I met her when I was fifteen years old. My mom had convinced me of the unparalleled magnificence of Parisian women and the equally unparalleled unattractiveness of Parisian men. (Only an idiot would not recognize the jackpot that is beautiful women surrounded by ugly men). So I decided to visit. But like every Asian parent, she insisted on sending me to school. So, in a display of cross-cultural integration as only God would’ve intended it, upon our first meeting, my teacher and I became engaged in a difficult conversation about the location of the bathroom, though one could mistake it for an intense game of rock-paper-scissors between two very constipated people, as each was mustering a painful effort in their hand gestures and facial expressions in the hope of squeezing out something in our own language that the other would understand.
Honorable Mention 2009 FTF Teen Travel Writing Scholarship
“Do you want me to show you the bathrooms?” a voice spoke in Chinese. And then my mouth was hanging, because it came from a blonde girl with ogling eyes and skin so pale that I was quite sure I could see through her. She laughed and spoke again in perfect English. “Come on, I’ll show you.”
I guess there was something strangely relationship-building in directing someone to the bathroom. Because of what occurred a couple days later I had ripped my pants in what could only be described as “when attempt to impress French girls with horribly contrived flipkick goes wrong”, and while in sitting in the infirmary trying to look as classy as possible in my boxer briefs, I got a note. Someone had scribbled in barely-recognizable Chinese, “This should make things easier for all of us,” with a smiley face at the end. In the bag was the pair of red and black girl’s gym shorts that I saw her wearing in PE. The note made me smile a little; the fresh excitement of wearing girls shorts, to be honest, was quite shortlived.
We started to spend a lot of time under a big cedar tree in the courtyard of the school. She was something like a cloud, ethereal and fast-moving, impossible to be captured and studied. Sometimes she slowed down on purpose, and still it took everything in me just to keep up with her. Her mind shot from one place to another; she’d ask questions like, “Would Garfield beat Snoopy in a fight?” or “How many milk duds can I fit in my mouth?” She was like those in-between channels on the radio where two stations broadcasted over each other. We did do “normal” things, hide-n-seek in an antique bookshop, sailing on the Seine, sharing a hot chocolate under the Eiffel. I met her family and she met mine. (Her dad was white and her mom was Taiwanese). We had become best friends.
But what’s every great Parisian love story without the painful goodbyes? I was going home, but it seemed that a part of her, (maybe even a part of Paris), had become a piece of home. I realized that I wanted to know her, who she was, what her baby pictures looked like, or how she looked when she slept. The memories we made remind me that it doesn’t take a cosmic coincidence for people to become friends, we were lonely strangers in a lonely and strange country, lost in translation and much more willing to accept and appreciate. Sometimes at night, I still see her, standing underneath a big cedar tree in her red and black gym shorts, smiling at me.
And in my sleep, I smile back.
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