Paris Diaries: Fever
WARNING!!!! If you are deeply disturbed by accounts of non-consensual sex, do not read this post. This post contains graphic adult material.

Nothing went wrong with the flight, and I was delivered into the arms of the Sauvage, who met me at Charles de Gaulle without a hitch. Yet, I knew something was off. I couldn't quite say what-like all of the angles in a room being miscalculated by a single degree- a minor shift, but taken all at once the effect was as unmistakable as it was unidentifiable. Something was wrong, the question was what.

The Sauvage led me to a car, a different one, and we stowed my stuff. Once he began driving, I got a sense of what it was. I found myself coughing, and there was the scratchy feeling in the back of my throat. I sat in the car looking out of the window pleading, with whom or what I have no idea. "Please, no. Not sick now. Not now." I hoped it was merely wear and tear from the plane trip, but as someone who has spent most of my life coping with some sort of illness, I have a keen sensitivity to this issue. As much as I hoped I wasn't sick, I already knew that I was.

As we drove, the Sauvage explained something was wrong with his car. "Wait," I thought to myself, "Wasn't there something wrong with his car in August? It can be the same problem." One of the things that I teach my students is that the simplest answer is most often the right one.* Some stereotypes hold true. Like Frenchmen being cheap, for example. While the Sauvage was happy to pay for his daughter's gameboy and horseback riding lessons, he was limping along with the same piece of crap car, which he hadn't bothered to fix. So indeed, there was something wrong with the car. The car he was driving was his ex-wife's car. We stopped to pick up Nana-and in my post trip pre-illness fatigue I got to meet the ex-wife.

She was lovely and seemed not all upset by me. While the Sauvage basically left me in the hallway while he found his daughter, she invited me in-kissing me on both cheeks as is the custom. There was a teenage boy in the living room, whose presence was not explained. Not much point in it. Even if she did,I wouldn't understand. Like all teenagers, he was slumped on the couch watching TV with an air of melancholic apathy. Looking at him, with his jet black hair, messily swept over his forehead, all I could think was "If Proust was a teenager today, would he look like this?" The ex-wife was beautiful, her black hair swept into an chignon.While the Sauvage claimed she spoke English, she didn't demonstrate the ability-offering me a drink in French, which I politely demurred. She and I shared a similar physique. While she was dressed more in a motherly fashion, a long plain dress, and I was more the NYer (jeans and a black sweater) it was clear we were both full figured women. I stood wishing I could talk to her-not just to ease the tension-but she had the answers to a lot of questions, most notably why did you leave him after all those years? But my French was trapped somewhere out of the reach of my tired mind.

By now, the Sauvage managed to get Nana and summon me back into the hallway. He ushered me out quickly. While his ex-wife seemed to perfectly comfortable to entertain her ex-husband's strangely mute new lover, the Sauvage clearly wanted to get out. I couldn't blame him....exactly. But it seemed to me if anyone should have been uncomfortable, it should have been her. After all, it's not like he had to worry about her telling me anything. Which was lucky for him. If she and I had a common language I would have used those 5 minutes to pump her for subtly and politely as possible, of course.

Of course.

We arrived at the apartment, which looked exactly as I remembered, except it smelled horrible, particularly the bathroom. It reeked of cat piss. This was particularly confusing because the cat, Mimi Secour, had run away at the end of October following the slaughter of her kittens.

Both of my parents had (or in my mother's case HAS) an unnatural attachment to animals. My mother often to refers to her horse, the one that's getting the oil portrait, as "my brother" and my father referred to his Newfoundland the same way. While she'll curse out any even mildly incapable driver, she'll pull over and weep about a run over raccoon. Living in a farmhouse, she won't buy regular mousetraps, but "have a heart" traps. Predictably, the mice stay fat and happy in the attic over the winter. The point being I was raised with people who didn't just value the lives of animals as much as people, but I've always suspected valued them MORE.

