I met David on the steps of Basilique d'Sacred Coeur. He was a young, inquisitive Chinese man who was exploring Europe on his own prior to a business meeting in Germany. He looked even more bewildered and conspicuous than I did, so I introduced myself. I had spent several days on my own, looking for inspiration and scouring the luminous paintings of Louvre for the face of my heroine. Then I had watched non-museum goers try to be efficient in the Louvre Museum, with a very goal-oriented approach and laughed to myself while incurring curious stares from bystanders. Since I obviously needed to get out of my own head and he needed company, we joined forces. We had café au lait in Montmartre, picnicked on an inviting green with a fabulous view of Tour Eiffel, and went to the Chateau de Fontainebleau together.
David was a hopeless romantic searching for love. I was jaded, broken, and my heart was irretrievably scarred. Already, I should have seen the dangers as this was not the first David whose heart I may have broken, although I inevitably hurt myself more than anyone else. At the time, I was keen on my discovery of French castles and endeavored to visit as many chateaux as possible. In doing so, I inadvertently blew off my mother’s cousin who was waiting for me in the metro to go to Chinatown. Granted, she never even asked me what I wanted to do, but I continue to feel guilty even to this day.
I seemed to have committed many faux pas in this city of lights. Even so, I did grudgingly fall in love Paris. Quite honestly, I always resented the falling metaphor in this expression because love feels more like soaring to me. Maybe it is the aftermath they are warning us about, where we fall and crash and burn if the story does not end happily.
On to the Chateau de Fontainebleau! It was about an hour ride outside of the city. Oddly enough, it was less ornate than the other castles with soft wooden accents and swirls of more palatable colors like lavender, saffron, and baby blue instead of the burgundies and emeralds of Versailles. Apparently, this palace was sacked during the French Revolution, with many of its treasures sold. It wasn’t until Napoleon that this chateau was restored and his taste was decidedly different from that of the monarchy. I also got the sense that this was not a highly visited site, since the temperature was decidedly low as if heating was not a priority here.
The gardens and courtyards were a wonder. Fontainebleau was a former royal hunting park, surrounded by a lush forest that offers refuge to a myriad of endangered species. The canal and pine, elm, fruit trees did not seem the slightest bit contrived, but rather as a natural converging of land and its finest resources to nourishing a circle of life. Nightingales were singing as we strolled along the gardens and footpaths of the largest chateau in France.
David and I had a lively, albeit somewhat contentious discussion about love. He was a Protestant with very specific views of the world, partnership, and marriage. He was indefatigably optimistic about love, believing that there was someone for everyone and every woman was meant to be a wife, to bear children just like every man was meant to be a husband. When I expressed uncertainty as to my path, he insisted that my path was of course the universal path every woman wanted. I resisted his line of thinking, as I resisted his shy and awkward attempts to convey his feelings later that week.
Even though he was very sweet, even though he genuinely seemed to like me, even though he wined and dined me the rest of my evenings in Paris, and even though we were in the starlit city of dreams, I simply could not accept him.
I could not be anything other than what I am.