While I was in the UK my mum snapped a photo of me. We were on a boat cruise on the River Thames. She picked up my camera and said my name, I turned, she clicked. I didn’t give that moment much thought until we had the film developed. I looked terrible. Tired and thin, and not a little bit hungover, my smile more of a grimace at the camera. I had never intended to be on vacation with my mother, none of this was part of my plan. I’ve recently read my mother’s account of the trip. It was a bit tough to read. She didn’t like me going out all the time but I was a young woman and besides drinking gave me something to do when I couldn’t sleep. (I thought I had the photo but I can’t find it…)
I had decided to see if I could drink a bit less in Paris. I would be spending a lot of time on my own and I really didn’t want to be drunkenly wandering the streets in a foreign country. Drunkenly wandering the streets in England was frowned upon, by my mum mostly, but being out of control here could be dangerous. I’d had a few drinks over the course of drifting around the streets with Marc but I’d felt good. I was tired so after I said an awkward good night, I found my way back to my room. The elevator doors opened onto the orange floor (or was it the green one…?) and I found my room, MTV noise from the little TV filling the space, just the way I’d had left it.
I was bone tired, I always was, but I had a sneaking suspicion I was actually going to be able to sleep. I didn’t want to jinx it, so I just took off my shoes and climbed into bed. The next thing I knew someone was knocking on the door. I was disoriented and thirsty. I called out that I would be right there, and took a long drink from the faucet in the bathroom. I checked the peephole and opened the door to a uniformed staff member.
‘Good morning, err, Mrs…’ She stopped and looked past me into the room.
‘Yes, O’Keefe. Mrs O’Keefe. That’s me.’
‘Ah okay, I wanted to offer a wakeup call as you have a tour to Versailles today and I didn’t want you to miss it. I have brought you some breakfast.’ She smiled as I let her into the room and she placed the tray on the small writing table next to the window. You have thirty minutes, so plenty of time really.’
I thanked her profusely and hit the shower. I checked my watch. I had slept for nearly 9 hours. I hadn’t slept for 9 hours in a row for a long time and while my head was a little fuzzy, I liked that my face didn’t look so drawn for a change. I was so grateful for the wakeup call and the breakfast. Before…I had never been one for missing appointments but I had been very forgetful of late, even missing my flight to Paris. It turns out I had arrived a day late, on Sunday, when everyone else had arrived on Saturday afternoon and been welcomed by the guide with a drink in the lobby bar.
I headed down to the lifts but a staff member was stationed there to tell guests that the elevator was broken down and could I please use the stairs. He opened the door next to the lifts. I was nervous. I was claustrophobic. It was a dark stairwell with metal covered lights dotting the walls.
‘The lights will come on as you take the stairs,’ the staffer said.
Mum had warned me to keep my eye out for scams but I didn’t think that applied in a 4-star hotel. Besides I was going to miss my tour if I didn’t use the stairs. I shouldered my bag and took the stairs two at a time to get it over with. The lights blinked on as promised but gave little light. At least the door above was still open, letting in light from the sunlit lift lobby. It was only three floors but I burst from the door in the lobby like shot out of a cannon. The rest of the group was assembled looking relaxed and excited. That is until I burst into their midst desperately trying to avoid having a panic attack. After my good night’s sleep and kind wakeup call, it was a shock to the system to feel so unsettled by something so silly.
The tour group seemed to turn as one to stare at me. The guide looked down at his clipboard and up at me. I was dressed for the tour in an Oxford University t-shirt and short bike-shorts, teamed with shiny black Doc Martens. Add to that long, curly (thanks to my hairdresser) auburn hair – I was never incognito. For the second time that morning, someone looked me up and down and decided I couldn’t possibly be Mrs O’Keefe.