After being woken up by the sound of a little dog below me humping his favorite teddy bear, I crawl down the ladder of a kid bunk bed and head downstairs to assess the damage of last night’s debauchery. Cigarette butts, empty wine bottles, and half eaten baguettes litter the kitchen and pool area of this mini French mansion my friend Jackie is currently dog sitting at. There’s puke around the toilet in the “cave” downstairs, a hot Frenchie sashaying through the kitchen in his gunties, still high on X, and a middle-aged dude starfished face up on these people’s shmancy leather couch, completely naked. Goddamn it’s good to be going back to normal!
Before I was washing bananas with Purell and wearing rubber gloves everywhere (all pointless!), I was a wild, perpetually single lady in my early 40’s having the best time (and sex!) of my life here in France. By the time I got my second dose of Pfizer in June, I’m sharing a life and home with my husband (what?!!) and have adopted a traumatized rescue dog who’s way too obsessed with me. The pandemic seems to have brought about either extreme change or heavy doses of the exact same. Most people I know here are entering the vaccinated stage of this global nightmare as new (sometimes jacked-up-on-Redbull) versions of their old selves, for better or worse. But some are like me—emerging from this police-enforced cocoon of three lockdowns and never-ending curfews, flapping our mangled butterfly wings, no idea how to fly, not really sure wtf happened… but quite certain we ain’t caterpillars no more.
When the government finally ended all the curfews, outdoor mask mandates, lockdowns, and permission slips to leave our homes and then let us back into restaurants, bars, and even our beloved sex clubs, I assumed France would collectively bust through the pandemic door, Koolaid-man-style, free at last! But, come to find out, a lot of people, including all of my wilder friends here, weren’t too bothered by a global crisis to begin with. They’ve been partying hard throughout the whole damn pandemic, not the least bit deterred by lockdowns, curfews, or even the threat of a 135 euro fine for defying either.
I, on the other hand, was like that annoying teacher’s pet in class, filling out my little permission slips every time I left home, staying within the allotted 1k (and later 10k) radius from our flat, and making it back chez moi long before curfew. Always. Yet I was stopped and questioned by the police four times. Despite being a bit of a rebel in all other area of my life, I am not one to fuck with the police. Maybe because I’m American and have a fear of people who murder their constituents. I don’t have “revolution in my genes” like the French and would never throw bags of shit at the “bleus.” Or maybe it’s because this wasn’t my first police-not-letting-you-leave-the-house rodeo. Sleeping in kid jail and spending a whole summer on house arrest as a teen primed me for French lockdowns. But really, I was just plain terrified of the thought of me drowning in my own mucus, all alone. That fear wasn’t unfounded either. I had prior immune and lung issues as well as eleven family members here in France with COVID, two in the ICU.
Even though I ended up breaking good during this pandemic, most people I know, even the super careful and responsible ones, were doing things the French way—drawing their own conclusions about which rules were meant to be broken. My husband played by the book but never bothered to fill out those tedious permission slips. My friend, Cecille, would use an erasable pen on hers so she could go see her boyfriend 1k farther away than lockdowns allowed. My buddy, Julien, would wear gym clothes to go drink by the river with friends during the first lockdown when we were only allowed outside for one hour a day to “exercise.” Whenever he spotted a cop, he’d start jogging.
And then there are the folks who did pretty much whatever the fuck they wanted. It wasn’t just young people, either. My divorced mom friend, Sylvie, like a lot of my buddies in their 30’s and 40’s, was partying even harder than usual. At “Easter Brunch,” she snorted coke for the first time in 15 years, then danced in her underwear til 5am.
Since the second lockdown, my friend Julien (who wore jogging clothes to drink) has been partying regularly with a group of parents in one of Lyon’s many 14th century wine caves underground. They’d throw up a disco ball, take a bunch of X, and dance all night in a sound (and ventilation!!) proof room made of rock, hooking up with each other indiscriminately (but only “above the waist!). Julien was actually complaining about restrictions ending—his parent friends are all too busy now that France is open for business again. See why I stayed home? I’ve always thought of masks as pandemic condoms and COVID as an STD minus the fun reason for getting it. Sharing air with any of them indoors was, in my mind, like sharing air with every maskless and drunk person they’d shared air with. It’s simple math, really!
Meanwhile, I’ve become the kind of woman who watches her codependent dog on a baby cam from a block away to see if he can stay home alone for more than 20 minutes without annoying the shit out of the neighbors (still can’t!). Once I got my hands on that second Pfizer dose, though, I could finally go back to “normal” and socialize. Only now, I’ve got to somehow do that while also merging my old choose-your-own-adventure-yeee-haaaw self with the “settled’-and-finally-respected-by-my-parents version of Melanie.
