Defenestration means acquainted with the night.

Within the first few weeks of arriving in Paris, thanks to a scholastic friend and Merriam Webster's word of the day, I learned a new word.

DEFENESTRATION: a throwing of a person or thing out of a window.

Over the weeks that followed, like any good student or keener, I tried to toss the word out there with locals, after all, the first important French lesson I learned in France was that all words ending with 'TION' were the same in either language.

« DEFENESTRATION , ca veut dire jetter quelqu'un ou quelque chose d'un fenetre »

« More than that, it can also mean to throw oneself out a window ».

Really? An entire word dedicated to going out the window? Are there that many people going out the window? Apparently, no one here seemed shocked when I brought up the word. In fact, I was rather shocked at the lack of shock. Everyone here already knew the word. There were defenestrations all the time. We lived in Paris, after all.  From then on, I started hearing the word regularly.  It was in the news almost every other day.

A couple weeks ago, in the 20th neighbhourhood, there was this amazing thing that happened. A ltitle boy, a year and a half old, I believe, fell out of the sixth floor window. Sounds like the beginnings of a mejor tragedy but a miracle ensured making this one of the few pieces of news I actually followed. The baby should have been dead but he wasn't. Three kids were left alone in the apartment.

The night before the accident (this happened on a holiday Monday), the bar beneath the apartment was set to close their awning, like always, like every night, every closing. But it wasn't working. The mechanism was broken, had a glitch – in any event, the owner gave up and would try again Tuesday.

At the same moment, on the very same evening, a man, a doctor, was walking his kid down the same street. The child, not much older than the toddler who DEFENESTRATED himself, looked up, noticed the baby about to jump and got his father's attention by pointing up. The doctor, able to see the child was about to fall was able to prepare himself, put his arms out and be ready to catch the child.

The baby fall six stories, bounced on the awning below, back up into the air and right into the arms of the doctor, father, saviour. Within seconds, the baby fell right to sleep. Shock for sure.

DEFENESTRATION. Alright, alright. Here is my new example for the word, I thought to myself.

Then Friday morning happened.

I was supposed to be at work. A couple days of flu-like symptoms, vomitting, aches, a sick baby all week and very little sleep, I needed a morning off. Michael offered to go watch Zac for the morning so I decided to sleep in. When he got up to shower, like any two people who are going on little to no sleep, we got in an argument over the laundry in the bathroom (I don't always like to fold 'au plus vite' and sometimes I'll make a point of taking a bath, rather than shed my laziness for 5 minutes to fold the laundry that hangs over the tub; Friday was one of those, 'I don't know if I'll ever get it to it...' kind of days). Anyway, I was convinced that my morning of sleeping in was already ruined by our little spat and lay in bed staring at the wall for a couple hours, thinking my angry thoughts and sending bitchy text after bitchy text.

It was always a strange feeling to be at home when you weren't supposed to be there.  You heard day-time noises that you often missed out on. The sound of the postman knocking on door after door trying to find the woman to whom this package or that package is addressed. The sound of kids running down the stairs and off to school. The sound of exhausted mothers trudging back up again after the drop-off.

By noon, I gave up. I wasn't going to fall back asleep. I might as well get up, grab some breakfast on the way to meet Michael & Zac, maybe pick up some kind of thank you for taking my place for the morning. I got up, made my way to the bathroom to get ready, pulled the shower curtain closed and undressed and then I heard a strange noise, a very strange noise.


It's hard to articulate in words but imagine this sound to feel like the person who lives above you must have just dropped a bar bell on the floor. It was loud, it made a physical impact and for the life of me, I couldn't imagine what the Hell it could have been. And then, I heard it. I heard whimpering in the courtyard behind my shower wall. Anyone who's ever been to my apartment, likely remembers that my bathroom houses 3 strange holes to the outdoors. Two windows the size of cookie boxes and an open great across from the toilet, allowing the room to air out and making the tiles feel like a hockey rink in December. We Canadians weren't completely used to that much outdoors in our bathrooms. I heard another little voice. It was strange. I had never heard a sound from any of the other apartments before and this, this was literally as though there was someone right in my bathroom.

But that was impossible. There was nothing out there but tin roofs and pigeons. There was no way to get out there without going out the window. Unless.

I opened the little window above my shower and there she was. One of the only neighbours in my building I saw on a regular basis, always smiled to, quick hello, a held door here and there.  I didn't know her name but I knew her.

