It was a few days after that when Gerard realized there was no need to stick around anymore. The colder weather had started to set in as well, a lot faster than it did in the States, and even though Gerard had spent many winters here by now, we both weren't prepared. I had no sense of seasons being on the other side of an ocean in a different time zone. I knew I had left at the end of summer, and then one day, I woke up and I had to put on a sweater before I went outside and then later that day, I had to cave and go out and buy a jacket from the market. It was as if once I bought the jacket, it was an invitation to the colder weather to come barreling into our lives, and quite literally, into our apartment.
Gerard made the decision to leave, as he did with most decisions, while sitting quietly by himself. I didn't really notice his subdued nature, at first, anyway. We had gotten ourselves into our own little routines, in spite of the spontaneity of our lives and not having a real sense of time. His mornings usually consisted of getting up at dawn and making coffee, sitting by the window and looking out of it as he drew. Sometimes he went for walks, but with the weather being the way it had been, he stuck to the indoors. This morning, he wasn't even drawing. He was sitting very, very straight, with coffee in his hand. He looked out the window with an austere contemplative stare that was directed at something far off in the distance. I watched him from the doorway for a little bit, feeling invisible. When I walked past him to get my coffee, he regarded me and then, with a sigh, looked back out the window.
He took out his sketchbook next, and by this time I was watching his actions with acute interest, drew an Eiffel Tower and put a heart in the center of it. It wasn't a corny, generic heart. It was a real human heart; with veins, blood vessels, muscle tissue and tendons. He had to get out a medical book he kept on the back of one of his shelves to have something to draw from. It was what he worked on all morning, only stopping to take cigarette breaks as he flipped through different pages to get a better look at the left ventricle. He stared at it for hours, and I stared at him, still not picking up on what was going on.
I went onto my little routine after awhile and let Gerard be Gerard. I walked to our café, not realizing it would be the last time I was there, and bought our favorites. The owner of the store had been getting so used to my presence, and understanding my lack of French. She always bagged up the exact same thing for me each time so I didn't have to risk stumbling over my words. I smiled at her, said the only French phrase I knew with confidence, Merci, and left with my coffee in my hand. When I opened the door upon returning, Gerard looked up. He smiled, very warmly, but it was different.
"I hope you have more of an appetite than that," he told me, glancing at my half eaten croissant. "I want to take us out for lunch."
We ate like kings. I should have known something was up when Gerard kept going back for more and more and more, but I didn't. I was just a greedy little underfed artist and we ate until our bellies were swollen. We had both gotten pretty thin at that point in time. With our shirts off, our ribcages stuck out when we lifted our arms too high, or breathed too deeply in our chests. With the immense amount of food in our system, our guts extended to that of potbellies, while we still kept the cage of poverty wrapped tightly around us, like a visible veil. We hadn't been eating regular meals in such a long time, it was a relief to feel full again. Our bodies were flushed with excess energy and emotion, and we laughed until it hurt and we thought we would throw up all the expensive food we had just piled ourselves with. It took us ages to walk home, but the bitter cold wind that had started rushing in didn't affect us. We didn't allowed it to break our moods because this was the happiest we had ever been.
Under the cover of the Paris night sky, Gerard had decided to take a short cut through an alleyway to our place. I watched him with a smile on my face as his eyes lit up, seeing that this short cut also led us to the beloved liquor store. He returned my glance and then rushed in to get his favourite brand of wine that he hadn't bought, he said, in over a year.
We drank it on the street like bums because there was no use in going home yet. We felt warmer here with food in our stomachs, alcohol touching our lips, and our arms around each other than we would have ever felt in our cramped, heating free apartment.
I remembered days like this in Jersey at Gerard's old place when I was so much younger, and I remember being in my first year of art school, toiling away on vapid projects as teachers tore my work to shreds, and I didn't think it would ever get this good again. Everything in that moment felt surreal, because it had finally become something worth remembering. It felt like I was living a fantasy, a perfect cliché, a postcard, a black and white movie reel. I thought this had all been possible because I was finally in Paris. I was in the market making music again, I was waking up and taking pictures of the Eiffel Tower at dawn, and I was walking and living and eating in this foreign place that I was beginning to get to know like the back of my hand. But I realized then, looking at Gerard as he laughed through stained teeth, that this could have happened anywhere. I romanticized the notion of Paris so much; everything seemed like a dream, not because of the place, but because of him. In reality, the Eiffel Tower was a big hunk of rusting metal, the wine and food here was too expensive, the market was full of transients that would steal your money if they could, the subway smelled like piss and shit half the time, the tourists were idiots and others were rude, and we were dirt fucking poor. We had no money, and we were toiling on the streets like vagrants because there was no point in going home - it was just as cold and dirty as right here. But none of that seemed to matter. We bought flowers instead of food and did art instead of getting real jobs. Gerard wasn't famous, this wasn't the magical dream that we had cooked up together, but again, it didn't matter.
