Paris, 5:08pm

I’m being a bit of a Parisienne cliche right now.

I’m sitting at a small table on the sidewalk outside a cafe, watching people stroll by. I take tentative sips of steaming coffee between bites of pan au chocolat. It’s chilly out, enough to whip my cheeks into a faint pink but not enough to force me inside. The sun is setting behind the Eiffel Tower in the distance, bathing the streets in streaks of salmon and amber. The magic hour is really magical in Paris.

I’m typing away on my iPad, blissfully leaning into the cliche of the American coming to Paris and writing on a sidewalk as a novelty rather than embracing the pause in my day as a way of life as the French do. But my girl Rob told me to go be a writing ass bitch in Paris. So I went. I be’d.

Earlier while walking down Champs-Elysees and talking me out of spending all my money at Saint Laurent, I’d noticed a tour bus unloading a group of students across from the Arc de Triomphe. They snapped pictures and eagerly chattered amongst themselves as they fell into their self-segregated groups. Watching them made me think of the first time I was in Paris.

Though I was certainly too young to appreciate it at the time, I turned 16 in Paris. I remember feeling so worldly and glamorous as my school group snacked on charcuterie and lifted the fancy glasses the restaurant put our sodas in to toast since we couldn’t have wine. It was the first time that it occurred to me that not only was the world larger than my small, agonizing circle, but that maybe I could actually live in it too.

I remember sixteen. There was plenty of ridiculous teenage angst, as is every teenager’s right. But my sixteen was also more painful than anyone’s needed to be. Managing my life felt like more than I could bear, dealing with an overbearing mother and an absent father. Falling in love for the first time in a way that felt too big for my body and stroked my abandonment issues. Wrestling with the religious screeds I’d grown up with that no longer felt true but turning away from felt like damnation. It was the beginning of a lifetime of disordered eating, with hours of dancing and my own perfectionist proclivities driving me to skip meals and crash diet and purge when those things failed. I carried it all mostly silently, my insides an agony everyday with nowhere to put all the pain except to turn it back in on myself.

In the intervening years, I have both languished in self-destruction and started to heal. I’ve made everything worse and some things better. But as I have found my footing in the world that Little La realized might be open to her, I have also tried to give her the things she didn’t have. I’ve thrown a million miles around the world at her, taking her places that she’d only read about. I’ve surrounded her with people who love her big. I’ve taken her to therapy and talked her through her spirals and gently tried to coax her out of the dark corners her world necessitated that she cower in. I can’t always convince her to stop savagely criticizing herself, but I’ve tried. I’ve tried to give her the home she never felt she had. I’ve given her a big, beautiful thing. A brightly colored thing of cobalts and vermilions and coppers and violets. Everything I do is for her.

 I hope she’s proud of me.

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