My friend has set off on a big adventure this week–her first real vacation after her divorce. She needed a teensy boost from the Cool Kids today, so we got on a chat thread. She had made it through all the logistics and teen dramaz and such and had gotten the whole crowd to their destination. Time to START HAVING FUN, right?
That’s when the sad whalloped her. She wrote, “Ashley, I don’t know how you did Paris after Richard. I really, really don’t.”
I told her the truth: “I cried every day of that trip, but that’s not the part I remember now.”
That week in Paris on my own was my first trip to Europe without my darling. I had to take a Valium and a deep red wine for dinner to make it through the flight. I hid in the bathtub as soon as I got to my hotel. I cried when I unpacked my clothes because there were so many extra drawers and hangers.
Richard had always been the one to plan the flights and hotels. I just told him where I wanted to go and he made the logistics happen.
Richard held my hand whenever the plane took off.
Richard did all the metric conversions. I once told a guy at the ski rental place that I was 1.2 meters tall and weighed 700 kilograms because I did the math wrong. Before we left on that ski trip to Austria, I had looked at a map of the Alps and commented, “3000 feet? That’s not that high. North Carolina has mountains almost that high.” He explained that we were going to 3000 meters and that was quite different from North Carolina. Like permafrost and thin oxygen kind of high. Then there was that one time in Luxembourg when I ordered myself some wine with dinner…750ml of wine. So yeah, he handled the metric system.
Richard was in charge of safety when we traveled. There was that time he fought off a pickpocket in Amsterdam. And the time I jumped on the wrong train in Belgium so he jumped with me.
He read the maps and read the time tables and read the street signs.
I wasn’t just dead weight on our adventures. I was in charge of the itinerary, cultural enrichment, translations, communications, and food. Without me, he wouldn’t have known the story of why Athens was named for Athena instead of Poseidon. He wouldn’t have learned that he kind of liked modern art. He wouldn’t have known why people place small smooth stones on graves in a Jewish cemetery. I got him to try Indonesian rijsstafel and pickels on cheddar cheese sandwiches and retsina (don’t try that last one–tastes like Pine Sol). We made a great team.
So yeah, how did I manage that first trip on my own?
I remembered that, as much as Richard had done for me, I could still do it all for myself. I applied the lessons he had taught me. I shopped ticket prices and left on Christmas night to save money. I booked a nicer hotel than he would have, so I would feel safe and have a concierge to answer my questions. I studied the Metro map and learned the major streets. I checked my landmarks, like Sacre Coeur. I learned how to hail a cab and get over the expense. I thought about my own safety and skipped crowds at night. I bought a phone card so I could call home when I got lonely.
I treated myself because he wasn’t there to delight me. I learned to say, “je voudrais une crepe avec chocolate et banana” or something like that and then I ate a chocolate and banana crepe for lunch on the sidewalk. I reserved a ticket to see Swan Lake at the National Opera (and I fell asleep during part of the first act). I bought splits of champagne at Printemps food halls. I took a Segway tour of the sites (and drove the dang thing off a six inch curb into traffic while I was admiring a street sign for a place where Hemingway had lived). I watched “Gone With the Wind” dubbed into French and ordered a giant plate of French french fries for dinner in my room. I gave myself a pound of candied orange peels dipped in dark chocolate–he had always remembered that was my favorite.
I still cried under the fluffy down duvet on my lonely bed at night, but I was crying in Paris, dammit.
So to my friend, when you are off on an adventure and realize that you are alone–here’s what I hope you will remember. That YOU who had all the good times with that other person? That you is still in there. That you still likes chocolate orange peel and Gone With the Wind. That you still enjoys wearing a killer pair of boots and strutting down a cobblestone sidewalk. That you will dawdle on a park bench in the sun. That you will ask a stranger to take your picture. That you will buy a necklace shaped like a star to remind yourself to shine.
It’s true–that you will stand in front of Rodin’s “The Kiss” and you will feel your heart seize with grief for the kiss that will never be again.
Then you will realize that you have another first kiss coming.
And that you that is still in there, that you that has gotten you through every awful thing in your past, that you will think of your future, and smile.