Note: I wrote this piece of fiction months before the Paris terrorist attacks in an attempt to understand what drives people to commit such horrific acts. There is no justification for terrorist acts, including being marginalized by a society or discriminated against.

My name is Paris, no, not after Paris the city, but Paris the hotel chain whore. Harsh, I know, but if you were named after a girl who is famous for the sake of being famous, you’d be unforgiving too. I’d love to say my parents conceived me while picnicking on hummus and pita chips on the banks of the Seine at night watching tourist-filled riverboats like illuminated phantoms float past the Roman, Medieval, Renaissance, and Classical eras in under an hour.

But my parents have never been to Paris. My mother’s veil is forbidden there. It’s illegal to dress like a Muslim. French authorities claim veils hinder a society that relies on facial recognition and expression in communication. Watch the eyes, Parisians. Everything you need to know is reflected in the eyes. Other features are pure distraction. The eyes are shifty if someone is deceitful; impenetrable if someone lacks compassion; dead if there’s no conscience; downcast when hurt and dejected; wide with joy and ecstasy; vacant when someone has given up.

If you don’t learn to interpret the eyes, you’ll never catch people like me.

Paris. My namesake was born into a hotelier family that bilks tourists. Does that justify snagging headlines and splashing one’s face and body parts all over digital and print media? You, the gullible, gobble up news stories about people who’ve accomplished nothing other than being the product of an egg and sperm collision, the creation of a wealthy man and a slinky opportunistic woman. Voila! Their offspring skyrockets into fame, splashed on your magazine covers, panty-less. My apologies if Paris wasn’t the one who infamously showcased her crotch in a limo. They all merge into a big blonde blur. Like people say we do: Muslims in America. But I’m no more Muslim than I am American.

I’m not as hostile toward the talentless blondes as people say. They claim I’m bitter about my black hair hidden under a hijab. But my wrath is directed toward you, the un-famous, who follow the panty-less. Have your standards plummeted so that you’ll stalk people even if they’re famous for no reason? A magic show, a juggling act, or a trapeze performance would suffice. Instead, you prefer to view splayed legs in a limo. 10 million times, if clicks don’t lie.

I’ve considered changing my name to Cheyenne, because real people sentenced to obscurity live there. No one’s a star in Cheyenne, unless they’re a rollicking hog-tying, cattle wrestling, skeet-shootin’ rodeo cowboy. And then he’s only famous in whinnying rodeo circles where women squeeze themselves into tight Wranglers and men sport hats wider than cowgirls’ hips. And even though a rodeo star’s roping skills border on animal torture, at least he has honed his talent over decades. The animals get roughed up, but they survive. Most importantly, everyone wears pants, unless we’re talking gay rodeo in chaps with nothing underneath. But gay cowboys garner respect because they’ve swum upstream in a current of ranch machoism that doesn’t tolerate same-sex sideway glances. They’re corralled into a lifetime of marginalization. Let them wear chaps with no pants. At least they’ve earned the right to go pant-less. Like we Muslims in America have, but we’d never consider it. Actually, maybe we should under our burqas. You would ever know.
Wyoming is where we trained. An outpost. A touch of the Middle East in the Wild West. Where the cloudless sky meets the open plains. It’s so wide open; you’d think no one had secrets. The wind whips the living daylights out of you until your thoughts are so jumbled you can’t remember what you believed. That’s okay because we were learning not to believe so we could do what needed to be done.

Paris. I’d like to tell people I was named after the City of Lights, but my parents never had the money to go there, even if Parisians had tolerated Muslim dress. My parents did visit the Kardashian store in LA as a tourist destination. Tourists traveling to buy stuff they don’t need from a store named after people who are famous for no reason. As American as it gets. My mom planned the trip for a year. It was the only thing she had to look forward to. Waiting in line to get into the store, my parents were pummeled with raw pork—meat Muslims are forbidden to eat. “Go home, terrorists!”

But this is their home. And it was supposed to be mine.

I thank my lucky stars I wasn’t named after the Kardashian who’s famous for butt-cleavage selfies and a step-dad who actually accomplished something back when fame required achievement. But in keeping with the times, her stepdad is now famous for transitioning from a muscle-bound Olympian to a 60-something pin-up girl with all the nips, tucks, insertions, and penis tucks any girl who used to be a boy could ever want. She’s (notice the pronoun switch) now famous for being a famous trans.