My first night out is at France’s annual music festival, Fête de la Musique, where bands and DJ’s play randomly all over town. I feel a bit like that mermaid, entering a whoooooole neeeeew wooooorld, shoulder-to-shoulder with drunk strangers, walking on my newly vaccinated but wobbly legs. Right out of the gate, my senses are overloaded, like way more intense than any acid trip in high school—techno music blaring, drunk people spitting when they close-talk, everyone doing the French bisous on the cheek, beautiful women blowing bubbles from giant French windows above. Booze, weed, BO, and sooo much cigarette smoke (it is France!). The mask mandate is over now, but I’m not ready to breathe this close to people who give zero fucks about airborne pathogens. I head down to the river where there’s more space and spend the rest of the night dancing to shiny horns of all sizes being played by people dressed as unicorns and clowns. I haven’t drank in 17 years but I’m straight up hung over the whole next day, likely from both a contact high and sensory overload.
But the festival also left me craving more. Desperate to finally go back to the familiar, I eat duck something-something on a restaurant patio and it’s thrilling. I cheer on Team France at an outside bar patio full of belligerent fans screaming ohhh ohhh ohhhh ohhh ohhh ohhhh (until we lose, boooooo). I even venture to places I’ve never before had the courage to go—a local nudist beach where, I kid you not, a fight breaks out. We’re talk’n old naked men rolling on the ground, dicks swinging in the chaos, the police being called. Days later a gal pal convinces me to finally try a French sex club, where masks are the only thing anyone’s sporting. During all this, I’m always pretty safe, either outdoors and somewhat distanced or indoors and masked. Then comes the slumber party at the mini mansion. Finally I’m going to hang out with my party animal friends, all together, for the first time since the pandemic began.
The owners gave my friend Jackie 20 bottles of wine and permission to throw a party in exchange for taking care of their teddy bear humping dog, Leopold. Since Jackie and most of our friends are single women, she invites as many men as possible. My sweet husband offers to stay home and take care of our 80 pound baby because he’s amazing like that, then drops me off at 2pm with my sleeping bag and an armful of baguettes. The party is a mix of Frenchies and expats, mostly single or divorced, and in their 30’s and 40’s, though one is old enough to have a teenage son, who he brings along. I’m not used to having a boyfriend in general, much less a husband, so when drunk men immediately hit on me, I flash my ring “Sorry!” to nip that shit in the bud. I’m the only coupled person here except for one girl, who brought along her boyfriend and two of his hottest coworkers… all cops. This is basically a sausage fest of middle aged folks who rage even harder than me in my high school days.
Besides a massive hail storm, the party is just your typical drunk fest carnality. The cops either don’t know or don’t care that Julien and company are doing coke down in the basement and everyone but me is stoned out of their mind. The guy who walks around in a speedo with a semi boner the entire party ends up puking all night long. My divorced mom friend, Sylvie, doesn’t want him to meet a Jimmy Hendrix fate in that basement, so she tucks him in bed with a trash can in a room upstairs with a child’s name spelled in colorful wood letters on the door. I end up playing mom also, but to Leopold, the teddy bear humper, and carry his anxious ass around the second half of the night. But he’s a great cock block to that drunk guy who keeps trying to dance with me. Luckily that dude finds a willing volunteer to fuck him in the basement real quick before he comes back up stairs and passes out naked on that fancy leather couch.
At 5am, I settle into my bunk bed covered in kid clothes and stuffed animals with the soundtrack of speedo guy’s sporadic vomiting next door. When I text Anthony bonne nuit, it occurs to me this is our first night apart since that life-changing day we decided to confine together 16 months ago. I’d spent most of my 41 previous years sleeping in my own bed (or truck) all alone. That’s what I’ve always known and even preferred. But as I’m laying here now, it’s fucking weird not having Anthony next to me. Too quiet. I miss his snoring. And that of our therapy dog who needs therapy himself. Man, I wish they were here with me now, even if it’d be a little tight.
With so much vaccine inequity and now this Delta variant junk show, it’s pretty clear the pandemic isn’t anywhere near being over. In fact, all the partiers who weren’t fully vaccinated got Covid at that pool party and spent a week in bed. My little Pfizer bender was fun and all, but it’s over for now. I’m still a rule breaker at heart and an adventurer in every other area, but I’m all about calculated risks now that I’m playing on team Melanthony.