It was a whirlwind. You had never before felt so rushed to move on. Most of your life had been relatively planned out, but now here you were on a plane once more headed back to France. You could have been tossed about in the hold of a rudderless ship for how you felt at the moment. The house, the farm, the horses, they were holding you there. They were the anchor holding you in place, not allowing you to reach out and explore the life you’ve been given.

But now as you flew above the turbulent seas of the North Atlantic you felt more fearful than ever before. “What were you going to do? What was the plan Alcina?” you kept thinking to yourself. Of course the hope was you could just show up on Leon’s doorstep and you’d be taken in no questions asked, but how could you expect that? It’s one thing to have a guest over for a few weeks, but it’s another thing altogether to suddenly have a new roommate. One that doesn’t have a job. One that doesn’t have a plan. “Oh God what have I done?!” you thought to yourself and the butterflies of panic expanded in your stomach making you feel nauseated. You hadn’t looked before you leaped and now you were falling. Turning away from the window you gently placed your head back on the head rest and closed your eyes tightly, trying to push away the dread with sleep that just wouldn’t come.

“I’m scared daddy!”

“Don’t be pumpkin…..I’ll catch you.” your father’s reassuring words. You had climbed up a tree on one corner of the property during a game of hide and seek and had become too fearful to get down. Your father stood at the base of the tree with arms outstretched waiting for you to drop. It looked like it was a ten story fall to your 5 year old eyes. You were terrified. “Don’t worry pumpkin,” he cooed “I’m here for you. Just let go, and daddy will catch you.”

You remember hugging the branch so tight. Feeling it sway slightly in the cool spring breeze. The bark was smooth and leathery as young branches often are. You clamped your eyes shut, to afraid to see the reality of your situation. But your father kept you calm, he reassured you with softly spoken words of encouragement. “It’s alright honey. You can let go. It’ll be fine. Just…..let go…”

You wiped a tear from your face and looked out of the plane into the clouds below barely visible but for the moonlight.

The plane was full of sleeping passengers. With the lights dimmed down and the soft drone of the jet engines bathing the cabin in a calming wash of white noise, most fell asleep less than an hour after take off. Flight attendants walked up and down the isles quietly whispering to the few passengers that were awake, handing them small drinks or little snacks. You had already nibbled through your packet of pretzels and were now sipping slowly on a cup of ginger ale. Sleep was avoiding you.

In an ideal world you would arrive in Paris, be greeted by your friends and whisked away on another adventure in their arms. But we don’t exist in an ideal world and you certainly couldn’t live on dreams and fairy tales. Sure you could likely get a job as a waitress again, but to what end? Then what? Do you want to be a waitress forever? The questions kept coming like an unrelenting tide. You didn’t finish university, how were you going to find a good job without a diploma of any sorts. What job did you even want to do? How do you plan for the rest of your life when you don’t even know what awaits your next step? What if Leon and Celine don’t have room for you at the studio? Where are you going to live? How are you going to afford it? “Fuck” you muttered to yourself, “Fuck fuck fuuuuuuuuck.”

The passenger next to you slowly opened his eyes and turned to you with a look of utter exhaustion. “You…..you ok?” he mumbled, alternating between blinking and opening his eyes widely attempting to focus on your face.

“Yes….well…no…but….yes…I guess.” you spluttered. You looked at the man, his collar was twisted and his posture a chiropractor’s nightmare. “It’s just……have you ever made a rash decision that could possibly doom the rest of your life?”

He smirked, “Yep.” and pointed to his ring finger which was adorned with a thick gold ring that squeezed the flesh of his stubby digit tightly. “So I married her and didn’t look back” he chuckled. The woman next to him opened her eyes and frowned as it was now apparent she was the rash decision in this story. You smiled and nodded but in truth you weren’t in the mood to hear some couple recount their tale of romance. The man saw through your mask, however, and straightened up, “Look….you’re on your way to Paris. How could any decision that lands you in Paris be bad?”

You tilted your head at him and scowled. He was on a trip with his wife, likely a vacation. Two weeks in a foreign country to return with forgettable anecdotes and useless trinkets. How could he understand. “I sold my parent’s house, gave away my horses, packed all my belongings worth keeping and now I’m moving to Paris. I have no job waiting. I have no place to stay. I know two people in the city, and that is all. I’m on my own….and….I’m fucking scared. Ok?”

The couple looked at each other for a moment then looked back at you wordlessly. After a moment of silence the man opened his mouth, closed it, then opened it once more to mutter, “Uh..so…..sorry?” he shrugged.

You sighed and dropped your head, “No I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have blown up on you like that. I’m just sort of freaking out right now.” you admitted.

His wife leaned over and patted your hand. “Look hun, it’ll be fine. You’re young. You’ve got your whole life ahead of you and you’re going to be in Paris soon. Sure it’ll be hard, and maybe you won’t get everything you dreamed but…” She looked at her husband then back to you in that smug I know better look, “…it’s Paris! I mean…come on!” She laughed but you didn’t laugh a bit. Actually you would have rather punched her in her smug pudgy face.

