Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Seven Letters: The Final Post

New to Seven Letters? Start here.

So this series of posts started because Tracey and I were reminiscing about the past, and, more specifically, our time in Paris. Tracey, who had read Jean-Luc's letters, had an idea: “We should create a web site with the most beautiful love letters and post Jean-Luc’s. And then people can submit their own letters to us and we’ll judge their worthiness. His letters will set the bar.”
I got back home that night and pulled the letters out of their box. After reading them, I decided Tracey’s idea would cheapen them. But I wanted to do something. I had to.
Twenty years late, I decided to write Jean-Luc back. Along with an email, I sent him a link to this blog – the ultimate seven post apology. Yes, this was planned since the beginning. (Thanks to Google, he was very easy to find. Seriously, how many French rocket scientists do you know?) My letter was brief, and not poetic like his, but I covered all the basics, namely why I never wrote him back.
I figured his response could go one of four ways:
a) He’d never write back, which would be the obvious answer
b) He’d be angry and I’d receive a scathing message
c) I would have sent my correspondence to an old email address
d) He’d actually write back.
And, of course, it crossed my mind that there was the possibility that he’d forgotten about me completely...
I held my breath.

On Friday morning, I hit the send button. I didn’t get a response on Saturday, Sunday, or Monday. But yesterday, the answer was written. Just like in Slumdog Millionaire his answer was d. And he wasn’t angry at all. He was happy and honored and flattered – and, naturally, a little flipped out.
I was stunned.
Still am.
Anyway, he’s been reading the posts right alongside you. And he’s accepted my apology with an open heart, doesn’t even blame me. I'd suffered the effects of the “Train Station Syndrome,” he said.
To the point: The past makes us who we are. You can’t live your life with regret, and you have to open your heart and take risks. Funny, how it just takes some of us longer to discover this.
NOTE: Prior to finding my passion for writing two years ago, I never wrote anything that would convey my emotions, my heart, my soul. Not even a letter. So it should come as no surprise that I write about mutant kids looking for love and acceptance, or a troubled girl whose inner goddess is unleashed – among other recurring themes.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Seven Letters: Part Seven

P.S. Forgive my English
~from letters one, three, and six
Wait. What? And double huh? If you’ve read any of Jean-Luc’s poetic prose from the excerpts I’ve posted, you’d know he had no reason to apologize. For anything.
It’s me. I’m the one that needed, no needs, to apologize.

After Tracey and I jaunted around Europe, I returned to school in August to find five of the seven letters waiting for me. I remember sitting on the front steps of my sorority house, sorting the letters by the postmarked date. At first, I was overjoyed. But then, one by one, I opened the envelopes and read the sixteen or so pages of beautifully words.
Words, I felt, I didn’t deserve.
Unknown to Jean-Luc, the confident girl he met in Paris was plagued with insecurities for reasons unknown to him. In the past, once somebody tried to get too close me, brick by brick, I always, and I mean always, put a wall up around my heart.
Trust me. This was much easier to do when the person was oceans away.
Brick by brick by brick by brick, afraid to get hurt, I’d shut myself off emotionally.
The sixth letter showed up a few weeks later, just as wonderful as the rest. The pressure was on. What could I say now? Do now? I tried calling him a few times, but the moment the other end rang, that strange European drone, I hung up. And I tried writing a few letters, but none of them were good enough for me, for him. It was November when the seventh letter arrived. By this time I felt so guilty, I went numb.
“I have never received any news from you, even a single letter with just a “How are you, guy?” ~ excerpt from letter seven
Instead of letting my heart take a risk, I ruled with my head.
I never wrote him back.
Not one word.
Hold your horses. Did I say never? Didn’t James Bond teach anybody anything?
Never say never.

Seven Letters: Part Six

Our hot French guys wanted us to stay.

While the offer was more than tempting, logistically, we couldn’t stay in Paris, or so we thought at the time. Instead of an open-ended eurorail ticket, we’d already purchased single fares for the remainder of our trip, including our flight back to London from Athens. Which meant it would cost a fortune to change anything. We had to stick to the plan.

Of course, there were a few other options, but nobody was thinking clearly. So two young girls – hearts and heads pounding in confusion – were whisked away to Gare de Lyon. Patrick’s car screeched to a halt in the middle of the street. The guys grabbed our bags and we all ran into the station.

We had one minute, a mere sixty seconds, before our train rumbled down its tracks.


Out of breath, Jean-Luc and I shared one last kiss, as did Tracey and Patrick.

Our hands shook. Our throats croaked out our goodbyes.

Tracey and I stepped into the passenger car. Five seconds later, the train rolled forward. And through a window, we waved our goodbyes, watching our Parisian loves on the platform until they were specks in the distance. As the train lurched forward, gaining momentum, Tracey and I looked at one another and said the same thing:

“We should have stayed.”

