It was only later, when my life was better than I could have dreamt, that I could see that all of the random-seeming routes I’d taken, the roads that led to failure, or despair, or regret, had been not been broken paths, but instead segments of a circle so large they appeared straight, and were so long that they seemed to go off in all directions, and since I had lived long enough, and had never given up, I had reached the horizon, and from there could marvel that the paths coalesced into circles; that in fact all of my experiences had been points on their own circles, and all of these circles interlaced like ripples on a shimmering pond.
To escape the constant reminders of the three traumas I’d suffered in the space of a year, I needed to get as far away as I could. I would move halfway across the world. I would call my exodus a sabbatical in an attempt to salvage some dignity, because that is what you do when everything is taken away from you.
I would destroy myself to remake myself.
I transported my person and all my luggage intact from San Francisco to Paris Charles de Gaulle airport; that was the easy part. The remainder of what was to be 36-hour journey was the flight to Bordeaux, and then from there I’d rent a car and drive in the pitch-blackness of a French winter’s night 125km to the cottage I’d rented sight-unseen, deep in the countryside.
There was a snag. There is always a snag.
The lady behind the check-in counter was telling me that my large rolling suitcase no longer weighed 50kg, it now weighed 51.5kg, and she wouldn’t allow it on the plane from Paris to Bordeaux because the maximum was 50kg. This didn’t make any sense. It had been weighed at the Air France check-in gate in San Francisco, where it had been exactly 50kg.
There wasn’t any way that my suitcase could have gained weight on the flight from San Francisco to Paris, but she was adamant. I was in pain (pain being my constant companion) and jet laggy, and the lady behind the check-in counter was staring at me, a polite, expectant smile curling her mouth up at the edges.
Maybe the Air France flight crew fed my suitcase some of that lovely French Brie and baguettes, on the ten-hour flight, down there in the hold? I was loopy, and glad I didn’t say this out loud.
The least illogical conclusion I could come to was that while the bag languished on the luggage transporter on the tarmac, so much of lovely torrential January rain had soaked into the fabric of the Hartmann that it now had gained water weight.
Whatever the cause, it didn’t matter. I knew how futile it would be to suggest that the scale was off, and the prospect of arguing with her, in my baby French, was inconceivable.
“Your bag must lose 1.5 kilograms,” she intoned. (Three pounds!)
I had not a nanoparticle’s worth of space in my carry-on.
(This is an excerpt from the upcoming illustrated book; The Pain and the Passion; My Year Living as an Artist in Paris)