IN LOVE AND WAR
By Dufflyn Lammers
I couldn’t bear watching him walk through the rain with his head wet, so I bought two umbrellas, one for myself and one for my boyfriend, the first Spring I was in Paris.
He lost the polka dot umbrella from Monoprix after I’d left to go back to Los Angeles, which I still officially called home, and where I had no need for an umbrella.
When I returned to Paris in October he was starting a new job so he carried the Samsonite with him. I like this umbrella. It’s automatic, and black, and light as a feather—perfect to carry in your purse for, literally, a rainy day.
This left me umbrellaless.
On my way back to his apartment one day that Fall it started to pour. I stepped into a baggage shop on Avenue de Clichy and bought yet another umbrella.
Somehow two weeks later all things umbrella had ended up at my boyfriend’s office. Friday night I texted him at work to please bring my the new one home. I was a little ticked off. How many umbrellas did I have to buy?
That was Friday November thirteenth, 2016. The day of the Bataclan terrorist attacks in Paris.
We sat in his apartment all night listening to sirens cross and re-cross the city. There was nothing else to do.
I forgot all about the umbrella.
The next morning the real estate broker he works for decided to close for a few days. Nobody wanted to shop for apartments in Paris that weekend.
A friend called and asked if I would join her; there was a group of (mostly women) meeting at St. Elisabeth’s Church. This church is near the Place de la Republique, just blocks from where the attacks took place. I was afraid to go. How could we know it was over?
But I wanted to connect.
At the meeting, one woman told me how she had run when the shooting started and a stranger had pulled her into an apartment. She hadn’t wanted to go inside, the whole thing seemed surreal, like it wasn’t really happening, but the stranger insisted. Later, she realized this woman may have saved her life.
As I listened I wanted to go back home and tell my boyfriend that I love him.
We had been together for a year at this point. Neither one of us had said those words. Not even last winter after “Charlie,” although I wanted to say it then too. I was waiting for him to say it first.
I believe the things we want most are also the things we fear most.
That Summer he had come to stay with me in California and we ate Dim Sum with my father. Then we went back to France and took the train up to meet his family in the North. But I didn’tknow what the future would hold.
If we said we loved each other, what did that mean? I was afraid of how those words could change us. That he would feel some sort of pressure. That he wouldn’t say it back. That I would lose my power in the relationship and become a groveling mess.
This is the first relationship I have been in since my last one ended, quite badly, thirteen years ago. I’m forty-five now. I don’t know how many more chances at love I will get.
When we met in Paris I was on a three-month visit from Los Angeles, taking some time to work on a book. It was only my second trip to Paris and I didn’t know the city then. I stopped to ask a handsome Frenchman for directions one day and then ran into him again two weeks later in the same spot. He invited me to lunch at a cafe. After that we saw each other more and more.
He made me laugh. He was persistent and reliable. He held my face when he kissed me. I was ready, I thought, to try again.
Toward the end of that stay I had planned a ten-day trip to Italy. I didn’t want to leave Paris and the man whom I was by that time calling my boyfriend, but I had already bought my plane ticket.
I went to see the Sistine Chapel in Rome, the ruins in Pompeii, and the birthplace of pizza in Napoli. It was the low season so there were no boats running from where I was staying in Laverno to Positano. I took a train, then a subway, then another train, and yet another train, then a bus, until at last I arrived in the seaside town dizzy with motion sickness.
I stopped at an empty boutique that I was sure in summer would have been swamped. One frilly blouse was all I could afford. As I waved goodbye to the shopkeeper and stepped back into the alley, a fierce rain came slobbering down. I pulled back and gasped.
“What’s the matter you don’t have an umbrella?” The shopkeeper said.
He held up his palm in a gesture universally accepted to mean stop, wait, pause and disappeared behind his counter.
I watched the rain slap the cobblestones outside. It was getting dark.
The shopkeeper reappeared and handed me a red umbrella.
“But I’m leaving today. I… I can’t bring it back to you.”
I opened the umbrella and pushed up the hill to the bus stop.
