These events occurred many years ago, but in the narrative of my life when they occurred is meaningless because of what transpired. And what still transpires.
The Need for an Escape
It was a season of returns.
I had planned a romantic getaway to Paris. It would be my fourth visit, this time with my husband Scott after the birthing of three children. My mother in law was babysitting the small, perpetually needy tyrants.
The vacation was vastly overdue and a much needed escape. Lovely as the tyrants were and are, an adult break — with adult beverages and adult alone time — is essential to maintaining one’s sanity.
This is especially true in today’s helicopter parenting world, a frenetic world which regularly thrusts tedious obligations on me that, to be honest, I don’t always want and try to resist. I mean, who looks forward to a day spent making perfectly decorated cupcake lollipops and watching first graders finger paint?
I am not a lifestyle blogger or preening mother hen.
I was terribly excited for the escape. My memories of Paris were cobwebby and fragmented. They were fueled by travel books and very bad photographs from my younger days.
I mostly recalled my devout love for the romantic city, one to which I have since frequently returned for geographical cures.
But of course the heart is deceitful above all things. I wasn’t sure if my recollections were intact or overly idealized, as can happen with the vagaries of time when memories dull and grow threadbare.
My Husband’s Personality Flaw: Lateness
I am happy to report that I still loved Paris. It hadn’t changed; it was captivating in a way that few cities are.
And my husband, the dear man, hadn’t changed either.
We are opposite sex versions of each other in many ways. But we diverge in one fundamental way that inevitably causes friction in the ebb and flow of a long marriage: he is always late and I am always early. I fear being late almost as much as death itself.
But not my husband. Being late is a defining habit of his existence. A quirky recalcitrant habit that seemingly cannot be broken no matter the marital consequence or the objective allure of an idyllic vacation spot. Being late is sticky, like the worst possible accident with epoxy glue.
We were staying at the Relais Christine on the Left Bank, a romantic boutique hotel. It was perfect, by any measure, for an adult only geographical cure.
One would think Scott needed a geographical cure as well with his hard driving legal career. But geographical cures hold different psychological pulls for different people.
For me, it was the only thing that mattered at that moment. I adore traveling, perhaps more than having children, truth be told. For him, it was a pleasant diversion. But it was not sufficiently diverting to trump his compulsive need to run on a daily basis. Since I have known him, Scott’s only off day was when he contracted the flu.
Discipline, it’s his crazy ass superpower.
Our first few days were divine. We took in Notre Dame, Saint Chapelle, La Conciergerie, and the Louvre. We strolled the Seine, sat in cafes, and enjoyed our stolen freedom.
A Looming Michelin Restaurant Dinner Date
We had an upcoming reservation at a Michelin starred restaurant on the Right Bank, just off the Champs-Élysées. The name of the restaurant now escapes me, but the circumstances are indelibly etched in my memory and in my store of built up marital resentment.
We were scheduled to dine with good friends who also, by happenstance and sheer luck, were vacationing in Paris. I was beyond excited to see them and for our imminent gastronomical experience.
My husband was excited too, in his own way. But his excitement about the upcoming dinner did not match the highs provided by his daily runs through Paris.
My Husband’s Other Flaw: An Obsession With Running
My husband is a “runner.” I don’t say this lightly.
He is a runner in the most obsessive sense of the term. His daily running fix is non-negotiable. It eclipses compromises, pleasing his wife, pleasing his friends, or spending quality time with the babies. It eclipses everything, basically.
He is a Boston marathoner, so running has gobbled up major parts of his days and weekends over the years. It is a time consuming affair. One can feel of little importance, a mere afterthought, compared to the canonical lure of running.
Since our fateful Paris vacation, Scott has gone through four Garmins, countless workout clothes, two treadmills, and is now the owner of a new Peloton bike on the off chance his hamstring complains. We have dozens of pairs of discarded running shoes piled up in the garage.
The truth is that I am a world class athlete, a better athlete than my dearly beloved husband, though he hates to concede the fact. One might expect me to understand the dire necessity of executing a scheduled interval workout.
And I do, for the most part. But, when seeking my geographical cures, I do not. Not even a smidgeon. I am utterly lacking in tolerance. I just want to bask in the vacation-ness of my vacation.
I put my own swim workouts on the back burner. I do not hunt down pools. (Europe seems largely devoid of them anyway.) And I expect some reasonable compromise in the nature and duration of my spouse’s workout to accommodate the chief objective of being on vacation. Surely, at the very least, a taper could be on the agenda during a rare escape from the existential ennui of daily life?
Scott’s First Time Getting Lost
The day before our impending Michelin dinner, Scott got lost on a long morning run on the Left Bank. He was late, very late. A troubling harbinger of things to come.
I was left steaming over an exceedingly long breakfast in our boutique hotel, wondering whether and when he might return. My mind reeled over the possibilities. I considered abandoning him to take in the sights, as time flashed by on our week long escape. I didn’t want to waste another minute. Running is generic and can take place anywhere. Paris is the opposite. Didn’t Scott realize that?