Mimi Secour had delivered a litter of kittens in late September. The Sauvage would show them to me on the cam. Their eyes still sealed, two or three in his hand, desperately struggling to control their little heads as they mewed piteously. After the Sauvage returned from his trip to Bretagne at the end of October, I asked about the kittens. "They all died" he told me abruptly. And then proceeded to explain that he had taken Mimi Secour with them on the trip AND LEFT THE KITTENS ALONE. When Mimi returned and found her babies dead, she ran away. The Sauvage claimed he saw her from time to time, but she fled when he approached.

This episode absolutely sickened me. Separating the kittens from the mother at 6 weeks old and leaving them alone in an apartment was cruel. They must have starved to death terrified. Adult cats are self reliant. While Mimi would not have liked staying in the apartment alone, I'm sure she could have saved at least a few of her kittens. Had it been me, I would have left Mimi at the apartment, taken Nana to his parent's place, relaxed a day or two, and returned to the apartment to take care of the cat and kittens. I would then pick her up near the end of break and return to the apartment. Or I would have found a freakin' cat sitter. I mean surely there had to be a teenage girl close by dying to have hours a day playing with kittens and willing to put out cat food and clean litter.

I hated him for letting those kittens die. His cavalier attitude toward life without acknowledging his responsibility for it. Perhaps it's American to value the lives of pets so much, but I almost vomited every time I remembered them mewling on the cam. I had never even held them, and I cared more about them than he did. Mimi was right to run away. She was better on her own. And I began to think that he regarded me much like the kittens, cute and fun, but not worth much effort protecting. And fairly of incapable of thinking about the long term impact of his acts on others.

Still, why then was the overwhelming stench of cat pee still in the apartment? There hadn't been a cat here in 7 weeks, yet you would think there was a whole cattery camping out in this apartment. The kitchen also wreaked of rotting food, the scraps from the last meal slowly transforming into a cure for cancer in the sink.

As I said before, some stereotypes are true. The smells of Paris aren't subtle nor are they all pleasant.Walking down the streets, one is just as likely to confront the stench of a cheese store as a delicious whiff of frais du bois at a fruit stand. And I had embraced that-a rich sensory tapestry. Perhaps it was my illness that made these smells so unpleasant as I hadn't been disturbed by them before. Maybe he was merely unaware what his apartment smelled like to an American, trained as I am to expect pleasant neutrality or perhaps some sort of room spray.

He proudly showed me their Christmas tree, which was the single saddest Christmas tree I've ever seen. If you can imagine a crappy plastic version of Charlie Brown's Christmas tree, you have an idea of the despair this tree broadcast. It's pathetic sparseness was emphasized by it's obvious fakeness enhanced two two mismatched tinsel garlands and a few plain ornaments. While the French are about manicured gardens, they put little effort into their Christmas trees. The idea of 20 or even 40 dollar handcrafted or designer ornaments has not yet surfaced. Neither have concept trees, like a tree decorated entirely with powder blue ribbons and angels or only Victorian style ornaments, appeared. Unfortunately, I did see a giant inflatable Snoopy Santa above one of the stores. As always they have chosen the worst, the cheesiest, the ugliest part of American culture to absorb.

Before setting me up for a nap, the Sauvage ushered Nana into the TV room and brought a present from under the sad tree. I had bought him two pairs of Levis jeans as he had asked for. I gave them to him-all wrapped up. I had also bought Nana a fairy necklace as well as stuffing my bag with candy canes to be doled out on a regular basis. Nana loved candy, and I figured these designer (strawberry, blue raspberry, and watermelon) canes might win me a little bit of peace when she was on the verge of a diva-esque hissy. I opened my present-it was a three piece "sheherazade" outfit in bright red. It was, in actuality, a pretty decent belly dancing ensemble with gold coins at the waistband. Not what I was expecting, but it struck me as an interesting gift. Certainly it worked with my great love of dressing up, but also the symbolism was appropriate. Sheherazade saved her own life and restored the faith of her husband by telling stories. He may have thought it was just an outfit for a hot piece of ass. I thought it was something more.

I usually do.

