On July 4, I was still in New York with my beau who had quickly fallen under the city’s charms. We were heading to a rooftop barbecue where we would then watch fireworks over the East River.
But the sky and subway had other plans. Right as we were leaving, it began raining hard, great sheets of water. I checked, too, the subway, and our line, the A, was reported to have significant delays.
“Netflix,” we decided. We changed from our wet clothes into dry ones and curled up on the couch instead.
Despite not taking part in any larger festivities, I was glad to be back in the States. I can’t remember the last time I was home during summer and we had spent many weeks exploring the city and catching up with friends.
“You’re a real French-American now,” my beau joked. “In the US for the 4th of July and back in France for the 14th of July.” (F was surprised, then amused beyond measure, to learn we call the French national celebration Bastille Day.)
The patriotic party ended quickly, however. July 5: the murder of Alton Sterling. July 6: The murder of Philando Castile. I burst out weeping. This reality of grief and injustice over and over again. This America, too.
Thursday morning and F hadn’t seen the news yet; I debated whether to tell him as he was rushing to get ready. It was our last full day in NYC and he had several social plans lined up – meeting an actress who had been in one of his short movies years ago, then a date to watch the France-Germany match with some soccer fans we’d met. I was proud of his independence in my home.
But as he was walking out the door, my heart started pounding. My lovely, kind, warm, funny French boyfriend. My beautiful black beau was heading out into the streets of New York alone. He’s not versed in the (heartbreaking) survival codes a black man in America needs to know! I thought, terrified. And even if he were, often it doesn’t matter. As we’ve witnessed time and time again, you can be shot for doing absolutely nothing wrong.
I muffled my wildly beating heart and didn’t say anything to F, then burst out crying again when he left.
Later that evening, news from Dallas came in, the 5 police officers shot dead by a sniper. My whole body seemed to go into meltdown, my mind unable to process the violence upon violence without end.
We packed in a hurry. Friday was always our original leave date, but the trio of tragedies on three successive days seemed even more to be pushing us out. My friend says I left nearly 2 drawers full of clothes at her place. She said it was as if we ran to the airport. Ran to fly away from the grief.
Back in Paris, the sun shone, then it rained, then the sun appeared again. It was better than the difficult spring here I’d heard, the unceasing deluge, the rising Seine, the protests, the strikes. All seemed calm as I strolled my Parisian streets. It was good to see the languid bustle of the cafes, the stands being set up for the marché.
Yesterday I wasn’t feeling well; I knew I wouldn’t be up for any big celebrating for the 14 juillet. But a small voice inside me also said, and better to stay home, anyway. The assembly of crowds on this symbolic day could mean danger. I’m so sad I think that way now, but I do.
I read and padded around the house, tried to nap off some of my lingering jetlagged fatigue. I turned on the TV late to watch the fireworks, a beautiful choreographed display on the Champs de Mars, the Iron Lady standing tall in all her glory while the colors and sparkles exploded all around.
Then a news update flashed across the screen.
Oh my god. So there it is. It didn’t happen in Paris (this time), but a massacre on Bastille Day in Nice.
I think it’s shock, because my mind couldn’t compute straight away.
Several dozens dead? (84 we now know).
This is the world we live in. It feels like it’s in flames.
“it is a serious thing
just to be alive
on this fresh morning
in the broken world”
– Mary Oliver
I have no tidy words to conclude this post; we are all living it still. I’m only acknowledging that I am here. You are here. That simple fact in and of itself important. A miracle each day.
I’m both French and American now. It’s true. These two rich, complicated identities. This was the first trip I traveled with two passports, the first time I sailed through the EU line.
But I don’t feel bound by territory. I feel we are larger than borders. We are human beings. Citizens of the world. And we can’t run from what we see.
Life is hard, the world is, too, our lives matter, peace is the way, our work continues, face the fear, through it, it’s okay to feel it. Fight for change, connect the dots, connect with each other, find the beauty, mourn.
Difficult as it is, and some days it feels impossible, believe me, I know, continue to get up in the morning. Rise to love, love, love.