I’ve often tried to write for myself only, and I find that I end up tailoring my sentences for an audience. I have been trying to change that on this trip, but let’s face it, there is a reason why I am an actress, and have been pursuing performance since I was six. I had a lot of expectations for this trip to Paris, and I cannot think of a more perfect day. I think it is important to explain how I have found myself here in an apartment in Paris.
I am accompanying my cousin to Paris this Summer while she attends an art class abroad. My cousin is an amazing person, but has suffered from being the “baby” in the family. While I am an only child, my mom and her sister are very close, twins in fact. So, my aunt’s two daughters (my cousins) and I, are very close. Well, we were very close. According to my family, I never went through the typical teen phases. I did not yell, or resent my family and rebel. I feel that I did, but in my own ways. I do know that I did not become a brat, and despondent. It was hard when my two younger cousins went through what I am told is typical teen behavior. I thought I would be the cool older cousin, but that wasn’t so. Our giggly, secret-sharing sleepovers dwindled, and I began to truly feel like an only child.
My cousin began to have some medical issues, and I wanted to swoop in and play the big sister role, and save the day! However, they kept me at a distance, and never confided in me. Paris is not just a chance for my cousin to grow, and give herself the help she needs, but it is also an opportunity for me to feel like I made a difference. Over a year we pulled together the puzzle pieces that had always been floating around us and realized that this was not a new problem. My cousin had been suffering for years.
My cousin’s struggles paralleled my own, but I didn’t fully come to terms with that until this year. Damn, did I envy my sixteen year old self who had her shit together so much more than my young adult-self. It took me a long time to unveil my own problems to my family and explain that I had insight to help them decode my cousin’s difficulties. It is hard to explain, but I have always been a rock for them. My family has always had me on a pedestal, and I can not honestly say that I do not enjoy that position. I like to help others, yes, but I am sure there is a selfish layer, that enjoys the love and praise I receive. I can’t tell if that makes me a bad person. It is not as if I have ever done anything disingenuous to earn their praise, in fact, sometimes I feel like I must be channeling an ancestor to have so much wisdom.
Without knowing me, I am surely beginning to sound smug, but please know I am repeating what I have heard from my own family. If you can see this, and give me the benefit of the doubt, then you may realize all of this could be a burden. Sometimes it is, but most of the time it drives me to be my very best. I strive to continue to be perfect for my family. I want to be the best. I want to be the savior (please excuse the religious reference, it is not meant as such). I am desperate to make a difference and feel that I existed in this world for a reason. A human yearning.
Rounding back to my original point…I am in Paris to make sure that my cousin has a good, healthy time, and that if she needs help, or family support, someone is here. Of course, I have my own agenda, too. I don’t want her to just survive here in Paris. I want her to thrive. My own Summer experiences really defined who I am today. I did multiple camps since I was 8, and backpacking trips. I cannot say that my experiences were all easy, happy Summer camp experiences. I often cried, felt pain, and wanted to go home to safety. But, these are the challenges that taught me to be independent, adaptable, be my own friend, and persevere.
Today was the most perfect day for reasons that may seem simple. My cousin asked me if I wanted to have dinner. I took some time for myself, prepared for a very rough afternoon of coaching her through stress, and encouraging her to keep at it, and met her at her hotel. I got a bit lost on the way, tested my French for the second day, and found that I could ask for directions and understand them. Yippee! So, I found my cousin at her hotel, and she took the reins and chose a nice cafe near her hotel. We both ordered the same pasta dish, and thoroughly enjoyed it. This allowed for conversation about how much healthier the food is in Europe than in the U.S. and the fact that I have heard many people state that they gain weight eating the same food in the U.S. as they did when they lived in Europe. (Side note…what are we eating back home!!?!?!?!) She mentioned wanting to try a wine, so I picked a Chablis. It was not sweet enough for her, so, ultimately I finished it. It was a very relaxing, slow-paced meal and talk. We both commented on the difference in the pace of life in Paris, and enjoyed the time to just talk. I think it was the first time that we were both this honest and in depth about our own problems. I believe this was the first time she really understood that I have experience with the same struggles she faces and that I am not just empathizing and trying to get her to open up. I felt a moment of triumph and excitement.
We traveled on the metro together and she even helped me when I had trouble figuring out which way to go. Before Paris, I thought I was going to have to force her to plan out a trip just to have her fail, experience failure and see that it is okay, and get to the other side. Instead, she really took charge and took her class assignment seriously. She took some pictures, got more into it, and even ignored the street artists dancing that had me clapping and cheering at Le Notre Dame, in order to continue taking photos.
Then, we had a perfect travel moment that I hope my cousin will carry with her. I have always enjoyed travel, because it teaches me to let go. When I let go, the world becomes easier, and things just flow. My cousin needed a lock for her locker at her Summer program, and we were walking in a park next to La Seine. We asked the guards if there was store where we could buy a lock and it turned out that we were next to a famous bridge where people lock their love or secrets to the bridge, and throw away the key. So, across the bridge was store where we bought her a lock! She was so excited with how well that worked out. I seized the opportunity to show her that life can be kind, and offer gifts such as this. Over a scoop of fresh, delicious dark chocolate ice cream, she kept saying, “I’m going to have to tell people about this! This is a really great story!” Then we got back on the metro, I showed her my apartment, and then took her back to her hotel. When we said goodbye, she surprised me by smiling wide, throwing her arms around me and declaring, “I had a wonderful day! Let’s do this again tomorrow!” I wanted her to know that it meant a lot to me too, so I thanked her for making it such an amazing day.
I am nervous about how things will go from here, but I will always treasure this day. Here I am, hanging my hopes on this 3-week experience in Paris: I hope my cousin can find her own inner strength, and grow. And I hope her newfound strength endures.
Paris, July 2013.