I had always been following the rules, never failed, never misbehaved.
At that age I still had plenty of dreams involving high heels, expensive conference rooms and my name on renown scientific essays.
Before setting off to become the accomplished doctor of my dreams, just for once, I wanted to know how it feels not to know exactly when and where you will wake up tomorrow.
So I framed my freshly signed University Degree, packed my first backpack and hammered the piggy bank, soaked my pillow and left.
Barcelona softened my detachment from home, revealing a world of round the clock guilty pleasures in the claustrophobic alleys off Las Ramblas.
On the wave of adventurous living I accepted a last minute invitation to spend Christmas and New Year in Marseille, guest of some garçon I had met on holiday the previous summer and whom I never particularly liked, except that he was now offering me a free stay in his extremely wealthy parents’ villa.
The whole family appeared to be overly pleasant and well dressed.
Nobody seemed to mind my pink hair and faded jeans.
The Christmas dinner was a wonderful cliché of champagne and foie gras, while the golden Madonna of Notre-Dame de la Garde was watching on us from its sacred retreat up the hills.
To complete the spell, the awkward and slightly crooked garçon I remembered from my Andalusian holiday turned out to be an awesome lover with a big personality and kind manners that made up completely for his lack of good looks.
He treated me like a princess, offered me freshly baked croissant in bed every morning and kept calling me his “petite coupin” while brushing the back of my hand with his lips.
I quickly got used to this new lifestyle and started daydreaming of white dresses, exotic honey moons and unbelievably well-educated kids playing bocce on sunny days.
I was introduced to many new friends. They all appeared to be smart, interesting and funny. At the same time each one of them had developed a strong individual style of thinking and owned a unique wardrobe that matched exactly their personality.
I felt proud of being welcomed in such a fine selection of individuals and after a few days of sharing pastis and marijuana I was totally confident in answering simple questions in française and in feeling I belonged.
We were all very excited for New Year’s Eve, the plan being to spend the night in the Château, a proper castle with real towers and a drawbridge, hidden among the hills just outside Marseille.
The Château was owned by Chris and his family, descendants of some Royal sounding name. Chris had offered to pay for one hundred guests to spend the night. People were expecting the most epic party ever.
I had never met Chris before, still I could not wait to crash at his place.
Everyone was speaking about what they were going to wear and who they would have slept with. I went shopping for a whole afternoon, chewing my nails, entering dozens of shops, ending up with a black Gothic dress and black nail polish to match my new unsure style.
The phone call reached us at 10.57am on December 31st, stirring us from the warm duvet into a nightmarish reality.
Somebody said in between sobs that Chris had walked down the street, stopped, knelt, and died. The doctor later said that Chris’s heart had stopped. He was 23.
I was left alone to wonder why, why such things happened, while family and friends of Chris gathered to mourn their loss. It was late afternoon when my petit coupin returned with some friends, crying girls and angry boys, all talking fast and deep. I tried to get a sense of the conversation.
Someone insisted that Chris would not have wanted his friends to cry themselves to sleep tonight. He would have wanted all of them together, celebrating life. People agreed. No admission ticket for Death tonight. No pity.
A tiny girl I never met before said that Death will never defeat Youth, because Youth knows no fear.
And that is how an abandoned garage became the venue for the New Year’s Eve party, its cold and dark walls covered with psychedelic fabrics and posters of rock stars.
Chips and peanuts became the fancy dinner.
Jeans replaced the elegant dresses.
There was enough alcohol to last a week.
Midnight came and found a mass of bodies and colors moving to the beats of laughter and snow.
Somebody raised his glass to Chris. Everyone joined in.
Night turned into day turned into night. And still the music echoed through the hills of Marseille.
For years afterward I told the story to the travelers I met on the way, of how I used to follow all the rules, of how I went traveling and never returned, of how if you lose the way you may end up at the most epic party ever.