After starting at a deficit yesterday (I conked out Wednesday night without writing), I am now only 817 words behind! Yay! If I really think about it, the 1700 words a day are designed to make me finish at 51,000 words on November 30. So, in theory, I could just forget about those 817 words and say that I am on track. YAY! I am determined to make it past December by this weekend.
Ch. 18 – More Dorm Shenanigans
10/21/84 – Another weekend, another Sunday morning! I slept in again, which was what I looked forward to every weekend. I would lie in bed, listening to my suitemate, Elaine, wake up and go through her morning toilette. She would also wash up pots and pans from the morning’s cooking (or the previous evening’s efforts) in the bathroom sinks, which were directly on the other side of the wall behind my bed. I didn’t mind, though, and would lie there, drifting in and out of sleep until I decided it was time to get up. Usually, this was at about noon – I tried to limit myself to that time, so as not to sleep the day away.
By that time, I had missed my chance for lunch at the RU. Instead, I managed to make myself a hamburger (I can’t recall how I obtained or stored ground beef at this point in time – most likely, I had to do as the French did and venture out in pursuit of supplies.) and ate it in my dorm room. I looked around the room, and contemplated cleaning things up a bit. Instead, I spied my roller skates – the ones I had bought at the flea market in Paris – and decided to give them a try.
They were stiff and needed lubrication, but I managed to get some Vaseline from Trisha, which seemed to fix things nicely. They were the old fashioned kind of skates that required fitting and clamping on over your footwear – tennis shoes, in my case. After making the necessary adjustments, I had a good time skating around in the halls and break room of my floor of the dorm.
Trisha was in the break room, making peanut butter fudge over one of the hotplates. Peanut butter is not popular in France, and is rather hard to come by. I think that we were finally able to purchase it from a health food store, where it came in a pop-top can, like the kind they use to seal in the freshness of mixed nuts. It’s interesting, the things you find yourself missing, when you discover that they are unavailable in your host country. Peanut butter and popcorn were two things we missed – Mexican food was another.
As I was saying, Trisha was making fudge, and Ingrid, a French student, was keeping her company. I liked Ingrid a lot, and she obviously enjoyed hanging around with the Americans, but it was early in the morning and I didn’t know if I felt like conversing exclusively in French – after all, Sunday was a day of rest! Ingrid could be frustrating to talk to, as she knew little English, and I had hit a wall in my French communication. I would literally get headaches if forced to fend for myself for a prolonged period of time in French. But, to be polite, it looked like Trisha and I would be speaking it for now.
Trisha said something to me that struck me as funny, especially given my recent musings about our compatriot, Robert. I was telling her about Robert and I going to dinner at Catherine’s the night before, and she said, “Je crois que Robert t’aime!” The first thing that came to my mind was that Robert liked her, and I said as much. She shook her head “no” and said that she was sure that he liked me. I found that hard to believe, since all we seemed to do was bicker. He could really be maddening at times – and was almost relentless in his teasing. Still, it gave me food for thought.
Later that day, I went to Carol’s room and we worked out to her Jane Fonda cassette. Then I blew all of that work by eating a lot at that night’s communal dinner. I particularly liked the peanut butter fudge. I was beginning to be more conscious of my weight, and knew that I should watch what I ate – but everything was so good! A lot of us were good cooks, and enjoyed eating and drinking together – that was our main social outlet! In France, good food lurks around every corner, and I couldn’t seem to get enough of it.
I worried about my telephone conversation with Pablo off and on all day. I hoped that I didn’t make a fool of myself. I was afraid that I did. I had been drinking a bit before my impulse call, and I resolved to be more thoughtful before I did something like that again. I contemplated writing another “damage control” letter, but decided to wait until I received his letter before doing that. It promised to be a lovely anxiety-filled week ahead, waiting for that letter!
I received it a week later – here is what he said:
My dear friend,
Hola! This time, I am not going to write in French. I’m sorry! I lied to you. Today is Tuesday, and I just finished talking to you. I wanted to hear your soft and pleasing voice before I wrote to you.
Here, everything is going well. School is about to be over, December is on its way and soon, you will be back. I’m listening to J. Iglesias. In this song that I really like, it’s about time: about how it passes and you look back and find good memories of your past. Maybe I don’t want to be just memories to you – I want more than that. I want a real friend, someone special that will be there to share the good and bad times of life.
You know, I wonder what will be our reactions when you get back? Are we going to act as strangers? Or, maybe we are getting closer to each other, by long distance. But I was the one who did not see the possibility of a lasting relationship by distance. I think that I have changed, as everybody does with the passing of time.
I hope you understand that these are things and situations that we will have to encounter sooner or later. I believe that, if we talk and write about it, then, whenever you get back, we will be able to know how to handle it. There is not a problem – I just don’t want to lose you because I may not know how to deal with you or with us. You are a wonderful girl in many aspects. I like you and admire you for what you are – always be yourself.
Claudine, I am going to send you one of my own poems. However, to make it difficult for you, it will be in Italian. I wrote this poem about 5 years ago, when everything in my life was complicated. I hope you like it.
I hope I will be hearing from you soon. Be good and happy. If you need anything, I’m always here.
P.S.- Seven months left, now!
I am not including the poem, since it was Pablo’s property, but I was very impressed that he sent it to me! It was simple and lovely, and I spent a lot of time trying to translate it – I think I had to use a French-Italian dictionary, and then, figure out the French to English translation myself. A complicated procedure – appropriately, from a complicated man!
