The first time I visited Notre Dame I was eighteen and four days into my relationship with my soulmate. We had gotten together earlier that week in London and when he invited me to a notable party which back then such a gesture would be equivalent to becoming “Instagram official.” Our love was passionate and raced at a speed that would make even Lewis Hamilton a little motion sick. I had been to Paris before because I have relatives that live there but never taken the time to actually visit the city. Besides, isn’t visiting Paris with a romantic partner the epitome of Romance?
So when last Monday I heard the news that Notre Dame was burning I was filled with a sickening sense of dread. I couldn’t bring myself to watch the flames engulfing the building on TV, I didn’t want to think about all the art that was at risk at being lost, at the building itself collapsing. It was simply too much. I couldn’t imagine Paris without Notre Dame. As someone having a degree in Classical Letters, Victor Hugo’s iconic protagonist Quasimodo lived in the cathedral and was tasked with ringing the bell, and it horrified me to think that this literary location would only become a distant memory, conjured when reading the pages of The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
As my phone exploded with Twitter updates, I couldn’t bring myself to read them. I was too afraid of any of them confirming my fears. I was fraught with anxiety, almost feeling like someone who had been informed that a loved one had been critically hurt and you’re miles away and can’t do anything to help. Finally, on the point of despair and tears, I texted my ex, the one whom I had visited the Cathedral and stated, “Have you seen the news about Notre Dame? I’m in tears.”
I didn’t consider at the time that he may be sleeping, seeing the time difference, me being in California and him in London. But despite that, it wasn’t too long before he replied back with, “I did. I’ve been crying all night.”
And suddenly it dawned on me why this building out of any other building meant so much to me. It’s a building that had witnessed the beginning of my love story with my soulmate and seeing it burn only made the fact that our own love had gone up in flames hurt even more. As if reading my mind, my ex sent another text, “Remember when we visited it together?”
How could I ever forget? Pieces of ourselves had somehow fused within that Gothic structure because the pain was so visceral, so raw, so real.
“I remember. We were infinite.” I texted back.
“Don’t be said,” he replied. “It’ll survive. Nothing that beautiful will ever truly die.”
I couldn’t bring myself to ask him if he had meant the building or if he had meant the ghost of our younger selves, huddled against the cold Parisian wind in a long-ago February standing on the Bell Tower and thinking that anything was possible.