Last week it was my birthday. It was one of the best birthdays I’ve had.
I had the week off work, and started the day at the house of a friend who moved away from London a few years ago. I’d driven up to see her the day before, and we went out for a lovely lunch on my birthday.
Then I drove back to London and quickly packed, as Andrew and I were going to Paris the next day, for a long weekend!
After the Valentine’s Day debacle, Andrew had arranged a trip to Paris, as I’d mentioned in passing that I love Paris. I was so excited.
On the evening of my birthday, I went out for dinner with Andrew and seven of my friends. We went to Cote, which is a French chain of restaurants. I really like them because the food is really good, and also, they have lots of options for coeliacs, who can’t eat gluten, and they take it really seriously.
When I was getting ready to go out, and putting my makeup on, after hastily packing, I thought about the combination of friends who were coming. It was a mixture of people from all different stages of my life, who currently live in London.
One of my friends (Tess) has slight beef with another of my friends (Leona) over a cartoon Leona drew in my 30th birthday card (long story). Leona has no idea there is beef between them. Tess often cancels coming to my birthday at the last minute. Tess and I have nothing in common, and we both often cheerily say that we shouldn’t get on, but we do get on brilliantly, and have done since we were tiny children. However, when we are with each other’s friends, the differences between us come into focus a lot more.
I sent a message to Andrew saying “Can you look after Tess tonight? She can feel left out as she doesn’t have much in common with my other friends.”
He replied “yeah, no worries.”
It wasn’t until I was on the train into central London, that I realised how cool it was to be able to send that text. It was Andrew’s first time meeting a lot of my friends, but instead of worrying about that, I was drafting him into helping with friendship dynamics. In the past, I worried about ex-boyfriends getting too drunk, or disappearing, or being annoyed that they have to be sociable.
When I arrived at the restaurant, I met Open Relationship Guy, who was waiting outside. We went in, and saw that Leona, Tess, Andrew and Nelson were already there. Luckily, so far, it seemed beef-free. Our table wasn’t ready yet, and we were given glasses of prosecco while we waited.
Gradually more friends arrived, and our table became free.
It was a really fun evening. (Tess ended up sitting by ex-Flatmate Joe and Leah, who are really good company, and she seemed to have a good time.)
I was sitting in the middle of the table, and felt like Queen Bee, flitting in and out of everyone’s different conversations. A couple of times, when I was holding forth about something, out of the corner of my eye, I saw Andrew, watching me talking. The way he looked at me made me feel really good about myself.
After dinner, some of us went on for another drink. We were near the South Bank, one of my favourite parts of London, and we went to the BFI Bar, but that closed not long after we arrived.
I was going home to Andrew’s rather than mine, as he lives nearer the airport we were flying from the next day. We got the tube back to his, with my friend Nelson, who now lives not far from Andrew. I had my luggage for Paris with me, and Andrew carried it.
After we’d said Goodbye to Nelson, when we were waiting for a bus, Andrew said, “I was having a rubbish day today.”
The day before, he’d had his police exam, which he’d studied for, for two months, and it hadn’t gone well. Then, later on, he’d found out he hadn’t been promoted.
Then he added, “But, then, after spending time with you and your friends, I forgot about it all!”
“Ah, I’m glad!” We hugged.
“I had a good time! I was looking at you in the restaurant and thought, you’re so beautiful!” he said, continued, still hugging me.
“Is there anything you’d like to say to me?” I said, half-joking. I was referring to the L-word. He had said it back to me, but not said it of his volition yet.
“I love you,” he said.
I hugged him so hard I nearly crushed him. I felt like I was bursting with happiness.
When we got back to his place, we got into bed and had sex. Just as we were getting started, he said, “I love you,” again.
I felt like it was a such a relief that he had finally said it without being made to! I did know, all this time, that his actions were more important than his words, and he treated me very well. Once he said he loved me, I should’ve been satisfied, but I didn’t feel completely relieved until he finally said it unprompted, without me putting a gun to his head.
He had said that I didn’t need to pay my half for the trip to Paris, as it was for my birthday. I said I would pay my half, but that what I did want, was something to open on my birthday, even if it was just something small ‘like a nice necklace from Accessorize’.
