“We’ll always have Paris.” —Humphrey Bogart, Casablanca
It was like being in a movie—something so utterly and completely unreal that it makes you feel like you’re constantly hallucinating. I remember talking about him to friends and wanting to slap myself and wake up from the dream I was having.
I met Pierre in Paris’s Café de Flore, located along the scenic Boulevard St. Germain. He was exactly what I’d expected for a Frenchman: tall, dark, impeccably dressed, and impressively articulate about everything we discussed. From the way he described the simple pleasure in drinking white wine accompanied with olives to all of the places in the world he had visited, I fell in love with every word he muttered on that cold March night. From that moment on, I fell head first into a relationship with Pierre, and, reflecting back on it now, it was the most exciting thing that had thus far happened in my life.
It was my junior year abroad during college, and I honestly hadn’t planned on meeting anybody serious, but then again first loves can never be foreseen. Pierre and I were both aware of the fact that I’d have to return to New York to finish school, yet we decided to embark upon a relationship only filled with moments of pleasure, and to not even dare imagine a future together. And so we traveled—to Rome, Amsterdam, Provence, and Morocco. We ate sumptuous meals in restaurants, drank wine, and would always top off dessert with a coffee and cigarette. On weekend mornings, he would cook me breakfast (scrambled eggs, tartines with fresh butter, and sautéed mushrooms), and we’d sit at his kitchen table looking onto all of Paris, with the sunlight delicately filtering in through large antique windows.
School ended, and we went on summer vacation together, only to be followed by my heartbreaking return to the U.S. We didn’t know what would happen as far as our relationship was concerned; he continuously told me that I was “free” to do whatever I wanted, but I couldn’t let go of what I left behind in Paris. Instead of waking up and calmly reading the morning newspaper with a cup of coffee, I’d frantically rush to my laptop to log onto Skype, anxiously hoping with everything I had that’d he’d be online.
I wouldn’t advise having a long-distance relationship to anyone, but I have to admit that ours was at least marked by the kind of dreamy, unreal romanticism that characterized our time together in Paris. He came to New York once, and it was four days of pure lovers’ bliss. I went to Paris three times. At one point, I impulsively bought a plane ticket to Prague to be with him on a business trip. And in between all of these costly sojourns, I was constantly telling him what I was doing in New York, and nostalgically remembering Paris whenever his face would appear in a blurry video on my computer screen.
Senior year passed, and the time came when I had to decide whether to return to Paris to be with Pierre, or to take advantage of a professional opportunity in New York that seemed too good to be true. My heart said one thing, but my rational mind said another. Paris was mornings spent in bed, lingering dinners, and afternoons spent slowly savoring an espresso on the terrace of a café. In contrast, New York appeared to be packed subway cars, grey skyscrapers, and on-the-go meals.
I knew that the dream I naïvely associated with Paris wasn’t necessarily real, and even if it was, it couldn’t last forever. Paris could have its big city gloom as well: the Parisian metro was capable of being packed, and winters there can be grayer and bleaker than those in New York. What’s more, I had my dream job at my fingertips—something that most people I graduated with were unfortunately not able to say.
As difficult as it was, I said goodbye to the idea of a glamorous, exciting life in Paris, and goodbye to Pierre. Gone was the possibility of spending breezy spring nights strolling cobblestone streets, arm-in-arm with my love. Instead, my days were defined by early morning alarm clocks and stressful hours spent in front of a computer monitor. I haven’t regretted my decision, however. I truly love my work.
During my long morning commute to the office, I’m normally one of the few without earphones drowning out the surrounding noise, or a newspaper under my nose. I usually sit in silence, thinking about what my day is going to bring me. I often use that time to think about what my life would have been like in Paris. Would I have stayed with Pierre? Would I have gone back to school, or would I have found a job? Would the love that I felt for him have lasted through the drudgery of real, adult life, without all of the trips, restaurants, and wine? I suppose there’s no way to truly know.
The uncertainty of the what-could-have-been haunts me every day.