Global Mom: 9/11 in Paris

From Global Mom: A Memoir:
Luc we called the Luminous One. Or Lucky Luc, from a French comic strip. Or, most often, The Luc Factor because this luminous, funny boy was also a force of nature. And this factor didn’t make the several serial moves that followed in quick succession any easier.


Sooner than we’d planned, the Versailles landlord returned to his home and we were out house-hunting again. We found a place being built in a village called Croissy-sur-Seine. The fact that the day the moving van pulled up to the house and the house was yet unfinished, (that is, if you consider a house with no glass in the spaces intended for windows to be “unfinished”), was the first concern.


But in Versailles I’d weathered fire ants and bats and no parking for our two cars and four basement floods and the destruction of the Tempête de 1999, which uprooted much of Versailles and her magnificent gardens and landed a 200-year-old tree squat across the front seat of our next door neighbor’s car. Optimist that I am, I figured lack of windows just meant better ventilation. Glass half full. House half finished.


But then the rains came. By that point, luckily, we did have windows, but we also had a basement and in France, as they say, when it rains . . . it floods your basement. I bailed for hours and hours. That was the first week of September. The next week the entire world changed.

Cidalia, my Portuguese girlfriend, was breathless and crying on the phone, “Faut regarder la télé, Mélissa. Faut regarder maintenant!” I had to turn on the T.V., she said. Had to turn it on right now.

There were images of smoke and imploding tall buildings I recognized instantly. This was New York. It was an earthquake or a detonation. But the French news said it was an attaque terroriste. Within twelve hours, all families associated with the American School of Paris were notified by the U.S. Embassy to go underground, to not visit any typical American haunts (certain restaurants, bars, shops, theaters), to not even step out on the streets if possible, and if that was unavoidable, then at least to not do anything that would advertise oneself as American. The children were brought home where they stayed in quasi house arrest. Our American missionary friends came and hid out at our home. We folded away any clothing that might look American; logos, brands, an embroidered eagle. We waited for word on the next move.

Within an hour, my French friends flooded my phone line asking if Randall was safe, if my whole family was safe, if I had any more information, that they were horrifié, terrifié, bouleversé, that they were praying for us, for the victims, for our country.

That this was un temps pour faire du deuil. A time to grieve.

A chapel full of both French and American church members gathered the next day visibly heavy-hearted and many in tears. There, I stood and sang the American national anthem, which was challenging enough. But when I reached, “and the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air,” I was unable to make a sound.

The children did eventually return to school, but when they did, they passed by security guards with submachine guns and black fighter dogs in muzzles. The campus was in profound hyper security and palpable mourning.

Randall canceled his September 12th business trip to Islamabad. His work in the Middle East changed permanently, the events of September 11th leaving hot tremors across Paris and across our remaining lives.


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