The train picked up speed.

Chins quivering, we fought to hold back our tears.

“Sometimes I wonder if the stars are sparkling, or if it is the light of my own eyes stimulated by your memory and projected to them. So when you look towards the sky, and when you see the stars, maybe at the same time I will be looking at them too.”

~excerpt from letter six

No doubt, the rest of trip paled in comparison. We’d left our nineteen-year-old hearts in Paris. If only we’d missed that train.


Monday, 11 May 2009

Seven Letters: Part Five

Tracey and Patrick soon returned. And here’s where the story takes a sad turn.
Our train for Nice left in one hour.
Patrick and Jean-Luc rushed Tracey and I back to the youth hostel to grab our bags. We raced up the stairs, neither one of us able to catch our breath. We tumbled out of the youth hostel, frustrated tears dampening our eyes.
On the ride to the station, Jean-Luc and Patrick asked us stay, told us that they would take us to Provence, or the South of France for the weekend.
And wait a sec.
That could work.

Friday, 8 May 2009

Seven Letters: Part Four

The four of us wandered around Montmartre for a little bit, but Patrick had other plans for Tracey. He wanted to show her his parents' house, the area where he lived. The two of them took off in Patrick’s car and Jean-Luc and I were left alone to our own devices. (Perhaps that was the intention all along, and Tracey, nor I, had a problem with that).
The plans were to meet back at Jean-Luc’s later that afternoon. 
Sneaky guy, they got us alone!
My memory gets a little hazy after that. I think Jean-Luc showed me around Paris for a couple of hours. We may have explored Montmartre a bit more, passing by the famed Moulin Rouge. Or maybe we walked down the banks of the Sienne, visited Notre Dame, or took a boat ride on a Bateaux-Mouche. We may have done all these things, or none of them. It didn’t matter. We were together, enjoying one another’s company.
Yes, I got lost in Paris, but it wasn’t on the streets.
What I do remember is the taxi ride back to Jean-Luc’s. (Perhaps the taxi driver remembers it too?) I remember getting to Jean-Luc’s apartment, and barely making it up the stairs – and no, it wasn’t from imbibing on libations. (Perhaps one of his neighbors remembers that too?) You know those scenes in those movies? The intense passion between a couple? And you think how unrealistic it is? Well, yeah, it was exactly like that.
"If you were Juliete, I would like to be your Romeo, but don't forget to send me the ladder."
~ from letter fourPART FIVE

Seven Letters: Part Three

Giddy. Tracey and I were the giddiest girls on the planet after they dropped us off. And worried. Worried they were going to blow us off, leave us waiting in the lobby with tears in our eyes. I don’t think either one of us slept much that morning, if at all.
While we waited for them, we paced the lobby of our uber-posh youth hostel. Both of us had fallen hard and they were more than a half hour late. Our faces looked like the figure in Edvard Munch’s Scream – pure agony, trembling with anxiety. Depressed, we were about to head to the courtyard to grab a much needed coffee when our names were called.
There, at the bottom of the landing, they stood smiling. And what great smiles they had, big and bright and happy to see us. They bounded up the steps three at a time and swung us around in their muscular arms.
It was time to see the real Paris.
We headed for Patrick’s car.
“Don’t think that I've got (as we say in French) a “sugar heart,” that I fall in love with every girl I meet. It is really not my way of life. I am a boy from the sea, heated by the sun of Provence, but your heat is greater and makes my blood boil in every part of my body. My brain, usually cool, is burning in such a manner that I don't recognize it. And I like to write when I feel my heart beating on every word.” ~ excerpt from letter two.
For all you naughty girls out there, the answer to the question weighing down your minds right now is “no.” No, I didn’t sleep with him. The proof is in the pudding, or in this case an excerpt from letter four.
“No contact before you gave me so much pleasure, and we didn’t (unfortunately) make love. So you can imagine the state of my blood if we did.”
Right. Where was I? Oh yes, we got into Patrick’s car. As Jean-Luc had found out the night before (when our lips weren’t glued together), I was an art major at the university I attended. He wanted to show me the area where all those famous artists hung out back “in the day.” Artists like Van Gogh and Toulouse Lautrec and Dali and Picasso. You’ve heard of them, right?
We parked the car and traversed the cobbled streets of Montmartre, making our way to a small café for very expensive jambon et fromage crepes. Yes, they were being tourists for us. But honestly, I couldn’t think of better tour guides. So very proud of their country they were.
Tracey and I were both still very nervous. We liked them, but didn’t know how things would play out. I remember laughing. A lot. And of course, I still tried speaking to Jean-Luc in my mangled French.
In school, as you may know, they teach you “expressions,” not conversational skills. And, really, how many times can you say, “Je sais ce que sais, mais je ne sais pas comment le dire en Français?” (I know what it is, but I don’t know how to say it in French). On the plus side, Jean-Luc told me my accent was very good, but I’m pretty sure he was just being nice.
He still insisted on “practicing” his English.
“I like your way to be funny, your kind of foolishness, your passion for art, and also your presence at my side.” ~excerpt from letter one
After we ate, we walked over to Sacre Coeur, the towering white church, where it’s mandatory to take your picture on the steps. So, of course, we did just that. And I bet you want to know what my French man looks like, right? Yes, there are photos, but I don’t have them. Tracey has copies – good thing for doubles. Now, we (she) just has to get her lazy butt up to her parents' house and get them. I’ve only been asking her to do this for, ahem, years. (And, yes, Tracey, that is a hint if I’ve ever heard one. I know you’re stalking my blog).
“I really don’t know where you are at this time, but my spirit walks by you during your whole trip.” ~ excerpt from letter three