Ch. 19 – Les Militaires
Fast forward back to November! Our “dorm culture” continued to grow, and the addition of the Brits – Elaine and Nora – gave our group a boost. Didier, the boyfriend of the former Louisiana student who spoke to us during orientation, was Robert’s roommate, and he spent a lot of time with us. We played a lot of card games. I, on principle, did not like games very much. One of the more popular games was called Tarot, and was played with a deck similar to the Tarot decks used in fortune telling. It seemed to resemble bridge, and the rules and strategy made my head hurt. It was mainly played among the guys, and they took it too seriously for my liking.
One Friday night, Robert and Elaine and I decided to play some cards. Elaine taught us a game similar to the American game of Speed. It was a really fast game, and we had to take turns playing, since it was a game for two players only. Elaine trounced Robert, and I was having a great time watching him getting beaten. Finally, he said that he didn’t want to play Elaine anymore, and told me that I had to play against him. Games that require fast thinking are generally not my forte, and I started out slowly and cautiously. But, much to my surprise, I got the hang of it and ended up killing him! Robert was not too pleased, as I took this opportunity to gloat mercilessly.
Attracted by the commotion, Didier came in from some late night studying (the French apparently found it necessary to study, even on the weekends – something we Americans had a hard time understanding.) and decided to join the tournament. He played against Elaine, and I continued to play against Robert. Both games were played with serious intensity, and bursts of hilarity. The words “shit!” and “merde!” were frequently used. We had a great time. Elaine remarked about how comical Robert and I were, playing against each other, but she and Didier were pretty funny, too.
Sometime during the evening, Robert and I seemed to come to an agreement of sorts. I brought up the fact that we seemed to be fighting all the time, and that sometimes I didn’t know if he was joking or not. Or maybe I wanted to make him aware that sometimes he seemed to go too far – especially when I was not in the mood for being picked on. He said that he didn’t want to hurt my feelings and added that he knew about how much I could take. He said that he tried not to cross that imaginary line and make me really mad. I had not known that. He may have teased a lot, but he was a good friend.
One way that this became apparent to me was his staunch defense in the face of a potentially traumatic event. I have mentioned Sophie, the party-girl. Her escapades were beginning to annoy Carol, who was her unfortunate suite-mate. Apparently, she and her cohorts came and went at all hours of the night, with no regard for how they were disturbing others. It also became apparent that Sophie’s goujat act not only worked with homosexuals, but with heterosexuals as well. Suddenly, all manner of French men began arriving on the hall, dropping by to visit her.
The dorm did have a “security” system – doorbell that was rung after midnight and supervised by a concierge, or night watchman. In this case, our night watchman seemed to be a drunk who would let anyone in – at any hour. Some security! Security was also the reason for our dorm being “co-ed.” There were men’s dorm rooms, but they were only a few of them, and they were on the ground floor. This was supposed to protect the girls from intruders, who could potentially enter through the ground floor windows. I suppose that the guys were considered safe in this situation.
The night of my intruders, it was not really late. I was in my room, listening to some music and reading a book, when I heard a knock on the outer door. I opened my bedroom door, and went to answer it. My roommate, Elaine was out at the time. Barely had I peered out of a crack in the door, when a group of 5 young men barged in, saying they were friends of Sophie, and that they were looking for her. They were militaires – young men completing their 2 years of compulsory military duty – I could tell by their close shaven hair.
Being way too polite (I had never had reason to mistrust French guys before!), I allowed them to come into my room, while they chattered in French about looking for Sophie. I tried to make conversation, explaining that her room was about 5 doors down, when they advanced on me, trying to kiss me. This was not the polite bises that are exchanged at greeting (and we were beyond the greeting phase, already.), but inappropriate kisses. One of them – a burly guy with a bullet-shaped, bald head, grabbed my breast through my sweatshirt. I was in shock, but finally came to my senses when I saw the other guys going through my things and yelled for them to stop and get out of there. Luckily, I was able to herd them out of the two doors and close the deadbolt. I found out later that they had taken my headphones, some of my cassettes, and a bottle of perfume.
I sat there for a while, upset and shaken by my close call. Then, I decided to go downstairs to the guys’ hall, because I knew that there would be a crowd there. I sat down quietly among the chatter and laughter, trying to be cool and inconspicuous. I didn’t want to make a big deal out of the matter. After all, no harm had been done. It was Keesha, strangely enough, that took one look at my pale face, and realized that something was wrong. I tried not to cry, but choked out the story, and did cry, in the end. Robert and Chuck were very angry and upset, along with the others.
That was when Carol mentioned how stressful it was to be Sophie’s roommate. Quite often, she would camp out with Chuck, even though he only had a twin bed, just to avoid the commotion caused by Sophie’s late night escapades. Weekends were the worst, but Sophie’s social life spilled out onto weeknights at times. The guys made it a point to confront her about this incident, and she claimed innocence – she had not idea how those guys found out where she lived. We also made complaints about the concierge, but that amounted to nothing, as well. We all learned to lock up our rooms and to watch for strangers.
The incident also was cause for arguments and discussions about the safety of Angers at night. One student from our group – a girl named Mindy (AKA Singapore Sling – due to a bad night drinking, I think – or Mindy the Moaner, for her incessant complaints) said that she felt very safe on the streets of Angers. She had heard of the incident of the militaries, and denied knowing those guys. She did, however, say that she had other friends who were doing their military service, and they did not act that way. As a matter of fact, we came to find out later that these large groups of guys could behave badly. Robert told Mindy that he disagreed with her, and added that he didn’t think much of anyone who hung around with the military students. He added that those guys had really frightened me, because I was crying. I felt sorry for Mindy, because Robert could be pretty cold when he wanted to be, but I felt better because he had defended me. I had some good friends there.