David and I moved to the dormitory at the school in late August. The girl’s lived in a house called Pres Fleuris (meadow of flowers), which was quite fitting. There were flowers everywhere, in the surrounding fields, on the windowsills, even painted under the eaves. The other students were mostly overconfident sons and daughters of rich diplomats from around the world. At my age, I should have been in seventh grade, but since the lowest grade level at the school was eighth, that’s where I ended up, making me the youngest girl at the school. Not only were they all older, they were seemingly well experienced with boarding schools.
To survive, I knew I would have to find a way in with the older girls. It did not take long before I was hanging out in the smoking room and they seemed to enjoy counseling me on the important adolescent lessons about life, sex, makeup, and drugs. I don’t recall learning anything about history, geography, or the myriad of academic subjects my instructors taught, at least the classes were in English.
Although I was making friends, every night I went alone to my room with a deep feeling of loneliness. I wrote letters and dreamt of my father, Mark and a life back in the States that had been comfortable and much more predictable than life in the dorms.
In late September, the Pres Fleuris girls were invited to attend a Soiree&Mac226; with a group of visitors from the Swiss Army. We would enjoy an evening of dancing and a hike through the country the following day. The announcement stirred excitement that rumbled throughout the hallways. The prospect of spending an evening with older men gave some a feeling of panic and others thought only about what they would wear. On the day of the event, the dorm was bubbling with activity. We scurried about showering, shaving, primping, curling and borrowing. Swapping clothing and accessories was a daily ritual for some girls, but that day everyone was involved.
Wendy stormed into the room wearing an open robe, black lingerie and a headful of pink curlers. “Sarah, do you have any mascara?”
“Sorry. I don’t use it.”
“Oh no, is that what you plan to wear tonight? That won’t do.” She returned quickly to the hallway and yelled, “Judy, Cindy, come quick. It’s an emergency. Sarah needs our help.” Since this would be my first dance, other than cotillion, the girls jumped in to help with my makeup, hair, and clothing selections. They painted a line above and below my eyelashes that were curled and covered with brown mascara. Green shadow accentuated my eyes, and the rouge on my cheekbones removed all the puffiness from my face. One girl worked on my hair while another painted my nails.
Wendy came in and sighed with concern, “You’ll need better shoes and something for your hair to make you look older. Come with me.” She found a leather strap to tie my hair into a French Twist and curled small wisps around my face. “Far Out. Perfect.”
As I stood at the mirror, the girls smiled at each other as if they were proud of their accomplishment. I wore a shiny, short leather skirt, a beaded choker and a low cut jersey, stretched tightly across a borrowed brassiere stuffed with tissue. I looked like a grown woman and thought someday I could be as beautiful as my mother.
We walked to the large empty dance hall (the gym) and lined up on one wall listening to a rock and roll band with strong French accents attempt to sing American songs of the sixties. We stood fidgeting and giggling as we anticipated the arrival of our dance partners. Finally, the men entered one by one as we checked them out. “Too fat, too tall, hmm, he’s OK.” Then one looked directly at me as if I was the only other person in the room. Without hesitation he walked over. He became more handsome with each step and his magnificent deep blue eyes were mesmerizing as he approached. His sandy blonde hair matched the tan military suit that was perfectly tailored over his physique. I was shaking by the time he held out his hand and spoke in a soft, low tone, “Bon soir, je m’appelle Maurice.”
“Hi, I’m Sarah, uh, Je m’appelle Sarah.”
He smiled, tipped his head and held up a hand as a polite and international invitation to dance. Gee, he’s a gentleman, I thought.
I stumbled to the dance floor trying to navigate in high heels and we spent the entire evening together. We did not say much. My French was horrible and he spoke very little English, but language was not a problem when we danced. Through “Nights in White Satin”, I put my arms around Maurice’s shoulders and held him close. I could feel the warmth of his body with his arms wrapped around my waist, which made me feel loved like the days when Dad and I danced in our living room. I learned the moves at cotillion and I knew better than to step on my partner’s feet, but that night I fought the urge to ride atop Maurice’s shiny black dress shoes. Until that night, I had not realized how much I missed the feeling of being hugged by a man.
After the dance, I strolled back toward the dorms feeling warm and tingly all over until a couple girls caught up from behind. “Hey Sarah, wait for us. We heard Madame Clivas balling out Maurice for dancing too closely. She told him you were only twelve and he looked surprised.”
I stopped. Everything beautiful about that evening was suddenly crushed. “How could she do that? I should have told him. Maurice probably hates me now. I bet he won’t even go on the hike tomorrow. I’ll probably never see him again.” I went directly to my room and buried my head in my pillow until I fell into a deep sleep, a place where I found comfort from dreams of a familiar and secure family life back in the States.
The next day Maurice’s voice emerged from the group. “Sarah. Ici. Over here.” He walked up, lifted me off my feet and spun me around in the air. He was casually dressed and looked even more handsome than the night before. I was back to my twelve-year-old tomboy self. Flat chested, no make up, no heels, but he didn’t seem to care. He smiled, kissed me on the cheek and took my hand for the walk. The feeling was something I had never experienced. It combined all my emotions for Mark, my brothers and my father. I wondered if it was love, but decided it wasn’t possible after just one evening.
When we returned to the boarding house, we sat on the lawn and listened to the stereo blaring through one of the dorm windows while we snacked on French bread and Swiss chocolate. As they were getting ready to leave, the song “Young Girl” played and someone dedicated it to Maurice. I held his hand as he stood. He placed his warm, smooth cheek against mine and whispered, “Be good.” I looked into his beautiful blue eyes and knew I would never see my twenty-two year old Swiss Army friend again.