SOAPBOX: I’ll always have Paris
On KJZZ's SOAPBOX, The Show turns over the the mic to listeners. For winter 2022, writers tackled the theme EATING CHRISTMAS.
Deborah Sussman is a writer and editor in Tempe.
The days between Christmas and New Year’s always feel outside of time, like whatever takes place during those days isn’t subject to the laws that apply during all the other months. It was during this suspended stretch of days that I found myself in an apartment in Paris with a man I’ll call, for the sake of brevity and privacy, M.
He was a fellow grad student in the writing program. We were both Americans who loved Paris. I wasn’t supposed to be there — I was the one who’d driven him to the airport just before Christmas and sent him off to see his sister in France — but he’d called me a few days after he arrived and asked me to come.
Why had he asked me to come, you wonder? So did I. I knew he’d been having a tough time, but that was true for a lot of us in the grad program — we were a bunch of writers dancing with our demons and our ghosts. Maybe his were stronger? He and I were friends with a clear mutual attraction, but he was the kind of brooding, charismatic former jock who could spark mutual attraction in a piece of furniture, so I suspected I wasn’t that special, even as much as I wanted to be special.
I think I thought I could help him. I think he thought so too.
I asked our mutual friend Alex, also a writer in the program but surprisingly well adjusted, what to do. He said I should go, because I’d never had my heart broken. Flights were cheap. It was Paris! And besides, my beloved father had just had successful surgery for prostate cancer. The universe seemed to be saying: Carpe diem.
The apartment where M. was staying belonged to a friend of his sister’s who was away, and it was much nicer than I’d expected — it had high ceilings and tasteful artwork on the walls. For dinner the first night, we ate rillettes au porc, which I’d never tried before, and fresh baguettes. If you haven’t tried rillettes either, it’s like paté but less fussy — you scoop it out from the container, fat and meat together, and spread it on bread or crackers. It’s decadent, satisfying and relatively cheap.
M. seemed ambivalent about my having come, which was puzzling, because why would you ask someone to fly thousands of miles only to not really talk to them and not want to go anywhere?
Standing in front of the bathroom mirror in the beautiful Paris apartment, I took a picture of myself—a selfie, only with a film camera, so I didn’t know what it looked like until I got home and had it developed. In the resulting photograph, my face is sullen. I’m wearing a corn-colored yellow turtleneck sweater that I remember as slightly itchy, and oversized tortoiseshell glasses I thought were stylish but now realize gave me the air of an insect librarian. I’m asking myself, what am I doing here? I’m asking myself, who AM I?
Looking back, Alex was probably right when he said I hadn’t had my heart broken. But the world would take care of that. Within three years, my beloved father would die. When it became clear that he would not survive the cancer, he said to my mother, “I’ll never see Paris again.”
It turns out there are so many different kinds of injuries and insults the heart can sustain. There is a saying that goes: God breaks the heart again and again and again until it stays open. I stand before you today, open hearted, and wish you many delicious mistakes.