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It wasn’t the croissants. I mean, part of it was the croissants. It was also the pizza and heavy dressing on absolutely everything. Eggs? Here’s some Hollandaise. Asparagus? Here’s some Hollandaise. Bread? Steak? Vegetables? WHY HERE IS A STICK OF BUTTER THAT WE CALL ‘HOLLANDAISE.’
It was also not having a gym to sweat it out or a place to hike and using the country’s culinary fame as a way to help band-aid the fact that she was quite lonely. It might have been an unpopular opinion and one that Brooke chose not to share but, the truth was, she didn’t like Paris.
Her university offered a semester abroad that didn’t cost any more than regular tuition to stay in New York. She saw the flyer on the library door, spent a day applying instead of studying statistics, and it seemed like a no-brainer decision when she was accepted. She would learn French and ‘broaden her horizons’ and get away from the neck-tattooed gentleman whom she had become fond of spending time with and knew it was a bad idea. So, Paris, here came Brooke. It’s not like it was all bad.
At this point in her life, she’d lived on her own in two different cities, San Francisco and New York. She had some experience in getting to know a place. She would put her headphones in and just walk. For hours. She kept a map in her backpack even though, truth be told, she was freaking horrible at reading maps and they might have done more harm than good in helping her navigate. But she would always find a hole-in-the-wall place to get coffee and would search for funky vintage shops or a dive bar in which to have a beer and read a book or talk to random people.
This isn’t exactly how it worked in Paris. First of all, twenty-five years ago, you couldn’t get a coffee to go. That sounds weird and untrue but it was. You had to sit down at a cafe and order an espresso and, if you were already sitting there, it felt strange not to get a pastry. Especially since your ‘coffee’ was served in a toddler-sized mug and gone in thirty seconds. She had always liked wandering through city streets with a paper cup in hand. This option was not on the menu in this oh-so-fancy European city.
Brooke arrived in Paris a couple of weeks before the semester began, stayed in a hostel, and was committed to familiarizing herself with the neighborhoods before - she assumed - she would get inundated with homework, nightlife, and attractive guys wearing berets named Pierre. So she sat in the cafes, ordered the pastries, stared at strangers, gained some weight, and managed to noticeably slow down her metabolism. For whatever reason, Paris made it hard for her to poop.
On the first day of orientation, Brooke arrived in what she thought were her cool and fashionable city clothes. She pulled on her black, pointy-toe boots, a pair of utterly shredded jeans, a Van Halen T-shirt, and a leather jacket. It was her East Village uniform. In Paris, she was realizing, it made people think that she’d crawled out of the bottom of a dumpster.
The women in this city were… different. They stalked the cobblestone streets in cream-colored stiletto pumps and perfectly pressed pants. And they were all so skinny that they looked like they would fall onto their tiny bums if they encountered a strong breeze. She’d read the book, French Women Don’t Get Fat and found herself confused at how quickly her clothes seemed to shrink on her frame. Also, she didn’t read the book. She read the title. Then she traveled to France and assumed that by the power of some literary osmosis, the cover of that book would somehow be absorbed by her body and all would be well.
Remember, this was in the 90s. There was no body positivity movement, there was Ally McBeal. And Brooke was just as much of a product of that culture as anyone she knew. Looking down the sidewalk of the Champs-Élysées, it seemed like France’s local television networks were broadcasting similar content. Everyone was tiny. And it bugged Brooke. She hated feeling so out of place in this foreign land. But she put on her happy face on the first day of this new school; she dressed in her favorite clothes, caffeinated herself at her local “bar” which is apparently what they called coffee shops, and arrived with a good attitude. And she got lucky. She immediately made some friends. And she tried to make more. However, the French did not feel a need for Brooke in their lives.
She would go to the clubs and the lounges in elastic-waisted bottoms, ready to party. She’d order shots of tequila and then spend ten minutes explaining to the bartender what she meant. She thought her French skills were much more refined than they were. Especially after she’d had a few. But, this wasn’t how the French 20-somethings partied. They ordered one glass of champagne and sipped it all night and then did not look for 2am pizza. Maybe, if she’d read the book, this was why French women don’t get fat. Lack of trying or willingness was not the issue to making Brooke fall in love with Paris or to make Paris fall in love with Brooke. They were just incompatible. This happens. She didn’t know that, then.
