Paris, July 9th, 8:34 AM
Who told you?
That’s the thought running through my mind as the Métro Line 1 barrels towards La Défense. It’s about 95 degrees underground. Humid. Western Europe is melting in an inferno of a heat wave. The sun is barely up, but it’s already hot. The sweat is trickling down my back, because of the temperature, and not for any other reason.
My sister is with us on her first trip abroad. I’ve shoved my camera into her hands a few times so far, hoping that she’ll get the hang of it. I compulsively mention to her, over and over, that it’s better to take too many pictures than too few, that it’s okay to get almost too close, and that if anything important should happen, she shouldn’t stop taking pictures– no matter what happens.
You’ve been eerily sweet the past few days, and I didn’t even have to convince you to dress up this morning when I told you we were visiting the Basilique du Sacre Coeur in Montmartre. You’re wearing a cute green dress that matches the sweater and shirt I put on. Photogenic. Suspicious.
You agreed not to take your massive purse today, full of makeup and hundreds of napkins from coffee shops on three continents, opting for a small clutch. That’s unlike you. You know. The surprise is already ruined, and you’re probably watching my every move, storing it all away to tease me about someday. Well, I’m not laughing. If you know, at least have the decency to put me out of my misery.
The Metro groans to a halt at Concorde, and we join the crush of commuters exiting the train, heading to the Line 12 for our train change. My head swivels right and left and I hold my bag against and in front of me, trying to stay aware of everyone around me. I’ve never been pick-pocketed. I’ve spent tons of time in the city, and I normally don’t worry at all.
Please God, don’t let today be the day that someone gets their hand into my camera bag.
Paris, July 9th, 8:40 AM
I’m irritated, because I know I’m not talking to someone, but I’m not sure who. Am I mad at your sister, my sister, your best friend, or your dad? Never mind, I’m just temporarily not talking to all of them. I’ll sort it out later.
I’ve been counting down the stops. Madeleine. Saint-Lazare. Trinité-d’Estienne d’Orves. Notre-Dame-de-Lorette. Saint-Georges. Pigalle.
Paris, July 9th, 8:54 AM
Abbesses is a little station, and it’s deep underground. There are a lot of stairs. I know this, but it’s still way, way more than I expected. We climb about 300 steps before we hear the street noise and begin to feel the outside air blowing through the station.
I’m full of adrenaline, and climbing like some sort of arachnoid maniac. You and my sister are lagging behind. What is taking everyone so damn long? We emerge, out of breath, on the street. I’m sure that everything is ruined. I’m sweating, you’re sweating, everyone is panting like a puffed-up blowfish, I can’t feel my legs, and some son of a bitch who I am definitely not talking to already ruined it for you anyway!
Paris, July 9th, 8:58 AM
“Hey, want to see something cool?”
That’s what I say to you with feigned nonchalance, and you look at me with your already-knowing eyes and play along. Sure, you say, with studied indifference. You’ve obviously been practicing.
I guide you over to the little park next to the metro station. It’s a tiny thing, really. By Parisian standards, it’s a postage stamp of a green space. I try to get the swinging gate to open, finding that it’s one of those three-phase gates that you must first push, then pull, and finally push again before it gives up and grants you entry. I explain that this little park contains Le mur des je t’aime, a wall inscribed with the words “I Love You” in over three hundred languages. “Oh, cool,” you casually remark as you surely notice my hand shaking as I struggle with the gate.
We walk towards the wall and I catch sight of two young girls sitting on a park bench in front of the wall.
Well, that’s just great. I’m sweating, you’re sweating, everyone is panting like a puffed-up blowfish, I can’t feel my legs, some son of a bitch who I am definitely not talking to has ruined it for you anyway, you’re completely humoring me, and these two selfish little twits are taking up a bench that I specifically got up early to get to first.
Improvise, adapt, overcome. That’s what the Marines say. If we just stand right in front of them taking pictures, surely it’ll be too awkward to stick around, right? I hand my camera bag to my sister and ask her to take some pictures for us, surreptitiously slipping my hand in at the last second to grab something.
My sister starts to take a few pictures. Close up. Far away. Really close up. Really far away. She snaps picture after picture, and it becomes painfully clear that the only person feeling awkward and wanting to leave the park is me.
Improvise. Adapt. Overcome.
Paris, July 9th, 9:00 AM
I turn to you, my sister still merrily clicking away, and say, “So.”
Out of the corner of my eye, I see the two park crashers staring at us shamelessly. When will those two crazy bitches leave? I turn you slightly to the right, putting you between us, so that I can concentrate.
I take both of your hands in mine, and I step back and kneel down. I look up at you and try to remember all the important things I had to say.
I love you more than anything. You are the best part of my life, and my very favorite person. You are my family and my future. I love you in all of these languages, and every other language besides. We’ve been all over the world together, and though I would visit almost anywhere, all of those places would be empty if you weren’t there with me.
Would you please, please be a part of the rest of my life? Will you marry me?
California, July 5th, 10:00 AM
I arrive at your Dad’s house on Sunday morning, hoping that he has someone to watch your nephews so that we can get out for a few minutes. I knock on the door and he comes to meet me in his usual untucked white T-shirt.
I tell him that since we’re leaving for Paris tomorrow, you want to see him and visit your mom. You’re waiting there, I say, and you wanted me to pick him up and meet you before work.
He buys it.
Your sister mentions something about joining us while your dad puts his shoes on, but I pull her aside and ask her to stay at home. This needs to be between him and I. We get into the car and drive over to the cemetery to visit your mama.
When we arrive, we walk over to see her, and I make excuses for your absence. I’m sure you’ll be here soon– you must be running late. I brought flowers; a couple dozen roses. We put the red ones in the vase for your mom, share the white ones with the rest of your family, and sit in the sun.
I confess to your dad that I wasn’t being completely honest. You’re not coming, but I needed to get him alone. I had imagined asking your parents for their blessing many times, but I never envisioned it like this. Still, it seemed right to ask you both, and that’s what I’m here to do.
I tell your dad all of this, and that I love you like I’ve never loved anyone. He doesn’t know it, but I wouldn’t take no for an answer anyway. I would mean so much to me to have his blessing.
He nods, and tells me that I have it.
Paris, July 9th, 9:01 AM
As I speak, I see your lower lip quivering, and then I see the tears start to roll down your cheeks. In a heartbeat, I look in your eyes and realize that I’ve been acting crazy all along. You never knew. You weren’t being pleasant and kind and beautiful and accommodating because you knew what was coming. You were just being who you are. All of a sudden it’s not so hot any more, and I don’t care that we have an audience, and I guess I’m talking to everyone again. I still can’t feel my legs.
Click. Click. Time speeds up again, and my sister continues to take pictures. I finish what I have to say. I look up at you questioningly.
You purse your lips together for a second. You take a deep breath, and you answer.