A slight nudge and a gentle suggestion that I wake up, considering my taxi would be there in three minutes was how I started my last morning in Paris. I’d been sleeping beside Annie on her futon for the past three weeks, in addition to every weekend for the past year and a half, so she was more than accustomed to my hasteful negligence of an alarm, and not all too surprised by my calm stupor as I prioritized brushing a night’s worth of red wine stains off my teeth and giving her about a million hugs, over my trans-atlantic flight.
After multiple trips dragging my luggage down the stairs, I’d missed my taxi and had seven floors of angry tenants who would probably forever remember me as the noisy one who technically didn’t even live in the building but always used their hall bathrooms. Or in the case of the older woman on the 4th floor, who saw me cleaning Christmas tree branches after I foolishly drug one up the stairs the night before, I’m the maid who didn’t understand much French.
Staring out the window on the way to the airport, I continued the tradition started only a few days earlier during a tear-filled goodbye with a French friend I met in New York three summers ago. We could barely look at each other as we said a la prochaine, loosely translating to “until next time.” I realized then that was the only way my heavy heart would make it through one of the most difficult transitions of my life. So with a shifted perspective that I wouldn’t have to stay gone forever, I added, a la prochaine Paris, to my rotating repertoire of French phrases and decided I ought to properly send my regards to the city that’s become a best friend.
Beginning in the 17th arrondissement, I ran through Parc Monceau, past the President’s house and Bugsby’s, a bar we’d frequent for overpriced but conveniently located beer. I nodded a familiar hello as I peered down Faubourg Saint Honore, one of the most expensive streets in Paris, where I never shopped, but would walk along as I followed smells of my favorite burger truck. I dodged crazy Parisian drivers as I crossed the Champs Elysees, and as I came to Pont Alexander III, I was once again overwhelmed by the majesty of the Invalides before me. I ran across the cobblestones of the Seine, as I recalled many wonderful moments epitomizing the cliche way of the French as we watched the sunset along the river with friends. I got the same thrill that came each time I rode my bike down Quai des Tuileries, with arms spread wide and the wind making me feel practically invincible. I zigzagged back and forth along the bridges, stopping to admire the Eiffel tower and perform my civic duty by saving a couple from taking an eiffie-selfie. I wandered the backstreets of Saint Germain passing the apartment I stayed in with my parents, allowing myself to get lost one last time before ultimately ending in Luxembourg Gardens. It was incredible to see the transformation the leaves had made in just a few days and as I sat hugging my knees close with tears forming puddles in the corners of my eyes, I thought about the very way Paris had captivated my entity.
Paris challenged me to find what truly makes me happy and to make a point to daily indulge in that. It taught me the importance of slowing down and that progress or work should never define me. It made me value close friendships and to appreciate each and every small interaction with strangers on the street. It showed me the beauty in disaster and that at the very least I’ll have a good story out of it. It has given me remarkable patience after daily 45 minute metro rides and the reality that French paperwork may take six months. It made me proud the day I could finally eat a baguette a third of my height. It taught me to be mindful of my surroundings and to never stop appreciating the wonder before me or how blessed I was to be there. And it left me with an overwhelming peace in the person I’d become. Paris has been my greatest adventure to date and I am daily thankful for the unique opportunity I had to live on a cloud the past 14 months.
I never made it out of Charles de Gualle airport that Saturday morning. Thankfully my overweight suitcases and expired visa weren’t to blame, but rather an overbooked standby flight that brought me back to Paris the very same day I tried to leave. And as my stomach tightened up in excitement on my ride back into the city, I caught a small glimpse of the thrill I’ll feel each time I return to Paris and the overwhelming sense of home.