The Sauvage let me take a nap, and I literally crashed. What seemed like only a second passed before they were shaking me awake for dinner. By this time, the illness had begun to hit full force-the coughing, the sneezing, the sore throat, and the dizziness. It was unmistakably clear I was ill. Dinner was potatoes cooked in duck fat and bison steaks (which he is particularly proud of) in a Roquefort cream as well as salad and peas smothered in butter. I struggled through dinner, barely able to eat or focus. I found this food barely palatable, the Roquefort overpowering and curdling my palate. The smell was repulsed me. As usual, the Sauvage wouldn't let me eat as little as I wanted and as soon as I choked down some meat and potatoes, he would put more on my plate. While pouring coffee, the Sauvage noticed me literally dozing at the table-eyes closed, head tilted to the side. After finishing his coffee, the Sauvage put me to bed and he retired to the TV room with Nana.

In history and literature, disease often marks a turning point. Fevers tend to be a particularly transformative event from the Jane Eyre's feverish hallucinations to the heroine of Bleak House's encounter with smallpox to Caligula's "brain fever", which many blame for his madness. In Angels in America, fever is the "threshold of revelations" for several characters. For better or worse, characters, both historical and fictional, often undergo intense psychological changes when in the grips of a fever.

I fall asleep quickly to be wakened to the Sauvage trying to get me naked. "He can't actually be trying to fuck me" I thought-although I could barely open my eyes. Quickly enough, his intentions were clear and while normally I would have enjoyed waking up to kisses and caresses, I felt like I had run full force into a brick wall. I just wanted to rest. His mouth on my breasts, pulling off my pajamas as I struggled to tell him I didn't want to make love. Under normal circumstances, I would have picked the lamp off the table and smashed it in his head or grabbed and twisted his balls like I was picking ripe apples. But I barely had the strength to raise my head, never mind push an able bodied man off of me. Had my mind been clear-not hazy with fatigue or disordered by hallucinations and fever-I like to think that some sort of plan would have occurred to me. I kept telling him no, stop, I wasn't in the mood. He said nothing, easily batting my hands away when I tried to resist him. Eventually, I just lay there knowing I had one thing on my side.

The Sauvage had a heart condition and what can only be termed a heroic appetite for pot (at least two joints a day). Either element on its own can cause erectile dysfunction, together, however, in a man over 40 it takes a truly talented piece of ass like myself to ensure that the flag doesn't fail. I was hardly likely to help him in my current condition. He took me....briefly, but soon enough, without my help, he withdrew. He fell asleep without saying a word, snoring next to me. I fell into dreamless sleep.

I woke to him gently shushing me. I was moaning in my sleep, but terrifyingly found even awake I couldn't stop myself from moaning. My body was shaking, and my skin was on fire. I walked onto the freezing terrace. The wind gave me some relief, clearing my head and soothing my fever. I tried to stop the moaning, but I couldn't. The lack of control over this simple act convinced me that I was finally dying. My entire body hurt, particularly my back. Suddenly I was sure that my kidneys were failing. That's why I was so sick. Unsteadily, I made my way to my bag. It's not kidney failure, I thought. I'm delusional from fever. I need to rest and get my fever down. I took half a dose of tylenol pm from my bag and took it. Then I stood looking out at the clear night-barely able to hold myself against the luxurious cold of the glass terrace door.

Despite it all, my fever addled brain had a moment of clarity as the tylenol took effect. I wanted to be in some hotel in Venice or Florence with white fluffy sheets and mints on the pillows. Some place clean and all my own. A place where I could sleep without having to fend off a lusty paramour, chat with ex-wives, or tolerate the smell of cat pee from an absent cat. I wanted to be alone again. Blessedly alone.

I had thought once that I wanted to die in the heroine in my father's favorite opera, La Boheme. But in that moment, shaking, my skin on fire, terrified by the lack of control I had over my own body, I knew that I didn't want to die in Paris. Not in some stinking apartment. Not even with my formerly beloved Parisian Paramour by my side. He wouldn't understand my last words.

He had saved me once when I was sick. Going back to lie in the pool of clammy sweat I left on the bed, I knew this time I was going to have to save myself.

Before I fell asleep I turned the claddaugh ring, a Christmas present, heart outward. My love was no longer his.

*In medicine, this is sometimes referred to as the zebra principle, or a variation thereof. The basic idea is if you hear hoof beats, the odds are it's a horse not a zebra.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Comments: Post a Comment

    This page is powered by 
Blogger. Isn't yours?