Paris. I’m an un-famous girl named after a girl who shouldn’t be famous. But I’m going to change that. Don’t tell anyone, but I’ve just been commissioned to the City of Lights. I’ll travel with a parachute and the clothes on my back. I won’t need anything where I’m going. I’ll slip on my forbidden veil and jump in the midday sun at the peak of springtime in Paris. I’ll plunge the length of the Tower that is famous for being famous, then yank my vest at the last possible minute underneath the shrieks and screams.

I’ll achieve symmetry. Paris bombs Paris.

Maybe you could have stopped me if you’d have bothered to look into my eyes.

As Alexandros walked the line, his shiny black thick-soled boots sunk into the coarse sand; his eyes followed the horizon where the greyish-blue sea and sky merged. He felt ridiculous in his heavy boots on the soft sand, but he was on duty. Barefoot in the sand was too unofficial, too carefree, too giving into whimsy. It would send the wrong message to incoming water crafts, even if they were just captain-less inflatable rafts.

The territory he had been assigned to wasn’t the white-washed Greek beach of tourists’ postcards. It was barren, rocky, and strewn with strands of rotting seaweed. It was one of the forgotten beaches but the currents were such that it required monitoring. He yanked off his beret after it had blown off his head again in the whirling wind. Alexandros alone patrolled this beach on the island of Lesbos. With high-powered binoculars, he watched for them piled into rafts with only their worldly possessions on their backs. He hadn’t actually had a raft arriving on his watch, but he had seen the images on the news. In his scope, he captured the monotony of the sea, barges, sea birds, and occasional flying fish shooting into the sky as if they had wings and just as quickly plunging back into the sea. Oh, to be a creature of sky and sea.

That morning he had fought with this wife, Anastasia, who had a soft spot in her heart for other people and their troubles. She served him sweet tea and biscuits with a message, “Take pity on them, for they wouldn’t flee their homeland unless it was intolerable for them and for their children. Allow them a safe passage. No one will know it was you who let them in.”

“And risk our livelihood so people who don’t belong here can settle, bring their strange customs and tarnish ours and benefit from the fruits of our labor?”

“They have nowhere else to go. If you go back far enough, everyone’s a nomad. We’re all from somewhere else. We’ve all had to escape hardship and find new homes. Who’s to say who belongs and who doesn’t? Certainly not you.”

He lost his taste for biscuits and let his tea turned cold. He left the house without kissing Anastasia for the first time in their fifteen-year marriage. Perhaps it would make her think twice about preaching at breakfast.

He noticed something bobbing in his binoculars, sea junk perhaps, or an artifact that had blown off a craft. Flashes of white, blue, black. A small parcel or a flotation device. Nothing to be concerned about. He dropped his binoculars and walked his patrol line. Some days, the tedium was too much to bear; he wished he were a captain on a giant ship with top secret cargo or a sea pilot, piloting a motorized aquatic bird, carrying diplomats or international businessmen. Instead, he walked the line guarding his island’s shores from water-logged humans invading in insidious ways with nothing needing everything from a country—his country—that teetered on the brink of bankruptcy. If enough of these drenched invaders arrived with needs as deep as the Aegean Sea, his country would need another bailout from a more affluent country, which would set off a chain reaction of falling countries. Who knows? World collapse could ensue. Warn-torn refugees needed to stay put and fight for their countries. That’s what he would do. No one would pull his country from his grasp.

Then he did something he had never done on patrol. He unlaced his boots, yanked off his dank socks, stiff pants, and starched shirt and left them in a pile on the sand. It was a last chance outpost. No one would ever know. He just wanted to feel and taste the sea—the salt on his tongue, his cheeks. He ran and launched himself up over a wave and dove into the next one. As he came up for air, he shook his head. It was then that he could see more clearly. He stroked with all his might just in case. Just in case he could make a difference. A wave slammed into his head and he gulped a mouthful of sea water, choking, but still paddling as fast as his arms would take him. His legs cramped up. A flash of blue between the waves. A speck of red. Then ivory. And black. Silky black. Then tiny shoes between the crests.

