“I don’t want to lose this,” he said.

Us, on my last day in Paris. Photo by Victoria Lustbader.

This is a great story.  This is the story of how I met and fell in love with my husband.  Certainly every love story is special, but ours is my favorite.

Around Halloween of 2010, I found out that I would be visiting Paris, France for the first time.  I was beyond excited.  My cousins, two of my favorite people in the world, who had been to Paris some 20 times, wanted to take me the following summer, June of 2011.  After sharing the news with my immediate family, I rushed down to my favorite bar to meet my friends and continue celebrating the thrilling prospect.

Once ensconced with a glass of wine (practice for Paris, of course) I noticed a friend of mine at the end of the bar talking with a stranger I hadn’t seen in the establishment before.  Leaning around to see if I recognized his face, I heard what I thought was a French accent emanating from the stranger.  Be still my heart!  Could it be?  The very day I learn I’ll travel to this dream land, I meet someone from there?  I had to know more.

I asked the stranger if he was French.  No, he told me, he was from Quebec, but currently lived in France, where he was studying for his Ph.D.  I nervously tried out a few barely remembered catch phrases from high school language classes.  He was polite and accommodating to my attempts.  We talked briefly, surrounded by a large group of my friends.   After about half an hour, I had to leave, but he passed me his name and email address, and told me to look him up when I came to town.  I was excited at the promise of knowing a local when I got there.  He would certainly have insider information on good restaurants or bars.  It was serendipitous, but not initially romantic.

I friended him on Facebook later that night, and then we didn’t speak at all for a good six months.  Right before I left for my trip, I remembered him, and thought I ought to see if he remembered me as well.

ME:  Je serai à Paris. Salut! I don’t know if you remember but I met you a while ago in Knoxville, Tennessee at a pub. I will be in Paris for the next 2 weeks and if you are there also we should get a drink sometime!

MATHIEU:  Hi! I for sure remember you.  That seems like a good idea, maybe sometime this week?

And so he did.  He told my cousins and me about a neighborhood that locals like, Butte aux Cailles, which my cousins had never visited.  We were excited to discover new places and new friends.  We all met for dinner.   It turned out that Mathieu was only about nine days away from presenting his thesis for his Ph.D.  In retrospect, that he met me at all during such a busy time in his own life must have meant there was more of an initial attraction than I realized.

After dinner, my cousins departed, and Mathieu and I went to a bar next to the restaurant.  We stayed later than we anticipated, sparks flying.  Realizing what time in the morning it was, we sped through the rainy streets of Paris, laughing and pulling one another along, grappling for the last train, racing along the rippling shores of the Seine for the shelter of my warm and dry apartment.

He called the next day to invite me on a date, just the two of us this time.  He took me by some Parisian monuments and to a vegetarian restaurant; I have since found out what a meat-aholic he is, and what a sacrifice that must have been.  The day after this my cousins and I met him, his parents, and his uncle, who had all come in from Quebec to watch him defend his thesis.

Later in the week, he invited me to attend his presentation.  I spent the whole day with him and his family, who were to depart the following day for a vacation in Italy.  He decided to let them go ahead of him and stay with me until the end of my trip, three days later.

The last few days of my trip were the hardest.  This was becoming something, something real and undeniable.  But he lived in France and I lived in Tennessee.  I had a job and a house and a car.  He had to finish finalizing his doctorate, pack up, and move to his new job.  Two nights before my cousins and I flew home, Mathieu and I talked about what this was.  What it could be.  What we wanted it to be.

MATHIEU:  I don’t want to lose this.  I got offered a job in Switzerland. I have to go.  But I want you to come with me.

ME:  To Switzerland?  To be together?….OK.

And then we parted.  I cried most of the way to the airport.  I cried on and off for days.  If it weren’t for Skype, I would have gone insane.  We talked every day, sometimes up to six straight hours a day.  We texted on Skype throughout the week, and had video chats on the weekends.  I started happily to plan for my move.  My family, however, needed a bit more persuading.

“Who is this guy? You’re just moving to Switzerland?! Do we get to meet him first?”

After being apart for seven weeks, he came to see me and meet my family.  I waited for him at international arrivals in Atlanta, my sundress clinging to me in the Southern heat of August, and he saw me and scooped me into his arms, a lone sandal slipping from my foot as he twirled me in the air.  We made our own wind.

Three days after arriving, as we sat sipping giant martinis in a booth of the restaurant where I worked, we discussed the logistics of getting me to Switzerland.  He was going to be working for CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, and if we were married, he said, it would be much easier, since they would take care of visas and insurance and all the tedious paperwork involved with an international relocation.  We looked at each other over our cherry stems, skeptical grins etching our faces.  Were we really thinking about what we think we were thinking about?

We knew what we had would end up there anyway.  But why not do it now, when he was in town and we at least had one of our families around?  The alternative would be to see how things worked out once we got to Switzerland, and if we found it to be too difficult, we could go to a courthouse there and do it.  But that sounded sad and lonely, and the warmth of August was calling to us.

And so it was, after technically spending only 11 days together physically, I borrowed my great-grandmother’s ring and he bought a suit and three dozen red roses and we did what was in our hearts.  We parted for another seven weeks, until his contract was scheduled to begin and I could move there to our new apartment.  I practiced saying “my husband” until it didn’t sound weird anymore.  I sold my car, gave my kitchen equipment to my little brother, and packed all my sweaters for a journey to the Alps. And then I flew across the ocean and into his arms for good.


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