I left Paris this weekend. Saturday night when they issued that all businesses were ordered to close, I panicked.
Just two days earlier, we’d been told to work from home, then school was canceled, then we were told to stay indoors. Now forced closures.
It was all happening so fast that I foresaw, and feared the borders closing next, flights ending. My first thought was I have to leave now or I may be trapped, alone, for a long time. I have to be able to get to my family. I packed one bag of essentials in a rush – which included my stack of journals, two bottles of champagne, and all my high heels. Later, I seriously questioned my priorities.
I got on the first Eurostar train to London four hours later, where my best friend lives. She was kind enough to host me with her family for the last few days and offer much-needed comfort. My plan was to come here, where I knew I was safe with friends, and see what was going to happen in France and the rest of the world. When Paris went into total lockdown on Monday, I thought I had done the right thing; I had left just in time.
But as I’ve been in limbo in London, processing the world slowly shutting down and trying to figure out what’s next, I’ve found myself without answers.
I’m trying to decide what is the right move, the safe move, the smart move. “You should go HOME” is everyone’s advice.
But where is that for me, really?
Is home the place I was born, or the place I was re-born?
Where my heart is, or where my family is?
Is it where I feel the most safe, or is it where I feel the most alive?
I don’t know what the right choice is, but I’ve never been more afraid to make the wrong one as much as I am now – when absolutely nothing is certain.
It seems no matter what I choose, there is a serious risk.
The risk of getting to America is a great one. We are highly advised not to travel. The airline themselves told me how dangerous it is to take a flight, and it will take me two to get home to Ohio, where my parents are. I will need to quarantine myself for weeks, and even then, I won’t be sure that I don’t have this virus. You would think my immune system would be diminished after six solid weeks eating only of raw steak, fries, wine, and chocolate mousse – but it appears it’s better than ever. So I could get this and show no symptoms, and give it to my parents.
The risk of staying in London is that I don’t have a visa for this country, or healthcare here. I love England, I’ve lived here before – but it’s not where I started my new life, and it’s not my home. If London goes into lockdown, as I assume it will, is this where I want to be?
And then there’s Paris…
Why would I willingly want go back to a city under lockdown?
To a city where I have no one to weather this storm with? To a city where I would be completely isolated until who knows how long? To a city where I need a slip of paper just to leave the house?
I wish I had one concrete or logical answer, but instead, I have a thousand feelings.
Because it’s what I started?
Because it was my dream?
Because it’s the first thing that has ever, ever just been mine?
Because I love it?
Because I know it will be hard, but I can do it alone?
For the last six weeks, my heart was so full of happy I was afraid it might burst. One tiny space can’t possibly hold that much joy, I thought. I was finally living in the place I’ve wanted to live my entire life. I had my own apartment that was so old-fashioned French it felt like a film set. It had big, French windows, and blonde, parquet floors, and whimsical, crown molding so decorative it reminded me of frosting. My days passed there in my window seat – writing my book. The words poured out of me, as the sunshine poured in my window, and the wine poured out of the bottle. It was all working.
I had just gotten to know my local boulanger. He knew that I liked my baguettes mi-cuit and that I came in every other day for a fresh one. I just had perfected a pirouette in ballet class. I just learned the secret to cripsy, French, fingerling potatoes – (it’s BUTTER). I had just taken my first weekend trip outside Paris to the charming town of Deauville where I ate raw snails and too many oysters and stood by the sea watching the waves crash. I had just met someone extraordinary who filled my days with music. I just started sounding a teany, tiny bit more French. I had just started living again after months of feeling like my life was on hold.
I know everyone’s dreams are on hold right now; everyone’s priorities have changed. Everyone’s life has halted, and everyone is scared and experiencing real, tragic loss that makes my own seem entirely insignificant. I am healthy, and loved, and safe. I feel guilty even thinking a complaint, let alone articulating it, but putting words on paper is my therapy.
My head says get back to America – you’ll be safest near your family and in the country you’re a citizen. But my heart is not ready to give up on France. My heart has learned that I grow when I’m alone – and maybe if I’m forced to spin myself tight into a cocoon and battle what nature has in store, I will emerge fully transformed. If I go back to the place it took so much courage to leave, what will I become?
Paris is where I decided that my new life would be; it’s where I decided to start over, and do things my way. It’s where I feel so inspired that my heart actually swells over the smallest things: pearls of sugar on warm brioche, children in woolen overcoats more stylish than mine, men selling roses no matter the place or hour. I know that’s not Paris right now. I know the streets feel eerily quiet, and cafe chairs sit stacked up like legos, and doors that are always open are boarded up. I know that for the first time, probably ever, there is no one playing an accordion on the Pont Saint-Louis.
But the Eiffel Tower still sparkles.
The bells still ring from cathedrals.
Birds still fly over the Seine.
Every city has changed this month. No place, and no person is as it was. The place I decided to call home has changed quite severely, and I can’t help but feel if I leave it now, I’ve given up without fighting. I can’t help but fear I won’t get to return to the life I began for a very long time, if ever.
An unthinkable change hit me last year. It came suddenly and ravaged my happiness. It sent me into a crisis; took away everything that I knew, and loved, and had built – overnight. It left me scared, and alone, and uncertain about the future. I know the circumstances are completely different – I’m not comparing my marriage ending to the enormity of this pandemic – but if I know that being alone in Paris made me stronger once, maybe I don’t need to run from it now? Maybe my best chance at survival is staying.
Today the State Department issued a warning to U.S. Residents saying return home immediately or expect to stay indefinitely. This put me in a strange position. I’m not technically a U.S. Resident anymore – I’m a French one this year. And my plan, kind of, was to stay indefinitely. I had grand visions of having little French children, finally achieving fluency, and owning an apartment with a view of the Eiffel Tower – even if it was just a tiny tip of it. But that vision also included frequent visits to America to see my family. It never included a serious chance that wouldn’t be possible.
Right now, it is impossible to even plan for tomorrow – yet I’m being asked to plan for indefinitely. And like everyone, I’m still hoping to wake up in the morning thinking, “boy that was the worst dream.”