It was love at first sight. For a year we inhabited one another, left marks. A handprint in wet cement, a scar on a palm.
Selfish lovers, we took what we needed. Paris got my heart, and I got guts.
On the stroke of midnight in the year 2000, the Eiffel tower lit up with twenty thousand impossibly bright and glittering bulbs, marking a new millennium for all, and a new life for me.
I stood with friends, braced against an endless flow of shivering, mud spattered, tipsy, reeling revellers; determined not to be swept away from that perfect moment. I'd dreamt my whole life of moving to Paris and the sparkling edifice above was a perfect representation of the effervescent joy inside me. I'd actually done it.
I gained an education in many ways that year. Living with two men (my French boyfriend and his best friend) in a foreign country and operating in a second language meant I had to evolve, adjust, be bold. The boys could not sit still, not for one second. Every weekend we went on excursions and during the week we’d meet up at bars, restaurants or friends’ houses after work, and eat and drink the night away.
Just getting around, however, was the biggest adventure of all.
Rollerblading was a huge trend back then. Parisians were “rolling” everywhere so the boys insisted that we each buy a pair. Straight out of the box, to my terror, they told me we had to remove the brakes. Everybody was doing it and, as my boyfriend argued, it was much more prudent for me to learn the "emergency stop" maneuver that I could control, rather than rely on an extraneous piece of plastic.
I guess there was wisdom in that… but the trick to the emergency stop was that you had to be going fast to employ it. There was no in-between. It was just listen, practice the end position, and then go like hell and hope it all worked. The metaphor for life was not lost on me. I'd just made the giant leap of moving to Paris from the security of home, and I could do this too.
On the sidewalk and through traffic we zoomed. There were no bike lanes. To descend hills, you did a low, skidding slalom, just like downhill skiing. To conquer cobblestones, you needed speed. We were reckless, rolling sober to bars and rolling drunk back home (until my boyfriend wrapped himself around a pole just hard enough to make us smarten up).
Feeling intimidated was a big part my personality but I became hardened to angry drivers and insult-slinging pedestrians. There was no official place for us rollers, so we were forced to make our own pathways. I could moonwalk and pirouette on my blades, and leap small obstacles. We completed the five-hour rollerblade marathon with thousands of other brave souls all the way from Paris to Versailles. I rolled in jeans with a guidebook in hand, and I rolled in dresses with heels in my handbag.
I’ve gone back to my beloved Paris a couple of times since that magical year. We've both changed, but the butterflies are still there. Revisiting old haunts, I see the ghost of a girl zigzagging down boulevards and bumping along side streets looking both lost and found at the same time. She's so free that I wonder- was that really ever me? I glance down to check.
Yup. I never put the brakes back on.