I simply couldn't stand all of the people. I came here to set myself free to fly, fly away from the people and the sights and the sounds that cramped me into my little box and covered my head like cardboard flaps. Doctor Nolan suggested the trip, said it would be good for me, one last stage of treatment to help rid me of my "disease". Now I am packed like a sardine on a crowded sidewalk, marinating in the sultry summer heat like the brine the dead fish swims in.
Parts of me could not wonder where this all began. How I got to be in the back of a taxicab in what is supposed to be the most resplendent, romantic cities on the planet. New York may be "The City That Never Sleeps", but Paris, supposedly, could be called "The City Where All Love Blossoms". I don't know what to expect from here: I was the envy of all the girls at the clinic, the center of attention, the one everyone had eyes on yet again. The entire flight over I was wondering and wondering again what would happen once I stepped off the plane and into the unknown land waiting there. And right now I felt not like an uplifted spirit letting loose and soaring above her insecurities but like a baby – fat, crying, sitting in my own helpless mess like a soiled diaper.
I thought that maybe I'd become one of those travelers you hear about in the papers and in books, the ones that never stay in the same place for more than a month at a time. I'd learn the customs and intricacies of each culture I experience, and the few times I would go back to the States I'd divulge my glorious tales of my travels to everyone I know, and while I would go off to Croatia or Tahiti or Iceland all of my friends would go back to their day-to-day jobs and sigh and say "I wish I had Esther's life".
But the stress and the heat piled so high on top of me that I couldn't handle much more. I felt the bell jar hovering above me, threatening to drop. The heat pressed in onto me at all sides and I couldn't breathe. Blackness outlined my vision like an inky frame, its tendrils slowly creeping in on my irises and covering them.
The taxi arrives just when I need it the most; an unlikely chariot bursting out of the midst like it is on victory lap. By this time the heat and the congestion had become unbearable. I fought my way through the crowd and yanked at the handle, slipping into the cool embrace of the cab. The heat blew away like the last remains of an old lover anchoring the heart down. I was no longer pickling in my own briny sardine juice. It was bliss. I spent a minute collecting myself when the heat intruded once more, weighing down on me like a printing press.
"Can I get a lift? It's too damn hot out here." A voice broke through my blissful trance and drew me to the source – a boy maybe five years younger than I, looking frazzled and frantic as if he lost something. The heat was beginning to roll into the taxi in tsunami-sized waves, and I felt myself drowning in its grasp.
And then he slithered into the cab next to me and shut the door behind him.
I'm not too hot about traveling. Everyone tries too hard to be this glamorous jet-set type and acts like they know everything about a place they've been to once in their goddamn life. I swear, they do. They walk and talk like they own the goddamn place. But really they just make themselves look like the biggest phonies out there.
Paris is full of these fake jet-set types. I damn near got sick, it was so fake. I damn near got sick and then got back on the plane to take me somewhere other than this place. Everyone was all dressed up all pretty and crap. Who travels like that? What did they think, they were goddamn movie stars? I went to Paris 'cause I was just too damn bored with New York. It was getting to be a pretty crumby place. But boy did I miss it a whole lot the second I got off that plane.
What really sparked it was the heat. This is the heat that can knock you out in seconds. It gets hot in New York, but it's nothing like this. It's always a shame when you get to a place and the weather is crap, but this was different. It was so hot out that all these people were walking around barely dressed and strutting like they were supermodels for crissake. It damn near killed me to see this crap. All of a sudden it got real crowded real fast. Normally I'm okay with crowds but this one came outta nowhere and I began to get nervous, so I got to the first cab I saw and climbed in pretty quick.
Boy, the girl in the cab was a piece of something else. I swear, she was one of the prettiest girls I've ever seen. But she was all spaced out or something. Don't get me wrong, she was beautiful. She had this shiny brown hair that was all wavy, and her skin looked real soft, like I could reach out and touch it and it would feel like silk or some other expensive fabric. But she wasn't all there.
"Hey what's your name?" The girl didn't even look up. She was all crouched over and had her head between her knees, and the thing is I don't think she even realized it until I spoke up and got into the cab. So I sat down and stayed real quiet in case I startled her. I barely heard her say "Esther" in response. I damn near thought I was hearing things. I looked back over at her to say something, but her head was back between her knees.
"I'm Holden" I said, hoping to get her to look up again. The silence was awkward and it bugged me. When you sit with someone you shouldn't have an awkward silence.
"Where you going to?" the cabbie driver asked. He had a funny way of speaking. He didn't know English. Most cab drivers don't, no matter where you are. Even in America the cabbies can't speak any goddamn English.
