I remember lying flat on my back in the middle of the kitchen floor.
This was in the January of 2016. Just 14 days from then, I was to drive to Denver International Airport and board a plane to Reykjavik, Iceland, and then one final plane to Paris, France. I had just eaten dinner, something in a box from the bottom of the freezer, the type of meals my dad would stock up on when he worked late. The remnants of the cardboard and plastic wrappings still sat on the counter. I sat on the floor, looking up at the dim lit ceiling. It was not in the house I grew up in, and we had in fact moved four times since. My bedroom in my childhood home was bright purple, and I would rearrange my furniture on a monthly basis until I ran out of variation. My bedroom in the next one was bright teal and the bathroom tiles were marbled with whites, grays, and light blues. Everything in the current house was completely white.
Just two weeks later I found myself sitting in a doll-house sized apartment in the middle of the 6th arrondissement in Paris. The floor on which I was laying was both my bedroom, my living room, my dining room, and my closet. The ceiling was a light brown. I had fresh flowers on my tiny kitchen table for two. I was laying on a large rug that covered most of the hardwood floor. My bed was within arms reach, and slightly smaller than a twin-size. My bathroom was amazingly just larger than the length of my wingspan. Outside my window, a rustic railing snaked up into a balcony dressed with potted flowers that watched the narrow streets below. I hadn’t been there long enough to rearrange the furniture. It was 2 am Paris time, I was wildly jet-lagged, and I couldn’t remember a time that I had ever felt happier.
Before that moment, I couldn’t remember the last time that I did something for the first time. In Colorado, a routine was harshly engraved into my everyday life. Wake up, get ready, go to one of my regular coffee shops to read, walk around the old historical district called Old South Pearl Street and usually eat at the restaurant I worked at over the long summers. I wrote every day. I went to bed and woke up at the same time every day. On the weekends my dad and I would go to the Italian restaurant down the road, and by the time I left for college they knew our names and orders by heart. But, sometimes, on few but special occasions, I would drive the 45 minutes up to Boulder and watch as my routine snapped perfectly in half. It was a city I didn’t know very well full of people I didn’t know very well, and it excited me to the core. Parking someplace and having to drop a pin on my phone because I couldn’t trust knowing the way back was far better than an assigned parking spot back home. Going to a coffee shop where no one knew my name, let alone my drink order, made me feel like I was a double agent, as if I had just cut and dyed my hair and stepped into a scene from Atomic Blonde. The idea of meeting someone or talking to a stranger for the first time felt as if I were watching a movie who’s entire cast had yet to be revealed. I did and saw things for the first time, and could remember the distinct and warming feeling of not knowing what was coming next, but walking straight towards it regardless.
Then came Paris. Within my first few weeks I had done everything from buying bags full of groceries and wine, cooked meals in my tiny kitchen, purchased my first Parisian clothing item, had homework for classes I was taking at the Sorbonne, and took daily walks around a city in which no one knew my name. Everyone told me before I left that the most dreamlike part of Paris is when it rains. If it were to rain back in Denver, I would find myself wrapped in a blanket, half-watching it from my room. When it rained in Paris, I would watch its reflection as I walked down the streets and lower my umbrella, not even considering the mess my hair was about to become. In California, rain was nonexistent. In Denver, rain was beautiful. In Paris, rain was unignorable.
In typical study abroad fashion, many of our nights were filled with college bars, late night metro rides, and finishing a night with a glass of wine in a café around 1 am. Like my trips to Boulder, I fed off the feeling of being completely incognito while surrounded by handfuls of people. I didn’t have to be Michaela from Denver, I didn’t have to be a film student or wannabe writer or even an American. It was the oddly appealing idea of being a stranger to the people around me, and for them to have no prior information about me. All I really was at some points was the girl at le marché buying cheese and bread and wine. But as far as people could see in that moment, I could’ve been anything.
Self-described as 5”10 with a love of heels, I never jumped on the Parisian trend of white Adidas sneakers that was so prominent during my time there, but instead stuck to my heeled boots and occasional ballet flats. But, I couldn’t argue against the scarves I saw piled on the Parisian’s necks, wrapping up their [frustratingly] flawless complexions while the rest of the fabric hung down their backs. I bought mine less than a week in. One day after my french class finished for the day, I decided to sit at an outdoor café to finish my work for the night. The crisp air called for a scarf, and I wrapped it around my neck as I did most other chilly days. On my metro ride over, a woman with mousey brown hair and big brown eyes approached me and asked a question in very perfect (and very fast) french. She was extremely polite when I resounded in my broken French, explaining that I was still working on learning, and at the next stop she wished me au revoir and was on her way. Every time I wear that scarf, even to this day, it feels heavier than a scarf should, as that’s because since that day on the metro it holds more; the first time someone assumed I was a local, the first interaction I had with a woman who decided to approach the stranger on the train. On my walk home that night I stood a little taller than usual.
That same year I would be in Denver for Christmas with my family. The scarf draped over my chair, and I added it to most outfits to combat the Colorado cold. And it felt very strange when during one Christmas diner conversation a relative asked me, “how long will you be home for?” I looked around the house I was currently standing in, and the beige and black scarf was one of the most colorful things in the eggshell colored house. I was confused by her question, as the fabric around my neck felt more of a home than the house I was standing in.
This isn’t to say that Paris was free of any bad things. I added extra time to my morning commute to class in case an all too common strike happened in the metro. As any other city, there were late night precautions and a very strong need for a sense of street smarts. There were mean people, but there were also kind and loving people. And when I finally returned to Denver, I noticed similarities in both cities of such large size. But I didn’t feel obligated call Denver my home. It wasn’t the place I grew up in, where I went to high school, or even where I learned how to drive. I very scarcely remember what I was like as a person before I went to Paris. I didn’t even know how to define a perspective until I got up and left the one I had for 19 years. And, returning back to it was far stranger. I had become a visitor in my own life.
Now I’m back in California. And I’ll accept when my dad books me “a ticket home” for the holidays. But my home is no longer the bright purple and teal rooms from my youth, nor is it the baristas who know my drink orders or the restaurant I worked at for years. It’s not the house where my baby photos and father currently reside. Instead, my home is the memory of doing things for the first time, of brown paper bags on the metro and drinking wine while looking out the balcony. Its my scarf and my writing and the times where I felt happy as both myself and as a stranger. And until that meeting comes again, whenever it may, I’ll be where I stand in that moment, looking around and wondering how I can rearrange the furniture.