He gave me my birthday present, and he hadn’t deviated from the instruction to get a ‘nice necklace from Accessorize’.
He’d bought me a tiny, sparkly, silver heart on a chain.
After I’d opened it and put it on, I remembered that some of my friends had given me cards and presents, which Andrew picked up when we were leaving the restaurant.
“Where are my other presents?” I asked.
He looked crushed for a moment, and I realised he thought I meant, ‘presumably you’ve bought me more than just this?’
“No, I meant the ones from the restaurant! From my friends!” I laughed.
We went to sleep. We had some ‘lighthearted banter’ the next morning, because we had different ideas about how early we needed to get to the airport.
I’m naturally a late person, but when it comes to flights, I aim to get there a while before check-in even opens. I’m so used to seeing the consequences of being late, I’m terrified of missing a flight.
I wanted to head to the airport not long after we woke up in the morning, but Andrew wanted to go Oxford Street and buy some new clothes as he didn’t have anything clean to take to Paris. I was definitely pro him clothes-shopping, as he only has about two different outfits, but was on edge about missing the flight.
I went back to sleep while he went into town, and realised I wasn’t feeling 100% well. At first, I assumed it was just the after-effects of the birthday wine, but when I got up and dressed, I realised it was more than that. My stomach felt sore, like it was bruised all over. I wondered if I’d eaten something wrong.
Andrew made it back in plenty of time, with a ground-breaking second jumper to add to his collection, and T-shirt from Next that was identical to one he already had.
We headed to the airport. I had a really big rucksack that was full of unnecessary costume changes, but also emergency gluten-free food, a few things of Andrew’s and all our liquids, and he just had hand luggage. He insisted on carrying my big rucksack, as we travelled across London. I assumed we would swap, and I’d carry his little rucksack, but he insisted on carrying that, as well, which I thought was very sweet. He looked like an imbalanced snail. Every so often I asked if he wanted me to carry anything, but he always said no.
When we got to the airport, I noticed that I couldn’t stop yawning, and I felt a bit spaced out and exhausted. I kept rubbing my stomach, which felt sore.
I must’ve had some gluten, I thought.
I can’t eat gluten because of being a coeliac, which means that even a tiny bit of gluten makes my immune system attack my digestive system.
I didn’t feel too bad, but not quite right, so it was probably only slight contamination.
We got the airport slightly later than I would normally, but still in plenty of time. I was excited as we were officially On Holiday.
We had some lunch and then got some last minute things.
“We mustn’t forget condoms,” we kept reminding each other, when other passengers were within earshot.
We went into Boots to get the condoms. Andrew picked up a box of 12, and said, “will these be enough? Or shall I get two?”
“How long are we going for? 3 days? I think 12 will be enough!” I laughed.
Suddenly, it was time for us to go to our gate. As we rushed there, he said, “Sorry, that was silly wasn’t it! Thinking 12 wouldn’t be enough.”
He’s so adorable, I thought.
The flight went smoothly.
When we arrived in Paris, I changed the location on my ‘Citymapper’ app from London to Paris, which I found very pleasing, and we tried to figure out how to get to the hotel.
Then, I felt a bit stressed about being in an unfamiliar city, when we couldn’t figure what train tickets to buy, and a massive queue built up behind us, at the ticket machines. I vowed to be more patient with non-Londoners in future.
Then, we couldn’t figure out the route to the hotel. What it said on Citymapper seemed completely different to the train map we were looking at. I’m not even sure what an arrondissement is. We knew we were staying in the 17th arrondissement, but we didn’t know what zone that was.
Then there was a problem with the ticket barriers and lots of tourists got very stressed.
When we finally made it through, just as I was thinking It’s so stressful being in a foreign city! I turned to look at Andrew and he had a massive smile on his face. He was so calm! I suppose it’s because he’s a police officer.
On the train, we had to stand all the way from Charles de Gaulle airport, because it was busy. It’s a bit of a bleak train journey, and Andrew kept saying, “sorry, I should’ve booked Eurostar instead.”
(Although we had the last laugh, because it turned out there were strikes on Eurostar, and we would have had a lot of trouble getting home if we hadn’t flown.)