He reached forward as he kicked and grasped. Oh, please. Oh, please. He begged a God who had sometimes forsaken him, but right here, right now, he needed that God to breathe life into this little boy. Alexandros flipped over on his back, cradled the boy to his chest and kicked as hard as he could. His fingers felt for life in the little boy’s arm, on his tiny neck, his arm again. As soon as he could touch bottom, he sprinted to dry sand and fell to his knees.

What was his name? Where were his parents? Why was he alone? Had he fallen out of the raft?

Alexandros held the tiny waterlogged boy next to his heart the way he had held his son so many years ago to feel his heart beating next to his, his gentle breath on his face, and smell his fresh baby scent. But there was no breath or heartbeat and his scent was of the sea.

The little boy who took on the sea. And lost.

He bellowed a cry he hoped would deafen the gods. Gods who didn’t look over little boys lost at sea. Gods who didn’t look over parents of little boys lost at sea. Gods who didn’t look over countries of parents of little boys lost at sea.

When he returned home after arranging for the tiny boy’s final sacred resting place, he would make sure to give Anastasia two kisses, one that he had taken from her and one that said, we’ll give these people without a country our home.

Before I entered the precarious childbearing zone, ovaries fast approaching their expiration date, people used to ask me if I would have children, as if possessing a womb made having children a requirement and not only that—an open invitation for friends, acquaintances and strangers to inquire about the state of my womb readiness. They might as well have asked, “Are you planning to have sex?” But that would have been considered rude. Asking about the outcome of sex, however, would not have been.

When you’re a woman of a certain age without a brood in tow, The Question is always on the tip of peoples’ tongues, or, if not there, foremost in their minds. This is one way to discover if you’re looking too old maid-y. If random strangers don’t ask The Question, you’ve got your answer.

I’ve always felt obliged to have a reasonable defense at the ready. I’m not sure why. Perhaps I suspected I was letting humanity down and failing at the only act we’re on Earth to perform—replacing ourselves. Perhaps the truth is my ovaries belonged to mankind and by letting them languish, I’ve committed some sort of crime against humanity, punishable by banishment, at least in earlier times. Now it is simply punishable by the swift look-away or downward glance or the you’ll-regret-it-when-you’re-old grimace. Or perhaps I’d failed at doing what women are expected to do—shake and bake their egglettes into mini-mes.

“I never met a man who was Dad material.”
“I wasn’t prepared to be a single mom.”
“I met Mr. Right at 45. Too late to start a family.”

All acceptable-sounding reasons for letting my ovaries go to waste—right? But the real reason is none of those things. The truth is: I was terrified by the idea that a harmless microscopic egg-sperm collision could set in motion a nine-month science project with me as the rapidly expanding test tube. First I would be so utterly exhausted that I would have sudden onset narcolepsy at the wheel or while operating heavy machinery. I’d be so nauseated that I would throw up into crisp little barf bags during staff meetings, if my aim was on, if not, I would nail my boss. My body’s rapid expansion project would be the envy of any small business venture, not to mention the envy of women on Weight Watchers trying to shed the pesky 20. Why? My weight gain would have been sanctioned—applauded even. The only time in a woman’s life this is permitted. Bring on the ice cream binges. And the quad cheeseburgers. And the entire jar of peanut butter. Hell, combine all three. Everyone, people who wouldn’t have considered doing so before, would fondle my swollen belly, as though it now belonged to them. Although fondling non-pregnant bellies is considered creepy, for some reason belly petting is socially acceptable when there’s a bun in the oven.

Meanwhile, I’d be reading scores of books about the things that could go wrong, which, incidentally, total in the hundreds of thousands—misfiring cells, faulty DNA, misshapen body parts, ill-formed organs, missing parts, genetic mutations, in-utero distress. I’d be a basket case thinking that just thinking about all the bad things could make things go very wrong.

Once I had made it through the Mononucleosis Phase of pregnancy, the Trapped Alien Phase would begin—the burping, farting, hiccupping, wiggling, shifting, squirming, kicking creature that was living inside me. If we weren’t all brainwashed into thinking, “Oh, how beautiful, life is growing inside that belly,” we’d really think it was the best horror movie segment ever, the sloshing, oozing, bloody, secreting, parasitic organism that possessed my body.

What if I wanted Little Miss Thing to high-tail it out of me and take up residence in someone else’s oven? I know I shouldn’t admit such a thing. It doesn’t sound maternal instinct-y, but that’s just it.

