An American Girl in Paris: Part Trois 

5 December 2017

November started in Barcelona and ended in Chicago, which serves as a pretty good representation of the packed (but wonderful yet hard) past month.

As I’ve recounted in my Barcelona city guide post, my platonic soulmate, Victoria, visited me and we had a blast. Similarly, in my Amsterdam city guide post, another one of my best friends, Mady, visited me the following week. Both of the trips were filled with a whole lot of joy, good coffee, and good laughs.

Having these two friends visit me in Paris was a sweet reminder at how powerful long distance friendships can be. Most of my friendships are long distance, with one or two close friends in each city I’ve inhabited over the years. Moving around and traveling under interesting circumstances means that I’ve met a lot of incredible people and formed quick and lasting friendships. All of my close friends are scattered from coast to coast, and while it is challenging in moments when I would love nothing more than to hug them and make esoteric references, it’s worth it when I get to visit cool places and act like no time has passed. There’s definitely a lot to be said about maintaining long distance friendships, but I’ve been lucky to have some of the best people in my life (not biased AT ALL! That statement is objective truth!).

Sandwiched between Mady leaving and my family visiting for Thanksgiving, I had the pleasure of meeting and showing around some Chicago folks, Randi and Micah. Richard Smith connected me with his friends whom I hadn’t previously known, but am so happy to have met. We spent the better part of two evenings in a row eating and drinking as much as we could, being led around to different bars by Richard’s spirit. I promised to have them, Richard, and Ellie over after I return from Paris so we mourn over wine and make plans to relocate back to the French capital.

Having my family visit meant that I got eat for free for a whole week. Score! This was the first time since 2008 that all four St. Claires were in Europe together, so it was special to say the least. We spent one day at Versailles (where I spent a majority of the time obnoxiously pleading to rent a golf cart so I could do joy donuts in the gardens), another day touring the invasion beaches in Normandy (a stunning and sacred sight), and the rest of the time showing them around to my favorite spots. We had a very traditional French meal on a very non-traditional Thanksgiving night served with some of the best wine I’ve ever had. My brother and I spent the week quoting the French Inspector cartoon we would always watch as kids, and I showed him some of my favorite stand-up so he would understand my esoteric refrences.

While I had the most fun after three weeks of playing tour guide, I was absolutely drained. My introverted self needed, like, 2 weeks to not see anyone or do anything. As I was spending last weekend to myself and having some much needed quiet time, my mother called to inform me my grandmother had passed away.

As some of you know, this was the third family death this year. April saw the death of my uncle, August brought the death of my grandfather a week before I moved to Paris, and now my grandmother. It never gets easier to hear your mother crying over the phone or to pick out a dress to wear to a funeral or to try to prepare words that you know won’t do your heart justice. I remember spending time my first few days in Aix-en-Provence back in August dealing with intense grief for my grandfather and trying to process moving to a different country. I didn’t realize that what I felt then would be intensified by 150%.

Between all of my older relatives dying and dealing with other intense traumas over the past few months, it has been an overwhelming year. I would be lying to you if I said that the grief I have experienced over the past week didn’t dwarf the happy memories from this past month. I often downplay my struggles and pain in fear I’m overreacting, but when I talk about these things aloud, I realize how much I have on my plate. Living in Paris has been this year’s saving grace. That, and the brilliant friends I have who are always there to make me laugh or hold space when I lose my shit.

At my grandmother’s funeral on Saturday, I shared this passage I stumbled upon years ago, but continuously come back to because of the eloquent truth written. I often send it to friends dealing with a death or a break up, or just any circumstance that deals with extreme loss and grief:

“I wish I could say you get used to people dying. I never did. I don't want to. It tears a hole through me whenever somebody I love dies, no matter the circumstances. But I don't want it to ‘not matter.’ I don't want it to be something that just passes. My scars are a testament to the love and the relationship that I had for and with that person. And if the scar is deep, so was the love. So be it. Scars are a testament to life. Scars are a testament that I can love deeply and live deeply and be cut, or even gouged, and that I can heal and continue to live and continue to love. And the scar tissue is stronger than the original flesh ever was. Scars are a testament to life. Scars are only ugly to people who can't see.
As for grief, you'll find it comes in waves. When the ship is first wrecked, you're drowning, with wreckage all around you. Everything floating around you reminds you of the beauty and the magnificence of the ship that was, and is no more. And all you can do is float. You find some piece of the wreckage and you hang on for a while. Maybe it's some physical thing. Maybe it's a happy memory or a photograph. Maybe it's a person who is also floating. For a while, all you can do is float. Stay alive.

In the beginning, the waves are 100 feet tall and crash over you without mercy. They come 10 seconds apart and don't even give you time to catch your breath. All you can do is hang on and float. After a while, maybe weeks, maybe months, you'll find the waves are still 100 feet tall, but they come further apart. When they come, they still crash all over you and wipe you out. But in between, you can breathe, you can function. You never know what's going to trigger the grief. It might be a song, a picture, a street intersection, the smell of a cup of coffee. It can be just about anything...and the wave comes crashing. But in between waves, there is life.

Somewhere down the line, and it's different for everybody, you find that the waves are only 80 feet tall. Or 50 feet tall. And while they still come, they come further apart. You can see them coming. An anniversary, a birthday, or Christmas, or landing at O'Hare. You can see it coming, for the most part, and prepare yourself. And when it washes over you, you know that somehow you will, again, come out the other side. Soaking wet, sputtering, still hanging on to some tiny piece of the wreckage, but you'll come out. Take it from an old guy. The waves never stop coming, and somehow you don't really want them to. But you learn that you'll survive them. And other waves will come. And you'll survive them too. If you're lucky, you'll have lots of scars from lots of loves. And lots of shipwrecks.”

Other small wins for the month include but are not limited to: finding the perfect apartment in Chicago, getting a navy blue coat (seems insignificant but I was SO EXCITED), finally venturing out into the Parisian bar scene, getting a job lined up for the start of the New Year.

On a completely different subject: Music! This month’s playlist was very all over the place. I feel like my November playlists are often arbitrary and eclectic. It started with watching YouTube videos one evening at Mel’s and somehow revisiting Gotye, and then adding “Cell Block Tango” because Victoria had me watch Chicago for the first time. Sufjan Stevens recently released his latest Mixtape, and I listened to “Wallowa Lake Monster” so hard and so frequently. Thanks for reading along!

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