The first time I heard ‘This is What You Came For’ by Rihanna ft. Calvin Harris, I was in Paris. It was the day before I would consider marrying someone, concretely considering it, for the first time.
His name was Nicolas, but he went by Colas. He told me he went by Colas because he loved Coca Cola. When he said that, something alien came over me and I heard myself lie. I said, “I’ve never had Coca Cola.” He gasped. I smirked.
When I went to Paris I was going to be alone for two weeks. I’m a social person. This would prove to be a challenge. I set my location on OkCupid to Paris a week in advance and figured I would maybe get free food and would definitely get free tour guides. I wasn’t wrong. I’m wrong a lot, but I wasn’t wrong then.
On the flight, I sat next to a 28 year old man from Monterrey, Mexico. I don’t remember his name, because the alcohol was free. We fell asleep at the same time and when I woke up I had drooled on him.
In the airport there were men wielding the largest guns I had ever seen. I accidentally said, “gracias,” to someone who helped me get my bag from the conveyor belt. A man on the train told me that having leg hair was a ‘lesbian thing in this country.’
When I got off the train from the airport I rolled my way to a cafe. I ordered a Heineken at 9 am. It was 2 am Chicago time so I felt allowed to drink. The chairs at the cafe matched my Michael Jordan jersey. I stood out like a sweating sore thumb.
As I waited to check in to my Airbnb, I got a manicure. When I tried to tip they gave me my money back.
Colas and I met at a mosque I hated his outfit but I loved his voice. He had gone to Berkeley, so he dressed really lame. His outfit was so bad, he told me how much he loved Vans. His OkCupid profile said, “You should message me if you wear Vans.” I cleaned my black Airmaxes with a napkin and water after we ate. They looked good.
Colas wasn’t the first boy I met. The first was Mathieu. He asked me to wait for him on the steps of Saint-Ambroise church. In 1996 three hundred African immigrants squatted inside the church to make demands related to their immigrant status. They stayed for four days. I sat there for just a few moments, reading the Wikipedia article for the church. Mathieu looked just like his pictures.
On my first night, after crying outside an empty bar where I had a 12 euro cocktail, as the bartender played Future, I felt very alone. I cried, bitter, self-piteous, ugly but silent tears. I walked down the street and saw another bar, full of French hotties. There was one empty seat at the bar. Just for me.
In the bar, I made friends. The bartender, Noam, was an Israeli living in Paris, and she spoke better English than anyone I met during my time there. She liked Chance the Rapper, “until he got into all that God shit,” she said. I said, “If Kanye West tells you to rap about God, you rap about God.” Later that week we would drink white wine with ice cubes in it.
I knew very little French. When Mathieu and I went to McDonald’s at 4 am, on the Quai de Jemappes, i yelled, “c’est moi!” when they called my order, something called a Royale with Cheese. When Colas and I had sex, I said, “Do you like it?”
He said, “Ca va.”
I said, “No. Super.”
When Colas went down on me, I said the only verb I knew how to conjugate in French. Manger: to eat. He looked up, his mouth still forced against my lips, and grinned
Alex, the CEO, bought me salmon tartare and complained about the service at the restaurant. He complained about everything. He said, “An American who smokes?” when I lit my cigarette. At his house, he fingered me on a incredibly beautiful and expensive couch. I got blood on it. He asked me upstairs, but upstairs was just a lofted bed. I went.
I asked Colas if he’d like to spend some time. He was the least available boy on my trip and therefore my most desired. He said he’d be free in two or three hours. I looked up his address on Rue Broca. It was a two hour walk from where I was. I went.
Close to his house, sweating, I stopped to eat a kebab. I was the only person in the restaurant. The TV was playing French pop music videos, then suddenly Rihanna appeared on the screen. I casually, although I had walked two hours in his direction on purpose, texted Colas, “I think I’m at a restaurant in your neighborhood,” and he told me to come over.
You could see the Eiffel tower from Mathieu’s bathtub. He washed my hair, and I stared at the tower from the tub until they turned off the shimmering lights.
Rachel Bell is the author of the book WELCOME TO YOUR NEW LIFE WITH YOU BEING HAPPY.