Paris greets me like a long-time lover, her embrace stretching through the dog-day haze. I feel my body slide into a fluid shift, minutely adjusting to her energy, her rhythms. Often it’s barely imperceptible this change, seemingly unconnected to length of absence or motive for return. But I like to acknowledge it as I walk down the platform, through the station, out onto the street.
Ours is a story so long I can barely remember when it truly began. And we have passed through many stages, she and I.
We’ve been nodding acquaintances, rough companions, bosom buddies, secret lovers, public paramours.
We’ve bickered, scorned, betrayed, shunned and denied, but always loved.
We defy the dimensions.
We spurn time’s grasp.
When I first met Paris she was merely a city, her true self occluded by tropes and history. The possibility of our future intimacy didn’t even exist as a concept.
I walked her streets, a naïve youth playing the bohemian, scribbling down monument inscriptions, snapping photographs with casual care.
Somewhere in my archives a discarded Gitanes packet swims forever in a murky gutter of grainy black and white.
A little later, when I was a man, she was an intriguing dalliance, a rite of passage, a notch on the existential bedpost.
Other places beckoned, and my senses prickled at every possibility of fresh infatuation.
The world was wide, and I was eager.
We shared the best part of a tumultuous year together, an unfathomable adventure, but I left under a cloud, unsure who had rejected whom.
She called me out of the blue one day, eight months later.
I dropped my latest fling, with hardly a thought, and was back within a week, drawn by a sense of needing to complete something left unfinished.
This time it was serious.
We lasted eight years like that.
Ever complicated, our relationship has accrued over time through accretions of experience and action, as I found new ways to love her.
Previously abandoned battlegrounds were revisited with fresh endeavour and turned into gardens.
Other, once promising fields of passion were left quietly fallow to mulch slowly into possible futures.
Now, the existential layers hang like archaeological strata, filling me with a sense of multiple pasts as I round a particular corner, or stroll through certain neighbourhoods, a flâneur finally worthy of the name.
Today we pursue separate lives.
It’s like an open relationship, but one so open that I can’t say for sure if we’re really together.
Perhaps we’re not.
Perhaps it doesn’t really matter.
What’s certain is that we share something unreplicable; something that belongs to neither one of us.
It is us.
We crafted it in drama, forged it in the turmoil of desire, burnished it with the gift of maturity.
She is mine just as much as I am hers.
Or so I like to think.