Letter from Paris: ‘We want to move on’
Thaddée, who was shot four times during the attacks on Paris, shares his story and his path towards healing.
Thaddée is a 21-year-old music student who was shot four times during the Paris attacks. He is still healing from his physical and psychological wounds. A month after the attacks, he reflects on the personal and national process of healing, as told to Al Jazeera’s Lucas Minisini.
That Friday night, I was at a friend’s house near Canal Saint-Martin. We were supposed to be working, but instead we watched TV. I decided to go home early to surprise my family.
I was going to take the Velib (Paris’ bike hire service). But the first station was empty so I started walking towards the second one.
At around 9:30pm, I walked along Bichat Street in the 10th arrondissement, and turned the corner, arriving in front of Le Petit Cambodge. I heard what could have been fireworks. Somebody shouted, “Allahu akbar”.
Moments later, I was on the ground.
I couldn’t make the connection between what had put me there and what I was witnessing around me.
The first bullet hit me in the thigh. I fell under a table at the terrace of the Le Petit Cambodge restaurant. I could see a man with a gun. He walked past me, firing at everyone. Then he came back, reloaded his gun and aimed it at me.
I do not want it to become like the Charlie Hebdo attacks, when people cried for two weeks and then moved on as if nothing had happened.
Three more bullets struck my legs and feet.
I can still see the holes those AK-47 bullets left in my legs. That is the hardest thing right now – the impression that I will not get better.
At the time, though, I didn’t feel the pain.
I stood up. I wanted to help people if I could. But when I tried to get into the restaurant, what was in front of me was so awful that I fell to the ground. It was as if my brain had shut off.
I started to feel the pain in my foot. I knew I was hurt but had no idea how many times I’d been hit or where.
All I could think about was my friends, my family. I searched for a phone to contact my parents – to reassure them that I was safe and to check that they were too.
A girl offered me a phone to make that call. When my dad picked up, I told him: “I have good and bad news.”
“The bad news is that I was in the middle of a shooting, I was hurt. A lot of people are dead around me – but I’m OK.”
My dad ordered me not to move. He said he was coming to get me.
But everything was blocked. He took a cab, but the driver couldn’t get far. He dropped him off as close to my location as possible: just in front of Le Bataclan concert hall.
Of course I didn’t know it at the time, but my dad, in trying to protect me, had just walked into the middle of one of the attacks. Eighty-nine people were killed at Le Bataclan that night. My dad found a scene of chaos – people were running, people were being shot. Just 10 metres from where he stood, somebody was killed; another was shot close by him.
He hid in a cafe, with no way of contacting me or anybody else.
Meanwhile, I lay injured in front of Le Petit Cambodge as the emergency services arrived.
They split the people there into three groups in different parts of the restaurant. There were those who were physically safe but in shock, the lightly wounded and then those, like me, who were seriously wounded. Beside me were the dead bodies. I struggled to process what I was seeing as I lay there, surrounded by the dead. For 30 minutes I waited like that, until I was eventually evacuated to Saint-Louis hospital.
It was there, in the hospital, that I learned what was going on across the city. The news of the shootings blared out from a television in the hospital corridor.
There were three of us together in the hospital. We talked and joked all night long, although I can’t remember now what was joked or talked about.
The hospital was close to the scene of the shootings and was so busy that it didn’t have time to register all those being brought in. My name wasn’t on the list, so when my parents called all the hospitals in the city, they didn’t find word of me.
It wasn’t until 10am the next morning that they found me. I remember the moment my mum walked into my hospital room. It was the only time I cried.
Now, I am out of the hospital. Two nurses come every day to change the dressings on my legs. They give me the strongest painkillers they can, but it doesn’t even begin to touch the pain I feel. I don’t think it would make any difference if I took the medication or not.
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I see a doctor regularly and have had numerous x-rays, but they still can’t determine the extent of my injury. I have a lot of trouble walking right now and cannot put my foot on the floor.
But I force myself to walk every day because I feel like my calf muscles are dissolving. My body is weakening. I have the impression I will not heal. What I want most right now is to see some progress. I miss playing the piano, but my body hurts too much to attempt it.
I have the numbers of some psychologists and psychiatrists. I know I can call them if I feel that I need to. So far, I’m fine. But in a week, who knows? I’m not sure. Maybe I will call.
I don’t want it to become like the Charlie Hebdo attacks, when people cried for two weeks and then moved on as if nothing had happened.
I talk a lot with friends. Talking is the best thing I can do now.
When I am alone, and my brain has nothing else to occupy it, I automatically start thinking about what happened. The images surface unexpectedly.
I found the number of the girl whose phone I borrowed at Le Petit Cambodge and called her. She has ‘survivor’s syndrome’ and doesn’t understand why she didn’t die.
We talked about what happened after we were separated; trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together.
I also found the guy who shared the hospital room with me. We want to reunite all the people who were hurt. We want to organise a big party, to drink and take away the tragedy of all this.
We simply want to move on.