In New York, she had no problem meeting guys. There were guys with thick glasses and degrees, guys with neck tattoos and questionable pasts, and scruffy post-grads who showed up on dates on a skateboard. It was fun, it was exciting, and it was an effortless scene that she had never had to worry about. This new world was, well, a new world. Guys didn’t talk to her or look at her when she went out. And on the rare occasion that they did, it felt creepy, not fun. She’d been in Paris since August, it was the end of November, and she’d spent every late night alone. It wasn’t the most devastating thing that had ever happened to Brooke, but it wasn’t exactly what she wanted.
So, when Thanksgiving rolled around and she hadn’t bothered to make plans to leave Paris as all of her new friends had (intelligently) done, she found herself alone in this dysfunctional relationship with the City. She had no friends, no family, no plans. Miss Uber-Extroverted Brooke didn’t like this feeling. So, she made a decision. She would go to the school-sponsored Thanksgiving dinner and sit next to the cute California Surfer Boy and see where the night went. She’d officially given up on French guys. I mean, they’d given up on her, first, but who’s counting?
Waking up on Thanksgiving morning was as if a Hollywood set director had been given the task of creating the dreariest and most melancholy day for a Wes Anderson movie. The sky hovered close to the buildings in an almost comical grey. The rain splashed against the old windows in the small room she rented from a well-to-do family, and getting out of bed was the most aerobic thing she’d done in months.
Having nothing to do and no energy to do it with, she decided to put together an outfit for the evening. There wasn’t much to choose from. Most pieces didn’t fit and, in the few months she’d been living in Paris, seemed outdated and uncool. Despite this, Brooke felt fortunate. She had the most perfect pair of pants. She’d purchased them Uptown at a consignment shop in New York and they were the only designer label in her closet. They’d never been tight on her, were thick, cream-colored denim, and had a sort of metal stud-type decoration dripping down the side of each leg. At least, she knew she could wear these. Wait… Nope.
She tried. She pulled up one leg and then the other but these uncompromising trousers had no intention of finding their way over her butt. Shit. This was not the plan.
Ok, she thought to herself, you’re not a quitter. Was this the most appropriate situation for this specific pep talk? No. That should be reserved for the softball field or an important test. But, Brooke wasn’t in the greatest headspace of her life. So she pulled and coaxed and struggled and maneuvered the fabric onto her body. Then she went into the small bathroom at the end of the hallway and took a shower with the pants on. Yeah, you heard that right, a shower. With. Her. Pants. On.
She planned to stretch them out while they were wet and then let them dry on her legs. She felt smarter than she did five minutes earlier.
Now, leaving the apartment was out of the question. So was leaving her room. She already had a strained relationship with her host family who seemed to think she wasn’t the proper young lady that they’d requested. She certainly wasn’t going to walk into the kitchen in soaking-wet jeans. But, she was hungry. Which left her with no other options than tap water and a bag of Halloween candy that her mother had sent her in a care package.
And these are all the reasons that Brooke, uncomfortably bloated, annoyingly constipated, in drenched pants, and a sad mood, ended up eating two Reeses cups and a King-size Snickers. If you thought this would help her stomach situation, you would be wrong.
But our leading lady got lucky: the pants dried by the evening and were button-able by 7 pm. And then she got unlucky:
Cute Surfer Boy was nowhere to be seen at the dark and kind of cold restaurant with the other university stragglers. She tried to nonchalantly ask every single person if they knew where he was. The story she heard was a last-minute RyanAir ticket to Amsterdam. Oh, how she wished she was in Amsterdam. Or, really, anywhere else with alcohol and weed and sweatpants. She would have regretted her decision to attend this sad and dark dinner, but her other option was re-watching the one Sex And The City DVD that someone had lent her and eating more processed American chocolate. So, she helped herself to the table wine and tried to make conversation with the other students.
This Thanksgiving had not attracted the party crowd. And, as Brooke tried harder and harder to make best friends for life in the wooden chairs and over way too much soft cheese, she drank more and more. This was another stroke of luck: because of the wine, she didn’t feel particularly embarrassed with the quick stroke of bad luck. The bad luck was the top button on the pants finally feeling totally overwhelmed by its insurmountable job and popping off with impressive force, hitting the drama teacher in the kneecap.
