I’ve been trying to figure out how I’ve been feeling these past 3 days. Everyone has asked me how I’m doing or if I’m okay and my answer has always been “I don’t know”.
Because really, I don’t know. To help me come to terms with what I’ve experienced, I have decided to write about it to not only shed some light on what happened to my friends and I, but to also help me cope.
Friday was an absolutely beautiful day. We had a bit of rain in the morning, but that didn’t take away from our enthusiasm to see “The City of Love”. We started by traveling around in the coach, stopping at different points to step out and see the sights up close: Grande Arche de la Défense, Place de la République, La Madeleine, and Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye. We saw beautiful side streets, little crêpe shops on almost every corner, and street art everywhere. We were happy (and tired), but it was wonderful.
Next we stopped at the Tomb of Napoleon. He’s got a pretty giant coffin for a little man, if I do say so myself. He lies in the Dome des Invalides; a beautiful cathedral that was built around the same time as Saint Paul’s in London. The sun was just beginning to set at this point in time and it casted a golden color on the cathedral that looked like something out of a movie. Still feeling giddy that we were actually in Paris, we left the cathedral and headed for the Eiffel Tower.
I thought that someone once told me that the Eiffel Tower was disappointing in person; either I misunderstood them, or they were actually talking about Big Ben because the Eiffel Tower is out of this world beautiful. Standing in front of the Eiffel Tower, I could not help but say “We’re in Paris. Oh my gosh this is the Eiffel Tower. I’m in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris!” None of this seemed real to me. Being in Paris, it was a literal dream.
My friends and I decided that instead of coming back the following night to see the Tower with all of its lights on, we would hang around a bit more until it got dark. This was around 5:30 p.m. So we decided that since we were in Paris and people drink wine in Paris, why not buy some wine and drink it under the Eiffel Tower? How perfect and romantic would that be? We work our way over to a store to purchase some wine, but then realize that we don’t know if France has an open bottle policy and we didn’t feel like getting deported, so we aborted that mission. With no wine, we headed back towards the Eiffel Tower to see it in its true beauty. Passing a group of older men playing Bocce-Ball, the tower slowly became visible through the trees… and it was absolutely breathtaking. Hands down, this was one of the greatest things I have ever seen with my own eyes, and I will never forget its beauty.
After taking mass amounts of pictures and looking like tourists (we do this really well) we decided to head to the Louvre. The Louvre is an art gallery that holds famous works of art…like the Mona Lisa! But before we left the Eiffel Tower, 4 Military men passed by my friend and I, each holding A-K 47s. My friend said, “Don’t you think that’s a little much? I mean that’s a heavy duty gun”. I responded with, “Well, apparently France is in a high terrorist threat right now. Didn’t you know that? We talked about it in the beginning of the semester?” Little did I know. . .
We eventually made our way over to the Louvre. I thought that free entrance for students started at 6:30, but it was actually 6:00 so we were already a bit behind schedule (We also got lost, so we ended up arriving at the Louvre around 7:00 p.m-another blessing in disguise). Here we saw the wonderful Mona Lisa! It was alright, I mean for being the Mona Lisa. Being in the actual presence of such a highly rated work of art was the most exciting part for me. “Guys, we are actually in front of the Mona Lisa! How crazy is this!” We wandered around the Louvre some more, seeing a few paintings and sculptures here and there, but eventually the hanger started to kick in and we knew it was time for some food. Unfortunately, all the resturants in the food court that was connected to the Louvre were closed, so we ended up wandering the streets a little bit until we settled on one that we liked. It was a tad bit more than I would usually spend on dinner, but our rationale was “Well this is probably the only time this weekend we’ll have to pay for a sit-down meal, so why not splurge?” Little did I know…
Dinner was absolutely wonderful. The food was fantastic. We were all laughing and sharing stories of the past, our present, and some things we hope for in the future. In this moment I was content and happy with life. I felt blessed to even be there in that moment, in Paris, experiencing wonderful French food with great company. It was bliss. So to continue that good moment, I decided to order creme brulee for dessert (which was fantastic) and never in my life have I been more thankful for a dessert.
We left the restaurant around 9:00/9:10 p.m and while we were leaving, I glanced up at the television and saw that Germany and France were still playing, and everyone in the restaurant was watching the game. The tube ride home was a 20 minute tube ride, so we hopped on the first tube, transferred once, and were sitting on our final tube waiting for our destination. At Place de la République, my friends and I stood up to exit the tube, but all of a sudden an announcement came on that said this tube was not stopping at this station.
Frustrated with that news, and not really knowing how to get around the city, we ended up getting off at the next stop, Goncourt, and planned on working our way back to our hotel. Getting off the tube, it was unusually quiet, which was a little odd seeing as though it was a friday night. We started up the exit and there was a man speaking french there telling us to exit this way only and that we couldn’t exit the other way. We didn’t understand him, but we figured they were just starting to close down the tube station for the night. Once we got above ground, I knew something was off. We saw the sign for la République, and headed in that direction. Looking around, I realized that everyone was standing there, with odd expressions on their faces, but many of them were watching us. We continued down the street, and that’s when I saw lights. Tons of police officers, tape closing off the rode, cop cars- the whole nine-yards was directly at the end of the road. I knew something was off, something told me it wasn’t just a road being closed. I told my friends that we needed to huddle and stick together and to not talk; we didn’t want to look like Americans at this moment. We decided to try to go around the closed-off road, but when we turned that way, we saw the same thing at the end of the road. This time we needed to talk to someone, a police officer or anyone really because we had no idea where to go. No phones. No service. No speaking french! But this was when we met our angel.
