The moment the wheels of the plane touched down at JFK, I felt the comfort of the familiar as I realized that everyone around me was speaking English. I mindlessly zoomed through immigration and got in a cab. I’m sure you know the feeling of coming back home when you’ve been away for a while—it’s weird how natural it is, sort of like nothing’s different, or you never really left. And yet, at the same time, you’re thrown off by out-of-the-blue changes, like how all of a sudden there’s an Apple store in your neighborhood, and a building that was on one block isn’t there anymore, and a high-rise has gone up in the space of four months.
I have to say, being home makes me feel really torn. I’ve been so proud of myself for coping so well in a foreign city outside my comfort zone, but God, it’s nice to just not have to think about the littlest things. In general, an annoying ambivalence has set in. It’s been nice to catch up with my closest friends (I made a distinct choice not to cave to every social invite from people who I maybe like but don’t really care about), but I start to wonder how much I miss them. I do miss them, of course, but seeing my friends again made me realize that putting physical distance between us didn’t make me feel any less close to them.
Then there’s the idea of social culture here, which I dove back into on Saturday night when I went out to a lively bar in Nolita with a few girlfriends. The vibe and buzz in the room was just so different from what you walk into in Paris. Hard to explain, but it feels friendlier, more high-energy. And at the same time, I remember how that exact atmosphere at one point became so toxic to me. Where does the balance exist, I wonder. I don’t know.
One really positive thing about this trip home is that I’ve really been able to distance myself from my thoughts and sadness about Alex. I’ve found over the past few days that I’m repeating the same conversation over and over, which is inevitable. It begins with someone asking me, “So how is Paris?” and eventually moves to, “So are you seeing anyone, Leo?” at which point, I start explaining what happened between Alex and me. Strangely, doing this again and again has become so formulaic that, with each re-telling, the story becomes less emotional and feels more like a set of facts that I need to present efficiently to the listener in order to get on to the next topic. But also not being within an arm’s reach of Alex somehow makes it seem as if he exists less, or at least, is unavailable to me. In a way, it’s such a relief.
I do worry about feeling the heartbreak and obsession when I return to Paris in a few days. But something tells me that I’m maybe going to be OK. Yesterday, as I was walking to the subway to meet a friend for drinks, I had stuffed my hands into my pocket to avoid the freezing cold, and was fingering the items inside. A moment later, I pulled out a small wooden shoe—it was part of the key chain for my NYC keys that had fallen off. I’d bought it the last time I had gone to visit Alex in Amsterdam. I’d also gotten him one as a quirky gift; mine had an L initial painted on it, and his the letter A. Looking at the tiny clog in my hand, I began to wonder if it wasn’t a sign that maybe I was finally starting to break away from Alex and move on.