Maya and Mehdi were seriously injured at Le Carillon café during the Paris attacks. Three of their friends (including Maya's husband) were killed in front of them. Three months later, moving on is almost impossible.
PARIS — Maya Nemeta, 27, and Mehdi Zaidi, 30, haven't seen each other since the night of Nov. 13. That Friday evening among friends began joyfully at an outdoor table of Le Carillon, the cafe in the 10th arrondissement of Paris that serves as their "HQ," and ended in a bloodbath.
They had met up then with Amine Ibnolmobarak, 29, Maya's architect husband, and Emilie Méaud, another architect and friend, 29, and her twin sister, Charlotte.
The five of them were out for drinks, discussing plans and dreams, when they heard what sounded like firecrackers at about 9:30 p.m.. After that, only two of them were still alive. Amine, Charlotte and Emilie were killed on the spot, never having seen the terrorist approach. Mehdi, sprawled out across two chairs, looked at Maya, though he was riddled with bullets, his elbow and right hip "smashed," his left humerus dislocated, a piece of calf torn off. Lying on the pavement, Maya tried in vain to get up. Her legs and right foot had just been struck by four bullets, and others "scraped" her face and back. "You OK?" "Yeah — you?" "Yeah, I'm OK," they gasped, stupefied.
"We weren't OK at all," Maya says today. "We were just making sure we were alive. I was holding my dead husband's face between my hands. I didn't realize how serious Mehdi's injuries were."
"I'd like to come and see you"
After the first major surgical operations, Maya and Mehdi continued their convalescence and rehabilitation in different hospitals. Their stitched skin is reminiscent of heavily wounded soldiers. One limps, the other uses crutches. Long metal rods designed to repair their broken bones stick out from one of Mehdi's arms and from one of Maya's feet. They each still have to have a section of their iliac crests removed to be implanted on the bones of their injured limbs.
But these physical wounds affect them less than the emotional trauma they now share. The two friends have had very little contact since the attack because the memories are so painful.
After spending four days in an induced coma, Mehdi tried to call Maya, but her phone was still in the hands of investigators. At the end of November, Maya then sent him a text, but because the cuts on Mehdi's abdomen had become infected, he had no strength. He only sent a text back on Christmas day, too upset, not ready to meet up yet.
In early January, just after getting over a staph infection she got during a foot operation, Maya kindly asked again. "I very much hope you're better, that you have the strength to keep on going," she wrote. "I'd really like to come and see you, now that I can. The need is getting very strong, but let me know if you're not ready. I'll understand. Please know that I'm there, I'll be there, to talk, to remember, to laugh or cry, or just say nothing and understand each other."
During the Nov. 13 attack, Maya closed her eyes. She essentially has auditory and olfactory recollections. The sound of the shots, the first-aid workers who kept shouting, "Take care of the conscious people first." She counts on Mehdi to try and put the tragedy's sequence of events in order. "I haven't received Amine's autopsy report, and I don't want to wait for the official crime reconstruction, which will arrive in months, if not years," she says. "I need to know what happened. Mehdi will help me fill in the blanks."
"We'll need time"
So far, Mehdi hasn't fulfilled Maya's wish. "Seeing each other again won't be easy," he says from his hospital room. "There were five of us and now there are only two. Maya was my oldest friend's wife, I've never seen her without him, and we also lost Charlotte and Emilie." Maya and Mehdi exchanged a few words over the phone in early February. It was warm, but "in a check-up kind of way," Mehdi says. "We'll need time and more than words for the rest," he explains. "It will be a painful but necessary step."
He has a head start on Maya in this. "I have an unfailing recollection of the scenes we went through because I made sure I wouldn't forget them to be able to survive," he says. He also has seen his "good Samaritan" several times: a young woman who helped the rescue teams carry his stretcher. Together, they relived these indelible scenes.
In mid-January, when he was allowed to go outside, Mehdi returned to Le Carillon. At sunset, he pulled a table and a chair onto the pavement, sat down by himself and smoked a cigarette, crying. "My hands were sweaty and my heart was beating like mad," he recalls. "It wasn't a punishment I was inflicting myself, just a necessary step." He left "shaken, exhausted, but appeased."
With the help of her family, Maya has found another apartment "to learn to live without Amine." Near the Buttes-Chaumont park in northeast Paris, the couple shared a floor in a small house, where she says she'll never be able to return. She is now set to move as soon as possible to the sixth floor of a building in the 11th arrondissement, "between the former Charlie Hebdo offices and the Bataclan," intentionally. She now manages to "live with what happened," refusing to succumb to the tyranny of terror.