Wednesday, March 20, 2013

a scarier side of the city of lights

I lived in Paris, France on a study abroad program four years ago. It was a beautiful experience, and there was so much I absolutely adored about it all.

Taken on my first day in Paris

But there was one day that I'll never be able to forget from my stay in France, and it's one that still makes me shudder.

I was in a busy metro station by myself in the middle of the afternoon during my first week abroad. I was scrutinizing a map, still trying to figure out which line to take to get to Garden of Tuileries, when it happened.

A man, obviously drunk and homeless, grasped me around the waist with one hand and dug his fingernails into my shoulder with the other. Panicked, I yanked away and booked it into the crowd with a spasm of adrenaline and fear.

But he followed me. He chased me through the throng and across the platform. He caught up to me, yelling angrily at me in slurred French. Then he started kicking me.

That's when a word I didn't even realize I knew in French came to my lips, and I screamed it at him until everyone within earshot turned around to watch.

The anger in his eyes blazed, but he recognized defeat. Too many witnesses.

So he stepped forward, dug his heal savagely into the top of my foot, and then stalked away.

It took all I had to get out of the metro station before I broke down into tears. I'd only been in France for about four days, but suddenly I just wanted to go home.

I was afraid of men for a long time.

This is what I wrote about the experience soon after it occurred:


The padding of feet behind me, the shuffle of toes, the slap of soles against the concrete. I gulp. Refuse to look behind me. I might see Him again.

The sound is everywhere, mingled with the bubbly chatter of tourists and the refined conversations spoken in lilting French.

But the footsteps…

I crush my hands to my ears and flatten them against my skull. My earrings stab into my flesh like the pinpricks of His eyes on my skin.

Like a whisper behind me against the cobblestones, the footsteps continue. The whisper becomes a babble as it weaves in and out of all the footfalls that surround me in the street. The babble gathers strength and hammers my mind, its roar drowning out all thought.

Tears sting my eyes, hot blood floods my cheeks. And still the footsteps never recede.

The voice of a man leaps through the air beside me and I am sent shaking. My body reels away from the low vibrations of his speech. I understand him. I see him. But it is not Him.

The man asks me where the Sorbonne is. I mumble a few phrases in French, my eyes trained on the ground. I point. The man leaves.

I swallow down more tears.

I am almost running now. Running away from the footsteps, away from His voice.

But men surround me, they weave in and out of shops and stands and buildings. They are everywhere. And they are all speaking.

And I am screaming.


No sound escapes my lips.

I squeeze my eyes shut. Even as I do, I can see Him again. See the hungry look in His eyes, the grease in His hair, the grime in His skin. And His scent assaults me. Oil and alcohol. I choke.

And then I feel the grip of His arm around my waist, feel His filthy fingers curling into the flesh of my shoulder. The yank of His body as He tries to pull me away into the dark.

My eyes fly open. He isn’t here.

But they are everywhere.

What's your scariest travel experience?


  1. I am so sorry you had to go through something so awful <3 I've never had to go through anything like that, and I hope it doesn't happen anytime soon.

  2. Oh my gosh, that sounds really scary and I'm sorry that happened to you :( You were very brave!! I've never experienced anything like that, I don't know what I'd do.

    You write so beautifully, thank you for sharing xx


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