I can’t see
The horrible truth of the matter was that the lunch place was a Le Pain Quotidien – a chain that originated in Brussels and has locations worldwide. I had been disappointed multiple times by a Le Pain Quotidien in New York, but we were in Paris and everything we’d eaten so far had been better than in the States. The price and menu were right so I rebuffed my worst fears.
I ordered a Croque monsieur and Francis ordered avocado toast with chicken and a poached egg on the side.
“Would it be wrong of me to say I don’t want to go to the Louvre tomorrow?” I asked, suspecting my noticeably tired husband would agree that we’d had a much better time exploring less touristy sights.
“Yeah, that was too much. I’m exhausted.”
We sat, sipping iced tea and staring vacantly out the window of the restaurant while we waited for our meal.
My sandwich of ham and gruyere on a few tired pieces of yesterday’s pumpernickel toast was disgusting. My lab/ schnauzer mix, Amelia, could have melted the cheese more successfully than these fools. There was also too much of it, so not only did I not enjoy it, but I felt bad for leaving some on the plate. Croque of sh*t was more like it. Francis ate his open-faced chicken avocado toast without much complaint or praise but had to remind the waiter about his forgotten poached egg, which arrived eventually.
By the end of lunch, we were wiped out. We were headed back to the Airbnb for a nap when Francis turned from grey to green.
“I really don’t feel well,” he said, climbing up the spiral staircase inside our flat. “Do you think you could go get some Tylenol for me?” He lay on the bed but looked like he might have to jump up any second.
I took note of his delicate nature and off I went to the streets of Paris for some Tylenol. It took me four pharmacies to understand which drugs contained acetaminophen, and a couple of restaurants to find the right soup (I went with a Vietnamese chicken/ vermicelli soup), but I eventually returned with supplies.
Francis took some pills and some soup and seemed unhappy but settled.
“What did we eat today?” he asked, head propped up on some pillows, face still green.
I scanned the small kitchen counter for reminders.
“There were blueberries and oatmeal this morning, then nothing until lunch. Could it have been the avocado?”
“It tasted fine. Chicken did too.”
We stared at each other.
“The poached egg that almost never came!” he remembered. For some reason, identifying the source relieved some pressure and he drifted off to sleep.
I find the nights of long trips away from home to be the loneliest times of my life. I lay in bed, trying to remember the softness of my own pillow, the sounds of our home, what Amelia’s paws smell like. I waited for sleep. I begged for it. Mornings weren’t ever as bad as nights. Just come, sleep, come.
Francis, not knowing I was awake, scurried off to the bathroom downstairs.
Oh right, I haven’t explained this yet. Our Airbnb was a small two-story flat—this first floor of which contained the front door; a long, barricaded closet; and the bathroom toilet. This was not a room unto itself, but a small cupboard under the spiral staircase with a paper accordion door and a commode. You couldn’t do anything like stand up straight in this “room”. You’d give yourself a concussion. There was no soundproofing or ventilation or anything fancy like that. It was just a toilet under a staircase–like a well-functioning mouse might have.
We had laughed about this situation when we first arrived, but as with all Airbnb’s you kind of take what you get.
So, I was lying there in bed, thinking about dog paws and how we would be reunited in 3 more days when I heard a tiny voice.
Honest to god, it was so tiny that I didn’t think Francis was in trouble. There was no charge to his tone, no immediacy. It sounded like he was taking a new definition-less word out for a drive.
Then he was quiet. I tried to get to sleep again.
This one I heard and I flew down the unsteady spiral staircase faster than lightning.
He was curled up on a tiny stool next to the wall.
“Oh my god, honey. What’s up? Are you ok?”
“I can’t see.”
“WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU CAN’T SEE!?!” I could tell that he could see me, so I didn’t think that he had actually gone blind, but this was not anything I was expecting him to say.
“I can’t see.”
I recognized this feeling. My drinking days gave me plenty of experience with the belief that you are definitely about to die when you’re just going to puke a lot.
“You’ll be ok, honey.” I didn’t know what to do with him so I just stood there.
“I can’t feel my legs,” he said.
Again, I was nonplussed at this statement. I thought it might feel better to lie down so I pulled my parka from the hook on the wall and put it on the floor.
“Do you want to lie down? You can lie on my coat. Do you want to lie down?” I was pointing at my coat, certain that he would agree.
“Why are you yelling at me?! I can’t see!” Of course, I had not been yelling but wasn’t going to dispute him at his weakest moment.
Then it came.
It was big and juicy and pointed at the toilet but wound up everywhere. I was glad to see it because I knew that he would feel better soon, but then suddenly his body buckled and seized. He had been balanced on his knees and he hit the floor face first. For a split second, he wasn’t there anymore. He was vacant. It was 12:30 in the morning and I started screaming at the top of my lungs, “FRANCIS!! FRANCIS!!”
It all rushed into my head at that moment. What was I going to do? I was in a foreign country, in a long t-shirt and nothing else, watching my husband die or something in this tiny pukey poopy closet of a bathroom.
Then suddenly, it came two more times… walls, floors, a little bit in the toilet.
And then he returned, worse for wear, but the man I love returned. I could see him. He even smiled a bit.
And we went up the ridiculous, rickety spiral staircase and he washed up (there was a toiletless shower and sink upstairs) and got into bed. I brought him some water and tucked him in and then went downstairs to deal with the flood.
It wasn’t bad. It was beautiful actually. Because sometimes in the absolute worst situation you can imagine, you realize how much you’re not alone. We were there with each other. Through thick and thin, the good and the bad, the cheese and the puke, we’re together. I didn’t need a reminder of how lucky I am, but when I got it, I was grateful.
The next day we were walking gently through the streets of Paris. I stopped suddenly and screamed, “I can’t see!!!” and we laughed so hard we collapsed into each other. Together.