You Will Not Have My Hate - Antoine Leiris

On November 13, 2015, Antoine Leiris’s wife, Hélène Muyal-Leiris, was killed by terrorists while attending a rock concert at the Bataclan Theater in Paris, in the deadliest attack on France since World War II. Three days later, Leiris wrote an open letter addressed directly to his wife’s killers, which he posted on Facebook. He refused to be cowed or to let his seventeen-month-old son’s life be defined by Hélène’s murder. He refused to let the killers have their way: “For as long as he lives, this little boy will insult you with his happiness and freedom.” Instantly, that short Facebook post caught fire, and was reported on by newspapers and television stations all over the world. In his determination to honor the memory of his wife, he became an international hero to everyone searching desperately for a way to deal with the horror of the Paris attacks and the grim shadow cast today by the threat of terrorism. Now Leiris tells the full story of his grief and struggle. You Will Not Have My Hate is a remarkable, heartbreaking, and, indeed, beautiful memoir of how he and his baby son, Melvil, endured in the days and weeks after Hélène’s murder. With absolute emotional courage and openness, he somehow finds a way to answer that impossible question: how can I go on? He visits Hélène’s body at the morgue, has to tell Melvil that Mommy will not be coming home, and buries the woman he had planned to spend the rest of his life with. Leiris’s grief is terrible, but his love for his family is indomitable. This is the rare and unforgettable testimony of a survivor, and a universal message of hope and resilience. Leiris confronts an incomprehensible pain with a humbling generosity and grandeur of spirit. He is a guiding star for us all in these perilous times. His message—hate will be vanquished by love—is eternal.

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On November 13, 2015, French journalist Antoine Leiris stayed at home with his 17 month old son, Melvil, while wife Hélène attended a concert at the Bataclan Theater in Paris. Terrorists attacked the concert venue that night, making it the deadliest terrorist attack on France since WWII. Almost immediately after the attack, Leiris gets a text from a friend asking "Are you okay?". Confused by the message, something tells him to check the news. It is then he gets the first news of the attack. Leiris quickly calls his siblings who come over to help watch Melvil while Leiris heads out to try to find out what happened to his wife. Hours later, he gets the news. She's been identified among the casualties. 

 

Of course, having a culprit, someone to take the brunt of your anger, is an open door, an chance to temporarily escape your suffering. And the more odious the crime, the more ideal the culprit, the more legitimate your hatred. You think about him in order not to think about yourself. You hate him in order to not hate what's left of your life. You rejoice at his death in order not to have to smile at those who remain.

 

Three days later, Leiris in his grief pens an open letter to his wife's murderers and posts it to FB, where he tells them point blank that while they might have stolen his wife from him, he will not give them the satisfaction of his hate or fear. He promises to live for his son, dedicating himself to focusing on the joy, beauty and decency he still believes exists in the world. He will strive to live in a space of love, terrorism has not claimed his soul. 

 

There are only two of us -- my son and myself -- but we are stronger than all the armies of the world. Anyway, I don't have any more time to waste on you, as I must go see Melvil, who is just waking up from his nap. He is only seventeen months old. He will eat his snack as he does every day, then we will play as we do every day, and all his life this little boy will defy you by being happy and free. Because you will not have his hate either.


~ from the open letter posted on FB

 

That open letter (included in the book) soon becomes the inspiration for this brief memoir, which focuses on the first few days of Leiris's life after receiving the news of his wife's death. In fact, he mentions starting on the first few pages of this book just a day or two after posting the letter online.

 

Translated from the original French by Sam Taylor, You Will Not Have My Hate, is a quick read of a memoir that packs a wallop of an emotional cocktail! Grief, reluctant acceptance, determination, a slow peace... it's all here. It's horrible that such a memoir has to exist, but somehow... French journalist Leiris brings a painful beauty to each page. Not only does he adamantly deny victory to the terrorists, he gives an achingly lovely tribute to the lost piece of his heart. 

 

In search of another lover to torment, it goes on its way, abandoning me to its sad traveling companion. Mourning. 

 

I spot its mark, a gray stain that appears on my side. I have already seen it grow, in the same place, a few years ago, when I lost my mother. This one is darker. It spreads faster too. It is only a question of days, weeks now; I am besieged. It covers almost the whole of my stomach. I no longer feel like doing anything. Eating is torture....

 

Watching from a distance, you always have the impression that the person who survives a disaster is a hero. I know I am not. I was struck by the hand of fate, that's all. It did not ask me what I thought first. It didn't try to find out if I was ready. It came to take Hélène, and it forced me to wake up without her. Since then, I have been lost: I don't know where I am going, I don't know how to get there. You can't really count on me....from one day to the next, I might drown.

 

And suddenly, I am afraid. Afraid that I won't be able to meet people's expectations. Will I no longer have the right to lack courage? The right to feel angry. The right to feel overwhelmed. The right to be tired. The right to drink too much and start smoking again. The right to see another woman, or not see other women. The right not to love again, ever. Not to rebuild my life and not to want a new life. The right not to feel like playing, going to the park, telling a story. The right to make mistakes. The right to make bad decisions. The right to not have time. The right not to be present. The right not to be funny. The right to be cynical. The right to have bad days. The right to wake up late... The right to not talk about it anymore. The right to be ordinary. The right to be afraid. The right not to know. The right not to want. The right not to be capable.

 

~ Leiris describing his grief

 

Each chapter starts with a timestamp of how much time has passed since the attack. Even without the horrific backdrop of the Paris attacks, this is still one of the most honest grief memoirs I think I've ever picked up. Leiris writes of the brutal moment of having to officially identify his wife at the morgue, having to not only sort out and let go of her things but also find the strength to decide on a burial outfit. He describes meeting with a friend, only identified as N., who had attended the concert with his wife. N struggles with deep survivor's guilt, which Leiris tries his best to help his friend through.

 

Some of the most difficult passages to read, the ones that really made me feel for him, were the ones describing the moments of weakness when he would feel like he was failing as a father, desperately wishing for his wife to come in and save the day with some task he remembered her being more skilled in, or the painful reality of the actual window of time society expects grief to pass in, that the quickly offered "take all the time you need" is actually just a nicety used to get over the awkward, more often than not. But in reality, you hardly  have time to process the loss before the logistics come rushing in --- last wishes, insurance money, final expenses, etc. Though people feel for you, everyone seems to want an answer NOW. 

 

Leiris' straightforward approach gets right to the reader's heart and is bound to be appreciated by anyone feeling the need for a moving but not overly sentimental grief memoir.