This is the eighth (and final) piece in a brief series of posts. Here are the firstsecond, and thirdfourthfifthsixth, and seventh.

By mid-June, I am feeling crazed by Not Knowing whether I have the type of EDS that will make my organs rupture without warning, and also by Not Being Able to run now, or potentially ever again.

There is nothing that makes a woman feel less attractive than spending a summer recovering from surgery. My skin and stomach are both taking a beating from the constant onslaught of anti-inflammatories. I have been nauseous for weeks; constantly dissolving Zofran tablets on my tongue. I sleep in long, monogrammed PJs even as the temperature rises because I am sick of looking at the scabby holes in my leg. I’m walking on my own, but my gait is like that of a baby giraffe and I cannot walk for too long without epic fatigue.

These are First World Problems, so I try to power through. I focus on how quickly I am healing; I talk about my progress with physical therapy. I take pictures of the scars and I post them on Instagram because when you are full of holes, you only want people to see the supernova of your body on your terms. I have two constellations of incisions – one on each hip – and a whole galaxy of scars on my right knee from repeated, failed arthroscopies during my days of competitive sports. There is also a several inches-long vapour trail running down the inside of my right leg from my running accident last summer.

I have to do something. I search for any activity that I can participate in that will Take The Edge Off and will not require more medication and that will not bore me. Under the influence of the last of my narcotics and Royal Ascot, I decide horseback riding is the way forward. I ask my physical therapist whether equitation is permissible, and he tells me that it is possible, but not advisable because Meredith, squeezing a piece of horsemeat between your legs could irritate your hip flexor.

I love making dirty jokes, but I do not take his bait because the last time I did that, I wound up announcing to the entire gym that I eat boxes for breakfast! I was talking about my prowess in conquering the eight inch riser they were having me step-up and step-down to prove my quad strength before they’d let me in the anti-gravity treadmill. But I got a few looks that morning.

I spend the next few days scouring the internet for barns that are not too stuffy, that are close to the city, and that accommodate adult beginners.

The last time I rode a horse was when I was leaving my first husband. Jade told me that when I was ready to leave Andrew, I should come home. When I knew it was time, I called my parents to come pick me up at a wedding in Las Vegas and take me back to LA. I had had several moments where I knew my first marriage was over, but that wedding where Andrew had dragged us to Vegas insisting he was the best man in a wedding in which he was not even in the wedding party provided a particular moment of clarity as to the direness of my circumstances.

Once I arrived in LA towards the end of that particular shitshow, Jade took me to her mother’s house. Jade’s mother, Das, is an accomplished equestrienne, and was one of the only divorcees I knew intimately at the time. Das took me out on the trail and we rode for hours and hours. It had inspired me to write a poem about Frederic, and horses, and divorces, which I had shared with him, and which he had praised in that way that made clear he thought it was stupid.

And that was that.

Within months Frederic was legally separated, and so was I and I thought things might go somewhere, sometime. But then he surprised me by telling me that he’d been seeing the Danish girl all that time, and what was I doing, still writing him letters? Didn’t I know that I’d caused a terrible flap between him and his girlfriend because they’d moved in together and one of my letters had been forwarded to their shared abode?

I shrunk back in a special kind of shame, then, when I realised I had left a man who couldn’t handle rejection to the point of refusing to admit he wasn’t the best man in his childhood friend’s wedding, only to find myself sending poems to a man I failed to notice was living with another woman.

I sign up for riding lessons at a farm in Pleasantville, NY near where Paul and I were married. My instructor wears concert t-shirts and has turquoise hair and tells me that I need to feel things; that I will suck at this a little to start; that feeling is first. I cry the first time I get on the horse – a giant gelding called, of all things, Bill – not out of fear, but because I am certain I haven’t felt much of anything in years.

I don’t suck at horseback riding, but I am not instantly good at it, which is exactly what I need. I need something to take my mind off of the EDS; and the whole of my lower extremities.

Hold the reigns up, like an ice cream cone! Tamara the instructor shouts from the centre of the ring, and I apologise for not doing it right. Why are you saying you’re sorry? she asks me, truly baffled, You’ve done this like three times in your life!

With that, I begin to realise how far off the rails I have gone. Literally. Figuratively.

At the end of my first lesson, I sign up for many more because even if I never master the sport, I am coming to terms with the fact that nothing will be the same again, and the future, whatever it is, will be entirely different and wholly Okay.

This is the seventh in a brief series of posts. Here are the firstsecond, and thirdfourthfifth, and sixth.

