Ça va? Ouais, ça va.
Content warning: This piece mentions eating disorders and weight loss
First, make reservations: in other words, plan where you will eat. The two-Michelin-star restaurant where your friends got engaged. The tapas place your boss recommended. The Indian restaurant everyone on Twitter is talking about. The hotel bar. Look at all of their menus weeks, even months in advance. Decide on your budget. Cancel one of the reservations after realizing you might be going overboard. Avoid thinking about calories. Let yourself get excited.
Next, overpack. Bring everything you could possibly want to wear in this seventeen-day period, even though two of your four accommodations will have laundry. Bring the last pair of jeans you can rely on even though there’s a heat wave coming. Bring the shorts you panic-bought on Amazon last week when you realized your favorites no longer fit. Bring a lot of bike shorts. Bring an oversized blazer you will not even remove from your suitcase. Inexplicably bring a box of granola bars, as if they don’t have snacks in Europe, because you are terrified of hunger.
Squish into an airplane seat and notice that it’s less comfortable than it used to be. Eat some pasta and a shrink-wrapped roll with butter at what feels like 11 p.m. Take a little nap.
Land. Blink a couple times. Check into a tiny hotel room. Think about food. Don’t think about how much you’re thinking about food.
Explore. Walk ten miles a day on a foot that may or may not be broken (eventually find out it’s a stress fracture, oops). Walk along the Thames, the Seine, Stonehenge, the rocky beaches of Nice, the winding avenues of Paris. Walk hand-in-hand with your wife under rainbow flags that make you feel safe and okay even in a new place. Walk until your feet are so swollen they don’t fit in your shoes anymore. Walk through the backyard to a comfy chair and doze off reading in the sun.
Eat, but feel really fucking conflicted about it. Eat the best vegetarian dish you’ve ever had — braised celery with apples and mushrooms, what? — and lose your mind a little. Eat croissants in the morning, and baguette slathered thick with salty butter. Eat the sweet strawberry yogurt you loved as a child. Eat black dal and meatfruit and quail and so many other delicious things you can barely keep track, and then pepper your wife with questions about her favorite bite of every incredible meal, an impossible choice. Eat charcuterie for dinner while your cousin’s sweet toddler runs around the table showing everyone his toy car. Eat a square of good dark chocolate with your afternoon espresso. Eat dessert almost every day, in fact, tiramisu in Italy, pear and apricot sorbet in Nice, your aunt’s homemade chocolate mousse in Beauvais. Eat a cheese course with every meal because that’s what the French do. Eat escargot for the first time. Eat a sausage roll for the first time. Shop for all the fun foods you want to bring home: potted terrines, madeleines, lots of chocolate.
Run out of Lactaid pills ten days in. Find more at a pharmacy in Paris by holding up a picture on your phone to the clerk and saying “je cherche ça,” like some sort of child. Note that French Lactaid pills work way better than the American ones you’re used to. Eat so much dairy.
Drink. Remember all the times you decided to take a break from drinking for a bit and how they never lasted longer than a few days. Drink beer on tap at the pub in London, split a bottle of rosé at the seafood restaurant in Nice. Drink three glasses of champagne in your family’s backyard surrounded by cousins you haven’t seen in at least four years. Drink a lot of water but not enough to stave off serious dehydration.
Panic-buy an expensive dress in London because it’s too hot for the pants-and-blazer combo you brought for your nice dinner, and anyway you are worried to your core that the pants might not fit. Try on four lovely dresses that do not fit. Be really sad about it. Buy the fifth dress, a shapeless black bag that somehow looks OK on you. Have a weird dream about throwing it away.
Notice older women in Nice staring at the pudge of belly sticking out of your crop top, the thickness of your thighs, even though skinny tourists are walking around in thong bikinis and on the beach there are plenty of bare breasts. Bring it up to your wife and wonder, after some thought, whether they are actually looking at your tattoos. Notice how you are the biggest cousin now. Notice how you expected someone in your extended family to say something but nobody has, and notice the immense relief, the wordless gratitude, that you can simply be with them and not hear something shitty about your body. Wonder who you expected to hear it from and why you expected it at all. Berate yourself for thinking so little of your loved ones. Know that this is the disorder talking.
Flash back to your last therapy appointment before you left, when you described being excited about all the people you would see and the good things you would eat but nervous about restricting again when you got back. Realize that even though everything is going perfectly right, you are having a very hard time being in your body right now. Have a little cry in the shower.
Feel the old urges come back. Look at the pictures of you with your family in the twilight-kissed backyard, your round face and new curves, this body you’re still not used to. Feel disgusted and ashamed of yourself. Panic. Wonder if you should pursue some kind of dramatic weight loss when you get back and know that this is the disorder talking. Wonder if you should get surgery or start smoking cigarettes or try Noom and know that this is the disorder talking. Promise to stop eating so much when you get back to the States. Promise to exercise more if your foot ever stops hurting. Promise that this time you will hate yourself hard enough to be skinny again. Know that all of this is the disorder talking and look desperately for your own voice in the noise.
Spend some time with your family. Be intentional with it. Meet your baby cousin Lilly for the first time; she is five and immediately in love with you, and for three days she doesn’t leave your arms and she doesn’t care that they jiggle. Take pictures with your first cousins, all of them in their 30s and 40s now, and look at how marvelously you have all aged, the pointy Desmazieres nose so dignified on all of you, and most of you with dyed hair and tattoos. Have a family sing-along accompanied by your cousin Manu on the ukulele late at night, 15 of you sitting around a table in the backyard, lit by lanterns and the moon, singing Blister in the Sun and Build Me Up Buttercup as loud as you can. Eat every meal in Paris with your siblings and almost always be the last ones to leave the restaurant. Kiss your wife every morning and every night and ask, are you having a good time? Ask, does this outfit look okay? Ask, am I okay?
Ça va? Ouais, ça va.
Pack, sadly. Know this trip has changed you but you can’t put your finger on how. Make an appointment with a podiatrist. Think vaguely about changing gyms. Try to hold onto the best parts of the last seventeen days without thinking about your body, without obsessing about your size, without craving the smaller and sadder version of you that last went on a vacation like this. Hope that your cousins like this version of you more. Hope that one day you will too.
Buy macarons at the airport. Nap after takeoff. Snuggle your cats. Order Chinese food for dinner and go to bed early. Get a text from your cousin that Lilly misses you already and know you will see them all again so soon.