When Time Slows Down
When I was eighteen, just after I graduated from high school, I went on a trip with my mom to France. We had been planning it for months but I had been dreaming about Paris in particular for many years. I pictured myself strolling along the Seine, wrapped in a scarf, the Eiffel tower twinkling in the distance, while Françoise Hardy played on a turntable from an open apartment window. However, all my expectations flew out the cab window as we whizzed in and out of the frenetic Parisian traffic. Our cab driver, a middle aged man with a bleeding (and by the smell of it, festering) head wound muttered under his breath angrily before finally forcing us out onto the street three blocks from our apartment. It was not such a romantic start.
My mom was thrilled to be on this trip with me. Not just because she had never been to France, but because this was my last summer living under her roof. This time together meant even more because her own mother had passed away earlier that year. However, she struggled to keep pace with my youthful strides. She tired easily and suffered from chronic nerve problems in her feet. I tried to be patient, but it was hard. There were so many places I wanted to see in such a limited time. She was slowing me down, and I could see the disappointment in her eyes. Our second morning started out fine, but a couple hours in, she sat on a park bench and urged me to keep going without her. “Go! It’s fine. I really like this spot. Really, Anna . . . please! Go do what you want to do, sweetie. I’ll meet you back at the apartment tonight.” And while I tried to protest outwardly, deep down I thought I’d be happier on my own. So I left my mom on a park bench and, selfishly, reveled in my newfound freedom. I wandered around the city for hours on end. Seeing the glow on my face back at the apartment later, my mom suggested I go out on my own for the whole day next time. “I feel like reading and puttering around the apartment.” Lies. “Maybe I’ll go out for lunch at that restaurant around the corner.” More lies. “Are you sure?” I asked politely. I knew it wasn’t what she wanted, but what she wanted for me. I played along. “Absolutely.” she insisted.
The next morning, I took a bus by myself and spent the day at the Louvre Museum. Rooms were filled to the brim with beautifully ornate, gilded frames of the famous artistic works I had just been studying in my art history class. What at first felt inspiring and exhilarating quickly became overwhelming and achingly lonely. The museum filled up quickly and more than once, I was quite literally pushed out of the way by other tourists trying to snap pictures. Feeling light-headed and downcast, I went outside and sat on a bench. I sat there for an hour and watched the crowds gather and disperse outside the massive pyramid like swarms of bees. This artistic mecca of sorts that I had thought would fill me with meaning, started to feel hollow, shallow even.
That evening, noticing my quieter disposition, my mom suggested a stroll on the Champs-Élysées. We walked up the sidewalk slowly, arm in arm, looking inside the windows at the designer wares. We giggled at the French woman, in her slick black pantsuit and heels, carrying her perfectly coifed Yorkshire Terrier like a Prada purse. “Let’s get some ice cream,” my mom insisted, knowing that a creamy scoop of Belgian chocolate from Häagan-Dazs always successfully consoles me. We waited in a crowd at the crosswalk. The bright green signal to walk lit up and we all descended upon the eight lanes to get to the other side of the still busy street. In the chaos, my mom and I were jostled a bit and unlinked arms. It was easier to move quickly on our own anyway.
Just as I came to the middle of the road, I saw the Arc de Triomphe to my right. Its white, ornate arcades loomed large against the now dusty pink sky. It looked magical. I paused and pulled my silver camera out of my pocket to take a quick picture, framing it carefully. By the time I looked up, most of the crowd had reached the other side. The green signal began flashing. I caught my mother’s eyes and recognized her urgent look immediately. I began to run. The cars sped at me regardless. I realized within a few strides that I was not going to make it across in time, so I turned around and stood in the middle, hoping the drivers would see me and take extra caution.
I felt the hot wind the row of cars made before they reached me; it hit me from both sides and funneled up, causing my hair to dance in the danger. The first car swerved a bit to the right to avoid me. The mirror of the second one grazed my back. I stood on my tippy toes and sucked in. I closed my eyes and remembered all the times I played hide-and-seek, hiding in those narrow places and willing my breathing to quiet, so as not to reveal my spot. All I could hear was the loud roar of engines around me. I dared to open my eyes again, and that’s when I saw her: my mother, inconsolable, screaming out toward me, being held up by a passerby. A group had gathered around her and were all watching in horror. They seemed to be in slow motion. Another car mirror grazed me, this time under my breasts. My blue scarf joined the dance. I could feel my heart beat wildly in my chest. It lasted only a few minutes but felt like an hour.
I heard my mother call my name, “ANNA!” The cars had stopped. She stepped off the curb to meet me and clutched me so tightly it hurt. She wept on my neck. The people in the crowd who had witnessed it all patted our backs and left. I still can’t remember if we ever got that ice cream, but I do know that I didn’t mind my mother’s pace after that night.
A mother to teens now, I have that sharp feeling in my chest that most parents start to feel as the years seemingly accelerate; it’s almost over. In less than three years, my daughter will graduate from high school. It’s created in me an incessant need to slow down and appreciate even our morning routines. I think back to this Paris trip often. How gracious it was of my mom to not demand the time with me. How focused I was on seeing as much as I could, when the most meaningful and fleeting thing was beside me. The best part of Paris didn’t end up being the Louvre or the Seine. The best part of Paris ended up being the time I spent with my mother.