It is early June, and I am finally off crutches. People ask me how I am doing, and I tell them I am great. Normally, I am much more circumspect, but when you have been on crutches for an extended period of time, walking unassisted is a terrific feeling.

I am having dinner with my friends Strand and Sam, who babysat me the day I came home from hospital. They are to be married at the weekend, and I have offered to babysit their dog, McGee, during their honeymoon.

It is a perfect night – New York is outdoing itself with the weather this season – and we meet at a burger joint in our neighbourhood, which Sam calls Hipsterburger. We have burgers (veggie for me) and beers, and I try to refrain from giving marital advice in advance of their nuptials. I am a Know-It-All; I know it. Maybe it’s part of being a lawyer.

Sam and Strand met on Tinder, which fascinates me because I went on maybe three internet dates and found the whole thing to be a horrifying sociological experiment. But I had met my ex-husband before smartphones; had ended another longterm relationship immediately before getting together with Andrew, so the last time I had dated was around the time Google was invented.

It wasn’t easy getting to this point, Strand confesses, There were a lot of broken phones from throwing things at each other.

I kept having to go to Rainbow and buy new ones, Sam laughs.

This statement, in particular, makes me chuckle, because only on the Upper East Side do you find young couples who still have land-lines; where throwing the phone is done in the classical sense. These are My People.

Strand begins to tell me about their first date; how she met Sam for coffee and he was so taken with her that he lost his composure. How they moved from coffee to lunch, which was where things got interesting. Sam tells me: I got a text message asking how the date was going, so I excused myself and I replied. Except I told my buddy, “She’s smokin’ hot; it’s going great” and after I hit SEND, I realised that I’d just messaged this to Strand and not to my friend.

At that point, Sam wondered whether he should even leave the bathroom, or if he should just quietly slink away home.

I came out, and I told her, “Look, don’t be angry. I just accidentally sent you a message meant for my friend.” It’s not bad, but I just want you to check your phone and not be mad at me.

Strand, for her part, pipes in, I thought he was sick or something had happened. But once he told me what was going on, I decided to keep toying with him. So she refused to check the message on her phone and continued enjoying her lunch, while Sam sweated it out, until he finally begged her JUST CHECK YOUR DAMN PHONE!

She saw the message and said the feeling was mutual. They’ve been together ever since, Sam’s track record with phones notwithstanding.

I laugh, because I love a love story.

We finish our dinner in the beautiful evening, and begin the slow, short walk home. It is strange to me that I am at this moment in my life: Watching the girls who I advised as their collegiate sorority adviser now getting married and having children. These girls – Strand! – were 18, 19 when I met them, and I was a fresh-out-of-Georgetown newlywed posing as an adult. I do not feel any older, but time must be passing.

The clearest hallmark of this is that during the week of my surgery, I received an email from my ex-husband. He knew Strand only as one of the college girls I advised, who would occasionally dog-sit for us. Andrew and I had not spoken in a long time. He is remarried; is a father. Of the contentious issues in our marriage “Why Can’t Meredith Act Like a Normal Wife” was a favourite of his.

He had been with his law firm for over a decade when he switched jobs and made partner in April. I found this out via a LinkedIn blast. It was unfathomably weird to me that the sacrifices I had made early in my own career – the late nights spent waiting for him, and the arguments about his paralegals – had inured entirely to his benefit. I was notified of the culmination of my efforts only because of an algorithm.

I was wondering if you’d like to attend a panel discussion on Brexit, he asked in his email.

I waited for a day, then replied, It looks like a great event but I’ll be overseas.

And that was that. I did not say Congrats on the new job! I did not tell him how lovely it was that those college girls he had once complained about were now successful grown-ups; did not reminisce about my late night drives to Staten Island. I did not tell him that I had just had another surgery or that he had been wrong about all those arthritis drugs he’d wanted me to take for my own good.

During our marriage, my complaint with him was that we were always striving to achieve only his dreams; his complaint with me was that I was perpetually in motion – always in some airport or another. In an odd way, it is comforting to know that, despite all that had happened, neither of us has changed much.

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

It is mid-May.

Jade is originally meant to stay for a week, but she stays for ten days instead.

I do not know how to communicate how glad I am to have her here. I am the sort of person who sends handwritten letters, or gives Grand Gifts to show gratitude, but who struggles with the basics of close emotional engagement. With that in mind, sometimes I re-watch Hannah and Her Sisters, and I want to believe I am the desirable Lee or the fragile Holly – but in truth, I am the easy-to-resent Hannah. Hannah, who never needs anything from anyone.

