I didn’t mean to fall asleep on the Eurostar, wanting to see the French countryside, but it was mostly all cows anyway — or that’s how I remember it. I meant to say that on the Eurostar the cows were worth mentioning because when I saw them I thought to write them, and still, even in that foreign place, wondered what it might be like if there were horses there instead. I believe I am very happy, but maybe I don’t want to be, and it is a case of chronic dissatisfaction.
When I was sure I was awake, I turned to my boyfriend and asked, “Where are we?” Matt patted my head in the way I imagined someone might pat a girl’s head in a children’s book (or at least when reading one to a child) and thought to note both. But spiraling anyway, head-being-pat, I fell again asleep, perhaps not ever fully awake, the cows or sheep now passing.
In Paris, Matt and I started a new game where we counted our steps, and on our first day we broke our records of 30,000 steps for those of us with small legs and 28,000 for those of bigger stature. We checked our step count maybe as proof of exhaustion, wanting a sign that our bodies were really as tired as they felt, mostly feeling it in the legs and feet.
We had earlier climbed the narrow staircase of Notre Dame Cathedral. We both agreed the cathedral felt a larger-scale Sacred Heart, which meant it was, in part, home, but also a cruel trick — because when you exited, you weren't really there.
Over the gargoyles and other stonework, rock cracking here and there under the weight of the centuries, we made our way upwards. I could tell Matt liked everything because he took pictures of it all, even things that were perhaps just signs or new supports that we didn’t know to be ancient. He took many portraits of me too, pausing around a stone or staircase, claiming I was pretty. And after seven years, I thought maybe it was him who was the artist after all.
We stayed up there waiting for the bells to ring. There was a brief minute when Matt and I were separated, and he was apart from me and I was lost.
I watched the little Lego people and pigeons walk the blue-printed fountains. And I didn’t even want to think up anything profound about ants or matchbox cars, because I was stuck watching, planted in my missing spot, lost not only perhaps in the cathedral, but already in another maze of imaginary staircases wondering how far one might climb before turning, not even Orpheus, but a real person, before noticing on his own volition to look.
He came anyway after a time, after I’d already descended somewhere else without really having moved. He raved of the bells and I realized I hadn’t even heard them. He pulled me to listen and walked us closer to their ongoing chorus. We stopped. “Can you hear it?”
I thought so, but he said he could hear a choir of angels underneath the bells. I wondered why the angels didn’t pull me away to sing to me, but then thought again how nice it was to pull us apart so he could hear.
We stood there, Matt awed by his discovery, and I wondered if he’d be interested in my Lego people and fountains. When the bells stopped, I finally asked, “Why didn’t you find me?”
He shrugged, almost confused, and said he knew where I was all along. But of course, I didn’t know.
We kept up the step count and meandered to the Musée d’Orsay, where we lingered over impressionist work and spent a little while at Van Gogh’s self-portrait. The paint was caked on in light blue swirls, and, even though I wouldn’t want a painter’s face, I maybe wouldn’t mind it in light blue.
There was a small room with a full wall of paintings of women that resembled Venus. I liked to think they resembled me, too. Matt said they did, but he may have just been saying so.
At lunch we took respite in the Place des Vosges, which had been my favorite park while studying abroad. We lay in the grass, lolling in the way I’d always envied in other couples and park-goers. If I really thought about it, that’s where I thought up the trip four years ago, wanting to come back and live like the people in the grass, lounging and kissing their boyfriends. The universe was doing one of those linking sort of things where the twenty-one year old me and the twenty-five year old me met somewhere across time with a sort of invisible thread. The younger lay beside some statue of a French king, maybe a Louis, envisioning a return to this grove of symmetrical trees, these gravel paths, these red-brick pavilions, and the older, without even a mirror, recalled the younger thinking it up and remembered everything she was thinking all at once.
Matt lay with his arm underneath his head and said he thought that’s how the Greeks lay.
I told him lots of people lay that way, but he said they did it first.
He pulled on my toes, asking me why I was so far away.
I told him I wanted to be in the sun, but he said I was silly since it was behind a cloud.
He flipped my citronade and when I didn’t catch it, he said I messed it all up, which I probably did. If I pressed it, he’d be just kidding, but I thought it was true even if he didn’t know it.
I asked him, “What if Monet just had bad vision?”
He laughed, not altogether dismissing it, but instead just wrapped his arms around me like I always imagined or hoped he would, like some film or book that sickens or excites someone at the wrong or right time in their life.
And it was one of those times you wanted to save everything, trying to trap it all in your mind, the breeze, citrus, and love above all, so you could take them out later, the feelings, and link yourself, backward or forward, except you already were and were getting lost.
We were maybe leaning into the Parisian way of leisure, fitting in fewer steps and museums.
We took a slow walk along the Seine with a baguette and some magical orange pastry. The boats were docked, rocking and waiting for the end of evening. The cobblestone beneath us made our walking difficult, but we preferred it to New York’s gum-spotted cement.
- 6th Annual Young Alumni Essay Contest
- 1st Place: “Mendelssohn on the beach," Edward Jacobson '13
- 2nd Place: “Rodent," Gretel Kauffman '16
- 2nd Place: “I just happened to be there," Rachel Plassmeyer Bené '10
- HM: "Playspace," Laura Andrews '10
- HM: "Wherever we are," Jacqueline Cassidy '15, '16MSM
- HM: "A love letter to the internet," Johanna Kirsch Wilson '10
- HM: "Summer magic," Victoria McQuarrie '12
- HM: "Father-daughter time," Stephanie Nguyen '09
The artists lined up along the water and stood eagerly as we passed, hoping we'd buy. One painter, old, shaking and overlooked, exhibited his portraits of pinkish women or men in anguish. If he knew his art was good or not, it wouldn’t matter because he knew the people didn’t want it. And as we passed, he evanesced behind us, and maybe I should've too for taking part in it.
When the sun set, Paris lit up in yellow along the edge of the water, and the boats colored in various purples, blues and reds. The lights flashed from the party boats maybe celebrating weddings or maybe just floating along like us. The ripples reflected it all in streaks, and when we passed some new color or sight, I’d point it out as if never having seen red before and Matt would reward me for having seen it, commending me or congratulating me with a kiss.
A dog looked out of a boat window. He didn’t look our way as we wanted, but as we kept on, we noticed another dog held his glance and we thought maybe he too was in love.
We made it to the Eiffel Tower and to the carousel beneath it. I didn’t ride, but there was no magic lost in not having done it. The blue lights still glowed against the evening sky. Tigers and horses spun to their own air and we were time-stuck watching their eternal spin, so I imagined I rode it anyway.
We passed people dangling their feet over the water, smoking and drinking and being French. Walking hand-in-hand, I pointed out the romance of the city to Matt. When he didn’t get it, I noted the river, the artists and everyone falling in love with Paris and each other.
He still didn’t agree and shrugged, “I’ll love you wherever you are.”
And he maybe proved it true in spite of himself.
And so we walked along, not keeping count, going somewhere or nowhere, but for a moment, I really was there with him after all.
Jacqueline Cassidy's essay received an honorable mention in this magazine's 2018 Young Alumni Essay Contest. Cassidy is a full-time writer, author, and poet based in New York City. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.