But as so many of you seemed to anticipate with your comments and well-wishes (“I hope Paris will make Christmas a little less painful...”), this trip has been little more than that—a brief, and inadequate, distraction. I cannot shake the sense that we should not be here, that we should be at home in North Carolina, still enjoying the remnants of a white Christmas with our snow-loving child (seriously, hearing about the snow on Christmas Day felt like the biggest middle finger the universe could have flipped us right now). As I told Jessica in an email earlier this week, this all just feels like a grand charade. Just as the city itself puts on a big show of lights and sparkly things at Christmas to try to liven up the dreary gray of urban winter, so too, am I putting on a show of going on a “vacation” that is no more than a predictably futile attempt at escape.
And good grief, there are children everywhere. Not that I expected this vacation to be child-free, but I just wasn’t thinking too hard about the fact that I was coming to a city where 2 million people are also raising kids, not to mention all the tourists who have come here to celebrate their holidays with their little ones. And while we would never have brought Hudson on this kind of trip at her young age, I am still filled with longing as I see parents toting their exhausted little toddlers in their arms or holding sleeping children in their laps while the rest of the family tours an exhibit. I have never wanted to have tired, aching arms from carrying a child so much in my entire life. My arms ache for the lack of ache. And seeing children of so many ages touring the city with their parents hurts, too—watching the different ways they interact at age 4, age 10, age 13 only reminds me over and over that we will never know Hudson at these ages, will never get to show her the wonders of Paris or any other such place. She is everywhere we look and yet she is not here. We’re not Catholic, or even religious, but we lit a candle for Hudson inside Notre Dame and cried—it was all we could do.
This is not to say that I have not enjoyed anything—I have. The city is old and beautiful and enchanting—it just doesn’t have the kind of spells I need. Nothing looks like it should. Nothing feels like it should. Everything has a dull finish to it. I wrote before that I am fundamentally altered—being in another city across the ocean doesn’t change that. The old me would have wanted to document this trip in words and tons of photos. Now it’s the best I can do to hold feebly still while Ed takes pictures (an art in which he still finds meaning and joy), dreading the expression I know I will see on my face when I look at the resulting image. I am not myself. And I hate looking at these pictures of myself, because I can see and feel the pain and effort behind the expression. It is effort that I have never before had to muster for a photo in my entire life. And it hurts to look at that.
I feel ridiculous and terribly ungrateful to have this opportunity that many may never have in their lives and yet be so morose, but as I have learned during this course of this terrible journey, the grief will be what it will be. And all I can do is let it.