Jade works in the Arts, and some of her work can be done away from Los Angeles, so she works while I lay on the sofa in a drug-addled stupor with my leg in a machine that bends it for several hours each day. My contractor has not finished the bathroom renovation he promised to finish a week ago, so Jade puts on her headphones as the Tile Guy cuts marble in the background.

One thing is clear: We did not expect to be Here, wherever Here is.

Jade has come to New York wearing a hat with Half Dome embroidered on it, and I laugh, because I have the same one. It dates back to the early days of my divorce; my first week on the California coast. Jade had met me in Carmel, and although we were arguing about The Circumstances Surrounding The End of My Marriage, we drove to Yosemite to climb Half Dome.

For the first time in my life, I had no idea what I was doing.

In my head, it was the Perfect Time to climb a mountain, specifically, Half Dome. But because I do a lot of communicating in my head, I do not think I fully explained what this entailed to Jade.

We arrived in Yosemite at night and everything was on Fire. Jade’s house had once burned down, and she was terrified and furious at me that I had brought her to a literal firepit to force her up a mountain for no reason. And I had lost all powers of persuasion – I had just filed separation papers two weeks before – and had gotten a speeding ticket on our drive. At the time, I felt like it was an excellent idea to argue with the National Park Service officer over what federal preemption is and how it applied where a state law explicitly granted one the right to decline to provide one’s social security number for a speeding ticket.

(When you are getting divorced, it is shocking how angry you are – even if it is an amicable split. I denied how angry I was for a long, long time. I admitted to feelings of guilt, and sadness, and grief. But I look back on all the fights I picked with strangers; all the things I had to prove; and I cannot help but marvel at the magnitude of my rage.)

So Jade and I climbed – it took us all day but we summited Half Dome and looked out over the hazy valley. There were points where I had to scream back down the trail and encourage; bribe; cajole her up the mountain. But we did it.

Relationships are not easy. But that is part of how we got Here, I think: New York by way of California; divorced by way of Half Dome; married by way of a proposal in Yosemite Valley. Diagnosed with some rare disease by way of Scotland, and Amsterdam, and Big Sur, and an aunt who died in infancy.

So Jade works, and my leg bends, and the Tile Guy saws, and here we are.

Throughout the week, people come and go and Jade and I talk in between guests. Or sometimes, we don’t talk at all. Sometimes we just sit. On Saturday, when I am finally less disoriented and nauseated, Jade goes to spend a night Out East with an old friend of ours. JRA comes to visit; my friend Patricia comes in the morning to stay for a few hours. Others come and go. One friend jokes: Your house is always so clean and you are always so put together that it’s sort of fun to be like this. She confides this like we are little girls at a sleepover, and we are pulling a trick on My Ordinary Self.

I never need anything from anyone so I am grateful, even though I feel watched; supervised; incapacitated; and momentarily mortified about the state of My Apartment Under Construction. But the magnitude of my pain, nausea, and immobility is such that I do not have a choice. I have to ask for help.

By Sunday, nearly a week after the operation, I am feeling Marginally More Human. My friend Smplefy, who once met me in the Edinburgh Airport, is in town and he stops by with his daughter in tow – he is picking her up for the summer from a nearby college. He has asked me what he can bring to cheer me, and while I am inclined to say Just yourselves! I remember that JRA tells me to tell people specific, actionable things they can do for me, for both their benefit and for mine. So I tell him what I really want – a black-and-white cookie – which they proffer upon arrival. I know it is a labour of love because they are Californians, who have absolutely no idea what a black-and-white cookie is, and they have brought a fresh one from the Carnegie Deli.

While we are chatting, Jade comes back from Long Island. I watch her as she talks to our guests, and I cannot help but be completely overwhelmed by the generosity of these people who have come to be with me.

I am thinking about Scotland, Smplefy says suddenly, And your grandmother’s bracelet.

I am momentarily shocked, because that has been on my mind since the beginning of this adventure; since my diagnosis. Additionally my grandmother’s birthday and the anniversary of her death are upon us. But that bracelet, and those clues – they had been my information; my burden. It feels so strange for some one else to be in the thick of that with me. I am not even sure my mother had remembered the jewellery, or could piece together how it led to this place. Then I remember that M has a frightfully good memory, and he is struck by small details and things of beauty all the time.

It’s funny you should ask about that, I say…

So here we are.

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

It is April – a week after my appointment with the geneticist, and I am meeting with the surgeon and his entourage again. I am once again standing in a pair of paper shorts and I find myself chattily filling in yet another doctor about my medical odyssey. The surgeon listens, seemingly wide-eyed, because this story is nothing if not interesting.

