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Getting Lost Was Only The Half Of It

As I sit on what has become my new favorite bench here at my local park just across the street from where I live, I take it all in. I fill my lungs up with as much Parisian air as I possibly can. My God, the park aroma will never get old. The fresh smell of cut grass brings back childhood memories of playing in the park without a care in the world. However, what I’m smelling now is completely foreign. Here I’m getting hints of the blooming flowers and freshly baked pain au chocolat from the local patisserie just on the corner. It’s springtime here in Paris and it is magical. The sun is out in all her glory, and the two of us exchange a sweet kiss.


I’m in a full-blown relationship with this damn park. I come out here to think about the life I ran away from and the life I’m currently living in a different country. This park has become my sanctuary, my place of reflection. It's where I come to think about the life I left behind and the life I want to create for myself. The peaceful surroundings and the gentle rustling of leaves provide the perfect place for me to let my thoughts wander and find clarity through the uncertainty.


When I decided to leave everything behind in Los Angeles and start fresh in a new place, it was a spontaneous choice, to say the least. I didn't have a plan and honestly, I still don’t. Talk about being in the heat of the moment. It all started with a good ‘ol Tinder right swipe. She was in LA on vacation and we agreed to meet in West Hollywood, The Abbey, of course. We hit it off immediately even though she didn’t know much English and I didn’t know a lick of French. We still managed to ignore the outside world and simply enjoyed each other with little to no words.


Next thing you know, I’m on a damn plane with as much as I could pack into two suitcases and a carry-on heading to Paris for my new life, new relationship, and new me. It was both exhilarating and nerve-wracking. I can admit that at the time I didn’t fully realize that I was floating towards uncharted territory in more ways than one. I would later discover aspects of myself I may not have fully understood before. Getting to a point where I can embrace the unknown for once and allow myself to be vulnerable. The decision to move was bold for sure, but this journey helped me grow in ways I never thought possible.


After what feels like the one-hundredth disagreement between her and me, I need space, and sitting at the park now, alone, is offering just that, space. But now I’m wondering why I’m sitting at my favorite park and not exploring the city. Staying on-brand with my decision-making, I impulsively request an Uber to drop me off in the only area I know off the top of my head, somewhere close to the Eiffel Tower because come on, why not? Trocadero it is.


In the Uber, a square located in the 16th Arrondissement, just across from the iconic Eiffel Tower driving down Voie Georges Pompidou along Le Seine, I just stare out the window looking at absolutely nothing, completely ignoring the view of the Eiffel Tower from the car window, which is strange because in passing I always teased it with a smile. I catch myself thinking about the times when I would treat myself out. Solo dates were something I would do regularly back home. Whether it was going for coffee, happy hour, a morning walk, or shopping, I simply loved spending time out in the world by myself. But here I notice I’m not doing it as much, and it’s out of fear. The fear of being lost captures my independently free-flowing mind. Listen, it’s one thing to get off on the wrong exit or type in the wrong address in the GPS. It’s something different when you get lost in a place where you are the outsider who is afraid of sounding crazy so you don’t go to any place that requires you to ask anything from anyone on the street with what un petit peu French you speak and understand. No, thank you.

In roughly fifteen minutes or so, we pull up to the curb of the destination.


Art by Kate Saxton

“Merci et bonjour-nee, monsieur.”


I unfasten my seatbelt and grab the door handle leaving the driver with the softest goodbye. Avoiding eye contact just in case he laughs at me and my attempt at speaking French. Stepping over the makeshift palettes on the ground where souvenirs are sold at a ridiculous price, I spot a little section that has my name written all over it. I find my perfect corner far off to the left-hand side. Settling and grounding in my domain, I circle back to the argument that drove me out here to begin with. My mind is replaying what she said to me over and over again in my head.


“This is your home now.”


I froze at that moment. She had shut me up, for real this time. I didn’t want to admit it then, and, honestly, I’m fighting to admit it now. But she’s right. Although my decision was spontaneous and slightly impulsive at best, I still made a decision. I chose to move here to the city of love. Yet, here I am having to force myself to deal with it like I haven’t been in worse situations. Why do I feel so incredibly disoriented? Am I not as grateful as I should be?


On one hand, I can’t help but pinch myself and ask, “Why do I deserve to call Paris my home now?”


On the other hand, I’m exactly where I need to be.


Still, everything about being here feels like a fantasy.


Like at any given moment the rug would be snatched from up under me and I would feel abandoned again. I have dealt with a lot of disappointment in my life and honestly can’t afford to add Paris to that list. Living here has unmasked deep hidden fears I never knew existed. One is connecting with people and forming new friendships and connections. Never in a million years would I think that I would struggle with that because I never had. If I could just have the support system I have back home then I wouldn’t feel so off.


