MY WIFE, HILARY, and I arrived in Paris on Wednesday, May 13, 2009. Our friends Bill and Terri Stampley had persuaded us to get away for a while from our home in Solana Beach, California, a brief distraction from our relentless grief. The four of us checked into the Hotel d’Aubusson on the left bank of the Seine, where my sister, Laura, seven years my junior, was already settled into a room next to ours. Her husband, Anton, and her two children had stayed behind in their home in Switzerland. After unpacking, we all went out to stroll along leafy boulevards warmed by sun and spring, looking for an outdoor café where we could have lunch and unwind from the flight.
“How about Les Deux Magots?” Laura suggested. “I’ve been there before and it’s great.”
“Sure,” Hilary said. I knew she was thinking of a lithograph by Michel Delacroix that has hung in our living room for over twenty years, showing that same historic restaurant where Hemingway, Faulkner, and the other literati hung out, and Saint Germain-des-Pres, the oldest cathedral in Paris, that stands directly across the narrow boulevard.
This wasn’t our first trip to Paris. In 1995 we had visited the cathedral with our children, Brittany and Jimmy, then fifteen and eleven. Now Les Deux Magots seemed like a meaningful start to this trip.
When we arrived at the restaurant, café-sized tables meant for two
or three patrons crowded under the green awning, and waiters scurried around taking orders and delivering meals. I craned my neck, looking for an open spot, but The Two Treasures was absolutely packed.
I turned to our party of five. “We’ll need two tables and there’s not even one open. We’d better look for a less crowded restaurant.” Their faces fell. We had all looked forward to eating here.
And then, amazingly, right in the center of the outdoor patio, directly fac- ing the church, diners at two adjacent tables paid their bills and stood to leave. Perfect!
We wove through the crowd, feeling exceptionally lucky, and settled in. Hilary and Laura sat on my right while I chatted with Terri and Bill on my left. After ordering wine, we surveyed the bustling square before us. People thronged the sidewalk as they do in any city, shoulder to shoulder, weaving in and out on their way to appointments, dates, and business.
Then came a moment that defies explanation.
Laura exclaimed to Hilary, “Oh my God! Did you see that?”
I spun around. Tears streamed down the women’s cheeks. They stared into the crowd, their faces pale, eyes wide.
I took Hilary’s hand, silently asking what was wrong.
She stammered, “I can’t talk about it right now! I’ll tell you later.”
I dropped the subject. She’d tell me what had upset her in her own time. For months her emotions had been roiling as she tried to deal with our tragic loss, and I had learned to respect her sometimes-erratic reactions. We each had another glass of wine and finished our meals. During the walk back to the hotel, Hilary seemed distracted but once more in control.
Sit down. I have something unbelievable to tell you.
I did as she asked, wondering what could have left her so shaken.
She twisted her fingers and gazed into my eyes, as if begging me to believe.
As I was watching the crowd I saw a young man dressed in a dark suit carrying a briefcase walk by. His head was down but I could see his intent expression. His cheeks were unnaturally red, and I think that is what drew my attention to him. It wasn’t just his face—it was the body, the posture, the gait. When you love someone all his life, he is unmistakable to you. Even when it’s actually impossible for him to be there.
I did believe her. I focused on her stricken face as she went on.
In a matter of ten or fifteen seconds he had disappeared into the crowd. I stopped breathing and burst into tears. The next thing I felt was Laura squeezing my thigh and saying, ‘Did you see that?!’
I was so grateful to have confirmation that I wasn’t hallucinating. Casey, we both saw Jimmy walk past us. It happened so fast I didn’t have time to get your attention.
Jimmy! Tears filled my eyes. It just wasn’t possible for my sister and Hilary to see Jimmy walk past the Café Les Deux Magots—was it?
Yet “impossible” is no longer in our vocabulary.