Paris was, for me, a place of new beginnings.
I ate canned Brussels sprouts in a room I shared on the Boulevard Saint-Michel. The view wrapped around the stoic gates and one entrance of the Luxembourg Garden, and every day was breathtaking.
My room smelt wretched, however, in the beginning of my stay, as my meals were little other than those soft green balls. They were preserved in a juice, a tawny color, I’ll never forget, like pond water. And while my trips to purchase the cans often required me to shamefully hunt them down from one neighborhood supermarket to the next, the overriding venture was a breakthrough.
At lunchtime, I was often frazzled and I remember a man I got to know in Paris suggesting I just go buy a sandwich. It would be inexpensive and they were always good. I remember him pointing to a small storefront bakery. His simple gesture crushed me because, at that point, I couldn’t let myself do it. I couldn’t let myself eat a real meal.
Sometimes I try to come up with an image more deprecating than a young woman who could do anything with her life but chooses against it. Chooses to eat canned vegetables from an open window on the Boulevard Saint-Michel where she once had sat in cafes with her parents and ordered chocolate croissants for lunch and large bowls of tuna Niçoise.
It’s devastating when we can’t do the things we used to, and when the reason for that is self-inflicted. Induced. And yet, once we can even begin to forgive ourselves for the time we lost, that alone is a blessing.
When I decided I would no longer hide away, eating from cans up in my room, the first restaurant I went to in Paris was Ethiopian.
And for a while, it may be that I cannot think of Paris without thinking of that restaurant where I ate everything with my hands. Like a starved woman. Like a child.
The collard greens and yellowed peas, the steamed and seasoned cabbage, the sides of shredded meats, chicken garlic and parsley flaked. I will never forget my dinner there. The green chili and black pepper sauce and soaking it all up with a sour sponge, with baskets of the injera bread. Licking my fingers and drinking the honey wine. Memories made sweet by the act of it all.
And yet for no one may that restaurant ever be as impressive as it was for me. But, for me, eating dinner there that night will always be impressive. Because it was my point of rupture. It was where the experience with myself began to get better.
I want you to meet me there, on the other end of what feels like an impossibly long and fraught and unforgivable journey. I’ll hold a place for you at the table and together we will celebrate ourselves with tears and fear and relief and pride. How starved we were for change and how the shame crippled our spirit, made us eat from cans as far away as we could get from people, and yet how one day we began walking toward a restaurant and sat down and fed ourselves.
I hope the rest of your life feels like the inside of the restaurant you always gazed into the windows of and walked by, aching and hungry for.