It’s actually kind of hard to believe that 2014 is ending; this has been the longest and shortest year of my life. In less than a week it will be Christmas again and my first birthday – ever – without hearing Rachel’s voice. I had decided months ago that I couldn’t and wouldn’t spend the holidays at home. I am writing this post from a cute little studio apartment on the banks of the Garonne in Toulouse, France; it is nearing the end of the first of 3 weeks (and 3 countries) of traveling I am doing. The beautiful Cervantes acoustic guitar that Bruce had bought me for my birthday last year had become a reminder of a horrific day that I never wanted to celebrate again and so, with his understanding, I sold it to buy my RT ticket to Europe and to begin making deposits on apartment rentals in 3 cities: Toulouse, FR, Brighton, UK and Amsterdam.
I’d been to Paris twice before (though it’s been years); Rach had been to France twice as well. Neither of us had ever been to Toulouse, which is primarily why I chose this southwestern French city. They call it “la ville rose” because nearly every building is made from brick. It’s very pretty here and though I haven’t seen the sun during my stay, the weather has been mild and I’ve been able to walk everywhere. I think Rachel would have liked Toulouse… Very nice shopping (with lots of vintage shops), excellent restaurants, cafés and bakeries, and “just enough” to do without being overwhelmed with stuff to do. It’s a city for sure, but not at all like Paris where you need to plan your days in order to fit in museums, monuments and all of the arrondissements. Like Paris though, Toulouseans are still very “French” – they walk super fast (always in a hurry to get somewhere, though not sure where), drive kind of crazy (I don’t even know why crosswalks exist in France – if there isn’t a crosslight, nobody stops for you), and they all look a bit grumpy at first. Actually, Rachel would have been a perfect Parisian. She had the walk, the great sense of style, the crazy driving, the cigarettes, beautiful hair, rad collection of shoes, and a natural scowl until you got to know her ;)
I’m straying… This entry isn’t really meant to be about Rachel and how much I miss her and how much the holidays suck without her. I wouldn’t even be here if that were not the case. Nearly every shop has some cute little thing that I know she would have liked and that I would have bought for her if this was a “real” vacation and she was still here. Today I stood outside one such a shop with many cute things in its window; I would have bought Rachel the set of tiny teaspoons with cats painted on them. For me, the set with owls. To my left was one of dozens of historic churches in Toulouse; sitting on the church steps was a guy, couldn’t have been more than 21 years old, clearly homeless, with 2 dogs. I suddenly felt sick and petty. Was I seriously going to buy some overpriced teaspoons that I don’t even need?
The guy, probably handsome under all the grit, was dirty and tired looking. One of his dogs was asleep, its head resting on the guy’s lap; the other sitting loyally beside him. He wasn’t soliciting per sé, I mean, I think his presence was probably enough anyway. I watched as most people walked past him without a glance, a few handing him a coin or two as they entered the church. He accepted their donations graciously and put the change into a small wallet in a beat up backpack. It was mid day so I found the closest sandwich shop which happened to not even be French, but rather Greek, and ordered a steak frites kabob (I don’t even know what that is but it seemed like it would be filling) and a bottle of water.
Few people ever speak to the homeless; Bruce almost always does – especially if they are a veteran. Maybe it’s stupid but I think it’s nice to actually talk to someone rather than just throw a buck at them and walk away, especially at the holidays. So I asked the kid, in my sucky French, if he had eaten today and he said no. I gave him the bag of food and said “pour vous.” Then I gave him a few Euro and told him that I know that the holidays are difficult. I said hello to his dog that wasn’t napping, wished him well and left. Obviously, I don’t know the difficulty he faces, clearly not; but I do know the holidays are especially tough for a lot of people in many different ways for a variety of reasons.
Ok, so my point from that very verbose story is just this: I am choosing to spend the holidays alone. Many people do not have a choice, they are just alone. Be grateful for what you have and who you have – and hold on to it because it can disappear faster than you can imagine; and once it’s gone you don’t always get a second chance.
Be safe and stay warm.
Rach, wherever you are, I hope this and every birthday is filled with laughter and unicorns and cupcakes and kittens. xoxo ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️