How could she possibly understand what you were going through? The contents of your life were reduced to two large suitcases and a carry on. This suburban housewife probably had just as much luggage for her two week vacation. You had walked away from everything you’d ever known and stepped onto this plane with the hope that tomorrow will have more answers than today. How could she fathom what fears you had or trials you had looming in front of you. “I need a hug.” you thought to yourself and clutched your arms tight to your body leaning over to the window again, disengaging yourself from the conversation. You’d be on the ground in 4 hours, lost and alone. With your eyes shut you took in a deep breath and prayed that sleep would come.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

After Sam’s party I made my way back home to my empty condo. It felt like home, but so cold and quiet. Perhaps above all else it was empty. There were no knick-knacks displayed prominently. No pictures or trophies. The condo was clean and well kept but felt nearly sterile. After my divorce I had spent evenings and weekends clearing unneeded junk. Possessions I didn’t use. Pictures I didn’t care for. I had read a quote one day at work and it became my mantra for the next 7 months. Epictetus said, “Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants.” I decided that the things in my life were holding me down. Your possessions end up possessing you. In reality it was more about avoiding the pain then it was clearing the clutter.

I had a storage space that I shared with my ex. We’d place items there that were considered communal that we didn’t want. I guess we had decided that would be easier than dealing with each other face to face. Every time I thought I had cleared out the last of it more would show up. More stuff. More reminders of the perfect but false life I had before. What the hell happened to us anyways? We were in love. I thought we were at least. Where did it go wrong? How did we manage to obliterate the relationship so completely?

Maybe we spent so much time pretending to be the people we thought the other wanted that we lost each other in the process. I held back desires and needs for fear of upsetting her. She held back objections and concerns for fear of upsetting me. In the end we were just two very unhappy people with false masks of happiness adorning our depressed lives. Then one day it’s just too much. It’s too tiring to put the mask on. It slips and falls and we see each other as the strangers we truly are.

Why do we pretend to be more than we are, better than we are, smarter than we are. We dress in clothes to make us look better. We put on makeup to make us prettier. Cologne to make us smell better. We lie from the moment we meet.

I laid in bed and stared up at the blank cold ceiling as my mind wandered to thoughts of where you might be tonight. I couldn’t put my finger on what was so enthralling about you. Was it just the circumstances in which we met, or was there something else? I sighed to myself and decided for the first of numerous times to let the memory of you slip away. I drifted off to a dreamless sleep.

What felt like only moments later I was rudely awakened by the gaudy sound of a poorly chosen ringtone. The gravel of sleep still freshly crumbling in my throat I croaked out a response as best as I could, “Hell…..hello?” I mumbled into the device blinking my eyes widely and looking across the room to the clock on my nightstand. Blurred vision momentarily crystallized and I could see it was already half past 11am.

“Zale.” came the recognizably stern female voice I was accustomed to. “You up yet?”

“Uh…” I grunted and stifled a yawn before responding, “Ya….sure…why?”

“Are you alone?” she asked an air of hope dressing up the question lightly. Hope for which answer I wasn’t too sure.

“Uh…” I looked around the room for some reason and found that indeed I was alone as I was the night before, “Ya….yep…just me….why?”

A protracted sigh filled my ears as Sam exhaled in exasperation. “Why?”

I blinked again and rolled my shoulders before caulking my head to each side pushing the sleep out of my body. Standing I answered with more confidence as my brain had completed its boot up check and the operating system running my body verified all systems were running as expected. “I just…wasn’t feeling it last night.”

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” Sam retorted. I could almost see her rolling her eyes through the tone in her voice.

“I don’t know, I just….I didn’t feel like going through the whole song and dance.” I shook my head and started off to the balcony. Nothing woke me up faster than the early spring air whisking over my naked skin. As I reached the door I scowled as I recalled the most memorable event of the night. “What the hell was going on with you last night by the way?”

Sam laughed, “Oh….that was my birthday present.”

“Which? The blonde dude or the black haired dude?” I chuckled, finding myself surprisingly comfortable with the situation and willing to hear more details.

“The blonde…..the black haired guy with the ridiculous cock is my regular fun friend.” she giggled, clearly enjoying the chance to share this side of herself with a surprised co-worker.

“Ah….wait…what?” I bumbled, “Regular fun friend?” I stood on the balcony of my condo in shock. “Really?”

Sam laughed, “Yes, really.”

“And your husband is ok with that?”

“He actually is the one that first suggested it.”

“Seriously?” I laughed, mostly out of surprise. The arrangement was so foreign to my understanding of what marriage was about. “How exactly did that happen?”

“I’ll tell you some other time.” she said abruptly. “We’re heading to brunch now.” There was a small pause and then she said quickly, “Don’t tell anyone about last night ok? I obviously can’t have that be public knowledge at work.”

I nodded and replied, “Of course.”

“Kay, talk to you later Zale. Maybe we’ll hang out later tonight if you’re interested.”

“Sure give me a shout later. Have a great brunch Sam, and tell Greg thanks for the jersey, the party was awesome.”

She laughed, “Ya, Greg knows how to throw a good party. Ok gotta run bye!” and there was an abrupt click as she hung up the phone.

I looked at my phone and made sure it was off before placing it down beside me on my patio table. I looked out over the city and took a big breath of the cool air deep into my lungs. I held it there for a bit before relaxing and releasing it into the atmosphere watching the cloud of vapor sublimate into a cloud in front of my face. As it quickly dissipated my view of the building across from mine became clear once more. Almost directly level with my view I saw a woman with long black hair standing on her balcony looking back at me. She was wearing a large dress shirt and holding on to a white coffee cup. As she brought it up to her lips she made eye contact with me and released the cup with one hand to allow the other the wave at me. I waved back and smiled realizing all at once that I was still very much naked. What a way to start the day.

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