You’re not the typical EDS patient, the physician’s assistant, Jonathan, interrupts, With our other EDS patients, the surgeries fail. Your right hip is still intact. You had a great outcome! Anyway, I thought you had Rheumatoid Arthritis.

They think I was misdiagnosed, I say, aloud. In my head I say, Shut up, Jonathan. This is my story.

That’s the other thing about All This: I have spent ten years being told that I have RA; injecting myself with Chinese hamster ovary derivatives; taking chemotherapy drugs; doing all the weird and horrible shit RA patients are supposed to do. In the beginning, I did it with a sort of maniacal devotion to my ex husband, who told me he couldn’t love a woman with “claws.” He was so concerned about my appearance that we did everything it took to prevent my joints from ever becoming deformed. Then it just became habit – if you’ve ever sunk a syringe into your thigh, it becomes easier over time until eventually, you don’t even notice how freaked out people are by the sharps container on your kitchen counter.

Apparently, I didn’t need to do any of it. I am not suggesting I ever wanted to have RA, nor am I suggesting that I miss it, but it suddenly feels very weird to Be One Thing for a decade, and then suddenly Not Be That Thing. To have to live your life with a set of clear and somewhat onerous limitations, then poof, one day that all disappears.

The PA nods when I say I was misdiagnosed, because as he speaks, I am bending my thumb all the way back to my wrist in order to make a point.

The surgeon and I schedule a reconstruction of my left hip for Monday, May 9th, and I decide to run a 5k two weeks before surgery because I do not know if I will ever run again.

Before my first hip reconstruction, I ran the Big Sur Marathon – a bucket-list race – because the Pacific Coast was where I lived out the last days of my first marriage, and the first days of something else, and it was where I trained for the 2009 NYC Marathon. It was an incredibly stupid idea, but I figured, if I never ran another marathon, running a slow, painful race in the place where my Whole Heart resided was the way I wanted go out. My bestie eee was there, and so was Smplefy, though I barely saw either. I wanted to have Highway 1 as my Triumphant Finish, even if it meant crawling across the line (which I did).

I have no special affinity for the Jersey Shore, but it is a friend’s birthday weekend, and we are running together as a group  and having a fun dinner after. If I never run another race, I want to remember that my running career ended with my toes in the sand, on the shores of both the Pacific and the Atlantic, with the people I love all around me.  We are all confident that if it were just the hip I would be back up and running by the Autumn. But since we do not know exactly which gene is the faulty one yet, I do not want to expect to be running by September and then find that I have the type of EDS where my vascular system might rupture at any moment.

As a matter of course, I do not tell anyone I am about to have another joint surgery, except for a handful of close friends. While I know exactly what to expect with a hip repair, I do not know what I am getting myself into with The Rest of This; I barely know what EDS is. I do not have a lot of answers for myself, let alone to give other people, and I hate the idea of being challenged or grilled by well-meaning or pushy friends and family. I am dreading any/all of the following:

-This could have been prevented if you’d just stopped running!
-You shouldn’t worry about this, and you and Paul should just be focused on having a family now!
-So how did you do this to yourself?
-Why did your doctor misdiagnose you?
-Tell me more about [This Thing That I Know Little to Nothing About].

I play out each comment in my head, trying it on for size – trying to separate curiosity from blame. I am afraid of answering wrong; I am afraid of looking like a fool because for a decade, I so confidently managed the RA I thought I had, and told people how they should manage their RA. I thought I knew what I was doing.

I want to be healthy; I do not want to get hurt again.

I want you to be happy.

I want that too.

So I run the race on the Jersey Shore, and I take my shoes off in the sand, and if it is my Last Race Ever, I may not be fully satisfied, but I will be happy.

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When I was a little girl, I was obsessed with helper dogs: Seeing-eye dogs. Therapy dogs. Service dogs. I had this sense that helper dogs like Labradors, and Golden Retrievers, and other such majestic, helpful breeds could save the world.

But I didn’t personally know any such magnificent dogs. My parents were not Dog People.

I remember being small and asking my dad how blind people drove.  I assumed that being a grown up meant you drove – end of story. At the time, I had also probably just met my first seeing-eye dog. So my father told me, with a straight face, that blind people had the dog sit in the front seat and bark out the directions: One bark for “turn right;” two barks for “turn left;” a yelp for “this way to Grandma’s house,” and so forth. And I remember thinking – Brilliant, I want a dog just like that when I grow up.

I shudder to think of the number of times I repeated that information about seeing-eye dogs throughout my childhood.