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Seven Letters: Part Two

“I really think that it would be a disaster if we stop this passion between us. I am not a man who can live without passion. It’s the nerve of my life, the best we can do. And for this passion I have to do the best that I can to save it.”

~ excerpt from letter one

Hey, why stop our Parisian adventure, right? After all, it was only two in the morning on a weekday night. We didn’t go home after having our drinks on the Champs-Elysées. Oh no, Patrick had a membership at some private club in Paris.

From what I can remember, the car ride was both scintillating…and terrifying. We raced through the streets of Paris, the historical stone façades and pedestrians, a blur. Wherever it was we were going, I remember wanting to make it there alive. Good lord, the way Parisians drove – very similar to crazed taxi drivers in New York – frightened me to death. Seated in the back seat, one hand covered my eyes, the other rested on Jean-Luc’s thigh. The sexual energy was palpable, but besides stroking the top of my hand with his thumb, he hadn’t made his move…yet.

We finally made it to our destination: La Bas.

For 1989, the experience at La Bas went far beyond its time. Bottle service. But it was unlike any other bottle service I’d ever encountered. If you didn’t finish whatever you ordered, a brass nameplate (with the member’s name) was hung around the neck, and then stored for the next time you came back. Très cool. Vodka – that was the drink of choice. With accoutrements. Whatever we wanted. Soda, cranberry, orange, tomato juice, you name it, everything was ours for the taking.

Who were these guys?

Honestly, my heart soared. My head spun. I don’t even remember if other people were in the club. That’s how enraptured I was. Was this really happening? To me? It all felt very dreamlike. It’s not everyday a girl is swept off her feet. So it was a probably a good thing we were sitting down.

Needless to say, Jean-Luc and I were all over each other. White on rice. Crazy glued at the lips. There may have been some dancing involved, but I don’t remember. Or maybe it all started when we were dancing. I don’t know who kissed who first, but once it started, it didn’t stop and I don’t think my hand ever left his. This wasn’t your typical college hook-up, mash, or make out session. It was an intense, complete and utter out of the body experience. (I can’t speak for them, but I think Tracey and Patrick were having a good time themselves).

Hey, I was busy.

Busy. Busy. Busy.

The quintessential gentlemen, Jean-Luc and Patrick escorted Tracey and I back to our youth hostel at seven in the morning, but not before they made plans to skip work so they could show us around Paris a little later that day...


