I was in an airport flight club when I glanced at the CNN television story of Paris’s Notre Dame aflame. My heart sank. I’m no stranger to fire, although I wish that were not so. Neither am I a stranger to Paris and the beautiful, 13th-century French Gothic cathedral. It evoked memories of my first visit there.
I was in the U.S. Air Force, stationed in Germany. A buddy and I decided to take a three-day leave to see Paris. We threw some clothes and stuff in his ancient Volkswagen and headed for the City of Light. We checked into a cheap hotel a block or so from the Arc de Triomphe and headed off into Parisian night culture. I don’t recall how many cafés we visited or bottles of beer we drank, but I do remember greeting the dawn in Les Halles, an open-air market where fish, meat, fruit and vegetable vendors had set up their tents. And, of course, more bistros, but by now it was time for a café au lait, not more beer.
A few early-morning hours later we found ourselves standing in front of the beautiful Notre Dame de Paris cathedral. Inside it was cool, semi-dark, and overflowing with the spiritual. The stained-glass windows took my breath away. Across the rue was a small park, redolent with the scent of the spring flowers growing all around. We sat on a bench and talked about our night out as we admired the beautiful church before us. It was then and there that my imagination took flight and I conceived a short story about our nocturnal adventures which, when written, I named “The Rubber Bands.”
Years later, on subsequent visits to Paris, I would no longer find the doors to Notre Dame standing open to any pilgrim passing by. When I first learned of the fire I suspected arson or terrorism, as I’m certain many people did as well. There was relief in knowing that was not the case.
We returned to our hotel to crash and when we got back to our V-dub, found it had been broken into and our few meager belongings stolen. C’est la vie.
I would write “The Rubber Bands” but as with so much of my early writing, I never submitted it anywhere. It just wasn’t my purpose in writing.
A few years later, the house I shared with several service mates in California was swept by fire. Everything was lost, save for the steel file box containing all my writing – itself something of a miracle. That fiery event inspired “The House-Razing,” the first poem I ever had published.
A mystery over the years is that the last page of “The Rubber Bands” had somehow gone missing. I’ve always wondered if I could recreate the ending, which strikes me as an odd metaphor for life itself.