I was afraid to go to Paris, afraid to spend the fantasy I had hoarded for years. I meant to go with a lover; I meant to go when I was thin and beautiful and well-dressed. I carried your picture with me to Paris. I prayed to it each night, stealing a secret peek so the other college students on this summer school trip would not see me praying to a professor they all knew to be a model of intellectual rigor, and, they assumed, high ethical standards. Do you ever pray to my picture impaled on your office bulletin board? In the picture, I smile a secret smile, knowing your wife might see this picture of some student standing in front of a Paris pizza parlor. But it isn’t just some student; it’s me. The pizza parlor is the one you ate in every night when you were in Paris twenty years ago. I still have the map you drew on the back of your personalized stationery to help me find my way here. While the other students crease and de-crease their guide maps to historical landmarks, I trace my way down streets that hold memories for you, to arrive at your historical sites. I could not explain to the others why I had to find this particular pizza parlor, or why I didn’t order anything but insisted on having my picture taken standing in front, smiling for someone not there. The Louvre was only a block away but its treasures meant nothing to me. Notre Dame was just a church. Versailles, merely a shrine to conspicuous consumption. But Pizza Oskian was the historical site of your laughter. The building shares a wall with another shrine, the Hotel L’Oratoire, where I imagine you on the third floor, writhing with some woman, now twenty years older, in a narrow bed. And while I no longer have you in my bed, each night, in the shower, I let my tears run down the drain, mingling with thousands of sloughed cells. Each night, I am peeled one layer more vulnerable to you. I want to live below the surface of my skin because that is where you are. When I asked you once if you felt guilty about what we were doing, you stared in amazement, then laughed. “It isn’t as if I’m going to leave my wife and run off to Paris.” Oh, but you have.
Toni La Ree Bennett received a PhD in English at the University of Washington. Her work has appeared in Poemmemoirstory, Puerto del Sol, Hawaii Pacific Review, Society of Classical Poets, Journal of Poetry Therapy, and Viet Nam Generation, among other publications, and she has several poems included in the anthology The Muse Strikes Back. She is also an editor and photographer.