Seven Letters: Part One

Last night over a few glasses of pinot noir, my best friend, Tracey, and I were reminiscing about the trip of our lives. The year was 1989 and my family lived in London. Tracey and I took advantage of this most fortunate situation and made plans to see Europe together – the whole euro-rail thing. I worked all summer waitressing at this hamburger place to save up the pounds (British sterling, not weight gain) for the trip. Our itinerary included: Paris, Nice, Geneva, Florence, and the Greek Islands.
Nice, right?
But besides the sites, (and the beaches, and the shopping, and the food, and the dancing, and the drinking), our story would be remiss if we didn’t include young love and two smoking hot French guys. Our experience was, well, magical and one of my fondest memories. But there is guilt. And regret. Not because of something I did on the trip, but because of something I didn’t do when I returned home.
Aptly entitled Seven Letters our tale is a bit long, so it will be posted in parts – seven of them as a matter of fact. (And so as not to embarrass the hero in this story, I’m only including snippets of his letters).
“Even if you are just a shooting star who has crossed my life in such a marvelous way, I will keep our hours together as jewels.” ~ from letter five
It was the summer of 1989. We were nineteen.
And yes, my friends, Paris is the city of love.
Tracey and I were dining at Dame Tartine (a restaurant by the Centre Pompidou in Le Beaubourg) after struggling through a long day of touristy type excursions – The Louvre, Musée Picasso, and Musée L'Orangerie – to name a few. Our feet were blistered and raw, but that didn't stop us from going out on the town. Young, crazy, full of life, we were in Paris. And I'm fairly certain we wore heels.
Nothing could stop us.
We were enjoying a bottle of wine with some fine French cuisine when Tracey noticed them – the two very good-looking French men seated four tables down. We giggled, throwing surreptitious flirty glances at their table, and blushed when they caught our gazes. I asked Tracey to stop staring, but, captivated with the guy she was drooling over, she wouldn’t. And I’m glad she didn’t heed my advice. They made their approach, both carrying a confident swagger in their steps.
The air was electric.
Tracey and I had thought we looked the part, sophisticated and sexy, blended in. We didn’t. This was made clear when one of them asked, “American?”
Seriously, what had clued them off? With Tracey’s jet-black hair, brown eyes, and angular features, she could have easily passed for Spanish, Italian, Greek, maybe even French. Was it my blonde, or slightly orange-ish colored hair (blame Sun-In and a hairdryer) and blue eyes that gave us away?
Tracey finally managed to sigh out, “Yes, how’d you know?”
Took the words right out of my gaping mouth.
The darker haired of the two pointed to our bottle of wine, and they both laughed. “No self-respecting French woman would ever order a bottle of wine sans bouchon.”
Had they come over to our table to insult us? What the heck was a bouchon? Only one way to find out. “Bouchon?” I’d asked.
“Without a, ummm, cork,” came the answer.
“Oh, well then,” I said, my tone on the defense. “What should we have ordered?”
“A carafe would have been, um, more acceptable.”
American students, clueless as how to order wine, and on a budget, who better to point our crass error out than two young French men. And they were laughing. Laughing at us. Because of the screw top. (Were Tracey and I progressive, or what? Note: In France, it’s still un-ac-cep-table – put your best French accent on – to order wine with a screw top cap).
My face went red. Again.
After a minute or two of friendly banter, our new cultural ambassadors joined us at our table and ordered another “good” bottle of wine, the whole ordeal, clearly, a well-orchestrated pick up line.
And that’s how we met Jean-Luc and Patrick.
Pretty suave, those French.
At first Tracey and I didn’t know who was flirting with whom. They were both equally handsome, smart, and charming. For a while we played musical chairs, but then it became clear when Tracey called Patrick the “French Tom Cruise” and practically threw herself onto his lap.
I’m kidding. (That didn’t happen until much, much later).
Seriously, Jean-Luc and I hit it off – right out of the park – and Tracey and Patrick also connected. Things just took their natural course.
On my side, Jean-Luc was unlike anybody I’d ever met. Not the typical guy you’d come across doing beer bongs at Syracuse, at the age of twenty-six he worked at the French equivalent of NASA, and spoke four or five different languages. He was smarter than smart and I was hooked. Well, that, and I thought he was hot. What, with the slightly messy, dark brown hair, the square jaw, the perfect, bow-shaped (and very kissable) lips, plus a sexy cleft in his chin, Jean-Luc was more rock star than run-of-the-mill rocket scientist.
Quelle une surprise!
Naturally, I tried to impress Jean-Luc by speaking my mangled French, better known as Franglais, much to his amusement. Funny, he “insisted” on practicing his English, close to perfect. As for Tracey, who didn’t speak French, save a few words like bonjour or au revoir, and Patrick, who only spoke a little English, well you could say their conversation was a little more animated – like mimes, there were a lot of hand movements. Yes, there was a whole lot of blushing going on. And language mishaps. And laughing.
It was a beautiful night. Perfect.
(Except for the bottle of wine with the screw top).
The boys paid for our dinner– even though they didn’t dine with us – and then it was suggested we head over to the Champs-Elyssée for a nightcap, which, naturally, Tracey and I refused. We didn’t know these guys from Adam. They could be serial killers. Really cute serial killers. Really cute serial killers with sexy French accents. Really cute serial killers with sexy French accents that were dressed to the nines – a Bon Chic, Bon Genre style.
You got me.
We were so there.
That was the night I tried port for the first time. Sitting at an outdoor café watching Parisian life go by. Under the stars. Right by the Arch de Triomphe. With two charming French men. And my best friend. Laughing.
I really don't know how to begin this first letter, not because of nothing to say, but rather, I’ve got so many things to lay on this paper I can’t find my thoughts. I have no dictionary here to write perfect Shakespearean English, so excuse the mistakes I have made and the ones I will certainly make." ~excerpt from letter one