nor right and wrong nor the breathing of someone who lay beside you in the moonlight.
– Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

March 5th was my birthday, and that morning, I landed from sunny Johannesburg into snowy Paris.

Everyone loves the idea of Paris – Hemingway’s Paris – the very old city where you were young and you arrived at Gare du Nord with little else but a pocketful of francs and your schoolgirl French. Where you survived for weeks on the contents of your bulging backpack, and Orangina, baguette, and endless boxes of Petit Ecolier biscuits.

(It has been almost twenty years and I still cannot so much as look as a box of Petit Ecolier.)

I am here to break it to you: That Paris does not exist except inside your unreliable memories – and maybe never existed at all.

I had come unprepared for this trip.

I rarely travel with more than a carry-on suitcase, and this trip was no exception despite the tall order of multiple climates, countries, cities, and circumstances. But I had unexpectedly left 90F temperatures in Johannesburg and walked off the plane into subfreezing snowfall in Paris. My best-laid plans of wearing nothing more than a light jacket had gone horribly wrong and I was already mad at Paris again.

Paris was nothing but bad memories for me: Ex-husbands; ex-boyfriends; food poisoning; Roma picking my pockets; Frederic prattling on and on about how much more classically beautiful than me his first wife had been. It had gotten to the point where I’d begun to dread every trip to France. This trip’s sudden snowfall didn’t improve my view of the place.

(First world problems at their finest.)

On the morning of my arrival, I was meant to pick up a race number for a half marathon, and then I was to meet some friends for a late lunch. So I grabbed an Uber, and made my way out to the race expo at Parc Floral. I spoke my broken French to the young man who picked me up in a fancy Jaguar; marvelled at how little race security was in place at the expo; grabbed my number, then raced to the Latin Quarter to meet friends.

It was me and a motley crew of men who had come in from the US and UK. I had been promised a birthday lunch and wine, so we ordered racks and stacks of oysters and escargots and bottles of Sancerre to start the day. The seafood and snails were divine, and we quickly became Those Loud Americans.

Have you ever been a Loud American Abroad? The kind whose voice carries through the cafe, and the locals look at you contemptuously as they try to have their quiet, dignified lunches, like you’re a crying baby on a plane, or a horny young couple in a cinema whose necking blocks the view? We were that group of wine-soaked minor irritants to a restaurant full of French people on a cold March afternoon.

After a few hours, someone suggested we move along to another cafe, so we packed it in and headed down the Left Bank towards another picturesque spot. We traipsed across the cobblestones and down the alleyways, chatting and laughing about how simple and lovely it all was. We talked about life, and literature, and How Things Were. I felt light in the chilly afternoon, as my silly, long, schoolgirl hair swirled around me in the wind. If this was Paris After Everything, then it wasn’t so bad.

At our second stop: More oysters; more wine. A chat with an older American fellow with what sounded like a looted art collection and a passion for marrying younger women.

Finally, as the afternoon got smaller, we decided on a final stop before dinner. We stumbled past the Louvre on our way towards Le Meurice for an aperitif. (NB: The idea of an aperitif before a low-key dinner after an all-day pub crawl was borderline ridiculous, but after pub crawling for the better part of day, we didn’t have the mental faculties left between us to know better).

We arrived at the hotel into the middle of Paris Fashion Week festivities. The bar was closed for a private event, and the back room was set up for fashion buyers. One of my friends, insistent on his drink despite the fact that we had been rejected several times, finally approached the host and swore up and down that we were with the fashion event, but that he had to “impress the buyer” who had “grown tired of the free drinks” and wanted a lovely cocktail. He got us a table.

Pretend you’re a fashion buyer, he hissed in my ear.

Dude, I said, No way they are buying this. I am not even wearing make-up.

But we sat, and around came a beautiful bottle of dry champagne, which we sipped with delight before we were due for dinner just down the road. At the end of the bottle, I herded our group out the door. We met more friends for pasta, and another bottle or two of wine.

Towards the end of the dinner, the lights in the restaurant dimmed, and everyone began to clap and shout. Not understanding what was happening, I joined in the fun, until I looked up and saw that a cake was coming directly for me.

I laughed, and hid my head in my hands, then blew out the candles, and I thought how funny it was that in this very old city, where nothing was simple, I had unexpectedly discovered something new.