Monday night 8 February 1988
Though I write that it is Monday night, it is Tuesday morning now, but hours before dawn. You’re no doubt up and about your business on the other side of the Atlantic. Here, it’s another of these long, sleepless nights of closing my eyes and my brain is unwilling to slow down, jumping up to put the television on, only to turn it off again, tossing under the layers of couvertures and never warm enough in winter, staring out the small window at the yellow brick façade next door.
You remember, don’t you? You remarked that even the view of Parisian walls was better, and we laughed because I admitted that you were right. Then you tested me on my memory of metro stops along Ligne 1: Etoile, Georges V, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Champs-Elysées Clemenceau, Concorde.
Then I was stumped and you teased me. And we made love.
Sometimes when I can’t sleep I pull out my Plan de Paris and retrace my steps on the very first trip, or the year of my studies when I fell in love with the city and yes, then I could have recited every stop on three or four lines. But it’s been too long. And that saddens me.
Oh – today I took a personal day. Unusual, I know, but I needed it badly. I walked around the Square, browsed the Russian books at Schoenhof’s, then got a coffee and sat outside at Au Bon Pain as long as I could stand it. It’s been bitterly cold, and you know I’m not cut out for this weather. But that was where you first kissed me. Do you remember? Do you realize how powerful you became with that one tender act?
I skidded all the way back to my apartment – nearly fell twice. Admettons, I was distracted and I’m more restless than ever. Some of it is my father’s death – I feel adrift and I can’t explain it. But it’s more than that. It’s you there, and me here. Even if there wasn’t a you, it’s me here – this me here, and I can’t help thinking I’m out of place.
I ask myself where I belong and I don’t belong which of course is the problem. But I’ve never belonged and I think I’m okay with that, though I would like to live somewhere that seems more comfortable and that would be Paris.
I remember the first time – at fifteen and alone, waiting for a stranger to meet me. I was too tired from the flight to be afraid or to worry about remembering the names of her children. I was too tired for anything at first. The fear came after the jet lag had subsided, struggling with the language and the newness and then the fear subsided, too – as words began to parse themselves into something comprehensible, as the mosaic of streets became more familiar, as I accustomed myself to sharing a room with her two daughters, as my hosts were kind and I began to feel strangely at home.
But this sleeplessness, Jean-Marc. It’s getting worse and you tell me that I work too many hours like all Americans, that I don’t take the time to appreciate what really matters – to taste my food, to savor my wine, to linger in our lovemaking. You tell me I busy myself and I deny it, but tonight, I can’t pretend your words don’t carry truth.
I’m a little lost in winter, Jean-Marc. Or maybe I’m a little lost in the ways we all are when we let down our pretense, when we’re falling in love, when we’re disoriented, when we’re grieving, when we don’t need convention but we do need something, when something forces us to look inside at what we want and what we think we want, and then consider the enormity of the consequences. Of doing. Of choosing. Of not choosing.
When we’re together, I can’t stay busy in blindness. But when we’re apart, it’s easier, except for the restlessness. Sans repos, sans repos, sans repos.
So I get up and walk to the kitchen. Thinking it will help, I try to focus on what is concrete. The floor is faux-parquet. My kettle on the stove is red. The table at which I eat and write is white laminate. My drapes are not drapes at all. They are blue and white sheets from Marimekko that I stitched together because I loved the pattern and color.
I go back to bed and write you a letter. I write you letters and then I don’t mail them. Oh, I mail some but not all. I fold them neatly and tuck them in a book – the same book where I place the letters that you write to me. And I don’t know why I keep them rather than send them. Although I write, I think I do it for me. Even though I do it for me, I arrive at no conclusions. I go around and around in my head and you know it when we’re together. You see it when I disappear and you tell me, like that first night at the Blue Parrot.
But then we make love and always in French and it’s another sort of disappearance and it helps. But it doesn’t last and here I am again. You’re so far away. But worse, I’m so far away.
I could blame it on winter but that would be an excuse. I have my dreams but they seem impossible. I stare at the brick wall outside my window. I lie awake and wonder when there will be consolation, certitude, a decision – right or wrong.
Et cette nuit, il n’y en a pas. J‘en ai terriblement besoin – des consolations, des certitudes, des décisions.
You tell me I’m young and I have time. I tell you I’m impatient to begin again, and you tell me I’ve barely begun.
But I feel stuck, and if I feel this way now, how will I feel in five years or ten when I am no longer as young? Am I a coward that I want to change my life and I do nothing? Am I coward that I find the thought of loving you a terrifying prospect? Am I coward knowing that we will never be right together, but hanging on?
I wonder when the courage will come for me to act, to find a place in my world, to speak to you more honestly when we are together, to do more than stay afloat and then motor myself in the direction of something acceptable. When will I move beyond this paralysis which I hope is only winter – and feel alive again? My father is dead. Shouldn’t I give myself to feeling alive?
I miss you. I miss us. I think I miss me, maybe more, but I’m not sure I can explain that.
More Jean-Marc letters.