For 19 years I’ve wandered Paris, one eye marveling at the city above, the other scanning befouled sidewalks before me. The most interesting feature of the later—scatological diversity aside—are the dates imprinted in their surface. When a sidewalk is repaired or replaced, that section is dated in six digits, tall and blocky—about the size of a cigarette pack. Once aware of this, I could no longer ignore these numbers as I made my way through the city: 13/08/03, 17/03/97, 04/12/14, 01/09/00. A mosaic of dates shuttling between our decades: This is how I experience memory.
But I cannot recall 21/06/07.
To my knowledge, I have yet to cross the slab of sidewalk created that day, if it even exists. The dates I can remember off the top of my head are usually milestones, birthdays, death-days, anniversaries, and disasters (both natural and man-made). But ask me to remember a specific date outside of those memorialized and I come up with only vague impressions, more likely based on the changes in those lives around me than the dynamics of my own. At least the years surrounding 21 June 2007 were like that.
Back then, the joy around me—my wife, two children, and the city of Paris itself—was enough to sustain me, to soothe the sting of professional failure and debilitating self-doubt. For some time it was enough.
Then, about halfway from 2007 to the present, an event changed how I defined myself and my relationship with the world around me; on 18 December 2012, at a very low point in my life, came news that my first novel would be published by an indie press. That, in turn, gave me the courage to pursue my MFA in Writing, a decision which would further affirm that I was indeed a writer, and not alone in that endeavor. There was no use in denying it any more, I would follow my father’s métier, just as my wife—an actress—had turned to her parents’ occupation, becoming a working artist just a few years earlier.
The book came out in 2014, in time for my father to attend my first signing at Edgartown Books, in my hometown on Martha’s Vineyard. The group of eight customers that day bore little resemblance to the thousands my father had hosted on that very porch over the summers—a dancing Clifford the Big Red Dog greeting fans in a line that would snake its way up Main Street. The single-digit turnout didn’t seem to matter, though, for we both realized it was a start. My dad would finish his final book three months later, leaving our world on 12 December 2014. That date I will never forget.
21 June 2007. I know why that date stands out—it’s the Summer Solstice. That would have also made it the annual Fête de la Musique. That day, anyone can take to the streets to perform their music, though it is usually programmed in public spaces, accommodated in small restaurants, or booked into established music venues. On that longest day, there would have been a huge stage built across Place Denfert-Rochereau, blocking the massive statue of le Lion de Belfort. From our house we would have heard the distant bass from those PA towers as it boomed down wide Avenue Général Leclerc. But our home was already full of lovely music; it was unlikely I had the desire to leave that evening.
If it were only possible to stand before 21/06/07 now, perhaps I could decipher that day lost in limbo.
Tim Bridwell, author of the novel Sophronia L. (2014, Folded Word Press), is a graduate of the MFA in Writing program at Vermont College of Fine Arts and the BFA Film Practicum Program at Emerson College. He lives in Paris with his wife and two children.
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