Notre Dame: When a Burning Building Brings Back Memories

notre dame

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.

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My Bad Romance: The Soulmate

gothic

Our love spanned several cities and many jet-lagged mornings. There were more winters than summers. Always wrapped up in bulky sweaters and coats. Our breaths rising in the cold mornings as we shared secrets and cigarettes.

Knowing you was like knowing the world. I learned everything from you. The good, the bad, and the painful. You were smart, well-read, and the right amount of cocky and charming. You were my beacon of light in the dark corridors of my heart. You illuminated everything that was good or bad about me. Maximum transparency. There was no hiding from you. I was cut open, ready for inspection like a frog that was getting dissected by a curious student.

At night we’d fall asleep curled up – exhausted. I’d fall asleep holding your guitar-callused hand feeling safe. I thought you were my soul mate, but I was young and you were reckless.

Our fights would make the walls shake with my accusations, your rage would destroy everything we had built together. You were such a confident liar and I too young and willing to believe the fables you weaved in gold to blind me of the truth.

But maybe you didn’t want to see the truth either.

So we decked our eyes with stars and would live on kisses and chocolates. We whispered poetry, William Blake, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Sylvia Plath, while lying in bed our naked limbs tangled like a fishnet at rest. We lived on music and writing. Your words, my words, soon they became our words till your song and my poems were one and the same reciting the same story over and over again to audiences eager to listen to our heartbreak and love.

I’d drive fast into the night without the headlights on, using the beam of the moon as my guide in the dark. You’d hang your head out the passenger window, your black hair flying wildly in the wind and say, “We are going to live forever!” Because, forever when you are young is infinite.

We shared love, music, tears, and books. We were one.

For a moment we were soul mates.

Now you sing your stories about our love to audiences hungry with desire, and I whisper my poems to the wind because I want my words to be carried across the ocean and caress you at night when you’re asleep and I’m just waking up for the day.

We were forever.

We are for never.

By: Azzurra Nox