Once we got into Paris, I perked up. We went on a train that was double-decker, which I found pretty exciting, and then the Metro. Their underground system seems a bit sexier than ours, with lots of pink train lines.
Soon, we got to our hotel. I couldn’t believe it when we walked through the entrance. There was a grand piano in the hall.
“Nous avons un reservation,” I said, in my best GCSE French. I knew Andrew was impressed (because afterwards, I asked him “were you impressed by my French?”).
After we’d checked in, we went up to our hotel room, on the 7th floor.
“I can’t believe this hotel!” I said.
“Do you like it? It said it was ‘art deco’ on the website, and I know you like art deco things,” he said.
“Was it very expensive?” I asked.
He brushed off the question.
“You’ll have to let me know how much I need to pay,” I added.
He also brushed this off.
After we’d settled into the room, it was the middle of the evening. We decided not to go out for dinner, as we were both really tired, and I wasn’t feeling 100%.
Instead, we found a supermarket and bought some French cheese and wine, and had a picnic in our hotel room. I was slightly annoyed when Andrew only wanted to eat English cheddar, but it was his loss.
We had holiday sex, which was great, except my breasts had been very tender since the morning after pill, and now my stomach was tender as well, but we powered through, with me regularly directing Andrew away from tender organs.
The next morning, we had a lazy start and then started walking into the centre of Paris. We were staying in the 17th Arrondissement. I thought we must be out in the far suburbs, and that we were basically in the Buckinghamshire of Paris, but actually we were only about a 20 minute walk from the Arc de Triomphe.
I think one of the nicest ways to enjoy Paris is just by walking around and looking at the sites, taking in the atmosphere on the streets, so we decided to do that. We planned to walk to the Arc de Triomphe, then down the Champs Elysees to the Louvre, then maybe to the Pompidou Centre.
We got to the Arc de Triomphe and kept changing our minds about whether to go up it or not. We hadn’t had any breakfast yet. We sat and ate some biscuits Leona had given me for my birthday, and then rejoined the queue.
I was really glad we did, as it was great. There was a museum inside, with lots of information about the history. Andrew did History at university, and I thought it was adorable when I looked at him reading notices with facts on, with an expression of joy on his face.
Once he was satisfied that he’d read everything, we went outside, at the top, and looked at the views. In some ways, I think you can get better views of Paris on other buildings besides the Eiffel Tower, because if you’re on the Eiffel Tower, the landscape looks weird because you can’t see the Eiffel Tower itself.
It was very windy but the views were amazing.
After we’d come back down and been solemn about the memorial to the unknown soldier, we went onto the Champs Elysees and found somewhere to have lunch.
I’d been told that it’s difficult being a coeliac in Paris, and that if you mention being unable to eat gluten, it isn’t taken seriously, so I decided just to order food that I thought would definitely be gluten-free, and not say anything.
I ordered an omelette as I wanted something simple, as my stomach still wasn’t feeling right, and a nice glass of French wine.
We had a nice time having lunch, then continued our walk.
By the time we left the restaurant, I already felt much more ill. I went to the toilet in the restaurant and was relieved that that toilet visit had not taken place in our hotel room, which only had a frosted glass door between the bathroom and bedroom. I wouldn’t have wanted Andrew to overhear that.
We started walking the Champs Elysees and my stomach really hurt, but I tried to ignore it.
We went to the H&M. I love going into a foreign H&M and buying something. Then, whenever I wear it, I think about my holiday. Two of my favourite T-shirts are ones I bought from Prague H&M in 2006. Some of the stock is the same as UK H&Ms, but I think some things are different. I bought a T-shirt this time. (Apparently the next day, all the shop-fronts were smashed in by Gilets Jaune.)
Then, we continued our walk. By now, my stomach felt really painful. I realised something in my lunch must’ve contained gluten.
We reached a little garden and I asked Andrew if we could sit down, as I was in pain.
We sat on a little bench and I asked him to put his hand on my stomach, as I thought it would make it feel better.
“I hope no one things I’ve got my hand down your skirt,” he said, putting his hand underneath the top of my denim skirt, onto my stomach.