I’ve never had such an instinct.

When the goddess of all things created me, she failed to connect the maternal instinct brain command center with my womb. When women in their childbearing years would moan about their wombs aching for babies, I would check with mine. “Hello, womb. How’d you like a little urchin to move in?” Zero yearning detected for an implanted human.

Well, that’s not entirely true.

There was one day in my early 40s when I was at Whole Foods looking for Tofu Pups or some other colorless, bland, tasteless food. I was gripped by hormonal repro fever, which is a little like disco fever without the driving beat, disco ball, and bellbottoms. The strapping men wielding cleavers and grinders behind the meat counter looked especially potent as sperm donors. Even the smoothie guy with a WF! cap and hippy hair, although clearly possessing inferior DNA, was tempting. My ovaries radioed frenetic SOS signals to my brain. Use me or lose me! Instead of shopping for fermented soybeans, I desperately searched for my sperm donor.

That lasted about an hour. Without the nerve to proposition Grass-fed Hamburger Guy or Wheatgrass Juice Dude, I drove right past Last Chanceville.

Back to the science project. Once the squishy slimy critter had been squeezed out by yours truly during The Labor Show with lights, camera, action, and docs and nurses staring at, poking, jabbing, and jarring my previously private parts, breaking blood vessels, tearing vaginal walls, stretching the hell out of everything Down There so that nothing is ever the same, the Preventing Uncertain Death phase would have begun. And, incidentally, would end 30 years later. As a baby, she could die from choking, suffocating, or rolling off the changing table. She could be stepped on, eaten by the dog, or squished by mommy or daddy rolling over in bed. While enduring extreme sleep deprivation, post-partum mood swings, and teetering on the edge of sanity, I’d be charged with the task of safeguarding a fragile human life. In a sleep-deprived stupor, I would leave the stove on, grind my hand in the disposal, drop the baby, scald her with bathwater, or forget I left her in the car until it was too late.

And people would wonder why I was having a bad hair day. Weren’t these the same people who just nine months before had inquired about the state of my ovarian development and who had later fondled my belly? Wouldn’t this all be their fault? And the niggling sperm’s, of course.

The good news is: once you’ve made it past your ovarian expiration date without incident, humanity retreats. I dread the day biomedical advances make it possible for women to give birth until death. Women will never be liberated from The Question.

Will you save humanity from extinction?

I miss Harry and Sally. Not just the fake orgasm scene in Katz’s Deli where Sally demonstrates what every woman has lived and every man is in denial about. Not just their friendship built on sizzling sexual tension. Not just the flirty witty dialogue in the streets of New York. Not just the New Year’s Eve we-were-meant-for-each-other-all-along ending that leaves me grinning through tears every time.

I miss going to the theater to see romantic comedies (rom coms), theaters that are always half-empty unless there’s a 3D action-adventure-horror flick playing. Theaters that are empty because potential movie-goers have merged with their couches and laptops, streaming flicks on Netflix or other services I’ve never heard of because I still like to leave my house to go to the movies.

I miss stuffing my face with ridiculously expensive popcorn between uncontrollable bursts of laughter and tears, and sometimes almost inhaling the crunchy butter/salt delivery morsels, when I don’t appropriately time the munching and the guffawing. I miss the opening scenes of a rom-com during which the male and female leads repel each other with snarky-flirty undertones. I miss knowing that phase is only temporary until they clumsily run into each other in the bathroom when she’s using the men’s room because the line to the women’s is snaking around like a Disney World ride.

I wonder if it’s time to pull out the hankies to mourn the rom com, a Hollywood staple since the 1920s. Hollywood delivered It Happened One Night in the 30s, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes in the 50s, The Graduate in the 60s, Harold and Maude and Annie Hall in the 70s, When Harry Met Sally in the 80s, and Bridget Jones’ Diary in the 2000s. But more recently there’s a void where rom coms were once featured.

What accounts for its demise in Hollywood? Does it not deliver the box office bounce, the return on investment, the DVD sales, the board room zing? Are being charmed and humored simply not as lucrative as being grossed out, horrified, shocked, or titillated by kink or unthinkable violence?