Walking up the road, this man in a big, red, winter jacket stops us and starts yelling at us to go back and turn around. Confused even more, we ask him how to get to our hotel because we have no idea what’s going on. He goes, “Do you know what’s going on right now?” We shook our head in confusion. “Okay, listen here. You need to know this because it’s important. There has been an attack on multiple spots in Paris. Right down the road right there, people were shot. A man with a machine gun came out and is blowing everyone up. The police don’t know where they are, who they are, or what they are planning to do, but you need to get back to your hotel and get off the street.”
Many things were rushing through my head at this moment. The realization that at 9:30 p.m, while we were underground, the first shooting at Le Carillon & Le Petit Cambodge happened. The same restaurant that my friends and I would have walked past at the time of the shooting if we had not ordered dessert.
Staring at our angel (who I didn’t realize was one at the time) was when I realized “Oh shit. This is serious. This is an attack.” My stomach dropped and my heart was pounding. Going into survival mode, I explained to him who we were, where our hotel was, and that we were tourists and have no idea where in the world to go. He then decided that he was going to help us get back to our hotel and this was when we had 2 seconds to decide if we trusted this stranger. And the moment he looked at me and said, “Don’t be scared. It’s alright. You’ll be alright” was when I trusted him.
We immediately starting heading in the opposite direction, until we saw that street was also closed. So we headed in another direction and ended up bumping into a cop. Our angel talked to the cop in french for a bit, and this was when I saw the person who told me not to be scared, look a little scared. He explained to us that there was no way that we could get back to our hotel. Everything that was happening was happening in a circle around us, and every street was blocked off. They were going into restaurants and bars, taking random people out; it was cold-blood murder.
At this point I was scared shitless, but I was in survival mode. We have to get off the streets, I told myself, If we stay on the streets, we’re dead. We started walking down the street and Angel (this is the name I’m giving for confidentiality, and really who he was to me that night) told us to pick any restaurant we wanted to go in, because we needed to stay there until everything calms down. We walked down the street some more and this is when Angel stops and looks inside a restaurant, “Wait a minute, do you guys remember this restaurant? A min ago it was packed to the brims full of people, now it’s deserted”.
I looked inside that restaurant, one that not even 60 seconds ago was filled with tons of people and I immediately saw sadness. It looked as if every person in that restaurant dropped what they were doing and ran. Plates still filled with food, cups on the floor, silverware thrown on chairs, plates, etc. And no one was to be found on the street. I could count the amount of people I saw on one hand. All of the restaurants and bars were closing, we had nowhere to go. We would be on the streets. At this point in time, angel started to go “Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit” when he realized how close this was to us. “Okay, you come home with me. You can meet my mom”.
I went against everything my mom/dad taught me not to do that night. I talked with a stranger and I let him bring me to his house. But there was 6 of us, and I knew that we could take him if need be, so I put my trust in this stranger and followed him home. When we got to his apartment and sat down, I realized that I was profusely shaking, but I couldn’t calm down yet. I needed to make phone calls to let our supervisors know we were safe, but not at the hotel. This was when I started to get messages from people at home and I knew the media had word of this. I had to message people from home to let them know I was safe.
(Note to self and others- always let your family know when you’re in a different country because I was stupid and didn’t tell anyone except my boyfriend that I was in Paris–lesson learned).
The next few moments were a whirlwind: I’m watching the television report of what was going on, watching the death toll rise, answering phone calls and texts, making phone calls and texts, drinking tea, petting a cat. I was moving in slow-motion. I was in shock and this is when it hit me: I’m in the middle of a terrorist attack.
Who knew that friday morning, when were were traveling around Paris, that terrorists were planning horrific events that night. Who knew that my decision to order dessert that night was a main reason I am alive today.
My friends and I were the only ones who couldn’t make it back to the hotel that night. We were absolutely terrified and shocked that an event like this was happening, but you know what? It was also a very beautiful night.
Angel turned to us and said, “You know what? This isn’t what I want you to remember of Paris. I want you to remember this house, with good people having a great time with laughs, dancing and drinking. This is what I want you to remember of Paris, not a few men who decided to bring chaos to this country, but happiness and love”.
So that’s what we did that night. We drank (not a lot mom/dad) and danced, laughed and played cards. We stayed up until 5 in the morning (because of course I was still scared to the bones) and we walked back to our hotel at 8:30 a.m and saw the whole city in mourning.
It was a horrific experience and was one that I will never forget. But I am grateful to be alive. And I am grateful to have the friends that I do, and I am forever grateful to the man who decided to reach out and help me and my friends that night, and to his family for taking us in. If our angel had decided not to take us in that night, I don’t want to think about what could have happened to us.
So instead, I’m going to try to breathe and focus on the beautiful times we had in Paris and be thankful for everything in my life, because you really never know what will happen.
Nous Sommes Unis.
**My heart also goes out to other places around the world that experienced similar tragedies. My thoughts and prayers are with you, and my heart is sad.