Sleeping Children of War
By Betsy Parayil-Pezard
We cross the Avenue de la République and look down the street toward the Bataclan. We won’t walk down there, not with the children, but I sense a deep, grinding silence like an abyss opening.
On Friday night, my son is strewn sideways across my bed, one arm over his head, face buried in a pillow, his foot peeking out from the duvet. I should have put him back in his bed hours ago, but the sight of him sleeping is comforting. It is also resoundingly surreal as I listen to sirens raising welts on the smooth skin of night.
I reach over and run my fingers through his curls. In the places where we sip our coffee, poke our chopsticks into noodles, and listen to concerts, the warm bodies of young Parisians are plunging forward into pools of blood. Slightly buzzed people are dragging their dying friends across the vintage fifties tiling. People are holding their breath in kitchens and crouching behind shiny zinc bars while lipstick-painted glasses of wine shiver with each round of bullets. A concert venue is under siege. The dying children of rock n’ roll are scattered across the floor where we dance. My baby boy sleeps as if none of this were real. He is even dreaming.
My husband is managing an artist tonight, but not at the Bataclan. He calls to tell me that he is stuck. They are not letting anyone out. The show goes on. At the end, people leave in droves, texting frantically. He catches a ride with a colleague and they get back to the office and turn on the TV. At the Bataclan, hostages are being taken. The night stretches itself out into a long, thin, pointing finger of horror.
He takes his usual route when he walks home the next day, and passes over bloody sidewalks. Someone has thrown sand over the area. He arrives at the door with tears in his eyes. The children run and jump on him joyfully crying Papa! then squirm away as he clings to them.
On Saturday, we are restless and withdrawn. I am stuck to my phone, answering questions about our safety from friends and family back home in the US. I scroll mindlessly over my Facebook feed, over and over again, reading bits of articles. My husband cradles his iPad on the couch. We don’t say much to each other. We are like those old couples that speak by moving about the room.
In the evening, I invite some friends over and my husband traipses dejectedly toward the shower. Our friends’ children are all three years old like our oldest. They are gloriously happy to be together, jumping on the beds, screaming and running from room to room. The Big Bad Wolf is chasing them. My littlest patters after them, wherever they go. “The wolf!” she cries with raised eyebrows, giddy with fright.
On Sunday, we go out to buy bread. The temperature is warm for the autumn season. My daughter refuses to walk, then my son refuses too. We end up carrying them. We cross the Avenue de la République and look down the street toward the Bataclan. We won’t walk down there, not with the children, but I sense a deep, grinding silence like an abyss opening.
When we bump into friends, we ask them if they have lost someone. The answer is yes.
There is a thick, funereal atmosphere as we proceed. People are standing on corners, bread in hand, speaking in low voices. The terraces of the cafes are empty. It is much too warm for November.
What will change, I ask my husband as we walk back.
He shrugs. Then he answers: Maybe now when we go out, we will know that it is possible to not come back. Maybe when I go to concerts for work, you will have that thought in the back of your mind.
On Monday, there is an epidemic of children peeing their pants at school.
In the evening, my son goes to the window with his little sister and looks up at the building across the street. His little head peeks through the wrought iron. He waves, calling out a bright “Hello, soldier!” to an officer smoking a cigarette out of the window. The officer smiles and waves back at him. Since January’s Charlie Hebdo attacks, our street has been under continuous patrol. The troops protect the Jewish school and the synagogue on our block. They camp on the third floor of the school building, taping cardboard to the windows for privacy. Sometimes they come back with a pizza. I think they might be bored out of their minds.
Tuesday, I come across a Buzzfeed post with images of Syrian refugee children by Magnus Wennman. Like my baby boy, their sleeping bodies contort into the strangest forms, as if they have been dropped from the sky into the arms of Morpheus. But they are stretched onto dirty, abandoned mattresses, onto a cardboard box on a thin strip of sidewalk, and across patches of grass in the night.
Betsy Parayil-Pezard, an American with Indian roots, lives in Paris, France with her French husband and two children. She works on both continents as a professional coach and mindfulness facilitator with Connection Leadership, and blogs about the mindful life at The Paris Way (theparisway.wordpress.com). Betsy is currently working on a collection of recorded meditations for dealing with difficult times.