Paris was and it wasn't what I had expected. There were some days where I would feel so conflicted in being there, especially right then in that alleyway. It was so cold, but he held onto my hand and somehow everything slipped away. I had a moment of complete and utter truth then, a moment where I was able to step outside my body and know what was going on exactly. It wasn't the dream of Paris itself that had kept me going through all the shit in my life: it was the dream of Gerard. I knew I had had the best time of my life these past few months because Gerard had been there. I could have gone to Paris alone, and it would not have counted this much. Gerard had made it count, not this location on a map. It didn't matter if we were in Paris or New Jersey or any place on the planet, just so long as I was with him.
I also realized, that though we both had our sovereignty as individuals before all of this, right then in Paris, now, as a unit, we were both free.
He needed to leave New Jersey to finally catch up with a long awaited ambition. I needed to leave him and handle the world on my own. We had done that separately and because of that, could now meet again. We could have never been free together like this in New Jersey because the parameters that we lived in would not constitute it. It was illegal and we were bounded by so many other worldly things. We loved each other so much, but there was no way we could have felt free under the weight of all that burden. So we had to leave one another. But seven years had now passed, and this was our meeting point once again. And this time, there really was nothing wrong with it. I was almost twenty-five and capable to make my own decisions. And though Gerard was old, he was still full of life. We were strange, we were unconventional, but we were free to be that way now, one hundred percent. We didn't have to hide in an apartment anymore. We didn't have to keep secrets. My parents knew about my past, they knew I was here right now, and they could know from now on. We were free as a unit of all burdens and I laughed so hard and kissed Gerard in the street because I could.
In the beginning of the trip, I'd wake up some mornings to find Gerard next to me in bed, and in my half dozed, and completely in love state, I'd tell him that I'd want to live in Paris for the rest of my life. He would nod, sympathetically, and then we'd move on in conversation. It was a flippant, fleeting remark. I thought he would appreciate it because Paris was his. But Paris never was his. He was never able to conquer it, as an artist, as a stranger, not even as a keeper. He was just a man.
I never wanted to spend the rest of my life in Paris. I wanted to spend the rest of my life with him. Now, I could. We could. That fact was crippling. Everything was possible.
I nearly fell over in the street.
He swooped me up with one big swing of his arm. "Don't be getting too drunk on me. We still need to get you to the apartment."
Inside the apartment, my new knowledge brewed inside of me. The walls became too much, the alcohol going to my head, and Gerard laid us down. Soon, the warming sensation from food and drink began to fade and we were left with nothing but skin, thin blankets, and the bitter wind. Our gaiety had slowed down significantly, shivers setting in. I hadn't spoken since nearly falling over, and my shivers weren't all from the cold. Gerard was calm, for the most part, too calm. Quiet and desolate, like he had been earlier in the day, glancing out the window and spending more time on the heart of the picture, than the twisting tower location.
"You know what this means, right?" he asked suddenly. I recognized the tone immediately. The testing nature of it made me feel seventeen all over again. It had been so long since he had tried to teach me something, but with age, I hoped, came wisdom.
"Yeah, I do."
This was about far more than the lack of heating, and even more than realizing we could spend the rest of our lives together now, in peace. This was about going home to do it.
"I looked it up already, and the next plane to New Jersey is at noon tomorrow." He paused, tracing circles on my back. "Do you think you can be ready by then?"
I turned over so I could face him. We had been spooning before in an effort to keep warm, but I wanted to see his face. His serious expression was too much. I knew I wanted to leave, and that I was totally ready to get up and start our lives together again some place familiar, but there was still something hanging in the air. He caught onto my hesitation, his perception still excellent.
"You know, my grandmother used to tell me that you could never truly leave a place unless you left something behind."
Both of our eyes went to the walls, as if by instinct and by heart. They were all white and barren, smoke stained with years of previous tenants, but the landlord had been adamant about keeping them untouched. By himself or his tenants. It was in the lease, Gerard had told me when I first questioned the lackluster appearance in some places.
But a lease that would have no application come noon tomorrow, because we would be gone. At first, I didn't mind being in black and white. Suddenly though, I felt a flood of colour. With one quick glance at each other, we were out of bed, and even in the chilled air, our clothing was off. It was back to the things we truly were familiar with: breaking the law and paint sex.