But this story is not about helpful dogs. This story is about lightbulbs.

On Saturday, I was at home doing all sorts of domestic things that get lost in the shuffle when you’re terribly busy during the week – like changing the light high above the bathtub in the master bathroom that had been burnt out since I’ve lived in my apartment. (Which, in my defence, required more effort than anticipated, including Sugru, a ladder, and multiple trips to Rainbow Hardware.)

At some point in the afternoon, I got a message from my friend John, and after exchanging pleasantries, I asked him whether he had plans for the weekend. He responded that he planned to go out on a jazz club crawl in the West Village. This was intriguing to me. He then posed the same question to me: What do you have on this weekend?

Without thinking, I replied, I’m changing hard to reach lightbulbs.

I immediately regretted my honesty, and I said as much, because I still have some dignity, and didn’t want to be seen as a) The Biggest Loser on the Upper East Side (which I might have been), and/or b) angling for an invitation to join (which I was). But John is a nice person, and his reply to me was some variation on You should join me doing cool people things instead of changing lightbulbs!

A few hours later, I was showered and changed and on my way to the Village. As I was pulling up, I got a message:

Crazy stoned guy outside this place…

I greeted John and as we waited, a man threaded through the crowd, preaching crackpottery. Remind me when we get inside, there’s a story I want to tell you! John mentioned. I nodded, keeping my eye on our stoned friend telling his stories to the assembled jazz-lovers.

When the bouncer finally let us in, we snagged two seats about midway into Smalls Jazz Club. The crackpot had managed to get in as well, and I heard him behind us inside, telling a foursome about how he could confirm the existence of mermaids, who he found to be all lesbian bitches. He further assured the foursome that he wasn’t a homophobe, it was just science – he was a Marine Biologist who understood and had personally encountered/been severely assaulted by hostile lesbian mermaids in the wild.

The ceiling was low inside Smalls, and the atmosphere was perfect for a night of jazz and gin. We were watching the Fukushi Tainaka Quartet and sipping gin-and-tonics John had gotten us from the bar. Way better than domestic drudgery.

What story were you going to tell me? I asked.

The stupid dog ate another sock, he said. He had two labradors, one of whom had a habit of eating his children’s socks and needing to have them surgically removed.

So that’s like a semester’s worth of school fees in sock removal surgeries this year? 

Yep. 

He then called up a photo on his phone of the removed sock, which made me laugh. It was hard for me to reconcile the image of majestic, helpful labradors I had from childhood with John’s idiot dog.  But having already humiliated myself once that day, I opted not to try to make him feel better about it by offering up a story about how I once thought seeing-eye dogs operated by barking driving directions.

After the set had finished, we decided to grab dessert. John had once lived nearby, and I had lived in Tribeca and gone to grad school at NYU, and yet we still had to pull up Googlemaps to navigate to the sweet shop nearby. There was something oddly bittersweet about not being able to find our way unaided past the yuppified alleyways and storefronts where even the cheesy sex shops were upgraded from a decade before.

It was heady and strange, the feeling of walking through a past life. Andrew and I used to walk our dog Lilly up to the Village from our place in Tribeca on weekends; we’d have brunch, go shopping. But then I got sick and Lilly died, and a few short years later, we were divorced. Everything was different; little had changed in the Village.

But the walk was short and Googlemaps quickly got us to Sweet Revenge. There, we gobbled our way through a cupcake and a mini-cheesecake, laughing about the specifics of our night.

We parted ways after dessert, and I headed home to my own disobedient dog; curled up on the bathmat on the floor next to the expensive dog bed. The bathroom was ablaze with all four lightbulbs finally lit for the first time since I’d lived in the place.

As I put myself to bed, Roo trotted over to sleep next to me, bringing what I thought was his stuffed hedgehog along, but instead was a balled up pair of my running socks that must’ve missed the bathroom hamper when I’d stripped them off earlier. He didn’t do that very often, but occasionally, he would carry around a sock or two of mine, and I would find them thidden in his toy box under the legless Piglet stuffie that he’d once nicked from a baby gift I was wrapping.

I looked down at him, and sighed, and said aloud, If you even so much as think about eating those socks, you are a dead dog.

It didn’t dawn on me till later that sometimes, it takes trying to replace what seems like a burnt out light to find out that it’s broken at the stem and needs a more serious repair. And dogs will still be dogs, no matter how helpful they seem. That might have been helpful to know ten years ago in Tribeca.

That said, I’m still awfully glad to be a Dog Person. Seems much safer than being a marine biologist.

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.