Nothing To Lose in Toulouse

“You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone,” “It’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” There are all manner of go-to sayings people have prepared to tell you when your life is in shambles. But the truth is, they can’t know. They can’t know how irreparable your psychosis is when your heart has been stomped upon to the point of explosion. Elise doesn’t realize that until she goes on a journey to forget her present. It doesn’t matter what her present was (and probably still is) for the purposes of this story–she’s trying to forget it and so should you.

One thing that can be gleaned from extensive travel is that, after a while, everything feels like everywhere–that, and people can always tell when you’re an outsider. This occurs to Elise as she grudgingly walks into an American-style diner called Marshall’s that might as well be Mel’s. Because it is one of the few establishments open past nine in Toulouse, it is relatively packed, mostly with English-speaking folk–like actual English people, which seems incongruous in an American-specific entity like a 50s diner. But Elise reminds herself how close France is to England. How close every country in Europe is–unlike the sprawling nature of the United States, where every region feels like a different continent.

Attempting to be whimsical, she orders a martini blanc. It arrives and tastes sugary and disgusting. Elise drinks it in a single gulp and then orders the one item you should never request from a diner menu: something healthy. When the waiter brings her the salmon salad, she tries her best to mask her disappointment; it is not the cooked kind, but rather, the type of salmon you would put on a bagel. She pecks at it for a bit, eating just enough for it to be “appropriate” for her to ask for a to-go bag. She isn’t sure why she cares so much about how the waiter perceives her. The entire benefit of traveling, after all, is supposed to be the freedom that comes with being totally anonymous. She has no plans to return to Marshall’s, so she curses herself for her incessant need to seem a certain way; chiefly, not pathetic.

And yet, somehow she finds herself there the next day after roaming the entire center of Toulouse with the primary goal of finding some sort of sustenance. In the end, we haven’t really evolved that much considering our foremost pursuit is always food. About two hours pass before she allows herself to land right back at Marshall’s, the hub of all misery, apparently. It is emptier today, a Sunday. Elise briefly forgets that all small European towns shut down on Sundays, even though Toulouse is the fourth largest city in France. Sure, there are people out. But it’s rather unclear what they’re doing. Are they searching mindlessly for something to eat the way Elise is? Or enjoying the fresh air the way happy people do? Then it strikes Elise: everyone around her is happy. And why? Because they hadn’t tried to travel by themselves in a foreign country in a frivolous search for meaning. Stupid fucking Elise. There is no meaning. The most a person can hope for in the twenty-first century is having someone to meet up with occasionally for a drink. And that’s what Elise craves most of all, something as simple as that. But how could she ever achieve it again with her painful shyness and crippling social disorder? It is hard enough in her own country for people to understand her.

And so, coming to the end of her wandering in Toulouse, circling the same path for the umpteenth time, Marshall’s was bound to beckon eventually. When she walks in, “Where Is My Mind?” by The Pixies is playing. She has to do an auditory double take to ensure it isn’t just playing in her head. But no, it is actually coming from the speakers in the diner. Not really your standard 50s staple, but maybe something about Elise conjures it. She takes a deep breath and for the second time in a twenty-four hour period, verbalizes that, yes, she is “une personne,” that damning phrase that would always make her stand out like a sore thumb. For, while maybe America had grown more accustomed to the sight of individuals doing things individually, Europe still had a long way to go–particularly with regard to women. Elise thinks maybe she should start dressing as a man as her male server insists that she sit at a table near a family of four, perhaps believing it might make her look less alone, but it merely has the opposite effect.

She sighs and looks once again at the overpriced menu offering a seventeen-euro brunch that consists of an egg and bacon sandwich and a stack of pancakes. She orders it, refusing to succumb to the stereotype presented by consuming a burger. When the plates arrive at the same time, the family glances at her in pity. But image is something she is no longer concerned with as she bites into the chocolate and whipped cream-covered pancake and lets some of the syrup glide down the sides of her mouth. Fuck it. There is nothing to lose in Toulouse. Or anywhere for that matter. Not when you’re a ghost of existence.

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