Our mural was small, but it took most of the night. We wanted to keep adding to it; another layer, another coat, another colour. We didn't have too much to work with from Gerard's supplies, but since he didn't want them anymore, we used everything. He still had every colour under the sun - he said he never felt complete unless he held a rainbow in his hands, or the possibility to make one - but we found ways to mix, match, and make our own. Everything he had was up there, from acrylic, to tempera, to watercolor, charcoal, even some modeling clay we somehow adhered to the wall. He insisted upon using everything, and if we could see no place for it on the wall, then it still needed to be left behind. He said he wanted to start all over again, purge himself to build it all up in New Jersey. It was tiring, he told me, but he had a feeling this would be the last time, so he may as well give it his all.
"Are you upset at all?" I asked. We had slowed our pace with the rising of the sun. Light crept in through the small rectangular windows and illuminated our bodies streaked with paint.
He looked at me through blue stained eyebrows, twisted up into confusion. "Why would I be upset?"
"Uh, well, I don't know..." I touched the back of my neck, feeling as if I had spoiled something. "Never mind."
He made a noise with his tongue and his cheek, clicking into comprehension. But he still didn't speak for quite some time. "I used to tell myself that I wanted to be a famous artist. That was what Paris was for. If I couldn't do it in New York or New Jersey, then I'd know for sure in good ol' Par-ee." He was looking away, as if talking to the former version of himself and not to me. I wasn't sure if I was allowed to interrupt, or if he would continue on. I wanted to ask him, so much, about his dreams and if he thought he had failed himself. Failure had always been a looming shadow in Paris, something in the black areas that I couldn't always see or speak about. I knew we were happy and we had fun, and this trip was everything I had ever wanted because my desires had been so simple all along. I merely wanted him. But what about something beyond ourselves? Did he feel accomplished in his life here, cramped away in an apartment building that was falling apart because of lack of care and with a lack of colour, just being a man? He was not what I had expected upon returning; this was not what I had expected. I didn't know if I was disappointed in that fact or if it even mattered to him. Maybe it was my disenchanted nature that I felt in art school which made me want to probe and live through his victories or failures and use them to make myself feel better, or maybe it was sheer obsessive curiosity. I had to know if he felt good, not about love or me, because I knew we were both mutual in that regard, but about other things. We were leaving because we were satisfied - but was he satisfied with the part independent from myself, the one that had made him take the leap of faith in the first place?
He shrugged with a little laugh all of a sudden, and then continued to swirl some colours on the wall by his wrist.
"What?" I asked, too attentive. "What's so funny?"
"Paris was one of the best things I've done, but for all the different reasons that I thought about in the first place. It's funny, I guess. That's how things always happen."
He smiled, and in spite of myself, I couldn't help but reciprocate. I knew he was talking about me. He took a globe of blue paint from the kit onto his finger and pushed it on my nose, as if it wasn't clear enough.
And then because I couldn't help it, I had to ask. "Are you upset that you never got famous? That we have to move out?"
"We don't have to do anything. I want to leave, and I know you do, too."
I stared at my feet, which were strewn with green and orange markings. I had had no real plan in coming here. I was just there to see Gerard, to be with Gerard, and I couldn't really see beyond that. Perhaps in the back of my mind, I was always thinking of going home to New Jersey, but I didn't want that to interfere on his part.
"Look, Frank. I went to Paris because I needed to see if I could do it. If I could become famous and live my life like that. And I didn't do it."
"But you're still an artist -"
"Oh, I know. Trust me, I know. But I'm not a famous artist. I don't have the money to live like one anymore!" He laughed a little, somberly, creases around his eyes from old age becoming evident. "But that's okay. Because I'm an artist, and I've still accomplished my dream."
"How so?" I was confused. If his dream was to be famous, and he's not, then how could he be smiling and laughing like a little child right now?
"I've achieved my dream because now I have absolutely no regrets in my life whatsoever. I never had any before, but I always had what if I could have gone and done this and this and this. Now I know because I finally got up and did this and this and this. So what if the outcome of this was a big no? It doesn't matter because at least I have an answer." He looked to the wall suddenly, reaching the last patch of the off-coloured wall. "It's better to have colour, even if it's not your favourite, than to be constantly plagued by grey areas."
With that, he threw the last can of paint down on the new canvas. It was a dark blue, one he never used very often, but blue nonetheless. He gave me a wry smile, exchanging something known.
"We need a new colour," he told me suddenly, touching his chin. "We've done blue, we've done yellow, we've even done black, red, and green. We need something new."
"That shouldn't leave us with too many options."
We look at our mural, trying to find something that was still wet, something that symbolized us seven years later, seven years apart. We had been living in black and white, something classic, in Paris. I now knew we had to search for the brightest thing in order to contrast, and launch ourselves back over that ocean.
"Orange?" I suggested. His face was still scrunched up in thought. "Purple? Uhhh..." I scanned my mind, we were kind of running low on options. "Um... There's brown...?"
