It’s pourIng raIn, dark and cold, and I’m sitting on the front stoop of a church in Paris. Tears stream down my face, falling harder than the rain. I’m crying so hard, it scares me. It’s the type of crying where you have a hard time catching your breath, that’s been waiting to unload from months of stress and self-induced trauma. I’m ugly crying in public. This isn’t my finest moment.
I’d spent the morning in a French police station filing a report on my French boyfriend’s attempts to blackmail me into leaving Paris. He had sent me several texts stating he had all the proof needed to report me to the authorities for working illegally, and that if I didn’t leave Paris, he would do just that. He knew just the spot to hit me hardest—my love for Paris. He knew I’d never loved him the same way that I had loved her from the moment I set foot on her cobble-stone streets. He knew that taking Paris away from me would hurt me deeply.
I’ve never felt more alone in my life. Sitting on this little church step, knees pulled into my chest, hugging myself for warmth and self-assurance. I try to cry quieter so as not to disturb the Parisians cross- ing my path and to not make such a scene. But the truth is I’m swollen with grief and fear. Fear that I will have to go home back to my parents’ house, fear of deportation, fear of being forever alone, and fail- ing at all my Paris dreams in one take.
Eventually, I drag myself up from the stoop and try to hold back the emotions that seem to just keep pouring out. I make my way up the dark Belleville street full of party-goers and late-night cheer, and slump down in a kebab shop, knowing I should eat. Hardly French cuisine at its best, but it’s all I can afford before I cautiously make my way back to my six-person hostel dorm room.
My blonde twenty-year-old bunkmate is babbling on about finally climbing the Eiffel Tower and trying croissants for the first time. She is dizzy with excitement and so full of joy to discover her dream city. And then she asks me how my vacation is going.
I can’t reply. I just look at her, my eyes were swollen from crying and then I curl into a fetal position on my top bunk. This wasn’t my vacation; Paris was my home. She’s been my home for the last two years. And now, I find myself homeless, full of doubt about everything I’d ever dreamed of achieving here.
An Escape From Suburbia
“America is my country, and Paris is my hometown.”
“Your daughter has been selected to be one of only thirty kids traveling abroad to represent her country,” the spokesperson announced to my parents.
I was just fourteen years old when I became a student ambassador and spent a month in Europe. When my mother told me the news, my heart raced, my stomach filled with a thousand butterflies—excitement or fear, I couldn’t tell which—but I was aching for this adventure.
We weren’t a wealthy family but my parents and grandparents managed to pull together the four thousand US dollars to send me on the trip of a lifetime. Mom would forever say that in hindsight, she wished she had never sent me on that trip.
We traveled all over Europe, and as a young girl
who had never even left her state, let alone the country, it felt huge, overwhelming, and exciting. This trip quite literally opened up my world. I felt my place in history wandering through winding cobblestone streets, past crooked buildings falling onto one another in medieval cities. Nothing in my American upbringing had prepared me for this. The vibrancy and richness of the experience were intoxicating. I couldn’t understand all that my eyes showed me. Everything was foreign and new, despite its true age, a world I had never known existed revealed itself.
Constant energy pulsed through my veins—anything and everything felt possible, life had a new shine. My most vivid memory is arriving at the bottom of the Sacré-Cœur Basilica in the quaint quarter of Montmartre, Paris. I gazed up at the white-domed church and felt a strange connection to this place. I immediately fell in love with Paris, and especially with Montmartre. As melodramatic and clichéd as it sounds, my whole being was connected to this space without any reasoning, I felt pulled into this city by some unexplained force. I needed to be here. My heart ached to rest and breathe easy in these winding, hidden streets, oozing with creativity and expression. The quarter was famous for hosting an array of artists over the centuries including Van Gogh, Picasso, and Renoir. I would wander her unpaved maze-like streets, staring into the buildings sliding sideways down the hill. It felt like I was taking a walk back in time, surrounded by the architecture of the 1800s as I gazed into tiny doorways and dimly lit interiors full of wooden beams and warm candlelight. I felt the echoes of all the artists who had roamed her same streets, connecting with a newfound desire to create and be still.
Soft snow fell over my face and I closed my eyes, wishing I could live here one day, knowing that this was my place.
Little did my fourteen-year-old self know I’d be returning fifteen years later to pursue my creative dreams...and meet the love of my life.
Returning to America sent me into a tailspin of disconnect—after discovering Europe, it no longer felt like home. My gut was pulling me back to Paris, and although I didn’t know then how or if I would ever return, that little secret connection was tucked deep into my subconscious, waiting for me to take the leap and trust that the net would appear when I needed to land.
Life continued in my small-town America. Always feeling like the black sheep in my family, I was the weird creative one, the dreamer. Mom would ask, “Where did you come from?” In school, I was quiet and kept to myself, spending most of my day staring out the window dreaming of faraway places. School felt like such a stifling bore.
Didn’t they realize I knew so much more and could be more than they conceived? Living through my adolescence felt like a social experiment gone wrong—I could not wait to get out of school and into adulthood. I was forever going against the grain of cultural norms, but too young to truly understand and be comfortable in my skin with these counterculture feelings.
Uncomfortable became comfortable from a very young age. Being a fish out of water became the norm, feeling no connection to the people in my town, everyone looking and acting like perfect strangers. My escape was the public library where I could enter the minds and adventures of others through tiny written script. Writers I had never met became my companions, my tribe, giving me an entrance into other worlds, other cultures, other lives.
I dreamed of working for the United Nations and National Geographic, even before I knew what any of those jobs really were. All I knew was that these were global, and an out. These organizations were the exit out of suburbia.
And then I found a new outlet in the world: the internet. This screechy dial-up connection tone and glowing screen brought the world crashing into my little suburban life and opened an escape hatch.