Paris, Day 7: What We Keep
I stood on Pont Neuf, the oldest bridge in Paris, with it cradled in the palm of my hand: A strip of black leather with two silver studs.
It’s the cuff he had made for me and that I had worn every single day after he had secured it around my wrist. It had kept me tethered to him; I had worn it like a vigil. And I had brought it with me so I could leave it here — release it, bury it in this place that was teaching me to love myself again and rediscover my worth.
The sky over Paris today was robin’s egg blue between billowing clouds. The sunshine laid itself across my bare shoulders like a shawl as the Seine shimmered in the afternoon light. I leaned against the bridge’s concrete barrier and looked out over the city: The throngs strolling the river’s banks; the Eiffel Tower craning its metal neck; the row upon row of buildings that will forever remind me of jigsaw puzzle pieces nestled together to create the whole of this place.
I ran my fingers over the leather, feeling its familiar smoothness and the places where it has become worn. “So I can always feel the beat of your heart,” he had said about its blanketing of the pulse in my wrist. God, I had loved wearing it. It reminded me of him, certainly — he was with me every morning when I snapped it into place — but it had also become a personal signature that I wore in a very particular way. Strangers would compliment me on it. A colleague once observed that it was stylish and also hinted that I was a bit of a badass.
Black leather has that effect.
I took a deep breath and held my arm out over the barrier. I imagined every word I had written to him, every second I had spent with him, every emotion I had felt for him travelling from my heart and into that piece of leather. All I had to do was let it drop from my fingers and be swallowed by the Seine.
I couldn’t do it.
I pulled my arm back over the barrier, tucked the cuff back in my bag, and sat in one of the little alcoves carved in intervals across the span of the bridge. I cried.
I had felt so strongly that releasing such a tangible and important memory would be the final act, the last thing I needed to make me truly free from him. What did it mean that I couldn’t?
I took the steps down to the Seine’s banks and walked along its edge for a long while. Tour boats slid past on the river. Cyclists and runners passed me in both directions. Lovers walked holding hands and children chased each other over the cobblestones.
I thought about the day I had just spent on the island, taking in the magnificent Notre-Dame and the breathtaking stained glass of Sainte Chapelle. I am in no way, shape, or form religious. I have my own sense and practice of spirituality, but I pray to no god. That didn’t prevent me from being reverent in those holy places, of appreciating — savouring, even — the awesome architecture and art inspired by those who did and do have faith.
I reached into my bag and curled my fingers around the piece of leather. Maybe it can have a similar purpose.
I will never wear it again — I cannot; its symbolism is too potent — but maybe it can house what I want to keep from him. I do not have to be devout but neither, perhaps, do I need to denounce.
When I get home, I will tuck the cuff into a box I keep for particularly dear memories. Maybe one day I’ll be able to release it as I had planned. But until then, it will rest there, holding what I want to remember:
How he made me feel singular and beautiful and rare.
The impossible blue of his eyes as he held my face in his hands and told me I how amazing I was.
Who I became because I was brave enough to love him.
Everything else, the rest of it, no longer matters.
The things we release are important. So are the things we choose to keep.