This is a love story that begins with heavy petting, but actually has very little to do with physical affection. One night in 1974 when I was a student in France I was standing on a deserted street corner with a boy I thought I liked. After he kissed me, “like” turned to love. French kissing in France can do that to you.
“Why won’t you come with the rest of our class to Switzerland?” he asked me. It was the Christmas holidays and several of my classmates were going to the Swiss Alps to have fun in the snow, drink wine, and eat French bread and cheese fondue.
“It sounds great, but I want to see the museums in Florence (Italy),” I said—which was a lie. What kind of college kid would choose to look at lifeless paintings over being with their friends? It all had to do with a deep-seated insecurity I had about relationships.
I didn’t know if I could trust this guy, and I needed some space to get past my infatuation.
When I stepped out of the train in Florence, I felt shaky and feverish. Maybe I’d picked up a few germs French kissing? A sharp, cold wind sliced through me as I struggled down the street with heavy suitcases looking for a cheap pension. The second night in my motel room the innkeeper knocked on my door to see if I was all right. He must have thought I looked a little pale when I checked in. I crawled out of bed and through the cracked door whispered, “Malata! Malata! (Sick! Sick!)”
A day or so later I finally felt well enough to look around this interesting European city. I saw the famous statue of David at the Del Academia and sauntered through multiple art museums. Everywhere was cement buildings, pavement, and crowds of people. It was a pleasure to finally walk to the top of the Fortressa Belvedere at the edge of town and peer over the wall to the Italian countryside below. Rolling hills were covered with vineyards, and I felt wistful thinking about farm fields back home.
By Christmas Eve I’d spent eight days roaming around Florence by myself. I was beginning to feel desperately lonely.
That night, hungry and restless, I went looking for a market to buy some food, but nothing was open due to the holidays. One small kiosk was still selling a few groceries so I bought a can of sardines and a package of cookies. I wondered what my family was planning for their Christmas dinner.
A light snow began to fall as I walked back to the motel. Up ahead I noticed a large white building, a substantial structure, possibly a government building with pillars and cornices. Lights were just flicking on in the building, and I was surprised when an enormous Christmas tree in a tall window suddenly lit up. This was the first Christmas tree I’d seen in Florence. As I drew closer I spied a flag flying off the balcony, and gasped to see it was the Stars and Stripes. This building was the American Embassy.
I didn’t know if I was lovesick or homesick, but just then I had a fierce longing to be back in America.
I’ve read of all countries and people, Americans are the most patriotic. I missed those “fruited plains and waves of grain.” Oh, how I wanted to hear someone say in that simple American way, “Hi, how are you?”
So, I went to the train station. Some of my school classmates talked about visiting Florence over the holidays. Who knew? I might run into one of them—or anyone American. I was standing on the loading platform when I saw him, that boy I liked too much. He came toward me and didn’t bother with a greeting like, “Hi, how are you?” Instead, he just grabbed me, and wrapped his arms around me, and gave me the best hug of my life.