I composed a delightfully worded note, explaining that I had left for the Pompidou Center. As I opened the door to leave, Scott walked in, sweaty and a bit frantic. He was no doubt fearing my ire over the wasted morning.
“What on earth happened?” I asked, with the expected hefty dose of exasperation. “I got lost,” he said rather ruefully, full of abject apology, most of which fell on resolutely deaf ears.
“I don’t really care about running on vacation, Scott,” I snipishly said, “Surely a rare vacation in Paris is more important than getting a stupid run in? I’ve been waiting forever.”
I did have a tiny spasm of sympathy for the getting lost part, of course. This was the pre- smart photo era and I myself get hopelessly lost on a regular basis. Still, shouldn’t he be expected to landmark while running and keep track of time on a basic watch on our rare adult vacation?
I think it goes without saying that no grown adult, in the “mature” stage of life, needs a three hour run on vacation. And, not that this needs saying either, but a three hour run is hardly romantic. In fact, it tends to have the exact opposite effect, as you might imagine.
We went about our day. As a penalty for tardiness, Scott was reluctantly dragged to the Pompidou Center. He does not appreciate art much, especially modern art, unlike me. But given the preceding events, he had no choice in the matter. None at all. He was forced to stand in front of the conceptual artist Marcel Duchamp’s iconic Fountain and “appreciate” it.
The “Short” Run
The next morning dawned, and possibly prompted by his bad behavior the prior morning, Scott decided to run later in the afternoon after sightseeing. I thought this might conceivably mean a rare day off in the never-ending cycle of running and being late because of running, a day simply given over to the potent delights of Paris and our pending dinner reservation.
No such luck.
As we arrived back at our hotel later that afternoon giddy from our day, Scott decided to go on “just a short run, I promise.” “I’ll only be gone a half hour,” he said, as he had said so many times before. That brought my giddiness down a notch.
Sure, I thought to myself. The odds of a “short run” were about the same as my haughty cat being sweet natured. What I said to him was: “I love you, but under no circumstances can you be late to dinner tonight.”
Late to Dinner, Predictably
Yet still he was.
As time ticked by, I primped for dinner, looking at the clock every few minutes and re-applying lip gloss incessantly. Would he get back in time? I really hoped so, but rather doubted it. After all, I had experienced years of Scott’s oblivious tardiness.
Eventually, I stopped looking at the clock. I realized hope was a stupid emotion when dealing with an accursed, narcissistic, no good, nr’er do well runner. Scott was putting on a master class on how to piss off your wife. I now hated the sport of running.
I finished dressing for dinner, fresh swells of rage coursing through my brain every few minutes.
Still, he did not appear.
I had no choice but to leave for dinner solo. I hailed a cab and headed off to sample the delights of fine cuisine, leaving Scott and his beloved running behind. I hoped he had fallen into the Seine.
I apologized to my friends for Scott’s absence, speculating that once again he had gotten lost in pursuit of his first, and perhaps only, true love.
I could tell they were surprised. I mean, who books a Michelin starred restaurant in Paris just to miss the meal?
Lost and Foundering
And I was right. In his zeal to log a “good run” (not a “short run”), Scott had once again lost his bearings, this time on the Right Bank. I empathized with his plight to some tiny degree. But still, he had promised to be on time, promised to keep track of landmarks, promised to keep his run short.
Promises, promises, promises.
Why hadn’t he stuck to an easy route? Bored himself by running in one direction along the Seine? Or just skipped it entirely?
An hour or more after dinner began, Scott sheepishly arrived at the appointed restaurant. We had imbibed several sparkly Kir Royals and enjoyed our gorgeously composed first course. Scott was full of profuse apologizes. Even he realized his conduct was beyond heinous. He sat down, trying to catch his breath.
And then, during the main course, Scott let out a bomb. He had the temerity to ask for ketchup for his steak.
A moment of silence.
Our friends and the waiter looked at Scott in confusion. I quaked in embarassment. I mean, was he asking for a divorce? Did he realize how bourgeois this request was? Did he have to be so absurdly and stereotypically American? Did he have no sense of the expected rules of conduct in Paris?
In France, food is treated with respect, not doused with gelatinous ketchup.
The penguin suited waiter fellow pursed his lips, and with a touch of hauteur, explained that they did not have the requested condiment.
We carried on eating. At least our last course, dessert, went off without a hitch.
The guilt hit hard. Scott knew he had messed up and could never repeat this episode. It was just too much.
I wondered, though, if this epiphany would be temporary.
One hopes that an epiphany will last, serve to prolong the lesson learned, and forever stave off repeating the same mistakes. More often, as time passes, the epiphany dissipates and disappears into the ether. We revert to our previous behavior, like Pavlov’s dog. Our brains simply don’t learn from our mistakes to the extent we hope.
Such was the case with Scott.
Years later, Scott continues to be late and, amazingly, we are still together. But he is never an hour late. He generally confines his lateness to a modest 15-30 minutes. On occasion, he is even on time. He knows now that I will just leave without him if the lateness is unbearable.
As for the ill-fated Michelin dinner? I almost forgave him last week. Almost.