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Real is a Better Perfect

No one in the states was good enough for Jenny Robertson. She was 35, and had everything in her life pretty much together, except someone to be together with. She thought, “I’ve worked hard to make my life exactly the way it is, I should be able to expect a man to have worked on himself equally as much.” 


But she had found no men who met her list of 21 fairly reasonable things in America. So, in frustration, she went to Paris. She would have invited someone with her but her older sister did this snorting thing with her nose, her younger sister was a babysitter and just talked about ‘her babies.’ Her work friends were all a little too dramatic or bad planners or never packed the right clothes to match the type of going out Jenny wanted to do. So she eventually bought a ticket and was determined to do the trip herself.


And now her exquisitely sculpted makeup, hair and wardrobe, along with her perfectly delivered jokes and charm had caught the attention of the star violinist, Antoine Ralocette, of the Paris orchestra.


They walked along the river Sein after his show, after a four course dinner of rich Parisian cuisine, in the light of the old verdigris street lamps. 


The music and the food and the view was just about perfect, good enough at least. But she wasn’t sure this man quite met the bill. He smoked, admittedly a guilty habit (gross). The collar of his tux was stained a tiny bit brown where it touched his neck (disgusting). And he laughed a little bit too loud (how embarrassing). She would have worked hard to reign those types of things in, in herself. Why couldn’t her potential partner.


But she didn’t realize he had noticed her scowl slightly at things like this throughout the night.


“I think we need to take a small detour.” He said in his thick French accent.


“Oh, I'm not sure.” She sensed this spark of something new, glanced at her watch, and replied. “I start my wind down routine at 9:30 each night.”


“Really." He stopped. "Your one week in Paris."


She nodded over-confidently.


"Well you've already missed that by my watch." He shot a wry smile at her and showed her his vintage Casio. It said, 20:29.


He leaned in slowly and whispered to her, "If you want to see something far better than perfect, follow me.” He walked toward a tunnel and held out his hand.


She hadn't missed her bed time in six months. But those words had somehow cast a hook into her and she leaned toward him.


She looked around cautiously so he turned on his phone's flashlight and said, "Pull someone up on speed dial if you need to." He looked her in the eye and reached for her hand, patiently waiting for her to feel safe. She took it. She nervously stepped over puddles as he lit up dark reaches, dispelling her visions of rats and homeless men. “As you're doing your CIA scan, here's something else safe that I want you to listen to.” He gave his AirPods to her. She heard a song begin, a computer generated version of one of the songs he had played that night.


“What do you think of that?” He said.


“It sounds so. . . Perfect. Everything is just right and perfectly in its place.”


“Yes, it is. Do you know what I use it for?”


"To try and match it?" She looked at the sketchy neighborhood they were now entering.


He continued, “I listen to this to remind me what I absolutely cannot play.”


“What?!” She looked at him. “You aren’t aiming for perfect?”


“Perfect didn’t make me best." He leaned in again and whispered. "Give me a couple more hours to show you what’s far better than perfect.”


She hesitated slightly, but didn't want to get bested by this man who could seem to read her like music. She nodded and over the next hour he got her to follow each step of the way by saying, "Better than perfect is behind this door too." He led her carefully up narrow, smelly stairwells into the apartments of old friends and relatives who were cooking in stockings as they smoked or who were yelling at each other as they gardened and folded clothes. He introduced her to his great aunt Rosie who should have shaved her chin like a man and had stains on her blouse, and from what Jenny knew of the language, cursed like a sailor. 


They tried gritty wine and homemade crepes. At every stop, Antoine would be absolutely absorbed in these people, engaged with each whole-heartedly. She watched him bite into peppers with planting soil still on them, and ask for more of their raspy singing and laugh at their burping. 


She even tried a bit of a pepper and laughed at a few of his uncle's off-color jokes.


On their walk home he talked. “Like I told you, I grew up in a musical family. By the time I graduated secondary school I could play with computer perfection, and was the best. I went to art university but there ‘perfect’ was suddenly average. Anyone could play the notes like a computer. I fell into a depression and lost direction. My parents made me go visit my uncle, a violin maker for a summer.”


He stopped and lifted her hand between them as he looked into her eyes.


“Jenny Robertson, you have made sure you are so perfect, and I can see you are looking for perfection. But I hope you see that real is the better perfection. A person in the real world is so much better than the ideal in our heads. My violin makes me better than a computer because it is was alive. I saw my uncle build my violin out of a tree with knotholes and crooked grains. Seeing that imperfection is what unlocks the beauty in humans. He taught me every person around us is a violin with knotholes. God chose it that way. We are each very real instruments which play in our own way. Perfection is the note written on the page, but it's one done with a wavy tone that says I am scared, or a hesitant stroke which says help me, or strong ones which say, I am here and I feel strong, at least right now.”


He kissed her on the cheek and said, “I hope you can see that only real people are the perfect ones. At least the type of perfect worth loving. And you need to let yourself be that type of perfect, or you will never love yourself, or someone else.”


—-

Raw Spoon, 10-29-23 (on a flight back from Poland)

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