For spring break, I went to Paris, and it wasn’t perfect. It’s hard to say that because traveling is such a privilege, especially to a foreign country. A lot of my trip was magical, and a lot of it was full of the same troubles that held me down back home. They followed me, clinging to my body and my clothes like campfire smoke.
I have no good shoes for walking. I foolishly prioritize looks over comfort, and I don’t do enough aerobic activity at Lawrence to keep my running shoes here with me. To Paris, I brought the ones I wear to the gym, which look somewhat athletic, but in reality provide very little support or cushion. Better for lifting weights than for running a mile. For the first three days of our trip, we stayed out in the city, tourists from 9am until 5pm. I walked five to eight miles each day, and my feet ached and ached throughout, particularly when we finally came home. It made me cranky and irritable, but I didn’t say anything for a host of reasons related to the distant place my brain was in (further, it seems, than even France).
On the afternoon of the third day, we were sitting in a little cafe after walking yet another six miles to plan our next move. We considered walking to see another site, and after only just getting a break, I suggested maybe we just take the Metro instead because my feet were bothering me. My mother and my grandmother immediately were concerned because even my grandmother, who is 80, had not been having trouble. They decided immediately that we needed to get me some new shoes before we did anything else.
Not two hours later I walked out of some famous shopping center in some off-white chunky sneakers – all the rage there. I didn’t realize how much my feet were bothering me and affecting my perception and experience of the rest of the trip until I mentioned them to my family.
After that, I was still a bit bruised. I had to be extra aware of that damage and made sure to sit when I could and not walk or stand as much for the next few days. Thankfully, soon after that we spent a much more sedentary two days in a tiny town called Vitre, staying with my grandmother’s friends Julie and Pierre (how French, right?), whose apartment we’d been using in Paris. I sat in their kitchen each morning eating fresh bread and pastries with jam that Julie made herself. I lay down in the grass of their yard listening to the birds and imagining my dad there as a kid, forty years ago. I sat in Julie’s electric car with my head out the window, watching the old medieval buildings and the chateaus of the sprawling French countryside fly by. I curled up with a blanket on their couch, listening to my mother and Julie play the piano and looking at all the books and trinkets they’d collected since my father had been there. I am so grateful for my time in Vitre, and remember it most vividly of all that we did.
When we got back to the city, my feet had healed. We only had two days left, and I was able to live them to their fullest. On the last day, my mother and grandmother left, and I was there alone. When the door closed behind them at 5am, my brain felt the distance like a chasm. I was terrified. Terrified of navigating in a country where I didn’t speak the language alone, of getting Covid and being stuck there alone, of getting myself to the airport and all the way home to Appleton, alone. So I texted my friends to let them know and went back to sleep.
My last day ended up being wonderful. I bought my own meals, took the Metro all over town, and made friends at a lesbian bar in the Marais. And even with all of that, after this incredible, once-in-a-lifetime trip, I never got the chills while I was in Paris.
But I did get chills on the flight back. I’d been awake for almost 24 hours, and on planes or in airports for most of them. We finally began our descent into Appleton a little after 11pm on Sunday, and as the wheels hit the ground, I felt so grateful to be home. I arrived to my friends, who knew about how hard some parts of the trip had been for me, and didn’t expect anything more than to be with me again.
I think it’s hard to admit how much trouble our minds can give us, even and especially when we feel we are supposed to be happy and having fun. I’m so grateful my family made me get new shoes, and I’m so grateful I had a second family here to take care of me once I got home. I hope you can name those feelings out loud to someone, and when you can’t always be happy, I hope, at the very least, you can simply be.
I hope you realize why the clouds are always crying. May your life be a Walden Pond dive, shaking flowers at the ground while you live the life you did at five.