Right. So. Where to begin, where to begin. Let’s just jump in (pun intended as you will soon discover) with my leaving Paris on Monday morning. Leaving France this year proved a tiny bit less dramatic than when I left last year since I knew I would be spending a week in London. Last year I endured four of the most hellish hours of my life trying to get through the check-in and security process at Charles de Gaulle airport—otherwise known as Home of Satan’s Scrotal Infection—and then openly sobbed as I boarded the plane. A very kind flight attendant kneeled down next to my seat and told me that it was okay to cry, that she’d seen so many people weep when they had to leave Paris, and I was like okay, thank you, you’re very kind, but I’m not just leaving Paris. I have to go back TO UTAH.
I was like a “what’s grosser than gross” joke if it had taken human form. Did you eat a bowl of corn flakes only to find out that your sister’s collection of scabs has suddenly gone missing? Yeah. I HAD TO GO BACK TO UTAH.
Now, here is where things are just going to jump all over the place, but there’s really no way around that. And I apologize. But not sincerely. You know me better than that and don’t want the apology anyway. If you’re going to read something that makes sense you wouldn’t be here. You’d be reading Gwyneth Paltrow’s newsletter detailing the benefits of steam cleaning one’s vagina.
Let’s begin: I spent four months in London in 1996 on a study abroad program in college. Up until my trip to Paris last year I thought of that time as the most profoundly enriching personal experience of my life—yes, having children and becoming a mother blah blah blah a million trillion blahs, I’m not talking about that. Go read a mommy blog. Preferably one with a sponsored post about breast pumps with diagrams of nipples.
I’m talking about being with myself and discovering exactly what it is about me that makes me tick. London woke me up to sound and light and music and color in a way nothing ever had. And so it has always held a very special place in my heart. But then… Paris happened, and when I got off the train on Monday the city looked… different. How do I explain this? Have you ever gone back to your elementary school and felt like you’d either grown four feet or the building had magically shrunk? And you weren’t disappointed, you were just surprised at how strange it was that what you were seeing didn’t look exactly like your memories of it. That’s how I felt, and I think it was a combination of time—almost 22 years have passed since I was here—and having spent three weeks in a very different city. Also, the first person to talk to me after I got off that train was a taxi driver and he spoke to me in English and I had no idea what was coming out of his face. It was completely disorienting so I wrote this:
I am in England and people are talking to me in English and after spending three weeks listening to nothing but French it sounds like they are shouting deliberately hurtful gibberish about every insecurity I’ve ever had.
— Heather B. Armstrong (@dooce) July 23, 2018
It is because of this special place in my heart that I have for London that I felt abject sadness as I walked through several parks that first day here. According to the taxi driver, it hasn’t properly rained since May 12. He cited the specific day because the lack of rain is so profound, and then I saw the grass in the parks and wanted to weep. Everything is yellow and brown and dead. It looks nothing like the memories I have from 1996. But after walking over 11 miles through the city I stopped at a Sainbury’s (a grocery store chain here in England) to pick up a snack and the cashier was all 1996 British. Like, straight up what I remember. Like a character taken right out of a Monty Python sketch and exaggerated in a cartoon. She even apologized for asking if I had a Sainsbury’s card—I did not—like she regretted having imposed that question on me and should have known better and she would try to do better next time, please forgive her, and then sent me out the door with, “Have a good night, love!” In the 40 seconds that we interacted she uttered the words “right, right” and “so sorry” under her breath more than I have said those words out loud in my entire lifetime.
Okay. SO. We are done with the sad stuff. Climate change is real. Science is real. We are all going to die.
I am traveling with a companion—there, I said it—and I turned to him after that whole exchange and idiotically said, “Well, it doesn’t get more British than that.” IDIOT. You don’t say shit like that unless you want to be proven very, very wrong. It’s exactly like getting to a Wednesday afternoon and going, “Well, I’m having a great week!” and then an hour later you get run over by a bus.
Are you having a great week? Don’t tell anyone and you might be alive on Thursday morning. Maybe.
BECAUSE. AND THUS. HERE WE GO.
