Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Dark November

The first sign for me that something was wrong came on Saturday morning, when shortly after getting up, I checked my phone in the living room and discovered vague, worried e-mails from my family and friends in the US. I shouted out and woke my husband before I even knew: "Something's happened in Paris."  He loaded Le Monde, and as he read the details out loud, I listened in shock.

Then my daughter asked, "Mommy, why are you crying?"  

I wanted right then to send the fighter jets; the bombs were already dropping in my head, destroying them, whoever they were.  How dare they... it was my city and my country... and my uncharacteristic rage. I took a deep breath and at the same time gave the official parental narrative with so little trace of the anger in my voice I surprised myself: 

"Bad people in Paris last night... they did terrible things... a lot of people died."

I think my daughter might have given me a hug then, the four-going-on-five-years-old remedy for all that is wrong with the world. I don't remember when and how we told my eight-year-old son, or if we simply answered his questions as they came. If they both noticed that their parents seemed absent the rest of the morning, constantly checking their telephones and talking over their heads, they didn't say anything about it.  I was short-tempered, simultaneously light-headed with adrenaline and numbed by an anxious weight in my stomach.  At the same time, we were in Versailles and the events seemed very, very far away.  Acquaintances from high school were expressing relief on Facebook that I'd marked myself as "safe," and it almost made me laugh: was it at all likely that I would be out on a Friday night, in Paris, at a rock concert or a sidewalk cafe? As it happened, I'd gone to bed at 9:30 after a long week, right after tucking in the kids. Grim as the news was, in a city the size of Paris, what were the chances?

My daughter and I went into town in Versailles on Saturday afternoon and it felt like an act of defiance.  The chateau and park were closed, but the local shops were open but for a few exceptions.  The street market on the main commercial intersection was set up, though police cars were parked at each corner.  I made frivolous purchases I wouldn't have otherwise just to prove something, I think.  I bought a garish pink skirt and a silver-striped top for my daughter for the holidays. We chose invitations for her upcoming birthday party.  She clutched the shopping bag proudly and held my hand as we walked together.  Night was falling as we reached home.

November took me by surprise this year, for the weather has been mild and even unseasonably warm.  The leaves and rain are falling on schedule, but once I'm outside I shed woolen scarves and coats and wonder what to expect next.  Meanwhile, my daughter in her last year of nursery school is learning the reassuring logic of the seasons: with spring comes flowers, with summer the sun, with fall the brightly-colored leaves, and with winter the cold; then we begin again.  My son, with his eight-year-old passion for geography, savantly extends the logic.

"Maman, which one is the tropic of capricorn and which one is the tropic of cancer?" he recently asked, "I always forget."  

Thus I found myself holding his globe at a tilt one evening, orbiting around him as he stood in the center of his room in his pajamas. "And here the sun is as far away from us as it will get during the whole year. And then we go back again." I paused at the winter solstice, and he smiled because he understood. 

The rumors now are telling us things will get worse before they get better. As after September 11 in the US, the press -- or perhaps just our reading of the press -- is fueling a certain hysteria, and we hold our collective breath and wait for something even more terrible to happen. I'm afraid of a lot of things, many of them irrational, but I'm not particularly afraid of being the target of a terrorist attack. I am afraid of the darkness that is falling.  I'm afraid of decisions by those in power made in haste or made too late, of unintended consequences, of the simple reflexes of fear and hatred, of more human beings becoming trapped in the false logic of extremes. 

My children are not particularly concerned, though the adults around them look serious and scared.  For them, the fear is abstract and illogical, like so much else in the world of big people, not concrete like the changing seasons, where spring always follows winter just like we were taught.


Tim Dudek said...

For some reason, and I don't know why, after I read this I looked at the very first post. It is appropriately titled Fluctuat nec mergitur. Oddly fitting given that many are clinging to those words after these horrific events.

I hope peaceful days are ahead.

Sylvie said...

I didn't expect you to be in a nightclub or restaurant at 930 at night. Another acquaintance in Versailles who has young children also was in bed at that hour and didn't hear of anything until her husband came home after working late and woke her. Eerily, he was in the Metro, riding home from work under the streets while the attacks were occurring overhead.