An American Girl in Paris: Part Quatre

23 December 2017

I have never experienced a great romantic love. Innocent crushes turned deep infatuations have been a staple of my pseudo-and-pre-adult years, however, none of my infatuations, no matter how deep, have resulted in honest, requited love. As often as I’ve imagined what it would be like, I can only guess it’s similar to the passionate romance I have with places on a map.

Being able to explore a city in all its parts is, what it seems like, to learn a lover. At first, everything is magic and everything is exciting. A place that has only existed in photographs is suddenly under my feet and in front of my eyes. At first, there are no flaws. The unfamiliarity and mystery is enthralling; I can’t do anything but explore, explore, explore.

Whenever I dive deeper and deeper into the authentic parts of a place, I find myself adoring every part of it — from the pristine areas to the gritty neighborhoods. Eventually, I get used to the buildings that once seemed so magnificent and I forget to venture out to somewhere new, but am ultimately content in the familiarity. This exhilaration is a driving force of how I operate my life.

I have always felt more at home in Europe. After my second trip to Italy in 2011, I became obsessed with the country and culture. I wanted to learn Italian, I watched so many movies set in Italy, and I would openly make Italian references even if I was the only person who would understand. My love for Italy overtook me. Now I am older and milder and my passion for Italy has transferred to Europe as a whole. My family would always joke that I was born in the wrong continent, and I fully agree with them. I could name concrete things about European culture that resonates with me more than American culture, but at the end of the day, I think it is a matter of spirit, and my spirit very much exists outside of the States.  

Before Paris, I had never experienced a place where I felt fully myself. My youth was spent boxed into a town in which I didn’t belong; St. Louis was hasty choice that left me without much room to expand; Chicago has recently become a city full of familiarity and a breeding ground for my worsening anxiety.

But Paris. Paris was a city that I started fantasizing about at a wee age. It became a reality the first, and even the second, time I visited, but it didn’t become a home until now.

When my mother was visiting she told me: “We’re not from here. You’re from here.” And she was right. Even though I was born in Lake Forest, Illinois, my spirit was inadvertently born in Paris many years ago — even before I had first visited — and my body has quickly caught up since being here.

I really did come into a new persona I like to call “Paris Abby.” Paris Abby accepts her appearances. She has come to enjoy the slight hook in her strong nose and finds her premature smile lines endearing. She feels more confident and at ease in different environments. She faces social anxiety on a more consistent basis and works hard to handle it with grace and courage. I like Paris Abby. I’m sure you’d like her, too. My deepest fear is that Paris Abby with quickly revert to the anxious shell of a person that is Chicago Abby. I didn’t expect a city to cultivate such strength within me, and I think that’s why I’m hopelessly in love with Paris.

Like many times writing, I fail to find the words that articulate my deep feelings of peace and contentment. I really can’t tell you how many times I would have a visceral reaction of joy and happiness that brought tears to my eyes.

Even with all my good fortune, Paris was a place of grieving. At the beginning I had three rough, rough days in Aix-en-Provence grieving the recent and sudden loss of my grandfather. And as I have recently mentioned, my grandmother suddenly passed earlier this month. Similar feelings of grief and sadness for the stories she would never get to hear overwhelmed me, but I was also left with the grief of no longer having any living grandparents.

However, I walk away with an amazing sense of gratitude. For the first time in my life, my deep disparity to relive a past time is met with an even deeper gratitude for its occurrence. I am SO thankful and happy for every moment. These past four months have been so good that it would be impossible not to feel incredibly gracious.  

I traveled back to one of my most favorite cities and saw my Abby World Boyfriend, Tom Hiddleston, perform Hamlet in “Hamlet.” I picniced on the beaches of Lisbon. I explored Barcelona with my best friend and had raw conversations. I stayed in the most beautiful Amsterdam hotel with one of my best friends from Boston. I concluded my time abroad with a chilly trip to Berlin and to the best (and most remote) spa ever. I was able to rid myself of the anxiety that I am an unskilled drawer. I created graphic design work that I had always wanted to create. I spent so much time in some of the most beautiful cafes. I read more. I wasn’t afraid to dine by myself. I stopped spending so much time on my phone and spent more time walking and enjoying my surroundings. Everything that happened was intentional and nurturing for my soul.

I now write to you from Chicago. I’m afraid I’ll never feel quite as at home or content again. I’m afraid that Chicago life will be deeply unsatisfying. That’s the thing when a calendar year takes and takes: the idea of fortune and success seems so painfully foreign. I’ve longed for the achievements I once made and hopelessly wonder what is next and if I will ever be able to create something worthwhile and well-received again.

But I am trying to think positively. Soon, I start a new job, begin another quarter of classes, and move into a really beautiful apartment. I have a lot going for me, but it’s hard to be excited about those things when they’re not happening in Paris. I’m glad to not have to line dry my clothes, or to live in an apartment entirely furnished by ikea. Even though I’ll miss hearing the french language, I’m happy I will no longer have to stumble over my words and feel anxious when I say something wrong. And I’m really fucking happy to be back somewhere that has clear pro-laptop policies at cafes (LOOKING @ U, CAFE KITSUNE).

The last week, I uncharacteristically found myself greatly anticipating home. I think because Paris has always been a temporary situation and since the end was approaching, I was ready to rip the metaphorical band-aid off swiftly. But I know that the novelty of Chicago will wear off in a week and I will be left reminiscing about strolling Parisian alleys and being comforted in the shadows of monuments.

I can tell you that I’ll deeply miss my friends. It was a miracle our paths crossed the way they did. The one major thing I was freighted about before moving was meeting people with a similar balance of emotional vulnerability and a very specific sense of humor. And boy did I find that. Quickly, in fact. I’ll miss cooking together and watching hundreds of vine compilations and making esoteric references that send us into hysterical laughter. At first, it will be hard to know that they’re not a metro ride away and that I’ll see funny things out in the world and I won’t be able to turn to them and share.

I’ve been writing this post for awhile — literally and figuratively. It is important for me to get these thoughts down and release them into the world, and I very much hope that a part or two has resonated with you. I’m so excited to share all these deep feelings that have been lingering and developing in me for the better part of four months. I return to the States with a lot of emotions, lessons, and things to work through.

Paris will always be apart of me. This city has now become ingrained in my personal history and it will be impossible to separate. Now every time I revisit it will be even more special and dear to me. Time will pass and memories will become much more hazy, but my appreciation for my time abroad will grow and grow and grow.

Along with parts one, two, and three of this digital series, I kept a journal my whole duration in France and wrote in it every day. As time went on, the entries because longer and more detailed in hopes that I would better capture all of the details and feelings of my Parisian moments. No amount of words would accurately depict every second and emotion I felt, even though I so desperately tried to cultivate that. Now each moment serves as a gentle reminder of that things happen and fade with grace and certainty. There is no point in holding on with stiff fists or trying to catch a thousand grains of falling sand. I have always been a nostalgic person and will continue to remain nostalgic; that’s just a part of my nature.

But I’m ready to start anew and live a life based on the life I just lived. If New Years is a time to change and reflect, I’m ready to do that with open arms. I have Paris to thank for that outlook. And even going through withdrawls, reverse culture shock, facing past grievances square on, trying to figure out what my future looks like, I know it will be okay. And, boy, am I ready. I’m ready for it all.

This last playlist is a special one. While it’s quite short, I know it will trigger a lot of warm feelings in the future. It’s full of songs I listened to in my final days, including the last walk I took in the Tulieries Gardens the morning I left. There are two Harry Styles songs cos I needed to feel like a moody teenage girl again :’)

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