The following morning while walking toward Hyde Park for an appointment we had on the other side of town we passed a street vendor who was selling hats. At the risk of sounding redundant, the sun here is fucking major. And it was in Paris, too, but we usually did most of our walking either in the shade or when the sun wasn’t gnawing the skin off of our faces. A hat would come in handy except I hate wearing hats. Like, loathe. Insert a stronger word than repugnance here. I feel conspicuous. I feel like I’m walking around with a flashing pink tutu on my head. Other people can wear hats. When I wear one? I am living the dream where you show up to high school without any clothes on. And the quarterback of the football team walks by, sizes you up, and plugs his nose.
But a certain someone—I WILL NOT POINT FINGERS—insisted that a particular hat looked perfectly lovely on me, and the vendor was incredibly helpful: “Right, right. So, you see here, right. You cinch this part up, right. And it makes the hat tighter, right. But only if you want, right. You can release that part, right, and it goes back to its original width. If that’s what you want, only, right, if that’s your preference.” So he bought it for me. That someone bought me the hat, and fuck me! I didn’t feel weird wearing it! I didn’t show up to high school with my tiny tits hanging out! My flappy mom buttocks were totally hidden!
I had shade on my face and it was making the hugest difference in my personal body temperature and I kept thinking as we walked, “Who invented hats?! Why isn’t there a monument in every city on this planet dedicated to this genius? Hats are AMAZING. Has Mueller tried using a hat in his Russia probe? Why haven’t we elected hats to congress? Hats would unite us all! Hats. HATS. HATS!”
At this point we had reached the Italian Gardens in Hyde Park, the most lush part of the park I’d seen so far. And we made dumb, involuntary tourist happy noises—almost as bad as an outright fart, if you ask me—as we looked at the fountains and ponds and lily pads. AS IF WE HAD NEVER SEEN WATER IN OUR LIVES. Tourists are the worst people on the planet, worse even than eighth grade boys, that bad. And there we were being worse than a certain 14-year-old boy who took a picture of his friend’s micro penis and sent it via SnapChat to at least 30 of his peers. My god, I hope his mom is not reading this.
The person I am traveling with spotted a heron sitting in a giant circle of grass sprouting up from the corner of one the ponds as I wandered over to take a picture of a fountain in a different pond. But because of the heat my phone was acting up and… load… come on… load… COME ON. I couldn’t get the camera to open on my phone and since I was facing the sun I turned my back to it so that I could better inspect what was going on in the shade of my own body. And that’s when a gust of wind flicked the hat right off of my head—I had not cinched it tight enough, right—and I watched in slow motion as it floated several feet in the air along the current of that wind and then landed squarely in the other pond not even five feet from the heron. Hats. HATS. HATS!
I just stood there paralyzed watching all the solutions to the world’s problems starting to sink below the surface of that pond when, suddenly. BOOM. Like. Someone stuck their newborn baby into a goddamn cannon and shot it across the Mississippi River and hollered, “Yee haw!” I mean, that’s how fast and how startling it was when the person I was with sat down on the edge of the pond, began leaning over toward the hat, and then yelled at me, “Hold me up!”
Without thinking I grabbed his hand with my left hand, except. Right. So. My left hand is on my left arm. We need to establish that because my left arm is my far weaker arm. I had my large purse on my right shoulder and my phone in my right hand. And in the milliseconds that passed by I wasn’t thinking any coherent thought. Not a single intelligible word or letter crossed through my head. It was all just static and psychedelic paisleys floating around up in my empty brain when all at once his grip on my hand became much more intense. And the weight of his body began to resemble that of a corpse.
As the right side of his body began to sink underwater in sync with the hat I heard loud, breathless gasps from people who were witnessing my brainlessness. Like, people were making noises as if they were watching someone behead a live pig. Those very loud noises along with the weight of his body snapped me out of my hypnosis and I then realized, “This person I am with had one particular plan when he leaned over to grab that hat. However, he had not made a backup plan should that original plan fail miserably.”
I had become his backup plan.
This is the part of the show where your favorite character gets shoved off of a subway platform.
