The morning dawned early and clear over the grey cobbled streets of Paris. Rosy golden sunlight crept over the tops of sleepy Parisian eaves, as I lay awake in my bunk, aware of the cold chill coming through my open windows. The pleasant noises of a city just were beginning to wake filtered through those windows. However, I had been woken up precisely at 6:55 a.m. not by those sounds, but by my iPhone softly playing one of my favorite folk songs, a tune laced with what I thought were the echoes of the most beautiful sorrow. A few minutes passed as I took in the beautiful chorus of a Paris morning, a smile reaching all the way down into my soul. My alarm suddenly sounded again, its biting yell worming its way through the haze of sleepiness coating my mind. Relinquishing any hopes of more sleep, I rolled over to shut my phone off. The time now read 7:00 a.m.
My sister Eryn stirred in the bunk above me, making the entire bunk sway and creak with a seemingly ancient groan. I slowly rose from my bed, shivering as I pushed aside my cozy blankets. Goosebumps stood sentry on my arms and legs as I ambled over to our small table in front of our tall, French-style windows. Truly, it was a sad little black folding table with brightly colored plastic stools, one grape purple and one bright red, but to me it had begun to stand for so much more. That table had quickly become my favorite place in the entire hostel. I’d lost track of how many times I’d sat down at that table in our wonderfully dinky little room and stared out at the narrow streets, savoring just being in the City of Light. I’d never been so far away from home before.
Thunk! I was broken out of my dreaming. Time and place came back to me as I turned to see Eryn jumping off of the bunk bed’s ladder.
“Morning!” I said with honey in my voice. She threw me a sort of good-hearted, pained grimace.
“How are you?” I tried again.
She gave a quiet chuckle and smiled, saying, “I cannot believe that you’re making me get up this early to go do this.”
“But it’ll be fantastic!” I promised.
“But it’s soooooo early, Abby,” she laughingly complained with a twinkle in her eye. “You really wanna do this? Like, it’s something that will break your heart if we don’t?”
“Yes!” I declared dramatically. “My heart will shatter into a million bloody fragments if we don’t!” I put a hand to my forehead and gave my best Oscar-winning sigh. Eryn shook her head and gave a good-natured groan.
“Hey,” I said, “Remember, it’s an experience.”
Her eyes started to glow. Got ya! I knew that my sister valued experiences above all else. The chance to experience something brand new always piqued her attention. Defeated, she grinned and rolled her eyes. “It’s a good thing I love you,” she said as she quickly grabbed her towel and clothes, heading off to lay claim to the bathroom before another hosteller could take it.
“Love you, toooooo,” I called out after her, turning my attention back to the waking city just outside of my window. Still mesmerized by its beauty, I happily sighed and reached for my clothes and makeup, relishing the day to come.
Twenty minutes later, dressed and freshly perfumed, we headed downstairs, grabbed croissants, said goodbye to the hostel cat, and flew out onto the street. The city welcomed us with open arms, calling out to us to come and see all of the little treasures hidden in her depths. Alas, time had a different plan.
“Eryn, it’s 7:23. It starts at 8…think they’ll let us in if we’re late?”
“I would hope so!” she giggled.
I tried to laugh along with her, but I couldn’t help but think about how crushed I’d be if we didn’t make it. We were still at least a half-hour metro ride away from our destination, after all. I walked faster, feeling the icy fingers of the cold stabbing through my thin sweater. My god, it felt like Christmas was in the air! There was a certain magic to this feeling, and I did indeed feel as though I was a child on Christmas morning. The feeling of the clock running down, however, lingered in my mind and propelled me forward.
We hurried through the streets to the metro, joining the friendly bustle of the city. We walked out of our home neighborhood, Montmartre: the historic artists’ district. We passed Parisians outside of warm cafes and bakeries, sipping espresso and munching pastries. We saw small grocery stores opening and women on their way to do their daily shopping. We saw young professionals, smartly dressed and braced for the cold, hurrying to work. Kids riding bikes passed us on their way to school, and cars cruised down narrow streets. People called out to each other, and friends walked the streets gossiping,
“Bonjour! Comment allez-vous?”