« Oh my God! Are you okay? What happened? Did you fall? I'm going to call the pompiers, okay? »

She was looking around for me, half in a daze, almost as though she wasn't really there. When she finally noticed me in the window, I looked around at her body to see the dammage. Her leg bone was coming right out of her leg and staring me in the face. She was bleeding a lot. Jesus Christ. How the Hell did this happen?  Still, I didn't think much about it.  There wasn't time.  She needed help and I was thankful for fight or flight.

I figured she fell out the window, that the terrace broke or the window broke or something along these lines. At this point, defenestration is the furthest thing from my mind. This woman lives only a floor above me with her little kids. She dropped a tea towel once onto my balcony and came down to my place to pick it up. It was pretty cold out, though, I should check again, see if she needs a blanket while we wait for the fire department.  Seeing her leg bone is making me nauseous but I know there's no time for this crap.  I've got to get help and fast.  She's in a lot of pain.

I bang on my neighbour Martine's door and we call the fire department together. My cell phone keeps dying every time I hit dial. They answer, ask a lot of questions and eventually, Martine just tells them to hurry and suggests I don't throw my duvet out the window if I'd like to keep it. It'll just be covered in blood. She's going to be okay, anyway. Martine, like me, remembered her apartment wasn't much higher than ours. She reassured the woman by telling her the fire department was on the way and I ran upstairs to knock on her door to make sure the children or someone else wasn't home or at risk and I ran into the hallway to see if there wasn't a window I could climb through to get to her. Rushing through the hallway, and back up and down the stairs to the courtyard to see if anyone else knew how the Hell I could get on the roof, I crossed a man looking somewhat frantic on his cell phone as well. I noticed the cleaning lady by the mailboxes and told her that a woman had fallen out of the window and needed help. The firemen were on their way but did she know if...

« NON! » the man screamed at the top of his lungs, running faster than I'd ever seen anyone run in my life. People were rushing in and out of the apartment to see what had happened and the man, it was obvious, knew her quite well. He propelled himself out the window and onto the roof and within seconds was by her side, holding her head and crying.

The cleaning lady informed me that she had just seen the woman between the 5th and 6th floors. And then I realized, this wasn't a little fall and it wasn't an accident. Another woman said she had heard that she and her husband had broken up a few times and that she wasn't dealing very well.  They had kids.

In the next half hour a lot of things happened. The firemen showed up with ladders and re-animation equipment, covered her body with blankets and were checking her signs. Did she have feeling in her legs? What happened? Soon after, the police showed up in numbers. There were people in the hallway, people on the roof, people in the apartment. And then I heard it:

« Defenestration, 115 rue St. Maur. Woman. Mid-30s. »

After an hour or so, they were eventually able to put the woman on a plank and pull her out the window. She lay outside my apartment door for quite a while, oxygen mask, panic, vitals. One paramedic told me that he didn't think she would make it, that he wasn't sure she was even conscious. There was a lot of blood and she had fallen from a good height. Another told me that she was conscious and not to worry.  Then another, that if she survived, it would be a miracle.

I was in total shock. I hadn't cried yet. I had been too busy processing everything that had happened. Eventually, I was able to call Michael to tell him why I was late but that I was on my way. If only so I wouldn't have to be alone in here anymore.

On my way to the subway, I noticed that they still hadn't moved the ambulance. It was sitting stationary in front of the apartment and I assumed the worst. What if she hadn't made it? What if this was a suicide? What if I hadn't gotten there fast enough?  How could this be happening? 

The weekend was a bit of a blur. Saturday, I found myself re-playing the event over and over in my head wondering what exactly made her defenestrate. Wondering if she was alive. I kept seeing her vacant eyes staring back at me, her leg bone popping through her pale skin. I kept seeing the sheer terror in her husband's eyes. Panic attacks ensued. I was terrified to be alone in the apartment, every little noise made me jump, burst into tears. I didn't want to be in here but I couldn't move. This wasn't an accident, I kept telling myself. She'd just had enough.  I couldn't take a shower or go outside.  I was paralyzed.  And all because of a woman I barely knew but what if she was right?  If she couldn't handle it, how would I?

We all think about, from time to time, what it would be like to take our own life, most of us just aren't able to talk about it without people thinking we're absolutlely nuts. It's not, for most of us, that we really want to do it - that we want to die - but sometimes it can just feel like the only choice we have left. It's Plan B. The In-Case-Of-Emergency, little blue pill. If push comes to shove. It's there and throwing yourself out the window was as good a way as any to end it, unless of course you live.

