Just like the rest of the world, I watched in horror Friday night as Paris was attacked by terrorists. I had just closed my computer when a flurry of texts and emails came in from both friends and family, here and in Paris. One friend, who was at the Stade de France for the football match, texted me to tell me she was OK and on her way home; another friend, who doesn’t live far from Bataclan, emailed me to tell she and her family were home safe in bed. Confused, I put on the TV and immediately broke down.
I have been living in Paris off and on for the past five years. I consider it my second home. Even before I met my French husband there, I had been living and loving in Paris. It is, if you’ve never been, just as magical as it seems in the movies. There is no place in the world quite like it, and I say that as a die-hard New Yorker.
But among the tears and texts came the inevitable, “Have you heard from Olivier?” I had not.
Olivier is my husband, at least legally speaking, because we’ve yet to divorce. Olivier is a Parisian, born and raised, and the man I met and fell in love with when I was in Paris in early 2013. It was a whirlwind romance, because being in Paris can do that to even the most cynical people out there. We were engaged in five months and married a little over a year after the night we met. Our marriage came to a dramatic end this past August, almost as dramatically as it had started less than three years ago.
A few friends offered to reach out to him, to make sure he was home safe and not anywhere near the attacks, but I declined. We are not on speaking terms at the moment and I didn’t see the point in having them check in with him, although I wanted to know. I may hate him for cheating on me, but hate was also behind these attacks.
So I called him.
I cried into his voicemail about the attacks on his city, about how sorry and devastated I was for not just him and Paris, but all of humanity. It was the same level of sadness I felt when 9/11 happened here in the States; I cried with disbelief, shock, and total helplessness. In that moment, despite everything that had happened between us, I wanted nothing more than to be with Olivier and hold him, or, at the very least, feel his arm against mine on the couch.
When I heard back from him a little while later, it came in the form of a cold email that started with, “Good evening Amanda…,” as if we were work colleagues, rather than two people who, almost three years ago, had been so crazy in love that we couldn’t wait to get married and be together forever. I realize that so many things had been said between us out of hate, so many disappointments had come our way, and his indiscretions just made it all worse. But still, I felt I deserved more than that.
Either way, he was fine. I logged out of my email and turned my attention back to the TV. Then I proceeded to cry even more for the city I love, and the love I met and lost there. As much as I’d like to separate the two, Olivier will always be Paris to me, and vice versa.
When I return to Paris in the spring, as I have done for every spring for the past five years, it will be a different city. The Paris I first fell in love with, as I wandered the streets of the Left Bank with my paper map in 2010, will no longer exist. Even after the Charlie Hebdo massacre earlier this year, Paris was changed; its innocence somehow depleted. Now these attacks — deadliest attack on French soil since World War II — will chip away even more of the safety that Parisians once felt.
I was originally unsure how I wanted to end this piece. I knew I wanted to focus less on my relationship with Olivier and more on Paris, because that’s the way it should be. But before I finished it, I got another email from Olivier. He apologized for being so cold, he apologized for having failed me in so many ways, and he apologized for his cheating. He told me loved me, he always will, and that he’d always care for me, despite everything that tore us apart. I haven’t responded yet, but I already know what I’ll say. I’ll tell him that I love him, too, always will.
When the world feels like it’s falling apart, showing you its darkest and scariest moments, you tell people, even the ones who hurt you the most, that you love them. That’s just what you do. In a life of so much uncertainty, you never know if it’s your last chance to say those words out loud. Paris is known as the "city of love" for a reason; its people live and love passionately. Because of this, I know Paris will survive, thrive, and be even stronger. Terrorists usually seem to forget the simple fact that love always wins in the end.