I started marking days on my 1981 calendar. Not quite two years out of college, rudderless and fatherless, my objective was to escape. Oblivious to the pain I would inflict by leaving again, I kissed my mother goodbye and was on my way.
The year I spent in Switzerland was such a part of me that I needed to return. More than just about anything else, I wanted to be back in Switzerland. I had no idea what I was searching for, but I was sure it would be more easily found nestled in the Alps than in a small town in the smallest state.
I had enough money, but not enough to enjoy a carefree summer. In early May, I sat in the sunshine of an outdoor café with a new friend named Lynn. Buy your drink and you practically own the table for as long as you wish. The outdoor tables were crowded with people re-emerging from a closed-in winter to the warmth, the color, of spring. Clinking glasses and laughter provided the background music.
A few tables away, an older couple sat, heads tilted back to catch the sun’s rays and ignorant of their three-year-old son, running an obstacle course between table legs and human legs. At one point he darted into traffic, only to be pulled back by a woman sitting close to the street.
Lynn and I rolled our eyes and said, “Why can’t these parents control their child?” and “He’s a little monster.” The child was returned to his chic blonde mother, and his father, in tinted aviator sunglasses, checking out the young women passing by.
A week later, I was still looking for a job, something to keep me in Fribourg for the summer, at least. I’d made such a big deal about leaving that I couldn’t possibly return home after a mere sixty days. In the grocery store, there was a hand-written sign looking for a “jeune fille” (I was 22 but still could be considered a young girl, I supposed) to work as an au pair (light housecleaning, childcare, some cooking). Hey, I could do that, and I’d have a place to stay. The monthly rate at my hotel was reasonable, but some of the tenants made me nervous, especially with a shared bathroom at the end of a long corridor. Every time I passed door #12, it cracked open and a pair of black eyes followed me until I locked the door to the toilet.
I responded to the ad, left my hotel address, and was contacted a few days later by the man of the house. His name was Mario and he met me at the hotel’s ground-floor café, where we drank strong coffee and talked about America. He spoke no English, but my French at the time was pretty good. He remarked that we Americans all think we’re number one. And my reply was “Well, of course, because we are.” Sigh.
He hired me. I was to meet his wife and child the next evening, when I would dine at their house. He picked me up in his Mazda and we drove just outside the town to a farm. A small white house sat at the edge of the farm. Their house.
I had not made any connection to this man when I met with him, but yes, this was the family with the little monster. There he was, screaming at the top of his lungs because he didn’t want to eat chicken. His name was….Dave. I asked, “Oh, David?” (Dah-VEED?) And they answered (in French), “No, Dave, like the singer.” Dave. I was not familiar with Dave the singer. This Dave, the one screaming, was a little boy with a mop of black curls who was at his most adorable when he was asleep.
I lived with Mario and Danielle Gazel (I never called them by their first names) and little Dave from the end of May until the middle of September. During that time, I had to leave the country once so I could re-enter with a passport stamp and gain another three months. Eventually, Danielle’s boss stopped by the house to inquire about me, and Danielle became very nervous, and told me I would have to leave soon. By then, I felt it was time to return home, too.
Mario’s friend Benny or Bibo or Bondo or something made a pass at me during a cookout at the house, in front of his wife. Mario thought it was amusing. Bondo stopped by the house a few days later, while I was home alone and Dave was sleeping. He probably thought I would invite him in to have crazy mad sex on the floor, but that didn’t happen. He left empty-handed.
The day before Princess Diana’s wedding, Danielle found out that Mario had not paid child support for his teenage daughter, and they now owed a great deal of money. Mario worked as some kind of salesman, but I got the sense he didn’t work much at all. She cried and instructed me to be very careful with men. On a Saturday at the end of July, Danielle (with Dave on her lap, sucking his thumb) and I watched the royal wedding. She cried a lot. Mario breezed in a couple of times and made remarks that were very unwelcome.
During that summer, I turned 23, Mario turned 40, I broke an expensive lamp in their house, I walked at least two miles every day, and fell for a guy who could never love me back. I drank beer, wine, and brandy, tried steak tartare, and slept outside in a hammock when they had friends stay over and needed my bed. And I watched a 19-year-old girl, who was much more naïve than I, marry a man who was all wrong for her.