My first challenge writing this story will be to not come off as a first-world, privileged white person whose biggest problem is that their child was ‘almost’ in France at the time of Friday’s terrorist attacks. So please stay with me.
I’ve always heard about those freak stories, the ones where someone misses the bus that was meant to take him or her to the airport and subsequently misses their plane that crashes. Or the guy who was too hung-over to go in to work on September 11, but would have almost certainly been on the 98th floor when the second tower collapsed.
Those decisions, whether they be made by choice or circumstance, are the sort that can irrevocably alter the course of life and destiny.
And that kind of thing happened yesterday when I had my own personal ‘sliding doors’ moment. Well, actually, not so much my own, I was never going to be in France on the 13th of November 2015 when terrorists targeted seemingly benign venues and restaurants. But my daughter was supposed to be.
See, just over a year ago I sat down with my daughter’s French teacher and found out, totally unbeknownst to me, that she was quite good at French. In fact, he assured me, she was very good. So much so, he was recommending she be one of the students who go on exchange to France from October – December in 2015. I remember blinking hard, wondering where in the hell I’d come up with that kind of money but secretly excited for her to be chosen for such an wonderful adventure. For a 16-year-old in love with the city, it was of course, a dream come true.
But about a week before we were about to officially sign off on the trip, she came in to my bedroom and woke me up, sobbing.
Gulping through her tears, she told me she didn’t want to go, that she couldn’t go, that she felt overwhelmed and not ready. I assured her that it was fine and that she need not worry. And I’ll be honest here, I was secretly relieved.
Because even though she seemed so mature and I guess, ready to head out to a foreign country on her own, she was still my little girl and I was afraid to let her go. Also, if we’re continuing on this honest train, financially, we weren’t really in a position (although determined to find a way) to get her there.
So, she decided she didn’t want to go which turned out to be the best down payment I’ve ever lost.
On the morning of the attacks when I opened my phone and read about the situation unfolding in France, I was instantly relieved that she was upstairs, safe in her bed. Yet I was also conflicted because even though she had pulled out, three of close friends hadn’t.
As I ran downstairs and turned on the TV, my two younger sons were already sitting on the couch mucking about with their iPads, eating breakfast and clearly wondering why their mother was up so early on a Saturday.
And as is the nature of things when you have a teenager, you don’t poke the bear (the bear being my 16 year old daughter) before 11am on a weekend, I was a little hesitant at first to wake her. Yet there was a large part of me that was quite sure she’d want to be disturbed from her slumber to watch this in real time.
And because it’s 2015, I sent her this:
In an astounding feat, one I’ve never seen her achieve before, she was downstairs, wrapped in a doona and watching the terror unfold beside me within a minute. As she sat and watched, I saw her wheel through every emotion. Sadness, relief, anger, disbelief and eventually, fear. And she admitted that she had an unshakable and uneasy feeling that she’d dodged a very large bullet.