I’m sitting outside at a café in Paris. I feel the fall breeze, but summer is fighting to stay. Keep the envelope – the Parisian postage stamp will remind you of the last time you were here with me, long ago. I remember how much you love letters because you consider them a dying art. It’s a month before my wedding, but Craig and I are already on our honeymoon. Do you think that’s strange?
You know what they say, “a pre-wedding vacation can cure all second thoughts.” I admit it. I’m having second thoughts. Inconvenient now, after the invitations have gone out, the reception is paid for and the expensive white dress is hanging in my closet. Did you know there are more than a hundred species of roses? – that’s the kind of thing I’ve occupied myself with lately. Craig agreed to this trip because he wanted to please me. Perhaps he was afraid I’d run away.
This morning I woke up in a panic, next to Craig in a three-star hotel in Paris, and I felt no comfort. He was on the other side of the bed facing the window with a view of a Coca-Cola billboard. The mattress screeched, as I slipped out of bed, but Craig didn’t stir. I took the stairs to prevent the hotel staff from seeing me – in my shirt stained with red wine, and my uncombed hair – another slovenly American. As you sometimes reminded me I wasn’t really American because I was the first one in my family to be born in the U.S.
Do you remember the Paris mornings with their ‘je ne sais quoi,’ quality of mystery and romance? The sky was dark, but the cobblestone streets in the distance felt the kiss of the first sunrays. And the soft smell of dough and melted butter – from still shuttered bakeries – made my stomach grumble. No music playing, but in my head I could hear an accordion far in the distance getting louder with the rising of the sun.
After getting off the metro at Sentier station, I walked along Rue du Louvre for a few miles. The sun traveled on the Parisian rooftops illuminating the architecture, as I walked the path. Once I got to the end of the road I faced two options. Go to the Louvre and report to Craig, that I was first in line to see the Mona Lisa, or continue to the place where I shared memories with an old lover. I admired the reflection of the buildings on the water, when I got at the edge of the Seine. Finally, I reached Pont des Arts.
The swarms of lovers hadn’t yet arrived with their locks. Only a few couples holding hands were taking confident steps onto the Pont des Arts, eager to live all the wonderful adventures their Euro could buy. I felt the positive energy, and I wanted to look and feel that happy too.
A couple in their early twenties – she walked barefoot holding her shoes and he had his tie and suit jacket folded over his arm – looked like they’d been up all night, but still glowed with love. I watched them hold hands, and I smiled at the thought of you and me.
I remember when we met in Introduction to French, on our last semester of college. I was an International Business major and, I didn’t like Philosophy students because they had the reputation of being pompous, but you were humble. I was a know-it-all trying to find an easy elective to meet requirements, and you wanted to decipher French literature some day. You were a much better student, which is why I asked you to help me study for every exam. Remember how you liked to touch my hand every chance you got when you sat next to me. Whenever you read, I pretended to pay attention, and the soft movements of your lips hypnotized me. You promised me if I passed the class, we would take a trip to Paris to celebrate. I could only imagine, but you always kept your promises. After we crossed the Atlantic something in us changed that made us fall in love.
On our first day in Paris we picnicked at the Luxembourg gardens. We weren’t picnic regulars, and we didn’t know what to do, or bring. We forgot some essentials and couldn’t open our wine bottle. Later in the week we went to Versailles, I thought we made a perfect couple when I saw our reflection at the Hall of Mirrors. We also went to the Champ De Mars, where we lay on the cool grass looking up at the Parisian sky and the perfect view of the Eiffel tower standing tall. You tickled my cheek with your scruffy beard and I felt your warm wine breath on my neck – I saw my smile on your aviator sunglasses. The last major landmark of that trip was Pont des Arts.
At the bridge, I searched for our lock. I’d memorized all the details of its location and I found it by standing by the bench in the center of the bridge and walking to the edge on a straight line. By the light post I knelt down. On eye level, I found our lock, now dull with age, hanging under a few other old rusting locks.
The lock had our initials R +P and the year 2007. I recognized the engraving. I hope you remember that lock, and now you can be sure of its location. We closed our eyes. You had the keys tight in your hand, and you threw them as far as you could into the Seine. No one would ever find them.
I thought we were in love, but after that trip I didn’t see much of you again. Of course our career paths got in the way. You enjoyed doing work that made you happy. You couldn’t understand why I was so desperate to succeed in the business world. I missed you every day, my workdays got longer, and my world began to change. Not that I didn’t love the idea of the philosopher and the businesswoman, but it was too much for you to handle. I didn’t deal well with your reluctance to be part of my world.
This time in Paris with Craig, my expectations were too high. First on my list after getting off the plane was to share a kiss on top of the Eiffel tower. Though Craig wanted to take a nap, he humored me. At the Eiffel tower, with the lights ablaze, a Japanese tourist took our picture. But Craig’s mind was on work; he ignored me while he read emails from his office.
Nor did Craig enjoy the Luxemburg gardens – the manicured grass, colorful flowerbeds, and the ponds. He made calls while we descended the steps of Montmartre. The beautiful street art, Sacré-Cœur, the delicate smile of the Mona Lisa didn’t move him. Paris was my city, but it wasn’t his. During dinner on Thursday evening I drank a whole bottle of red wine – holding the slim glass in both hands, feeling the liquid down my throat – spilling it on my mustard silk blouse. I don’t remember Craig’s reaction – he tried to stop me from ordering wine – but I imagine he was upset. Sometimes I preferred when he was upset because I could get him to look at me. After a long time together, he stopped looking at me because he knew I was there. He needed a little stir every once in a while, for when he did, I felt understood. The last thing I remember was getting in a cab some time after ten and passing out. I woke up after midnight unable to sleep. I got the brilliant idea to go to the Pont des Arts before Craig noticed I was gone.
Strange how things work out sometimes, I was on that bridge alone, engaged to someone else and holding on to our lock. I can’t lie. I wished I could have the key so I could open it. I couldn’t open the door to a new future with Craig until I had sealed off the past with you. I will stay with Craig because I made him a promise. He offers me stability, protection and that is important in the long run. I want to be with Craig, but on this trip I have been thinking about you a lot. I don’t know what you could have offered me because you didn’t stay around long enough for me to dream about it. Many times I tried to call you and never brought myself to make the call. I have to let go of the silly lock tradition and embrace the facts instead. After all, Craig is the one who put a ring on my finger. You will think is strange to hear from me because by the time you receive this letter I will be married.