Your last week in Paris, you will do all the last things, big and small. You will tidy your apartment one final time. You will buy cheese at the Marché Raspail along with vegetables that can’t be cooked in a hotel room. You will eat your last chevre-tomate baguette from the La Parisienne on Blvd Saint-Germain. Indeed, every day, you will eat something new and delicious, in case you never have the chance to eat it again. You will cram in a few last French words, recording them dutifully in your notebook, because you set out to master a second language but you have not, in the end, succeeded.
Your feet light, your heart heavy, you will run your last loop of the route you’ve perfected through the leafiest gardens and quietest streets.
Then, with something close to panic fluttering in your chest, because your time is almost up, you will use your last week to do all the first things that you didn’t make time to do months earlier. You will visit Notre Dame, the Musée Rodin, the Petit Palais, the Hôtel du Ville, the Musée Marmotan, la Fondation Louis Vuitton, the Basilique du Sacré Cœur.
You will take the train out to Versailles and stroll through the chateau in your sneakers and quick-dry shorts so that you can run the sprawling forest afterwards, finishing up with a sandwich that came highly recommended and lives up to its reputation. You will sign out a Velib’ in the Bois du Boulogne and get lost, lost, lost, then found, marveling at how many times you have set off in the parks and streets of Paris with the conviction of a native and still managed to lose your way. It must now be considered a point of pride that you never bothered to go to the Louvre or climb the steps of the Eiffel Tower.
You will walk to school one last time through the Jardin du Luxembourg and salute the trees that are now fully and confidently in leaf, unaware that months ago you took pictures of them naked and put them on the Internet. From your bedroom window, you will notice the way the light plays across the rooftops at sunrise and sunset and you will make peace with the fact that photos don’t do it justice. You will have one last picnic. You will leave the last food from your cupboard on a filthy street corner where you’ve seen a woman and her young daughter bed down for the night.
Late one evening, long past your bedtime, you will stare down at your fingers recoiling from your keyboard in astonishment because you’ve finished the draft you came here to write. Both too lean and too bloated, a fleshy skeleton of a first draft — it is almost unreadable, but you’ve got it down, you’ve done it. You’ve finished the thing you needed to finish in order to make a start.
In the very last days, two of the people you love most in the world will visit and it will be such a relief, after so many weeks of public bungling and one-sided conversations with your appliances, to be with people who understand you in any language.
On your final, final day, you will walk home from school and tears will slide out from underneath your sunglasses, because it’s over, this thing you did. Even if you could find a way to do this again, the you that you set out to become by coming here won’t be the you that comes back. That’s not how it works. And you can’t know if you will ever do anything like this, ever again. How could you do this again? It’s not that it was arduous or demanding or uncomfortable in any way, quite the contrary. It was lavish and lucky. But still, you did it and now it’s done. And it was no small thing.