Here is the next installment of How I Met My Girlfriend! Links to all HIMMGF posts here.
Jas and I have our anniversary on January fourth, and this is the first time we’ve spent it physically together. To celebrate, we decided months ago to book a long weekend in Paris.
With much regret on my part, Jas and I never made the trip to France in 2016, despite my desire to go. Unfortunately, the budget could only account for one out-of-country trip, and I certainly loved seeing the land of my Irish roots back then. This year, it was France’s turn.
I’d been wanting to go to France since taking my first French class back in 2009, but I never quite thought I would get the chance to go. It’d been one of those things in the back of your head along with, “If I won the lottery, I would…” But now this dream came to life, and my French had been quite unpracticed since I stopped taking lessons in 2014. The trip to Paris was my first experience in a non-English speaking country, and although Paris was very English-friendly, my stress on the matter had me cracking out Duolingo for weeks straight.
We only ran into a handful of language-related panics, one of which included an instance in a busy bakery one morning on our walk to the Seine. Jas asked for two pains au chocolat and tried to pay via card, but the worker (who presumably didn’t speak English) tried explaining that we had to spend €6 to pay by card. Luckily, my high school French and Duolingo brush-up helped me translate the number for 6. We added a quiche to our bill.
This happened on the morning of our four-year anniversary. This day, we took a sightseeing cruise on the Seine which we booked the day previously. We sat across from each other in the warmth of the heated bottom deck, gazing out the window to one of many ornate apartment buildings, historical landmarks, and decorated bridges. Every so often, I caught Jasmin looking at me instead. She smiled with her eyes, verified that I was having a good time, and turned back out the window. When we returned from the cruise, I bought my dad a golf ball at the gift shop, and we ate a raclette sandwich from a street food tent. The cheese oozed out of the bread, which I peeled off the paper wrapping and ate before tossing the rubbish out.
I stood gaping at the Eiffel Tower far too long. I recall turning a corner on our walk to the Seine and just seeing it. There it was, after all the pictures and videos and talks and impossibilities, it stood. It cut through the sky. It bound the city. It whitened the air when we kissed before it. It invited us into the City of Love with strong, open arms. It followed us around Parisian apartments and city noise, peeking around buildings to make sure we were making our way alright.
At night, it glittered from its four iron legs up to the point that tickles clouds. But even that added razzle-dazzle didn’t stop me from being utterly terrified when we departed the elevator on the second floor of the tower. Heights weren’t usually a problem for me. With the Gateway Arch, Top of the Rock, Empire State Building, and the London Eye, I hadn’t felt a fear like this. We stepped to the edge, overlooking the city’s lit and busy streets. It felt so much higher than it was. Every other tall sightseeing journey had been much taller than this. Yet, in the frantic panic of unexpected fear, I turned around to look up at the rest of the tower—realizing we were only halfway to the top. I gulped and found glove-covered Jas’ hand before getting in the next elevator line.
Thankfully, (?) the top of the tower was so cold that I hardly had time to think about how freaked out I was. By far, this Parisian weather had been some of the coldest temperatures Jas and I had endured this winter. We walked one sweeping journey around the highest level before joining all the other shivering tourists in the downward queue.
On our anniversary day, we went to the Notre Dame Cathedral. Ever since seeing my first European church in 2016, I’ve been very interested in them. I’m not a person of faith or some kind of knowledgeable historian, but my appreciation for how old they are goes unmatched for anything I’ve ever come across in the States. Back home, history doesn’t even exist in comparison. This building—with its extravagant tall towers, curved arched ceilings, and intricately detailed walls—is three times as old as my country.
They say time is a construct, but you can’t deny the passage of it. Time distinguishes this medieval building from most others I know, and it reminds me that almost a millennium ago, in a completely different life, people were still real. This reminder crushed us while walking through tunnels in the Parisian catacombs. Femur bones and skulls lined the tunnel walls on either side of us, stacked from the floor to our shoulders, and the tunnels stretched on for miles. The catacombs are home to an estimated six to seven million bodies from centuries ago, when the plague overcrowded cemeteries and its victims washed up from the ground when it rained.
Passage of time changes a lot of things. It can turn people into tourist attractions, settlements to countries, strangers to friends, friends to lovers. It can make a relationship like mine possible. It can find your soulmate. It can make certain that you aren’t just imagining the girl you’ve been dating for a week is your soulmate, but that after fighting to be together—to reach a milestone like four years together—you know she is your soulmate. Maybe time doesn’t matter second to second or minute to minute. But it exists and it builds and it binds and destroys. The passage of time marks my life now, between the waiting and the living beside her. My life is a countdown to becoming one with hers, a temporary permanence in this universe.