When you live in a big city, there are certain things that come with it. For one, you should probably be ready to shell out loads of cash constantly for everything from your organic Trader Joe’s groceries to your exorbitant rent that you don’t even know how you afford. You can also kiss that whole big yard with a white picket fence pipe dream goodbye because that crazy rent money will barely be enough to get you a shoebox of an apartment. On the bright side, you can count on some pretty wild public transportation stories to wow your non-city friends (have I told you about the time I saw a dude poop on the subway bench?). But one thing that comes with living in a big place with a concentrated population is the one that most people generally overlook, or like to forget, and that is the potential for terrorism.
Yes, that big T word that makes everyone tremble is very much a real thing when you live in a city. New york is the blatant example, 9/11 happened there and it’s not because it’s a little podunk town in the middle of nowhere. Even Austin experienced its five minutes of fear when North Korea placed it on a list of American cities that should be expecting some major Kim Jong-Un wrath (he must just hate good music and BBQ). I have to admit, when I moved to Paris I was a little worried. I’m not any more exposed to the threat of terrorism in Paris than I am in NYC, but 9/11 was 14 years ago and the attacks on Charlie Hebdo still loomed in the public consciousness. So yeah, I was well aware that Paris being a large city and a hotbed for controversy had that terrorism-target potential, so I was scared. And then, this past Friday, my worst fears came true.
I was luckily not in France; I was in he middle of a solo trip in Poland. But my friends were not. They were right in the middle of all the chaos; some of them even lived within walking distance of the concert venue where a hostage situation took place. Of course Social Media being the monster that it is immediately released a torrent of panic-tinged live coverage by my friends. Suddenly, it didn’t matter that I was miles way, protected by the relative safety of Poland, I was immediately sucked in.
You see, it’s called terrorism for a reason; quite simply acts of terrorism are terrifying. They are not scary, scary things are the potential monsters under your 5-year-old bed. They are not worrisome, worry is something your mother feels when you haven’t texted her to tell her you arrived safely at your destination. They are fucking terrifying. Terror has an awful power that transcends borders and races and ages, in a most cliché way, it knows no bounds.
So this past Friday I was terrorized. Even though I was miles and miles away from what happened I was scared shitless. I could feel the terror transmitted by my friends who were still in Paris. I could feel the terror as I got message after message from endless family and friends asking if I was ok. I could feel the terror emanating from my parents eyes when we had the chance to Facetime and they kept murmuring over and over again how relieved they were that I wasn’t in Paris. I could feel the terror as I wrote this post, trying to hold back tears to save myself some curious polish stares. I can feel the terror as I type this now.
In a way I feel bad for feeling so affected by this attack. Because I wasn’t attacked, I wasn’t there to feel the actual life threatening terror of having a gun pointed at me or a bomb going off near me. I wasn’t even in Paris. But it did affect me, because I could have been there. I live in Paris. I was in Republique just last Wednesday, what if it happened then? I pass by Les Halles every day on my way to and from school. What if it had happened on one of those many occasions? I live in Paris, I am a part of Paris and it could have happened to me. One of my biggest fears about living in a city happened in a city that I lived in, so yes, it did terrorize me.
I cried as I talked to my parents. I cried the next day. I’ve basically been crying non-stop. I wanted out. Out of Poland, out of Paris, out of Europe. I wanted to be back home surrounded by the relative comfort of my parents and my dog Rocket, and Chipotle (of course). But even the idea of home wasn’t completely comforting because Austin is still a city, New York is definitely a city, and this awful thing that happened Friday night could just as easily have happened there. That is the most terrifying thing. I no longer felt safe because this could have happened just about anywhere I live.
Regardless, Austin, though not 100% terror-proof seemed like my best bet and I was about to book a ticket to the states and say au revoir to NYU Paris. I was literally about to give up my amazing study abroad opportunity (and $30,000 worth in tuition) to go crawl into the illusory safety of my cozy Texan bed. Then my dad did the most dad thing he could have possibly done and used my own words against me (good to know you’re listening dad).
“Remember Sama, you are the one who always says scary things happen, but you can’t live all your life in fear. You have to do what you want to do.”
Of course he (but really, me) was right. That is what I always say when my parents are apprehensive about me doing something, and it’s true. This extremely agonizing event is unfortunately not unique to Paris; it can happen anywhere. It can also happen nowhere. The thing is we’ll never know when/where/if anything like this will happen. So we can’t live life in fear that it will happen. Living in a city, especially a large city, arguably increases the chance of being a victim to terrorism. But I love cities, and I can’t give up that love because of something that may or may not happen. Not living in a vibrant, amazing, generally enthralling city out of fear of things that are not in my control is letting the bad guys win, and I’m not about to do that.
Yes, I am scared and no I don’t feel safe and I probably will be hyper vigilant at least for the rest of my time in Europe (I may even break down on the metro, it’s all possible). But now I am back in Paris and eventually I will be back in New York and I hope to eventually feel more at ease and regain the ability to enjoy these cities to their fullest extent. Because yes, cities are major targets for terror but most of the time they’re not terrifying at all- they’re just fucking awesome. These cities are resilient; they have been targeted and suffered time and time again but they always bounce back. Paris, New York, all of these cities stand for creativity, and opportunity, and freedom and rather than cower in fear and give up these important ideals like the terrorists want me to do, I’m going to put my Chucks on with Saint Laurent and live it up in the city.
Krakow, Poland /Paris, France