Though Brooke was quite loose, there was still a pulse of common sense running through her body, even when her pants were threatening to cut off circulation. She knew that her button exploding off was a sign to leave. So, with hugs and tearful goodbyes (really, only on her part,) Brooke decided to walk across the city to get to her apartment.
She knew she needed the fresh air, that a walk wouldn’t hurt her, and that the contents of her stomach needed the unselfconscious freedom to fart as much as she pleased.
And, the walk was a good idea. She strolled through one Arrondissement after another. It wasn’t Thanksgiving in France, just a normal rainy night in November where most people were home or rushing in or out of a grocery store. Brooke didn’t mind the rain, probably because of the wine. She walked and farted and listened to her stomach grumble. Maybe the soft cheese was a mistake.
She was three blocks away from her apartment when she saw an attractive, twenty-something-year-old man. He wore a green army-supply coat, a ball cap, and had just the cutest amount of stubble.
(This story is not going where you think it’s going.)
And he was smoking a cigarette.
With all of Brooke’s partying, she was never a smoker. It wasn’t a health decision, a dental hygiene decision or a financial decision. She just didn’t love cigarettes. Until that moment.
The thought of smoking one, of settling her stomach, of it making her finally able to go to the bathroom, was attractive enough to make her talk to the stranger. In, what she thought was impeccable French, she asked if she could have a drag.
He replied with a bunch of words that she didn’t understand. But, Brooke was buzzed and hadn’t talked to a Frenchman since she’d given up on them, so she nodded her head vigorously with her best smile. The guy shrugged and passed her his cigarette. This isn’t the last moment Brooke remembers, but, it was close.
Also, this story isn’t going where you might think it’s going…
Brooke somehow managed to walk those last two and a half blocks to the fancy neighborhood and the ultra-fancy apartment where she rented her very un-fancy room. She did not take the elevator up to the sixth floor. The elevator was the size of a coffin and there was no scenario on the planet where her mind was going to willingly lock her body in that kind of a space.
The stairs were the obvious option. Except that they were moving and floating and bobbing like seagulls on a wave. The walls pulsated. The light sconces on the wall seemed to grow lips and whisper her name as the bulbs flickered. She tried to catch her breath and slow her pulse, sitting down on the cold floor of the building’s entrance.
She hadn’t realized that she hadn’t smoked any pot since she’d gotten to this uptight city. She hadn’t thought it was a thing. Maybe her body just wasn’t used to it? Or maybe, this was this hash-stuff that she’d only heard about? Whatever it was, whatever she’d inhaled, was now rushing through her body and convincing her that she had fallen into Alice’s Wonderland and that’s where she might die.
But, Brooke didn’t die. She counted her breaths, each one an affirmation that she was still alive. She curled her body up under the decorative table in the lobby and got very lucky: none of the snooty apartment residents came home that night. When she finally woke up, she felt an incredible sense of relief. She felt lighter somehow, so much lighter. And her stomach felt fine for the first time in recent memory. The ease at which her body felt was refreshing. And somewhat surprising. After a marijuana-induced panic attack, were you really supposed to feel this great? And that’s when she pulled herself off the old, tiled floor, cracked her neck back into place, and realized that she had….
pooped her pants.
So, at 4am, she crawled up all six flights of stairs, snuck into the well-appointed apartment, darted into her much-neglected bedroom, locked the door, and didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
She peeled off the pants and took the longest shower of her adult life, replaying the walk home in her mind. She remembered the ‘conversation’ that she had pretended to understand with the charming Frenchman. She almost hit her palm to her forehead… Oh… he was warning her about the ‘cigarette.’
Now, Brooke may have been a bit of a wild card. She may have been a party girl with an attitude. She may have also been over-confident in her language skills. But she was not dumb. She knew how lucky she was to be safe and alive and now have a functioning digestive system.
So she got out of the steaming hot shower, wrapped herself in a towel, and put The Pants where they belonged: in the trash.
PS: Morgan and I both love stories of people pooping themselves so please don’t avoid that subject matter when you’re sending us your tales. And, Brooke, we wish we could meet you in person. Au revoir!