I made it back to Laverno, then to Paris and my boyfriend in time for Thanksgiving. I carried that red umbrella with me every day until my 90 day tourist Visa was up and I had to go back to Los Angeles.
When I told my boyfriend the story of how the red umbrella came to be in my posession, he said that in parts of Italy there was a wartime law which remains on the books—it says that if a fugitive, or someone in need, comes to your door you must help him.
Odd the unexpected inheritance of war.
A year later, after the Bataclan attack the president of France declared a state of emergency. The markets closed, the theaters too. We were advised not to go where there would be crowds.
The tension in the city moved like a fog. Nothing looked the same. We squinted at each other in the streets.
Then one morning I went to the Muslim bakery in our neighborhood for my croissant. There was a young Gypsy girl, maybe fifteen years old, who for weeks would sit outside the doors. She wore the same beige hooded jacket every day. She had a cup on the sidewalk where people gave her money. Usually, when I passed she would say hello to me. I would smile and say hello back. But I never gave her money. I didn’t want to be taken for a fool.
Who could say if she was just lazy and didn’t want to work. But then again, what if she was an orphan, or a refugee, or if the horrible rumor was true that the Romany husbands beat their women if they don’t bring enough home at the end of the day?
I was thinking all of this as I walked toward the bakery. I took a deep breath and turned to her. “I’m getting a croissant, do you want one?”
I went inside and bought two croissants and I handed her one as I came out.
It seemed to have taken more courage than it ought to.
I remember thinking: maybe I should buy the gypsy girl an umbrella. Maybe the next time it rains I will get a whole box of umbrellas and stand on the corner handing them out.
The weeks passed faster than I would have liked. When it was time for me to go back to LA, my boyfriend left for work in the morning like he always did. But on that day he knew I wouldn’t be there when he came home.
He kissed me at the door and he said, “I love you boo.”
“I love you too,” I said, and I watched him all the way down the stairs until the top of his bare head disappeared. What if it rained? Or worse? Who would have the courage to give him shelter?
It’s hard enough to love anyone in this world, but doing it from eight thousand miles away was stressful. And expensive. So I have decided to move to Paris.
In the meantime there have been more attacks: Nice, Normandy, Champs Elysee. My family is worried.
I tell them it’s not different from living in the states: Orlando, San Bernadino, Las Vegas. I worry about them too.
But I am in love. And with a little luck, and patience for the French bureacracy, we will sign our civil partnership papers next month.
What if it doesn’t work out I am left stranded in a Foreign country? What if these attacks lead to a full-fledged war? What if our cultural differences prove to be too much?
I’m seven years older than him, what if he wakes up one day and I’m old? What if he falls in love with someone else? What if I fall in love with someone else?
I remind myself what the Dalai Lama says: “Take into account that great love and great achievements involve great risk.”
Yes. I am completely terrified. And I am going to do it anyway.
About the Author:
Dufflyn Lammers is veteran a writer and performer. She is a regular contributor at thefix.com the world’s leading resource for addiction and recovery. Her essay “Tinder in Paris” won a Silver Medal in the Love Story category for the Twelfth Annual Solas Awards, 2018. Her one woman show DISCOVERED was a 2017 Duende Distinction Award nominee in its debut at the Hollywood Fringe Festival. She has been published poetry in Iowa Woman, the Museletter of the National Association For Poetry Therapy, and in Poetry Slam: The Competitive Art of Performance Poetry edited by Gary Glazner. She has appeared on RUSSELL SIMMONS DEF POETRY JAM (HBO), CRIMINAL MINDS (CBS), ENTOURAGE (HBO), and in countless independent films and commercials. Lammers co-edited the spoken word anthology Chorus with Saul Williams, 2014 (Simon & Schuster). In 2011 Lammers wrote, produced, and starred in the short film “Raven,” winning Best Experimental Short at the LA International Underground Film Festival. Lammers was Slammaster of the Los Feliz Slam team 1999-2002, leading her team to three nationals. She was 1993 National Silver Medalist in Poetry Interpretation for Phi Rho Pi. She graduated from Sara Lawrence College in 1995 with a BA in Creative Writing. She lives in Paris France and is also now an International Recovery Coach.