Memories are the diary that we carry with us.
Nine years ago, I was preparing for my wedding. It was a nutty, stressful time. I felt alone, clueless, and anxious. How much are the flowers?? Will my mom sit near my dad at the reception? We need programs?
Then came the day. The fireworks display just for us, the joy we felt, the smiles we collected, the magical woman who followed me around to make sure I always had a dirty martini, and the dancing that never ended. It was everything I had ever dreamed of. Even the choreographed first dance that we painstakingly practiced months in advance was a hit (just watch that scene from Saturday Night Fever where Tony and Stephanie fall head over heels in love while dancing to More than a Woman by the Bee Gees–it was that).
For the honeymoon, we took two weeks to see Paris, Barcelona and the Canary Islands. All places I had never been to. In fact, I hadn’t traveled beyond the U.S. until this trip. The passport I was holding was my first one.
I remember being in Paris and feeling an intense connection with the place. The last time I had felt that was with New York…where I was now living. I remember sitting in a cute little Parisian restaurant in the Marais, looking out the window, and thinking, “How can I live here? Is this even possible?” I also remember thinking, “I don’t know that I can live here as long as I am married [to him]. It’s not the life he’s planned for himself.” I didn’t know what to do with this helpless thought.
On one of our days in Paris, we walked through a sweet neighborhood of narrow streets lined with bread shops, chocolate shops, wine shops, cheese shops. I distinctly remember this day. We bought some cheese and a baguette, walked to a little park nearby and sat on a green bench. I thought, “We can just eat bread and cheese here on this bench?” Mind. Blown. Everything was a new experience for me. Being married. Being in Paris. Eating cheese on a bench.
We sat on the bench and didn’t say much to each other. We simply enjoyed the air and the breeze and the cheese. This is my new life. This is my happy. I’m into it. And my heart grinned.
Not too long after, I switched careers and started working in fashion. After that, being in Paris four or five times a year became a way of life. And every time I visited, I always wondered where that bench was. Not sure why.
After our breakup, my first trips back to Paris were rough. That’s the street we walked on. That’s the other street we walked on. There’s the Eiffel Tower where we took that one kissing photo. There’s the Ferris wheel we rode. That’s the bar we went to. But little by little, trip after trip, I started to create new memories. My own memories. And those other ones started to fade–not disappear, just fade. I felt like I was accomplishing something.
During this last trip, my colleagues and I stayed in a new hotel in a new neighborhood after three years of staying in the same hotel in another neighborhood. I woke up one Saturday, a wee bit hungover after a wild night with friends, and decided I wanted to see this side of Paris. So I put on my running shoes and wobbled/crawled out the door.
I ran past the Pompidou where our team ate after a runway show one year. I ran past Notre Dame, a place I saw first with him and many times after during my runs. I ran past Chez Julien, a charming restaurant where my colleagues and I enjoyed a great meal not too long ago. I ran past that one bakery that has amazing cakes and cookies that I’ve devoured once or twice or thrice. And then…I ran into that park. The one with the green bench. The green bench where he and I ate the bread and cheese. The one where I settled on my happy. With him. Really? It’s here?
I wasn’t sure what to do. Go in? Keep running? Fi says “yes” so I went in. I sat on the bench. I looked up at the sky and I took a big sigh of relief. I found it.
The park wasn’t the same. It was rundown and a bit dirty. I wouldn’t want to eat bread and cheese there that’s for sure. And as I sat on that bench, I felt thankful for the memories. I know this bench because we’ve been here before. I know this city because my heart and will made it happen. You see, this bench signified the dream for me. Nine years ago, I accepted my life as it was. And now, I’m making my own life just how I want. This is my new life. This is my happy. And I’m into it.
To be honest, I sometimes worry that having these memories means I miss them or that I miss him. Upon the initial heartache, it was these exact memories I wanted to block and make go away. Pain isn’t something I want to remember. So why recall them? Why search for them? Why think about anything that has to do with them?
Through this process, what I’ve realized is that it’s not about missing anything or anyone or regret. It’s that these memories are here to stay. They can’t be erased. They can’t be hidden away. They’re a part of who I am. They’ve shaped who I’ve become. There is nothing I can do about that. But what I can do is use these very memories to create something positive. To shape my future. To shape the life I want and the happy I want.
Some of the best things in life are the people you love, the places you’ve been and the memories you’ve made along the way. The rest is up to you. So…yes.