This song always reminds me of my first last time in Paris. You can have more than one “last time” if you come back changed. This one was in 1995, at that cusp of an age when I was old enough to know what was coming, but young enough not to flinch. We danced our last dance to this song. Nothing as obviously referential as a tango, which is theater masquerading as intimacy, but a slow, circular shuffling, an excuse in public to put my arms around her, to commit her to memory. I had an early morning flight, but we didn’t go back to her flat. Not that night. She understood better than me how these things worked. By increments, she’d begun pulling away. Preparing us.
She taught me that romance relies on a predetermined end to cast a shadow on its beginning. The pang of impending loss is the spice that intensifies the flavor. It keeps the focus on the now. L’amour, c’est comment on comprend la mort she said, between puffs of her Gauloise Blonde. Love is how we understand death. And I believed her because she was French, and could make anything sound profound and sexy. Standing with my bag outside the Métro station, brave and miserable, I knew better than to ask if I could call, or write, or if I’d ever see her again. But I asked anyway, the words flinging themselves at her despite my efforts to hold them back. Her smile hid pity. “Write that novel,” she told me. “I will read every word.”
The novel, like so many things of youth, fell by the wayside. I think of her only rarely now. Les Feuilles Mortes. The smell of tobacco. The raspberry-jam taste of Beaujolais. Small reminders. Hers was a story with an end, the only possible end, because of course she wasn’t much of a character to begin with. Just a collection of fantasies and stereotypes, a milepost along an imagined road. The depressive pixie dream-girl, projected onto a canvas of loneliness and yearning, unable to survive beyond its borders. I didn’t even give her a name.