As time passes and life rambles on, good friends sometimes manage to slip away and get lost in the maze of our memories, especially when the force of life's current causes their path to move in a different direction from yours. When this happens, a touch of serendipity is often required to make possible a reunion of fates, but--with my new approach to life--I would no longer allow my future to be dictated merely by chance and circumstance; I was determined to take an active role in sculpting the shape of my future.
When an old friend told me she would be coming to Europe from South America for a medical conference, and asked if I would come and stay with her in Paris, it gave me an opportunity to act on these new impulses: I would go to Paris to reunite with a woman who, though I had only known her for a matter of days, had several years earlier left me on a train platform in Munich completely captivated by her confession of love, which happened to come--inconveniently-- on the eve of my departure for the United States...but that is another story all together.
In the weeks leading up to this chance at a Parisian tryst I remembered that part of my desire to visit France came from the fact that someone who I had promised to visit, but who I had not been in touch with for so long that I did not even have contact information for him this point, had been living in Paris the last time I heard from him. Years before this took place, when I was but sixteen years old, one of my best friends—Hugh—went through some familial upheaval and was forced to move to France in the middle of our sophomore year of high school. We tried to keep in touch, but, what with my aforementioned tendency to completely consume myself with the clamor of circumstance, and the fact that our paths had been so far removed, we lost contact completely.
By the time I was living in Europe, however, what with it having been more than seven years since we had traded words in any form and my having no way to get in touch with him, I very highly doubted that I would be able to find him in only two weeks. To be honest, I wasn’t sure if he’d be interested in seeing me even if I could find him—especially not on such short notice. Nevertheless, I ventured what I thought would be a futile query on the World Wide Web for “Hugh E____, Paris.”
Low and behold, Google™ got a hit! Someone named Hugh had, at some point, run the American University of Paris’ music club and their website even had his email posted as the contact information for the group. My friend Hugh was a musician and, for all I knew, he could have been a student at AUP. I couldn’t believe it! I immediately sent an email detailing my studies in Germany and my upcoming trip to Paris. I waited eagerly for signs of life from my old friend, but instead I got an automated message saying that the email address was no longer valid and could not be delivered. Damn! With only ten days before my trip to Paris I was running out of time. As a last ditch effort, I then sent a formal email to the registrar’s office of The American University of Paris. The letter inquired about the status of Hugh E____ and if he was by chance a student at AUP. I asked simply if they could put me in contact with him, or at least give me his last known contact information; They sent no response.
Only a week before I was to arrive at Gare de l'Est train station in Paris to meet my friend from Brazil, I got an email from Hugh himself! The office at his school had sent him some seemingly banal message that, once he finally got around to looking at it, gave my email address and said I was looking for him. His response was nothing short of epic: he went over all that had happened with him over the years, what he did in high school and college, and how great Paris was. He lamented on how he had always planned on coming back to the United States to see me and our friends and to go to college in the States, but wound up falling in love with France and had resolved to stay. He asked about all of our old friends, most of whom I was no longer in touch wtih, and—though he was convinced of it being totally impossible—he even invited us to visit him in Paris, assuring me that we could all stay with him if any of us ever made it to Europe.
------- ------- ------- ------- ------- -------Needless to say, this was good news…
Here is the text of the actual email Hugh sent me that I conveniently have saved:
Von: Hugh E____
Gesendet: Dienstag, 4. November 2003 07:25:24
“WHATS UP MUTHA FUCKA!!!!!!! I've been trying to get a hold of you guys for ever! I've been to the LMHS website and everything and couldn't find anything. That's fucking great to hear from you man!! what's up?! what's happened to you? do you still see any of the old guys anymore? dave, pete, darrin, greg, zohar, shana etc (and anybody else i forgot)?? are you still in Narberth area? shit, it's basically been since 10th grade right?? I have been so pissed cause the past years I've lost COMPLETE contact with everyone back there and I haven't found any info on anyone. shit what's up??
