From the moment I left Paris on November 28th, 2017, I dreamed of the day I’d return. It wasn’t even a question of if; it was a matter of when. Luckily, hubby and I were riding the same train of thought and agreed we’d return same time the following year.
Arrangements were made, and excitement mounted as the months ticked down. Disaster struck mere weeks before the big trip: the airline we’d booked with tanked, hard. Like operations ceased overnight, check-in desks left unmanned, thousands of travelers stranded hard. I don’t believe in signs, but if I did, the demise of Primera Air was a doozy. (Sidebar: I also feel the need to disclose that I never received any sort of e-mail or notice from Primera Air about the situation. Were it not for the Google push notification that directed me to Primera’s obit, I never would have known that our flights were canceled.)
None too happy about the snafu, we rebooked with another airline at an extra expense. And a year to the day, after a full eight hours of work, we embarked on our journey to Charles de Gaulle. I left the house weepy about abandoning our fur daughter for a whole six days but nonetheless excited about our getaway.
Everything seemed swell, until we started taxiing for takeoff. Anxiety gripped me in a way I had never, ever felt on a plane. I clung to my husband for dear life, hyperventilating, tears pouring from my eyes as the wheels left the runway. Once we were airborne, the anxiety melted away as suddenly as it had flooded in, only reappearing for final descent and landing. And then again on the traffic-ridden Uber ride to Paris…
What was happening to me? Why was it happening? And why now, at the worst possible time? These were questions I’d be asking myself throughout our days in Paris and beyond.
We arrived too early to check in, so the hotel did all it could to make us comfortable while we waited for our room to be ready. A concierge led us to a beautiful, quiet lounge in the back where hubby and I promptly collapsed onto a couch. We’d had our entire first day planned out: an excursion to the top of the Eiffel Tower in the early afternoon, and then a Thanksgiving feast at Joe Allen. Given our exhaustion and my unexplained malaise, we canceled our dinner reservation.
Despite my misgivings, we tried to salvage our day and caught a cab to the Eiffel Tower. I quietly hyperventilated in the backseat, euros gripped in my hand so I could pay the driver and jump out of the vehicle as soon as humanly possible. We queued up at the base of the Iron Lady and were maybe ten minutes or so from catching the elevator when I turned to my hubby, guilt-ridden, and told him I couldn’t do it. I begged him to go without me, but in the end we trashed our tickets and left. Unable to even catch a cab, we made the fifty-minute walk back to our hotel.
I was heartbroken. I’d ruined our journey and our entire first day in Paris. I went to bed in tears, hoping that tomorrow would be better. And for the next couple of days, it was better. I had to choke down my first few bites of breakfast on Day 2, but once my brain registered how good it tasted and how badly I needed to refuel, the rest went down smoothly (my compliments to the chef at Dépôt Légal). We explored our arrondissement, visited Tuileries Gardens and the Louvre one day, then Palais Garnier and Galeries Lafayette and Printemps the next. Despite the unrelenting overcast conditions, we had a wonderful time. There were whispers of unrest around us, but we’d come at a time when the demonstrations were still peaceful; the riots came after we had already gone from the country.
On Day 4, the anxiety came back stronger than ever. It became so severe that it kept me trapped within a mile radius of the hotel, unable to ride in cabs or descend into the Metro. My memory’s shoddy at the best of times, but one of my clearest from that trip is rushing back to the hotel fighting back tears and railing at my husband, “I just want to get back home so that my life can go back to normal! If it can…” I never could have imagined that anyone could be so heartsick in this prettiest, dreamiest of cities.
Yet I spent most of my time in beautiful Paris crying. Soup is salty enough on its own, and I nearly added an extra helping of sodium to my kitsune udon when a Christmas carol played one night at Kunitoraya. I cried at the end of every day in our hotel room, dreading the Uber ride back to the airport that I was convinced I wouldn’t survive. But worse than the anxiety was the guilt that ate me up, having dragged my husband to another country only to make us both miserable and desperate to go home.
That guilt, a self-imposed demand to make the most of our time, managed to push me all the way out to the Petit Palais despite that I almost turned back halfway there. It also pushed me to set out toward an exhibit I’d been dying to visit at L’Atelier des Lumières, an hour’s walk away. Unfortunately, I only made it as far as Forum des Halles before terror took over and steered me back toward the Louvre district. It seemed guilt could only push me so far, and when that failed, disappointment stepped in all too readily.
The sun came out on our final day, which alleviated my mood a bit. Makes sense: I didn’t know it at the time, but my Vitamin D levels were critically low and sunlight is the best source of said vitamin. So hubby and I set out to bask in the sunlight, keeping to our arrondissement but enjoying the sights nonetheless. We finally got to explore the carnival that had occupied a good portion of Tuileries since our arrival.
The sun set. We took dinner at our hotel’s restaurant, but I barely managed to eat half of my croque monsieur. We readied our luggage for our departure the following morning and went to bed. And I laid there, wide awake for seven hours until our alarms went off the following morning. We showered, dressed, and headed down to the lobby to check out. And then the moment I’d been dreading for days finally came: an Uber pulled up the curb to pick us up and deliver us to Charles de Gaulle.
Terrified, I hunkered down in the backseat and glued my eyes to my phone, forcing myself to focus on the episode of The Big Bang Theory I had downloaded the night before in preparation for this ride. It was enough; we made it to the airport with no incident.
The plane ride back was pretty much a repeat of the plane ride there: anxiety on the way up and the way down with a whole lot of nothing in between. Customs and one final Uber ride, and I was finally home.
Too bad anxiety wasn’t done with me.
To be continued.
>> Act Two: Hell >> Act Three: …And Back Again
If you or someone you know needs help, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1 800-273-TALK (8255) or through chat available 24/7. https://www.usa.gov/features/recognize-the-signs-of-suicide-and-find-help
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