“They probably just think I’m pregnant and you’re feeling it kick or something,” I replied.
Even though I felt horrible, it was quite a nice moment. It did help having Andrew’s hand on my stomach.
We carried on, and reached the Place de Concorde. Again, Andrew was absolutely rapt by the history of the obelisk.
I soon felt like I badly needed the toilet again. We found some nearby toilets.
We walked to the Louvre, and I realised I wasn’t going to be able to carry on for much longer. I felt in so much pain, and also seemed to have really bad diarrhoea (sorry). I was worried about having an accident, and my stomach felt better when I was sitting, and worse when I was moving around.
“I’m really sorry, but I feel so unwell, I think I might need to go back to the hotel! I’m sure if I just have a lie-down for a bit, I’ll be OK and we can go back out again,” I said.
I had really wanted to at least see the outside of the Pompidou Centre. There’s a fountain with really bright, pop-art sculptures in it. We weren’t far away, so we decided to head there, and then go back to the hotel.
As we walked to the Pompidou Centre, I realised I needed the toilet again. Urgently.
“How far is it?” I kept asking.
I tried to figure out whether I could wait and go at the Pompidou Centre, and how quickly I could access a toilet there. We passed some big hotels, and I wondered if I could sneak in and use one of their toilets.
Then, just as the situation got critical, a public toilet appeared in the middle of the street, like an oasis in the desert.
I remembered that last time I was in Paris, I discovered they have these little pods with a toilet in, which are free to use. You’d expect them to be really disgusting inside, like free public toilets often are, but these ones completely clean themselves after each use, using something like a robot and a car wash.
“YES! I can go in here!” I said.
Again, I was relieved that toilet trip took place in a reasonable sound-proof environment.
After that, I felt relieved but also felt even more unwell. All my digestive organs hurt. We staggered around, trying to find the pop-art fountain. When we did, I was relieved to sit down again, but disappointed that Andrew didn’t seem as enthralled by the sculptures as I was, the first time I saw them.
To be fair, the fountains didn’t seem to be working (they also didn’t seem to be working outside the Louvre. I later tried to google why loads of fountains in Paris aren’t working, but couldn’t find anything). They did look a bit more sad and less impressive like this. There was one sculpture that was a big pair of lips, and when I first saw it, it was moving around and water was shooting out the middle, but now it was still.
We decided to head back to the hotel. It was a bit of a walk to the train station, and by now, I felt more comfortable if I was doubled over, and I was involuntarily making occasionally groaning sounds.
I liked that area of Paris, and I still kept noticing things I liked, or shops I would have loved to go in, if I wasn’t feeling so ill (I was too ill to SHOP).
“Arghhhhh my stomach… oh, look at that!” I kept saying.
I was sort of holding onto Andrew as we walked.
When we got on the Metro, (after buying tickets that were 6 times more expensive than we needed, as we still didn’t understand the system), I was relieved to stop moving.
On the train, I lay with my head in Andrew’s lap.
“Look! A ladybird!” Andrew said. There was a ladybird on his leg.
I had previously told him how much I love ladybirds. Balthazar, my ex-boyfriend who died, had brought me a ladybird in a matchbox on our first date. After he died, a ladybird would often appear when I was very upset and needed cheering up.
For example, on the day of his funeral, a ladybird flew into the car. On my first birthday after his death, I was staying at my friend’s flat. A ladybird appeared in her bathroom at midnight, just as my birthday started, and stayed there until the following midnight. She said that was the only time she ever saw a bug in that flat.
It cheered me up to see a ladybird then.
I was so happy when we finally got back to our hotel room.
I felt so much better when I lay down on the bed. Andrew rubbed my back for a while after I got on the bed.
I half-read and half tried to sleep, and he read his book for a while.
I had said earlier that I was sure I’d be able to go out for dinner once I’d had a lie down, but as the afternoon continued, I realised there was no way I wanted to eat again, or even move, any time soon. I still had diarrhoea and all my digestive organs ached, and I was exhausted.
Much later on, we went downstairs and had a soft drink in the hotel bar, and read our books, but that was it.
