At the age of 21, my life stopped. I believed in one thing: finding happiness. In the summer after my junior year at Wellesley College, I stepped onto a plane and flew to Paris. My itinerary included the transgression of time- looking to past generations who seemed more established, more bona fide, more real… reality and comfort is what it all boiled down to, really- my own search for reality, and my own journey for comfort.
And so this is how I ended up entering France with a nun flanking my right-hand-side in the immigration line. In silence we stood, seeking a divine miracle to help us withstand the weight of our luggage, and like this we inched forward in unison, toward the blue men, who dawned identical uniforms and lifeless expressions. Side by side, we said our blessings, praying this country would be better than the last. And the line seemed eternal. So many people biding their time, standing at the floodgates, guarded by little blue men, wearing little blue hats, monotone voices that repeated like a broken record: “Bonjour, mademoiselle.” And I believed this to be the pinnacle of my journey. I was young and incognito. I had time to travel from country to country, exploring the paths that lie ahead- leaving nothing in my wake except the frayed stub of a worthless train ticket to mark my route. And yet I wanted instant gratification. I wanted recognition and familiarity. I wanted for someone to look at my passport and say, “Oui, d’accord!” And so I thought that France would disappoint me. I thought that giving my life to this forlorn country would be utterly futile. And it was, at first. Nothing caught my fancy as I rambled along the narrow grey streets that snaked through the city. I didn’t see the slightest hint of passion in the glassy eyes of the people who passed me, day by day, on my way to Rue Ballu. Yes, the Eiffel tower stretched high into the night sky, glimmering like the Hope Diamond, but only every hour, on the hour, due to a steadily supplied electrical current from a high voltage generator. And there was no Foucault’s pendulum to catch my fancy. Eco had it wrong. There was no Bret or Count to ogle at. Hemingway’s generation was lost long ago. And so I was stuck, living out a fantasy that didn’t glimmer and shine‚ and yet it was pretty to think so- so long as I didn’t think too long or too hard or too much about the nouveau bar, the cheap wine, and the euro. I should have known the difference. A euro is not a franc. The EU is not France, but France is a part of the EU. This is not an algorithm. Life is not an algorithm. I mean, we can claim a’s and b’s and c’s but when it really comes down to equal and thus and therefore, I was stuck sitting on the bank of the Seine, sipping out of my 3 euro Bordeaux, right where Gene Kelly serenaded Leslie Caron. When it really comes down to the nuts and the bolts and the bare facts of the case, I was an American in Paris, all right, but not like those other Americans that I admired so much. No, I was more like Y2K, something that would come to pass, but never be more than an idea.
And so I continued searching for happiness, that is, I continued until everything had festered so much, too much- to the point of bursting, and one day, when I was on the verge of collapsing, a woman warned me: “It’s not the city that’s the problem, it’s just you.” And then I knew that I had to leave. That September I returned to Wellesley, and I realized that life is not about finding happiness. Life is about creating happiness, and this is what I believe.