The worst of it wasn't even wondering what had happened. The worst of it was living this moment of pure darkness with these strangers. The worst of it was that these kinds of things happened all the time, to families, to mothers and father and other lonely young people who I smile at every day without even noticing that they are so close to the edge. The worst of it, is that even when I feel those pangs of emptiness myself, no one can see it on my face, either. What fools we are to take people for who they pretend to be. Isn't it partly our responsibility to intervene? No. We can't. That path has its own word too – GUILT.  We can't be responsible for everyone.  But why not?  I could have offered her a cup of coffee sometime or offered to help with her kids or carried her groceries up the stairs.  I could have done something.  This woman lives only meters away from me.  If not me, then who?

I kept my phone off all weekend. I didn't feel like talking to the police or recounting Friday's events again to anyone. Friday night I couldn't sleep, I just kept seeing her face over and over again and it was making me tremble. It was making me think of Robert Frost. I tried to forget. Tried to think of other, funnier things, anything really but what had just happened. Every time I tried, the same thing would happen over and over again, my heart would beat faster and I couldn't breathe and I imagined how she could have been me. She could have been anyone.

What if she hates me for calling the fire department? I mean, who expects to jump out of a window to their death and instead of seeing pearly gates, sees only their young Canadian neighbour and her leg bone protruding from her body?  Is this final humiliation going to give her the will to live?  I doubt it.

There are days of such despair among us all. I'll bet you all know more than a few people who think about defenestration all the time. Not because they want to die but because they just give up. Because it's too fucking sad. Too hard. Too much. C'est lourd. I'm not going to lie, sometimes when you look at the bigger picture, looking into your possible futures, it sure looks a lot less like the Disney movie we were projected as kids and a lot more like The Silence of the Lambs. Love isn't easy.  The day-to-day isn't easy. You can't just make a happy family happen. Most of the beauty in our lives comes, not from things that we witness alone but how connected we feel to those around us. And sometimes, it's just plain lonely out there. Heck, I've got enough friends that I should never feel alone and still do.  What about someone who has nobody?  Sometimes we forget just how much other people are suffering alongside of us and this great waste of lifethat  is what happens when, for one reason or another, we just can't be with other people. It's a symptom of depression, isolating yourself from the rest of the world. We all do it occasionally. Death does it to me, every time. Break-ups. Cancer and just plain despair.

You know what I'm talking about: 'Things are never going to get better. It's time to be a realist. People aren't good and life is fucking hard.  This is as good as it gets'

I am sad today. Sad for a lot of different reasons. Sometimes it's easier to have a concrete reason for your tristesse. Today I was planning to buy a Christmas tree. To listen to Frank Sinatra and hang my stockings while I drink coffee with Baileys and fry eggs and bacon. But I am not. Today I am thinking about a practical stranger who jumped out of the sixth floor window hoping to die and how my being there at the right time had to mean something. It was a sign of something. It has to be because I can't think of anything else. Maybe we're more connected than we think. This woman lives only meters away from me, every day and had I not been here Friday morning, I would have never known what had happened to her. I'd have never known she wanted to die, that she was ready to go. That it was over. It's too much to process.  All I can see is her face at what she'd hoped would be the end.

Just to cope with it, I've got to focus on the fact that it's snowing outside and I'm overwhelmed. I can't find more words than that because there's nothing more to it. It's too much.

Her husband stopped by last night to update me. Only her legs are broken. She is alive and it's a miracle she landed on the roof and not on the concrete. It was a miracle someone happened to be home to hear it and find her. It was a miracle she had survived the ordeal with only broken legs. He was greatful that I was there and thanked me for calling the fire department right away. He looked sadder than anyone I had ever seen in my life. It was too much. I told him I could help him with the kids for a few weeks if he needed some time to be at the hospital and wasn't surprised when he didn't elaborate on what exactly had happened.

Later, I heard him in the stairwell, coming home with their kids telling them that mommy was still in the hospital because she broken her legs falling out the window.

Too much.

I got it. DEFENESTRATION was a very important word. Important because nobody, NOBODY could handle hearing the whole story, in all its gruesome details and black reality.  It was just another way of saying 'too much.'

I have been one acquainted with the night.
I have walked out in rain -- and back in rain.
I have outwalked the furthest city light.
I have looked down the saddest city lane.
I have passed by the watchman on his beat
And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.
I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet
When far away an interrupted cry
Came over houses from another street,
But not to call me back or say good-bye;
And further still at an unearthly height,
O luminary clock against the sky
Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.
I have been one acquainted with the night.
-Robert Frost

1 comment:

  1. oh my god julie.
    my hands were on my cheeks in horror and disbelief through the whole of reading this.
    how are you doing now?

    (you're a very good writer)