Here's my story: I'm still in Paris. yeah, I was expecting to get out of here as soon as I finished high school or whatever, but guess what I fucking loved it here, so I've stayed and I'm graduating this spring from the American University. Wow. let me tell you my life has changed since I left. I'm still the same, but I've gotten used to life in France. It's mad cool here and Europe is surprisingly totally fucking
awesome. I speak basically fluent french now. I went to an international high school, so that, like AUP, is filled with people from all over the place. even though I'm in France mostly everyone I know speaks english and is not actually french. after high school I was like it's cool here, I'm gonna chill for another semester or two at college, which has turned into the past few years at school. I'm doing a french major (just because it's easy and i can do it) and a film minor.
as you can tell, I'm still into music. i'm running the music studio at school and I have a band wiht some good friends that i've been playing with for the past 3 years. it's totally chill. I'll have to send you a cd. I really don't know what I'm doing after this spring, it's all up in the air. I might stay here, might go somewhere in the states, who knows. I'm seeing this girl right now, she's mad cool, from South Africa. Europe is mad cool man. they're so chill about drinking and chilling and shit. I'm 22 now, and have vague ideas, but nothing concrete whatsoever about what I'm doing next. has everybody stayed in the Philly area? what's happened to everyone?? you have to give me everybody's email that you have. man, you seriously have
to get your butt over here and make a trip to visit me and party. free room + board etc. seriously. guess what, my parents are totally down with chillin now, so I chill with them every so often. what ever happened wiht you and Morgan? I thought you guys were gonna get engaged in like 11th grade or something.
shit, it's awesome to hear from you man. I can't believe it's been like 5 or 6 years right?? keep in touch and tell me whats going on.
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Sure, I could have written back with a quick note outlining what I was doing in Europe and how I was planning on coming to France in a few days, but that wouldn’t be much fun. Instead, I set down a very long and involved letter, detailing exactly what had happened with each and every one of our friends Dave, Pete, Darren, Greg and Shana since he had been in France, and even even mentioned Zohar, who had died a few years earlier.
Naturally, I saved my story for last and only started discussing my studies and where I was living after three or four pages of densely packed pieces of information about everything from our childhood memories to what my favorite band was. Only after having put his memory through a work out of phenomenal proportions did I sneak in the fact that I was at that time living in Germany, that I was already planning on coming to Paris in ten days and that I could not wait to see him.
You know that feeling you get when you see an old friend for the first time in too long? Sometimes that nostalgia hits so hard that it is difficult to accurately gauge (and control) your emotions and act normally; other times, however, the overwhelming sense of wistfulness yields to evocative moments of happiness. I wasn’t sure what would happen, but when I finally met Hugh on the platform of the train station in Paris, where he greeted with a serious hug and a salubrious smile, it was as if no time had passed between us! True, we didn’t look exactly the same after 6 years, and we didn’t know the same people anymore, nor did we really even know each other at that point, but it didn't matter. I mean, a lot happens to a young man between the ages of 6 and 22, but whatever it was that had brought us together in the first place was clearly still there.
Once we boarded the subway—which, by the way, are incredibly treacherous in Paris, what with how hard the doors slam closed—and made our way toward his place, which I half expected to be a dump the size of a shoebox. We broke into such a natural banter that it seemed like we were still back in Philly, and, though we reminisced for a few minutes about what had happened to all of our dearest friends back in the United States, it was no time at all until we started talking about funny things we had heard that week and interesting ideas about what to do over the coming weekend.
Having finally made it to Paris, after hours on the train from Germany engaged in deep philosophical conversation with a lovely young German woman, Hugh took what could already have been described as an idyllic situation and made it truly magical when he lead us back to his place in the center of town to get settled and go out for some culture.
Now, when I say the “center of town” I could be talking about any given neighborhood within the city limits and relatively close to the interesting areas. Not in this case. Here I literally mean the exact geographic center of Paris!
Most people who have been to Paris, whether they are there on vacation or for business, at some point pass by the Cathédrale Notre Dame; very few people, however, get to actually spend their nights within a hundred yards of its gates!
Turmoil had sent Hugh and his family to Paris in the first place, but the move did not solve all of life’s’ problems; A few years earlier both his mother and father decided to leave Paris in favor of Belgium and Switzerland respectively, which meant that my slacker friend was, at this point, the sole tenant of two beautiful apartments in the spectacular city of Paris, which fully lives up to all the hype that surrounds its legend, and the apartment that he lead me to was actually on the Ile de la Cité in the middle of the Seine. It's not every night that you get to sleep on the island where Paris was originally founded over 2000 years earlier.
Needless to say, the atmosphere was charged with history and culture. It was so wonderful to see my dear, old friend again after so many years; it was like a dream come true: after six years apart, in the dead center of Paris, was extraordinary enough...but it was only the beginning.