Am I alone in wanting to be charmed, humored, and entertained at the same time? I miss Bridget Jones having to decide between Darcy and Cleaver. As women, we want Hugh Grant, but we know we should be with Colin Firth. Isn’t the tug-of-war between the good boy and bad boy still alive and well? Can’t this theme still deliver a box office smash?

In our data-saturated world, if there’s a romantic element in a movie, it’s delivered with some horror, some paranormal, some kink, or some action-adventure. Kisses served up with explosions, mass murders, or ghostly-other-worldly-blood-sucking creatures who want nothing more than your plasma. In fact, a kiss is a dangerous activity, no longer an innocent expression of affection. An old school kiss can’t make it past the cutting room floor. It’s so your mom’s movies—like mom jeans—uncool and pointless.

What happened to the rom com and how do we revive it? Or must we declare it officially dead? Do I need to let go and simply watch reruns of When Harry Met Sally made long before Billy Crystal was a washed up former Oscar’s host and Meg Ryan’s plastic surgery morphed her into a swollen ghoul? Do I also need to let go of Bridget Jones, played by Renee Zelwegger, who rearranged her face one day and doesn’t look like herself anymore? I’ll tear up when watching these oldies but goodies, not just because the rom-commers finally discovered their love for each other, but because I must trade in my sweet escapist genre for fifty shades of shock and horror.

One day when we’re inured to exploding zombie heads, our hearts will cry out for themselves, not to be stabbed 50 times by a mass murderer on a rampage or torn apart by spraying bullets but to love and to laugh.

To simply love and laugh.

Let’s be clear about one thing: depressed people usually don’t have enough energy or motivation to go on a homicidal rampage, lest the world is too quick to slap a depressed diagnosis on the latest incident of a homicidal/suicidal young man. If depressed people want to harm anyone, it’s usually themselves, but they typically don’t think: I’ll kill myself and take hundreds down with me. When you’re depressed, your thoughts are turned inward and you’re too busy beating up on yourself to even notice that other people exist. Wanting to harm those around you would require a more expansive vision, not the myopic vision of a depressed person.

Andreas Lubitz may have been depressed, but neither that nor the reported anti-depressant medication he was taking would’ve led him to hatch a plan to pilot a passenger jet into a mountainside. He was homicidal first, depressed second. Perhaps visions of grandeur, not a symptom of depression, dictated his murderous path.

It’s natural for humans to want to leave their mark on human history to attain immortality through fame. This natural instinct—to do something meaningful and memorable–drives countless good works and changes the world for the better, such as eradicating disease, fighting poverty, overcoming the stigma of mental illness, creating stunning works of art. This drive in “normal” humans is usually benevolent. However, in a few, this instinct morphs into a desire for fame at any cost. All too often in recent memory, disturbed young men have been gripped with a desire to leave an abrupt, dramatic, headline-grabbing mark, even if they’re not alive to bask in the infamy. Perhaps they bask as they’re hatching their plan, knowing that the world’s attention will be rapt and overnight fame will be theirs for the taking.

Andreas declared, “One day the world will know my name,” and he had the power to achieve it. He didn’t train as a terrorist to overtake a plane as a flying explosive device. It was a cleverly hatched inside job. He trained as a commercial airline pilot, entrusted with safely ferrying countless passengers from take-off to destination, people who were exploring, sharing their talents, starting anew, returning home, and reuniting with loved ones. With those lives, he played God; he had the ability to rewrite their stories, along with his, in one explosive moment with a heart-wrenching ripple effect of tragedy and loss for generations.

As the world mourns, other disturbed young men are observing and absorbing the media frenzy surrounding Andreas, the post-mortem worldwide fame, and will seek to emulate it, even if it means sacrificing their own lives. To these men, going down in infamy holds more appeal than the often unspectacular daily grind fading into obscurity.

Is Andreas any different from suicide bombers, except that they go out in a flame of fury for Allah and seventy-two virgins? Is he really different from the Boston bombers, wanting to leave their mark after feeling disillusioned with the American dream? Is he any different from the Santa Barbara shooter, lashing out because the beautiful people had failed him? Perhaps his life as a pilot made Andreas feel powerful, and this was threatened by a recent diagnosis. To take away a disturbed young man’s power leads to dreams of revenge so dramatic, so unthinkable that he vows the world will never forget how we wronged him.

