82: Lasagna and the City of Love

82: Lasagna and the City of Love

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Dreams and the Unexplainable

Lasagna and the City of Love

A walk about Paris will provide lessons in history, beauty, and in the point of life.

~Thomas Jefferson

The entire ten-hour flight from San Francisco to Paris, I was a jumble of emotions. I can’t believe I am doing this. How am I going to make it through this? How can I go to Paris when she is not there anymore?

You see, this trip had been in the works for more than a year. I was headed to France with my boyfriend to celebrate his stepmother’s seventieth birthday with his entire family. But first, we made plans to spend a few days in Paris visiting my dear friend, Celine.

Celine and I met in the dorms our freshman year of college, and we lived together all four years. After graduation, Celine moved to Paris — her lifelong dream — and attended Parsons Paris, the European branch of Parsons School of Design, to study fashion. She stayed there after, working for the school’s admissions office. Hers was a glamorous life, living in the City of Love and traveling the world. Meanwhile, I stayed in the U.S. for graduate school. Now, I was building a career in the Bay Area as a teacher and writer.

Celine’s family lived in Los Angeles, so we saw each other once a year or so, usually during the holidays when she came home to the States. Whenever we got together, it always felt like no time had passed. We slipped right back into our everyday friendship, those college days when we saw each other morning and night, when we spent hours chatting and laughing in the tiny living room of our college apartment.

I was so excited to visit Celine in Paris — to meet her friends and introduce her to my boyfriend; to see her apartment and her office; to go to her favorite restaurants and attractions; to get a glimpse of her life in the city she adored.

But on January 26th, a phone call shattered my world. Celine was traveling in India for a friend’s wedding. She was in a taxi that was broadsided by a bus. She was killed instantly.

My amazing, vibrant, funny, kind, fearless, beautiful friend . . . was dead? How could that be? Suddenly, nothing made sense anymore.

The only activities that gave me a little solace were writing and cooking. I found comfort in the routine of writing word after word and the rhythm of chopping vegetables. I wrote an essay about Celine in the format of a recipe: “How to Make Spinach-Artichoke Lasagna Three Weeks After Your Best Friend’s Funeral.” Something about the linearity of a numbered list enabled me to access, and write about, my overwhelming grief in a way nothing else could. I showed the essay to no one, but it was a comfort to write it.

Our plane tickets were booked, but I knew that I could not go to Paris. How could I go to Paris if Celine were no longer there?

And yet, I also knew that I needed to go to Paris. Celine would be furious with me if I canceled my trip.

And so, with a heavy heart, in June I boarded the plane I had booked the previous October.

I had previously been to Paris twice to visit Celine: once, during our junior year of college, when she studied abroad at the Sorbonne, and I was a Chunnel ride away in England. My second visit had been during the summer while I was in graduate school. But with this visit, there was no Celine waiting at the airport arrivals gate. My boyfriend and I took the train to the Metro and navigated the narrow streets to our hotel by ourselves. It felt as if my dear friend would round a corner at any moment and surprise us. I kept looking for her in every young woman’s face. I had to remind myself constantly — She is not here; she is not here; she is not here.

And yet, she was everywhere. I felt like I had been transported through time, back to the last time I had visited her in Paris. Memories flooded my mind and heart. That time she took me to the Japanese quarter and we slurped ramen noodles at a crowded bar. That time she took me to the Sacré-Coeur, and we watched the sun set over the city. That time we wandered around the Rodin Museum garden for twenty minutes, then spent two hours talking and laughing on a bench beside “The Thinker,” more interested in each other’s lives than in the world-famous sculpture ten feet from us.

Everywhere, I felt her presence. I lit a candle for her at the SacréCoeur. I bought two bright-colored daisies — her favorite flower — and threw the petals into the Seine for her. Outside the Notre Dame cathedral, the bells rang for no reason I could discern. It was a beautiful sound. With a flash of insight, I knew that she was ringing the bells for me. I went inside Notre Dame, thinking of her as I slowly walked down the aisle of the magnificent church. Celine was raised Catholic and was very devout in her faith. I always found comfort in her comfort, and even more so since her death. As I gazed up at a remarkable stained-glass window, a rainbow of colors flooding with light, I heard Celine’s voice.

I love you, Dal, she said. I am with you still.

I began to cry, but they were not just tears of sorrow — they were tears of joy, too. I truly did feel Celine with me. I realized that I might not be able to call her on the phone or hug her or hear her laugh, but I could still share my life with her. Our friendship was not over because she had died. Our friendship still existed, and she still existed, in my memories and in my thoughts.

“I love you, too,” I whispered. “Always.”

The next day, we left Paris and took a train to join my boyfriend’s family in the south of France. I still missed Celine and grieved her death, but I felt more at peace than I had in a long while. We enjoyed a delicious dinner with my boyfriend’s family, and then, exhausted from travel, everyone retired to bed.

The next morning, my boyfriend’s stepmother — one of the most no-nonsense people I have ever met — surprised me at breakfast by bringing up her dream from the night before. “You were there, Dallas,” she said. “I don’t remember much, except you were making lasagna, and you seemed so happy.”

Lasagna. My essay. “How to Make Spinach-Artichoke Lasagna Three Weeks After Your Best Friend’s Funeral.” No one else but me knew about the essay.

Well, perhaps one other person did — Celine. I could feel this dream was a message from her. She wanted me to know she was okay. She wanted me to be okay, too. She wanted me to be happy.

I still miss Celine every day. But we visit in my dreams sometimes. And whenever I make lasagna, I think of her and smile.

~Dallas Woodburn

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