The next day, we had a lazy start again. We went out for a brunch near the hotel. I ordered a salad that looked like it definitely wouldn’t have anything risky in it, but when it came, the salad was neatly arranged on bread. The waiter seemed genuinely sad when I didn’t eat much of it, and I explained why. I realised everyone in Paris was probably much more helpful towards coeliacs than I had been led to believe.
This time, we decided to go to the catacombs.
There was a huge queue to get in, and it ended up taking 2 hours. However, it was actually quite fun waiting. We were standing in the sun, and we had banter about the fact Andrew had wanted to bring his book, that morning, but I’d told him not to, because we wouldn’t be standing around anywhere. I think being still helped my stomach recover as well.
The catacombs were really interesting. Apparently there were all these tunnels underneath the city, and eventually the cemetery was full, after the Black Death, so they moved lots of dead bodies into these tunnels. There’s 6 million skeletons in the catacombs now.
After that, we went to Pont Neuf, a famous bridge in Paris, and went on a boat tour on the Seine. We learnt that the Eiffel Tower took 2 years to build, but 3 years to paint, and other interesting facts about Paris.
When we were waiting for the boat tour, I noticed Andrew was quite quiet, and he actually had been all day. I asked him why, and he said he was feeling a bit down, but he didn’t know why. I wondered if it was because of his exam not going well, and then not getting promoted yet, but he didn’t seem to think there was a connection.
I felt a bit sad that he felt down, on a trip in Paris with me.
After the boat trip, we met my friend Naomi and her boyfriend for dinner. By complete coincidence, they were in Paris at the same time as us, also having a weekend away! We couldn’t believe it when they said.
We had a really nice dinner. This time I said I couldn’t eat gluten when ordering the food, and the waiter was helpful. I had lobster.
Our flight home was in the morning, the next day. Andrew was still quiet, and I was sad and a bit pissed off that he was feeling down. He had been good company when we were with Naomi and John, and he was pleasant to me, but he just wasn’t his usual self.
When we were on the train back to the airport, I was being quiet too, because he was. Then, I thought about the way he was carrying my bag and hadn’t let me pay my half for the hotel or flights, and how great he was.
“I love you,” I said to him, giving him a big hug. He looked really pleased, and I realised whatever he was down about, it wasn’t personal.
When we got back to London, I had assumed we would go our separate ways, but he asked if I wanted to go for a roast dinner with him first. It made me feel a bit better, that he wanted to carry on hanging out.
When we finally said goodbye, at the bus stop, he kept hugging me really tightly.
I had my final counselling session on the Friday after our trip.
I told the counsellor about how Andrew had got depressed in Paris, and how I thought it was a real shame and couldn’t really understand it.
I had just been telling her about getting ill with my stomach.
“How ill were you, on a scale of 1 to 10?” She asked.
“7 or 8?” I replied. In terms of how serious it was, it was only a 1 or 2, because I knew why I felt like it and knew it would pass, but in terms of how much pain I was in, it was temporarily pretty bad.
“Has he had a parent that was ill, in the past?” she asked.
“I don’t think so,” I replied. “Although, I asked him, ‘what kinds of things do you think about, when you’re feeling depressed?’ and he’d said, ‘I think about death, and my parents dying.'”
My counsellor suggested that maybe he got depressed because I had got ill. She thought maybe me being ill made him feel vulnerable because I’m one of his key attachment figures now, (whereas until recently, his parents would have been the main ones) and it brought into focus how he’d feel if something happened to me. Especially if he felt a bit vulnerable because he’d only just said he loves me, which felt like a risk to him, and now it was like his attachment to me was somehow under threat, so he was retreating to protect himself.
He had said he didn’t know why he felt down, and my counsellor said maybe he wasn’t aware of it, because it was on a very deep level.
Although this kind of idea is very different to the Psychological approach I practise at work, this explanation made perfect sense. I got ill, and then he was quiet and said he was thinking about death. (Plus, we then spent ages looking at skeletons.)
We discussed how I was tempted want to pull away, because it felt like a rejection, but when I had done the opposite, like telling him I loved him and hugging him, he had responded well, and he hadn’t seemed to want me to go, at the bus stop.
It made me realise that maybe it wasn’t a rejection at all, but actually a sign of how important I was to him.