As a lad, he imagined himself a winged warrior, a shifting shadow above his beloved Alps, porting legends to safety with a clear vision and steady hands. As a young man, Andreas traversed the jagged, icy peaks, not intoxicated with the buoyancy of flight but blistering with enmity. His heart suspended beneath flared angel’s wings pulling and pushing the life force with which he encoded his fate. Wayfarers’ stories swiftly redrawn, framed by his tunnel vision, fueled by the rhythm of his inhalation, exhalation. His hands, trembling when shredding the noxious missives, were steady on the controls.

Andreas’ new status, scribbled on a slip of paper in doctor’s hasty script. “Vision failing. Unfit to fly.” Several tiny slips in angry shreds were discarded with organic banana peels and coffee grounds. Exuberant legalese required changes in status be reported.

With “whys” drawn into their foreheads and “hows” on their greedy hands, the inquisitors would explode into his flat, burrowing for “becauses.” Words were the easiest. Other clues would be pieced together into a composite of brokenness.

An Earth-bound man with worn-out shoes shuffling through a cityscape dwarfed by towers of reflecting glass was supplanted by a barren mountainside, a crush of metal, a flash, a flame, perhaps, debris scattered, a cascade of stories rewritten. When dreams die, sacrifices are justified. Andreas’ breath remained steady as he set the controls amidst desperate fists and mortal screams on a gradual descent into the jagged peaks. He closed the eyes that had betrayed him. “One day everyone will know my name.”

I was supposed to keep them away—the clamoring international correspondents and investigators in safari wear lined with pockets—edgy, combative, entitled. The so-called compassionate curious ones were as blood-thirsty and hungry for guts and glory as my comrades until the stench of rotting human flesh drove them away. The stench of human dreams caught in the crossfire of political will and territorial power struggles.

Only days before, globetrotters were buckled down, aloft on Malaysian Airlines Flight 17, en route to vacations in thatched huts on stilts perched above cerulean waters. Do-gooders were jetting to a conference, anxious to exchange ideas, approaches to halt a disease that has decimated swathes of gay men, straight men, women, even children. Brain power, knowledge, and compassion exploded mid-air and plummeted into fields once seeded with optimism. Some humans are committed to changing the world; others to destroying it. In this field of stalked suns, the destroyers are now in charge, armed with loaded weapons and bitter breath.

Sunflowers
I was supposed to be one of them, commanded by the destroyers to be a faceless pro-Russian rebel, donning a dark mask; dead slits peering out. A gun strapped across my chest, rage in my belly, power in my groin, combat boots on my feet. I was ordered to prowl, posture, and growl, guarding the bodies and the mangled mass of plane debris, gravity’s handiwork on aerodynamic steel.

If I were commanding, the lost would become food for sunflowers, not zipped into body bags on a refrigerated train in a high-stakes game of geopolitical tug-o-war. World leaders spew rants, assigning blame across continents; all afraid of enacting real threats to the dizzying pace of international commerce. In the meantime the bodies belong to us, the rebels. Rebel-controlled remains. If that’s a victory for our side, I don’t know what we’re fighting for.

Bow-legged villagers with missing teeth and greedy fingers descended like a murder of crows to pillage and plunder the spoils that my comrades hadn’t already pilfered. I had blocked their passage but was chastised for impeding progress, for standing in the way of what was rightfully theirs. Finders, keepers, as children say.

One afternoon, while guarding the plundered wreckage and unclaimed items, I spotted him. A one-armed teddy bear with a forlorn grin, picked over for digital devices and billfolds stuffed with euros and ringgits. I clutched him that night, the moon casting shadows on symmetrical rows of tiny grasping suns. I wept at the feet of the sunflowers. I slept at the feet of the sunflowers. Just me, the wreckage, and the one-armed bear.

Before daybreak, I will pluck a head, extract seeds into my satchel and disappear. To a place where angry men don’t shoot children out of the sky, where angry men don’t yank wallets from corpses’ pockets, where angry men don’t pierce the heavens and explode the sky, where angry men don’t revel in the rain of body parts, teddy bears, and storybooks. To a barren place, requiring budding exuberant suns.

Before the men with blood on their hands come for me, I’ll plunge mine into the soil. With dirty fingernails and stained palms, I’ll sprinkle the seeds of the Ukrainian national flower and bury them with my gun.

That’s burial enough for me.