See, he should have notified me in writing that I would be required to provide such services. Because I showed up highly unprepared. Like, I showed up to a gun fight with some marshmallows and a poop emoji pillow.
I finally blinked my mind awake enough to shove my phone into my purse so that I could use my right hand to assist my left, but by that time his body weight was too much for me. I have not seen the inside of a gym for more than four weeks and would be unable to bench press an empty water bottle if I tried. Just as a gasping woman reached my side to try to grab on to his arm, he had sunk so far under that he kicked up his right leg to swing his left leg into the water to attempt a backup plan to the backup plan: Save himself.
But wasn’t that Plan A all along? I was so confused. You now understand why I never considered joining the military and have never shoplifted so much as a pack of Tic Tacs.
Right. So. When kicking up his right leg he happened to kick it directly into my chest, squarely between my boobs leaving the imprint of his Converse tennis shoe on my crisp white shirt making it look like I had bought a t-shirt with that design printed on it. Like, HELLO EVERYONE. My tits are so small you can fit a man’s size 10 tennis shoe between them. Behold.
And when his leg jolted up against me it sent him flailing even further below the surface, and he splashed and splashed trying to keep himself afloat. Half of his head had gone underwater. That’s when a man ran over and reached out for his right arm, and the person I am with grabbed onto that man for a few seconds at least. Maybe two or three seconds to abate the sinking. But then he noticed that my hat—Hats. HATS. HATS!—was RIGHT THERE. Still, within his reach. And then. AND THEN. I remember this one specific part more distinctly than I remember any other moment of the whole ordeal, because he looked up at all three of us and then looked back at the hat, and then looked back at all of us as if to say, “I came here for that goddamn hat, and I am not leaving without it. Are you all out of your fucking minds.”
That’s when he let go of the man’s arm and placed his left foot firmly on the bottom of the pond, his right foot still hanging over the edge next to the space between my tits. And he grabbed the hat, threw it up and over to the concrete beside us all, and then he used that man’s arm to pull his now soaked body—the only part not drenched being the leg he kicked me with—out of the pond onto dry land. This was the original plot of The Shape of Water.
The two strangers who helped him asked over and over if he was okay and, my god, he just smiled and nodded while flicking bits of pond debris from his shirt and his arms and his shorts. He wasn’t mad or embarrassed or even the tiniest bit inconvenienced. And this is one of the many reasons I am with this person. Just then, and I revealed this part on Instagram, a guy with two huge cameras hanging around his neck—you know he has footage of this somewhere—approached us and said, “You know the last two blokes who fell in that pond there? Hugh Grant and Colin Firth. On set of the Bridget Jones film. You’re in good company, guv!”
Here’s that scene, by the way, and the characters actually fall into the pond I was trying to take a picture of, the pond where my camera wouldn’t load that caused this whole fiasco to unfold:
As for how I was feeling, well, this is why I sometimes wonder what the hell this person is doing with me. Because I was mortified. And maybe he is with me because when I feel mortified I do not let on in any way that a) I am feeling that emotion, or b) that I am existing. I felt like I had failed him so miserably, and I was so embarrassed that I had caused all of this and so ashamed that I was such a terrible backup plan that I did not make eye contact with anyone or move my body or breathe when he was finally perched on dry land. I willed myself into nonexistence. I concentrated so hard on disappearing from the earth that I am pretty sure the ground opened up beneath me and I slipped into a void in another dimension. If there is video footage of this anywhere I am not in it because I willed myself unborn.
He saved my goddamn hat. And not only that, he didn’t want to walk back to the apartment to change clothes. Why? It was hot as balls outside and he’d taken a refreshing plunge, that’s why. We still had miles of London to see, after all, and didn’t I know that he’d go to the ends of the earth for me? This was nothing, he said. So what, he fell into a pond.
So what, he fell into a pond. Didn’t I know?
In the years to come when we eventually retell this story to friends and family, there is that one moment that only I get to recount because I saw it in his eyes and in his resolve when he let go of that man to grab my hat. He would go to the ends of the earth for me, by god, and hell if someone trying to save him was going to get in his way.
And it doesn’t get more British than that.