Post Attacks: The Fear of the Unknown in Paris

All I can think of is how eerily familiar it all feels. Like déja vu, which is perhaps the worst French pun to be using at a time like this. But, well, c’est vrai. It’s true. So so sad, but true.

My head was pounding from a headache that began as soon as I finished my second, and last, glass of red wine at L’Avant Comptoir in Saint-Germain around 8p.m. It’ll be an early night, I thought.

Only next thing I knew it was nearly 2a.m. and my heart hurt too.

I had come home to snuggle up in my chaise to watch some Netflix. I was well-into episode three of Fargo when I got an “Um” text from my friend Lindsey who lives in the 11th arrondissement. She then sent through screen grabs of Tweets she saw mentioning some sort of shooting right near her apartment at a Cambodian restaurant—oddly the same one I ordered delivery from just a few weeks ago. Suddenly, similar scenes to what I was watching on a TV drama were now materializing in my newsfeed. At first, I didn’t think much of it. But then I remembered that I wasn’t in Kansas anymore. Or, rather, New York, with its late-night bodega shootings that seem like regular occurrences akin to a delay on the 1 train, both of which share regular spots on the news with the weather.

Here in Paris, you’re probably more at risk of being pick-pocketed in the metro.

More texts started coming through, mostly from my French and expat friends. No one knew what to make of anything and details were swirling around like the fall leaves lying on the ground outside. The only thing that mattered was whether those we cared about were unharmed. Thankfully, all were. All are

I sent texts off to my family, figuring it’d be better to beat them to the scare and let them know I was OK despite not even really knowing what from yet. Eventually, about 45 minutes after we knew the streets of our city were on high alert— specifically those of the very lively 10th and 11th arrondissements where I often hang out, and those further north near the Stade de France—texts and IMs and emails started flying in, first class style, from the U.S. I toggled back and forth between iMessage, Twitter, WhatsApp, Facebook and Viber, watching the percentage on my phone’s battery drain as if it were plugged into my bloodstream, depleting energy from every last cell of my soul.

It seemed like just yesterday that I was fielding the same types of concern after the Charlie Hebdo attacks in January.

Could this really be happening again? I wondered, as the sounds of sirens wailed from the news on France 24, the local English news channel, and helicopters whirled overhead my apartment in the ordinarily quiet Montmartre. Why Paris? Why the Bataclan? And Le Petit Cambodge? An unassuming Cambodian joint spilling with bobos on a Friday night just out for some Phở noodles?

With the details of “why” and “who” still unconfirmed at that point, it almost seemed easier to just sit, stoically, yet electrified with the unknown; to detach myself—ourselves—from the bullseye of the target. To, quite literally, go to bed and wake up another day hoping for answers and a reality check.

And yet, it’s now nearly 48 hours later, and we continue to live the actual nightmare of what happened with more questions combined with exclamation points and ellipses. Whether it’s a firecracker going off near the assault sites, sending a stampede of mourners running for their lives, or a smoke alarm beeping and beeping and beeping in a residential building, sending neighbors up and down the stairs wondering WHAT NOW??, my biggest fear is actually the very thing I found solace in that first night: The Unknown. 

Because sadly, the only truth that remains is that it could have been anywhere. It is everywhere. It starts with you and me, but ends with them and none of us know why or when or how to be prepared. We can only do our best with grace in our hearts and goodness in our soul hoping to live one more day in this life we’re given—whether we’re in the effervescent City of Light, or the resilient Big Apple that I called home for over a decade—until a year ago this week, actually. Thursday marks my one-year Paris-iversary. And I couldn’t be more proud.

So, s’il vous plait, don’t just #prayforparis. Pray for the world. And pray for something better than déja vu.

Illustration by Jean Jullien

Illustration by Jean Jullien

6 thoughts on “Post Attacks: The Fear of the Unknown in Paris

  1. Pleased to know that you are safe!
    I am from Mumbai, India. And we have experienced same thing in 2008. It is really horrible. All we can do, as you said is pray for the world!

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