Lilacs - A Bitter Sweet Memory


I didn’t have a grand plan or even a list of places to visit.  My plan was simply to get there, to get to Paris.  It was 2002 and I was facing the end of a seven-year marriage.  My X, I will call “my storm cloud” had never been interested in traveling abroad, let alone Paris.  He had strong thoughts about certain people and places and none were positive.  So when I received my bonus check that spring, I surprised everyone, including myself, and booked a trip to Paris, by myself and NO, I don’t speak French.  I seemed to always be waiting for the right person, the right time to visit Paris. I wasn’t going to wait anymore.  

Every morning I would leave my hotel in the 5th arrondissement headed in a different direction. I did carry a map, but it ended up being a pretty souvenir. Maps are hard enough to read in English so in French…. Ai Yah yah!  So, I carried my hotel’s business card figuring if I lost my way I would hale a cab, show him the card and the driver would return me to my hotel safe and sound. Besides my “storm cloud” always had a map, a plan, a budget a graph or chart.  There was very little straying from the plan or enjoying an accidental adventure because one took a wrong turn.  Wandering, traipsing, dillydallying were all things that he hated and I enjoyed and loved to do and so in Paris I did them with intention.

I only had a couple of rules for myself, no counting calories and do what I really wanted to do and not what one “ought” to do when traveling abroad.  So basically that included a great deal of walking, people watching and coffee drinking in any café that suited my fancy.  I stopped probably about five times a day for coffee and watching.  This was the Paris experience I had always dreamed of and I was actually having it.  It was lovely.  But by day three, the thrill of being in Paris was being overshadowed by the fact that I was in Paris…. alone.

One particular morning, I was a bit heavy hearted.  I was so glad to be in a city I’ve always dreamed of visiting, but unfortunately for me I couldn’t leave my thoughts and worries about my uncertain future back in Texas where I lived.  I was dreading lugging the word “DIVORCED” around and apparently was already dragging it along when I found myself in an odd part of town.  It might have been the financial district as there were few shops and lots of suits and what looked like lots of work going on.  I was strolling and weaving around people.  And then I saw this woman with her little girl.  Her head was covered with a scarf, along with her daughters, and I could tell she wasn’t French.  She was selling lilacs.  I bought a bunch from her.  She didn’t smile once which was a sad.  Her daughter wasn’t smiling either.  I can only imagine their difficulty if the scent of lilacs couldn’t make you smile even a little.  But I too was having a hard time smiling that day.  And I just wanted to go back to my hotel room with my beautiful lilacs and have a bit of a cry.

But I couldn’t find a cab. 

So I walked and walked some more.  With lilacs in hand and a general sense of the direction I needed to go.  (Which for once was correct.)  When I finally arrived at a place where there were cabs, I felt I could make it to the hotel by myself.  And, I did.  

I put my bundle of lilacs in a hotel glass by my bed and fell asleep with the scent of lilacs in my room.  There were no tears, just a weary sense of accomplishment.  I made my way back to my hotel in Paris with no map, no French, just me.  So, perhaps I would be able to navigate the new life in front of me… just maybe.

When I purchased my own house seven years later, I bought a lilac bush.  In fact it probably is the most expensive plant I have bought for my home.  It blooms every year and I cut a bunch and put them in my house.  They reminded of Paris and that sad, soft afternoon and how I made it back on my own with lilacs in hand.