“Bienvenue dans ma boutique!”
“Alores je lui ai dit…”
The city was alive and dressed in the beautiful array of the colors of her people.
We eventually reached the metro and jumped down the stairs into the relative warmth of the subway-tiled tunnels. We giggled and chattered while we tried to figure out how to get tickets from the bright purple ticket machines. We plotted our route on the complex metro lines, and I kept tabs on the time. Eryn had been to Paris before, so I mostly let her handle it, letting myself be swept away by the beautiful, colloquial, and melodic French being spoken all around me by beautiful Parisians. I drank it all in greedily.
Eryn figured out the ticketing machine, and we went on our way, hopping from subway to subway in a race against time. Baby blue line to pink line, pink line to sun yellow line. Hurry hurry hurry. Faster faster faster! The tunnels seemed never ending.
We finally ended our journey on the yellow line. I glanced at my phone. 7:50. “Aghhh, Eryn! It’s 7:50!”
“Okay.” She laughed. “Don’t sweat it.”
We rushed out of our metro car, ran up the metro stairs, and found ourselves in a square in an older and quainter part of town. We quickly consulted our map, and it took us a little while to orient ourselves. Time: 7:55 a.m.
Walk faster. Walk faster. HURRY! No other thoughts but those. We speed-walked past tourists, small French soap shops, and more grocers. Jeweled heaps of sublime oranges, ruby apples, and emerald pears lined the streets. Keep going, keep going! The moments were speeding by me, wrapped up and laced with obsession and the mind. Yet, as we ran toward our destination, it suddenly hit me.
I am in Paris.
I am in Paris.
The me who grew so depressed at the thought of being stuck in my little town, George Bailey-style. The me who my well-meaning parents thought needed to be protected from the world at all costs (my father had even gone so far as to show me Taken before I left!). The neurotic me. The obsessive me. The me who needed to control it all. The me who was so sheltered and seemingly helpless. The me who had lusted after the dream of traveling the world.
I had traveled on my first international flight all by myself to get here. I had found Eryn, who was already in Europe, all on my own in a land where I did not speak the language. I had navigated both the complex metro system and Paris herself. I had planned this trip to Paris all on my own. I did all of that. Me. All to fulfill a dream.
I was not helpless. I was not dependent⎯at least, not as dependent as my parents had led me to believe I was. I was going places. I was here, despite everything, or rather in spite of it. I was enough…and I was in Paris. Running through the streets and running toward another dream. So why was I so worried about trying to be on time to a dream?
I found myself while running through the narrow streets of Paris. I let go of the conscious and surrendered to the moment. I let go of worry and just was. I forgot the clock and time itself…and it was one of the most spiritual moments of my life. I found myself while sitting beside those windows back at our hostel. I found myself while line hopping in the metro. I found myself while listening to the harmony of a foreign language.
Those were all the real me. The real me was wantonly running across a bridge over the murky Seine at 8:00 a.m., every fiber of my being screaming with joy. The real me was pausing to take a picture of that quiet, romantic river as the bells of a nearby church gravely tolled. The real me was outrunning the lies of helplessness and dependence, flying out of their midst on winged soul. The real me was late, beautifully late, and that was okay. The real me was running alongside my sister, whom I dearly loved. The real me was running past a sunken church garden, gloriously almost out of breath. The real me was jogging into the cobbled square just outside of Notre Dame, giggling and dodging people as I went. The real me was passing through her timeworn doors with my kindred soul, hearing the soft whispers of the just-begun Mass that graciously awaited our presence.
The time? It didn’t matter.
Abigail Johnson, of Delaware, is a gap year student with OneLife Institute in Central, South Carolina. A creative soul, dreams of travel and exotic adventure are never far from her mind. She spends her days baring her soul on the stage, scribbling out notes for a future novel, and devouring new reads with a hot mug of her favorite green tea by her side.
Delmarva Review is a literary journal of national scope, with regional roots. The nonprofit review publishes compelling new fiction, nonfiction, and poetry from authors within the region and beyond. It is supported by individual contributions and a grant from the Talbot County Arts Council with funds from the Maryland State Arts Council. For copies and information, visit the website: DelmarvaReview.org.