"The Eiffel Tower" the girl spoke at the same time as me. It damn near killed me.
I kept examining the unknown boy out of the corner of my eye. He had looked at me strangely when he got into the cab, and then he'd sat down like we were old friends. Then we both said that we were going to the Eiffel Tower. My hands started twitching like the nose of a curious mouse, and they held the same curiosity in their digits.
The Eiffel Tower stood in the middle of the city like a sentry. She watches over her subjects and lights up the sky each and every night signaling them home. The North Star for Parisians and foreigners alike. When it was suggested I go on this trip, I thought and thought and thought about what wild wishes I'd want to fulfill on this whirlwind trip. Then I thought that going to the top of the Eiffel Tower was the only obvious answer. I'd climb to the top and lean far over the railing and pretend I was flying. I'd fly high into the night sky and look down on everyone and see how I've grown. I'd fly so high up the bell jar wouldn't be able to catch me and
I didn't expect to be joined by someone. I was suddenly tethered to the ground, pulling at the rope that was this mystery man. Carefully I glanced at him. He had brown hair falling into his face and kept his eyes down like he was guilty. He said his name was Holden. It rolled off the tongue, and I decided to become someone that he could adore. I made up my mind that I was going to say something to him, to find my voice and show him how witty and fantastic I was. But all I did was swallow my tongue until it stewed in my stomach, and I let it stay there until the cab stopped.
When we pulled up to the tower, the base loomed like the shadow of an impossible steely animal, waiting for just the right moment to pounce on the unsuspecting innocents below, but it stayed still, and the heat had lifted a little, loosening its grasp and allowing me to breathe in the outdoors once more, and I felt like I had reached Paradise, if only for a fleeting moment.
Right then, the boy from the cab stood next to me and said the two magic words: "I'm unimpressed."
"If you say so, I still think it's grand." I tried to hide the skepticism in my voice.
At first I was so upset with the boy's comment I wanted to vomit – this monument to life and love was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. It was colossal and looming and legendary and powerful. This Holden character must be lying to me. I decided right then and there that he was a liar and out to destroy this wonderful trip Until I saw, he was telling the truth: the tower simply wasn't spectacular. It wasn't. It was less than it really was, a lie, a sham, a scam made to enchant the people who don't know better than to look closer. I began to cry.
Why the hell did she start to cry. I have no idea. But one second I tell her I'm unimpressed with the damn tower and the next she's shaking. There were no tears or anything but she was wailing and shaking and everything. Give me a girl with tears and I know what to do. I once dated this one girl who cried at everything. She was a real looker, but all she did was cry all the time. Especially when I was around. She would just cry over everything, and I have no idea why. She didn't know why she cried, either. But it happened all the time when I was around. She was an ugly crier, too. Her face turned bright red and got all wet cause she couldn't stop the tears once they started. I was used to tears, though. Those you can wipe away. I can't stop this girl from goddamn shaking.
Boy did I get into a mess. I was gonna leave her there, but I couldn't just leave the damn girl crying in the middle of Paris. She looked barely older than me. And she was alone too. I thought then about her alone in Paris crying. That messed me up. That damn near broke me right there. I finally just grabbed her hand and pulled her to an elevator that took us to the top of the tower.
Everyone says the view is so beautiful and breathtaking and all that phony crap. It's not really that great. Sure, you can see far and the lights are pretty, but you can see the same thing from the top of any tall building. But once we got to the top she stopped crying a little. And all of a sudden she smiled. Boy, she had a nice smile.
We stayed up there for a little while just looking. At the top there was a breeze and it felt nice. I looked at the girl and she was just staring. She had this smile on her face like she was on top of the world but her eyes seemed glassed over. That kinda made me mad. She's the one who wanted to go to the top of the goddamn tower and she wasn't even looking at anything. I guessed there was something wrong with her. She just seemed a little lost. Then I stopped thinking about it. You never get too attached to strangers. You end up feeling too much, and feelings end up biting you in the ass.
People were walking in and out of the door leading to the top of the tower. The wind was picking up now. All of a sudden most people began to run off down the stairs or into the elevator. But I sat there, watching this girl stare at these lights that weren't even impressive. And boy, she loved every bit of it. That almost killed me. I started to smile, too. It seemed like the right thing to do at that point. I couldn't help it, anyways. It wasn't that great and she was eating it up. She knew it wasn't great too. That's what got me. That's when I knew she'd be okay. And I'd be okay too.