Paris attacks: first stupor and then life

Après l'horreur, la stupeur: tour eiffel

Friday, November 13th, after the computer I was working on fatally crashed, I got out of my night class before it was over. I hesitated between walking home and taking the metro – after all, it takes about the same time. I chose travel underground from Rambuteau to Belleville, as I was carrying huge drawings that I did not want to wrinkle. Around 9:20 PM, I called Réjean to ask him what he wanted to eat, he told me that he was exhausted and that he preferred staying at home rather than going out. When I arrived home, I collapsed on the couch waiting for Réjean to finish cooking the meal he had put together with what was left in the fridge (not much).

The France-Germany soccer match was playing on TV and as usual, the sound typical of sporting events annoyed me. Akira was looking out of the window and he was whining, but we did not pay much attention to him. I convinced Réjean to watch something we could both enjoy and we started watching Games of Thrones – Season 1, Episode 1. The series begins with a scene of massacred bodies, something difficult to watch while you’re eating. I looked away and a notification on my iPad caught my eye.

The Montreal daily newspaper La Presse announced that there were thirty people that died in a gun-attack in Paris. To hell with the episode! I grabbed the remote to switch back to live TV. The Television showed the soccer game at the Stade de France and we were dumbfounded to see the two teams playing as if everything was normal. Could it be a (cruel) Friday the thirteen joke? Still full of doubts, I switched to an all-news channel.
I watched and listened to the reports but the events were difficult to comprehend. To learn that thirty people were murdered was horrible enough, but quickly the victim toll increased to seventy and later to 129 (unfortunately, there were also hundreds of people injured, some in life-threatening condition). We could hear the sound of the sirens whirring through the night making this news even more real.

Holly fucking shit! One hundred and twenty nine people murdered in a country that is not at war. The victims were people like me in every respect, but also like my colleagues and our friends and their children. People that after a week working or studying like to enjoy life in a diverse neighbourhood where everyone is welcomed.

Since part of the events took place a few streets down from our apartment, I immediately put a message on Facebook and texted my parents to say that everything was fine for us. I called my grandmother who loves to watch LCN (Québec’s CNN) before she saw the news and became too worried. After, I phoned my sister who often came to visit us in Paris and we cried together over the phone. With Réjean, we decided not to take Akira out for his last walk as the events took place close-by and we did not know if there were terrorists on the run (there were none. Then I remained in a state of stupor, unable to go to bed, until 4:30 AM.

The days after the attacks

On Saturday, our phone ringing off the hook awakened us. People who had probably gone to bed before the horror occurred, wanted to ensure that we were still alive and well. I tried to go back to sleep, but the sound of the sirens in the distance filled my mind. Feeling hangover with a cup of coffee in hand, I interrupted the sound of the television only to ask Réjean if he had heard from so and so and if they were ok. This time around – unlike the attacks in January that were aimed at Charlie Hebdo and a kosher grocery store on the outskirts of the city – the terrorists’ targets were anyone and everyone all at once.

I ended up turning off the TV and taking Akira out, I found the streets of my neighbourhood eerily empty. Chairs stayed stacked on terraces, restaurants’ iron curtains remained closed and I found none of the carefree partygoers that usually wander the streets on a Saturday-night. It made me feel sad, but at the same time, I totally understood how people did not feel like partying because that’s how I felt as well.

On Sunday, the noise of sirens became a bit more discrete and we had our friends over for lunch. It allowed us to take a break from the TV and social media. The city remained much quieter than usual, we did not even hear horns from frustrated Parisian drivers. Despite the wonderful sun we had that day, I still did not want to venture too far from home and we stayed in.

And we’re back to business

On Monday, I was glad to be forced by work to get on with my normal life. I was sad to see that the metro was emptier than usual. For the first time in many years, I was not shoved on the docks of Opera metro. During my lunch break, it felt weird seeing the empty terraces on rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré when they usually feature a strange mix of fashion elites and tourists. I know I should not say this, but I was disappointed not to find some greater level of “normality” in the streets.

As the day progressed, people got out of their den and I decided to walk home from work. As I walked Eastbound, the terraces came alive – not as much as usual, but it felt good seeing people gathering to chat and drink. When I arrived at Place de la République, I found a small crowd gathered around the statue. There were fewer people than after the killings in January, but the context is different with gatherings being officially prohibited.

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I stayed there, encircled by television crews from around the world, to gather my thoughts and pay my respects. I followed my ears and found singer who sang songs with comforting lyrics. Together we sang, shed a few tears and then I left.

To get back home from Republique, the shortest itinerary would have taken me through La Fontaine au Roi Street where gunmen targeted two restaurants. I felt as if I was not ready yet to face this harsh reality and I made a detour by Parmentier.

Life goes on

I allowed myself time to grieve intensely. Yes, some may think that a week is too short of a time, but I have a desire to live that I feel even stronger than in January. I do not want to live in fear even though it is not always easy with the omnipresent sound of sirens in Paris. There are also many commentators – in the media or in private – who have crazy fear-mongering speeches.

Although it is sometimes necessary to fight my instincts, I have decided to continue my life in a normal way: I ride the metro, I’ll admire the Christmas windows of department stores, I will shop, I will see shows etc. Although I do realise that this is sometimes easier said than done, as one night I woke up completely startled three times, I was sure I had heard someone loading his gun in the street.

There may be other attacks, there may not be. All I know is that I do not want to live in fear … or in a police state.

The show must go on…

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