“This is your home now.” It stung. Hearing it out loud threw me. She was right. This is my home now. Whether I’m ready to accept it or not. I’m here. In my first-ever relationship with a woman. Also, the first relationship in five years I might add. Interracial. International. Different native languages. The farthest I’ve ever been away from my family. What was I thinking? Did I expect this to be a walk in the park? I know the exact song I need to listen to right now. Amel Larriuex, “Try Your Wings.” Reaching for my headphones from my pocket, I plug each earbud into my ears and my thumb scrolls until it finds my feel-good playlist. Landing on said song I close my eyes. Taking in its decadent jazzy vibe and her soft sultry voice singing, “If you’ve never been in love and you’re longing for the happiness it brings, try your wings.”


After the third listen, there’s a little voice in the back of my mind saying, “Just go.”


So I do just that without a destination in mind this time. Parting away from Trocadero now, I begin to roam the enchanting streets of the walking city. Taking in the photographic alleyways, the iconic cobblestone streets, and hidden treasures. I’m captivated by the architecture, the boutiques, and the cozy cafe shops filled with people on the terrace. I’m truly taking my time and digesting all I see, hear, and feel around me. It’s starting to evoke strong emotions that I cannot explain. Every corner looks worthy of being captured and saved as a Parisian memory or love story in some way.

Art by Kate Saxton

Strolling through the streets during a sunset is probably one of the most romantic nights I’ve ever had with myself. You know, something similar to going on a first date where you don’t need to rely on words to communicate or understand each other. Something I was all too familiar with. Delving deeper into my thoughts and strolling through crosswalks and red lights. I realize my phone has died. My heart starts to beat out of my chest. What was supposed to be a little park break for some fresh air has turned into me being stuck on a street I can’t pronounce with a dead phone and no clue how to get home. I immediately rule out asking a lovely stranger to use their phone because, of course, I don’t have her number memorized anyway. I know there must be a metro station nearby.


Shit.


See, this is what I get for thinking I was ready for this. I make my way back to the main street. Looking around with an obvious but not too obvious panicked expression I squint around looking for metro signs, but I don’t see any. Okay, it’s happening. I’m lost. Yup, the very thing I’ve been avoiding it’s here. Alright, plan B. At this point, I’ve been standing in this same spot for far too long, and it’s time to figure this out. Just when I thought I couldn’t feel any more invisible here. I know for a fact I look like an outsider now just standing here. Stuck.


Now circling through my mind are all the ways I feel stuck. The once-familiar landmarks were now replaced by unfamiliar streets and tall buildings. Panic starts to creep in, and I feel the weight of being lost resting on my shoulders. Reality starts to set in, and a wave of anxiety washes over me. I feel a knot forming in my stomach, my heart is racing, and my palms become sweaty. The once enchanting city now seems like a maze I can’t escape from. I feel more alone than ever before.


Looking past my intrusive thoughts and reminding myself to take deep breaths, I gather up the courage and resume walking around in search of a metro station because that’s a solid start.


Working through a mild panic attack I say to myself, “Come on metro station, help a sistah out, please.”


After hopelessly strolling around for ten minutes that felt like hours I spotted the metro station! Ugh, thank God!

I’m damn there sprinting toward it with total relief. I’m walking faster than necessary and I hear a loud SNAP! Oh, my gosh! My sandal on the right foot just snapped. I can’t help but laugh at this point because I can’t make this up. Now, these damn sandals have been around the block, and found that today of all days would be the best time to snap on me. First, she does, and now my sandals. How did I get so lucky?


Scraping for change in my purse dragging my right foot down the stairs towards the ticket kiosk. Doing my best to hide the fact that I’m one slip away from being freaking barefoot, I realize this day is far from over. Finding a metro station after being lost, with a dead phone, and now a broken sandal was only fifty percent of the battle. Now, I have to figure out what damn subway to take. Is it line 6 or line 9? Aimlessly staring at the map. I clear my throat and turn to the right.


Speaking in the shakiest pitch I’ve ever heard leave my mouth, I say to the young woman next to me, “Pardon, bonjour, parlez-vous anglais?”


Nervous out of my freaking mind here I am asking if she speaks English not prepared at all for her response. I’m greeted with a smile.


She then says, “Bonjour, yes I do, enfait. Where are you trying to go?”


I then return the smile fighting back tears and reply, “Ma maison.”


Sometimes you have to be willing to take risks and think on your feet (literally) to achieve your goals. And finally, even amid fear and embarrassment, it's important to find humor and embrace the unexpected.


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