Odette Casamayor-Cisneros of West Hartford, an associate professor of Latin American and Caribbean cultures at the University of Connecticut and her son Flavio Clermont, a freshman at Hall High School, were in Nice on July 14 when Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel drove a large truck into a crowd, killing 84 people and injuring hundreds. This is their account of the aftermath.
By Odette Casamayor
The fireworks were magnificent as always on Bastille Day. We managed to find a prime place at La Promenade des Anglais, facing the sea. After the fireworks, we happily started our way back to the hotel when we noticed some officers of la Police Municipale running against the course of the crowd.
Immediately, we also saw people running in our direction, crying, and we instinctively started to run too, accelerating as people around us were shouting, in English and French: Run! Go! Attentat! We couldn’t think, just run, desperately, until we reached our street (my primitive idea of a harbor), and then our hotel (which felt like the most secure home ever).
We didn’t know why we were running. We lost all reason. Running like animals, I was afraid not to be able to reach my hotel. I remember that at a certain moment I thought someone would emerge from a front door or street and open fire on us, I had no idea of anything just the sense of danger and the savage need to run. I was afraid of losing my son Flavio in the crowd but we were lucky, we both arrived at our refuge without a scratch.
Once in our room, we tried to find information about what happened on the internet and the TV but nothing appeared: only the broadcasting of the Parisian Bastille Day concert at the foot of the Eiffel Tower. We thought that nothing really happened in Nice and started to watch “The Godfather.” While I was showering, my son called to me: “Something actually really happened!” The whole inhuman story of the white truck massacring people like us, gathered to enjoy the fireworks, unfolded.
The scenes of that white truck continued to appear in front of our eyes incessantly, as well as the increasing number of deaths. We realized that the truck was stopped by the police only about 100 meters from our spot at Promenade des Anglais. It was at that very moment that terror became a veritable idea, something more than just that animal force that kept us running, breathless.
I couldn’t believe it. I watched the news, but I couldn’t believe it. I looked at the bodies running and I recognized my very own panic but, still, I couldn’t believe it. I wanted to sleep and wake up thinking that it was only a nightmare. But the fact is that I couldn’t sleep and probably for the first time in my life, I couldn’t even think. Nothing. Nada. Rien.
Fear is unspeakable, terror is unexplainable. There are no words, just panic, sadness, life and death.
Finally, I prepared our backpacks with passports, money, essentials, a change of clothes. I put our most comfortable shoes right next to our beds and told my son to jump out of bed, grab his things and shoes and run, if needed. Whenever I began to fall asleep, I was interrupted by noises and, of course, fear.
The next day, we were still there, the sky was brighter than ever, I suppose this is the peace that survivors describe after the chaos of a battle, an attack. I knew we had to move, to get out and do something, but we had no strength at all. We were thankful for being alive and uninjured, but inside, there was this painful rock somewhere in our chests as an unbearable leftover of a national party that never was. This heavy rock was still there as we finally managed to go outside, only to discover a city half silent, slowed down, empty of itself. The most wonderful blue, glittering under the sun, a perfect day at an empty beach. French flags sadly undulating halfway down the pole.
We cannot stop thinking of the dead and the injured. We were just lucky, and fast.
From now on, terror lives in our flesh.
Editor’s Note: This piece was originally published in the Hartford Courant on July 16, 2016, and has been reprinted with the permission of the author.
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