As I lay in bed with my daughter in the early afternoon, my phone starts making that Facetime noise. I pick up thinking that it must be early in Iowa, but Gigi and Grandpa miss their granddaughter. They tell me a bomb had just gone off at the IMF near the Champs-Elysees. My brother had just left for a business lunch on the famous avenue.
My heart skips a beat and it seems like my feet didn’t hit the ground from the bedroom to the salon/television room. I expect to see sirens and chaos, blue uniforms and crying men and women. Except, I see nothing atypical. I see news coverage on the current presidential race, I see reality TV shows, I see cooking shows, I see re-runs, but what about this terrorist attack unfolding in this very city? Click, click, click… but nothing.
I look back to my telephone screen, “There’s nothing on TV about it.”
“It’s all over the news here.” Mom responds nervous for her family so far away.
I feel relief and frustration. I feel silly for having sent an emergency text to my siblings in Paris. I feel angry at the American media. I worry for the injured woman. I feel a slight relief that there wasn’t a Muslim involved, and annoyance that the overactive media has once again validated and irrational, subconscious fear for profit.
I return to my room, my stomach sinks and I feel heavier. I feel as if something has been dumped on us. As a mother, how do I sort through and assess risk for my child in this world? She looks to me as if to say, “What just happened?” All I can do is kiss her and we return to our lazy afternoon with the sun shining upon us from the window.
On the day we leave, we hear as we are landing that a man has been shot at ORLY. We sigh in relief that we have arrived home, not because we are happy we are safe, but we are happy that we have avoided the inconvenience when we hear that planes were directed to CDG. As a result, I add some internal guilt to my stash of messy emotions surrounding these events.
Are we safe from terrorism in Paris? In planes? In trains? In concerts? In buses? In museums? I’m not sure, but I think so. That is not a question that I can answer. I can confirm that Paris is not a warzone. Paris is calm, beautiful, charming and peaceful daily. Terrorism has had an effect on the atmosphere in Paris, but has not changed its fundamentals.
I do know that fear is a tool and that it is being used. I believe in intuition, especially a mother’s and my daughter is safe with her family in Paris because Paris is a part of her. My daughter would not be safe with a mother who took that from her.
Gazing into my memory to understand my fears is a challenge that is foggy, water-logged and opaque. There is fear. I think substantiated fear, but that fear comes from intuition and atmosphere.
At a stoplight, I am a passenger in a taxi. A man approaches to wash the window. The taxi driver declines, politely enough. The man stares into the driver’s window. He does not seem well. Shoulder-length, gray, stringy, disheveled hair and eyes too wide to be that empty leaves me feeling uneasy. The driver says, “Laisse tranquille! Laisse tranquille!” I wasn’t offended by the driver, but I didn’t feel good about this man. People walked between the cars with confidence that the cars would not be leaving the area soon. The man bent down and took a step to the rear passenger window. He looked at me and he tapped hard, but slowly with the knuckle of his pointer finger. “Fwrap. Fwrap. Fwrap.”
“Laisse tranquille! Laisse la!” The driver’s words were now changing from “leave the car alone” to “leave HER alone”.
Then a noise sent me from uneasy to alert. I hear the noise of the car handle pulling towards the man and the door following. The driver twists further to respond, but the cars start moving and he rightly ops to drive away.
We don’t say much to each other. We mutter some insults directed for the man and we move on. Again, I repress the fear and mention it to my husband later. He responds appropriately, but again, it’s time to move on. I adapt the habit of asking drivers to lock the car doors. “Oui, d’accord?” they say. I don’t feel like explaining.
Later, I say hello to a friend that comes to visit me. She is staying 3 blocks away from us in an Airbnb. My husband leaves early to say hi to family at home. I tell him there is no need to worry about me walking home alone and to go enjoy.
I leave my friend’s rental and start up the hill. In the middle of the block I see 4 men. The road is too busy to cross and they seem harmless enough. When I am within 10 feet of them they start towards me.
“Je peux vous accompanier ce soir, Madame? (Can I accompany you this evening, Madam?)” He reaches his elbow towards me offering his arm. I continue. He continues next to me. I feel his 3 male friends behind me.
“Non, merci. Bonsoir.”
He is wearing an orange puffer jacket. The back of his elbow touches the front of my arm. I madden. Don’t fucking touch me. I think to myself.
“Mais non! Vous n’allez pas du tout ensemble! (But no, you guys don’t make a good couple at all !)” barks his friend from behind. He voice was deep and strong and unsettling. My anger turns to fear and I slow to look at the men.
“Dit-lui que ce n’est pas vrai! (Tell him that’s not true!) ” pleads puffy-orange-coat guy.
After assessing the situation, I attempt to minimize my risk by diplomacy. I slow down and turn a smiling face to them and raise my left hand.
“Excusez-moi messieurs, mais je suis mariée et mon enfant m’attend à la maison juste là. (Excuse me, sirs, but I’m married and my child is waiting for me at home just over there» I motion towards the tall building on top of the hill. “Bonne soirée a vous. (Have a nice evening.)»
« Bah, c’est une bonne excuse ca. » « Ouai ouai, bonne excuse. » « Bonne soirree ! » “Ah, well that’s a good excuse.” “Yeah yeah, good excuse.” “Good evening!”
I turn and my fake smile vanishes. Relief first. Anger second. Under my breath, I scoff to myself about their stupid, “moral” decision to not bother someone’s wife and mother. I trudge uphill to the front door. Quickly find my keys and enter the building. I open the door to the apartment.
“Ahhh, salut Paige! Ca va? » I am greeted by warm, friendly faces. I exchange kisses with my family and hug my daughter.
My husband kisses me and says, “Ca va, mon bebe?”
I take off my coat and scarf and say, “Oui, ca va. There are some idiots outside catcalling, but it’s fine. I’m fine. I told them I was married and they left me alone.”
My husband visibly slightly impressed by the male-deterrent capabilities of my wedding band asked if I wanted him to do something about the men.
I laughed at the uselessness of that idea and said no and we went on with our night.
Is anything that I have mentioned going to keep us from Paris? No, it’s not. Do I love the city any less? No, I don’t. However, I feel something in the atmosphere. Something is changing. I am working through the fog and trying to understand whether it is me that has changed or the city. My rose colored glasses are gone, I’m more cynical and I’m a mother now. Those things all naturally unveil a more realistic side of Paris. At the same time, I see the uncrowded stores, the sales, the weakening of the euro, the unemployment and the closed storefronts in small towns and come to the conclusion that both of us are changing. I can’t help but worry for France.