"Pink?" I enunciated, in disbelief. His demeanor did not waver, in fact, it looked to be a challenge.
"Yes, Pink. Why not? Have an open mind, Frank. You'll never know what you like if you don't dig into it with your bare hands first." He gave me a wink, and then got down on his knees. He scraped the last of the pink out of the bottle onto his thumb, and then began to coat his hands with it. I searched the wall, with a roll of my eyes, for some still-wet pink splotches. When I found some, and his hands were ready, we both headed for the door.
Unlike before, when I marked his door with just my own handprint, it was both of ours this time around. They were right next to each other, and even though I was older now, his hand was still much bigger and more adult looking than I felt mine would ever be.
"Hands do change," he said, seeming to read my mind. "But for the most part, still hold the same things."
I was never sure what the pink was supposed to symbolize, but after awhile I remembered the flyer that had brought me here: Rappelez-vous ce que c'était que d'être libre? Do you remember what it's like to be free? It had been a looming question in my mind, something that haunted my existence back in New Jersey that was uncanny. Something I had refused to give words or meaning to. It was the act of forgetting, and I was worried I had forgotten everything he had taught me. I was so worried that I had forgotten how to be free. Even when I got on the plane, even when I met him again, there was still that sense of doubt. He had always been the authority on these matters, and I wondered if I had let him down, or if I had just plain forgotten. But in that moment of recognition, I realized he never had that authority. The worry and the fear of forgetting was unfounded. I had always been free. I didn't remember what it was like because I already knew, and always would know, with or without him.
Yes, the pink made sense now, and I looked at our hand prints right next to one another on the door, and it made sense too. We were next to one another because we were the same now. Just men, yes, but we were free. We would never forget that. And now, neither would the next people who came along.
We were able to walk away from the apartment after that. We put on our clothing after getting off what we could of the paint in the small porcelain sink. But we really didn't worry too much about appearances. We were too tired, had run out of words, and didn't talk much during the process. We gathered our two bags, one for each of us, carrying only what we had on our backs. Our pink hands weren't the only things we left in Paris, but they were the only things that mattered.
It was Wednesday when we left. I only knew because the market was on, and the lady selling flowers was there. All she had were pink flowers, every shade, every blossom, every kind. Nothing but pink. Gerard just looked at me and put his arm around my shoulders.
"So, Frank," he said in a playful tone. "You never answered my question. How did you like Paris?"
In an instant, I was brought back to the beginning. The first question he asked me after seven years, slipping up behind, and whispering into my ear from behind like a proverb. I thought of the first meetings, the croissants, the stained art paper, flowers the size of my face, the market, the cold nights and morning light, the sex, the postcards with touristy drawings, black and white with gray smoke, fog and rain, the wine, and the pink hands on the door marking our place and our exit. It all led back to now, all in a circle, and we were going home. I took a very deep breath and I didn't say anything for a long time.
"Yeah, Paris seems to have that affect on people," Gerard remarked after a few moments of silence. He turned around, pulling me with him, and we stared at the open horizon in front of us. It took me ages to realizes we were facing the direction of the Eiffel Tower.
"Ah, c'est la vie. C'est la grand vie," Gerard sighed happily, then turned his face towards me. There was a huge grin on his aged face, his wrinkles deeper and eyes brighter than I've seen them before. There was a twinge of nostalgia in his voice, but his face spoke of nothing but the promise of new beginnings, and even happier endings. "Let's say goodbye to our good friend Pah-ree, Francois. Au revior, ma cherie!"
I fumbled over my French, imitating what he said, and then he pulled my arms into a huge wave. We stood there, waving our arms back and forth, back and forth, our tongues tipped with French words on repeat looking like absolute fools until we felt utterly exhausted. And then we got inside our last cab, spent our last euros, and went to the airport.
"So, how do you like New Jersey?" Gerard asked, his lips oh-so characteristically placed on the ridges of my ear as he whispered his inquiry. It was becoming a trademark of his, approaching from behind with new questions coupled with new horizons.
"This time you're not getting away without an answer for so long," he teased, sliding his arm around me. We both watched the city skyline from the large airport window for the longest time. I could see by the formation of the clouds and the way the sunlight struggled through after some rain, that there would be a rainbow soon.
"I don't know yet..." I finally answered, taking a deep breath. My eyes moved towards him, and his towards mine. I felt the jerk of the plane as the wheels hit the runway. We were home.
"Let's go find out."
This is the last bit for now. The Rainbow which is currently being undertaken is next and follows their life in New Jersey. I will make announcements when I plan on posting it, but for now, there is no date. Thank you for everyone who is reading & commenting, you have no idea how much I appreciate your support.