I was in Paris, France with two of my cousins.
I had returned from my exchange to Denmark in July 1979. My family was in disarray. My father had gotten mugged in the parking garage of his job and had quit going to work at General Electric some months before. I hadn't figured it out yet, but his coffee cup did not contain coffee. My grandmother had fallen six weeks before I came home and fractured the back of her skull on the steps of a West Virginia Bank. Her brains were still scrambled and it was not clear if they would improve. My sister was 15 and was as closed as an oyster, a totally different person than I'd left a year before. My mother was in full denial mode, acting as if everything was normal, normal, normal.
I did not want to return to my high school for the two classes needed to graduate. Twelfth grade English and US and Virginia Government. I talked to the high school counselor and signed up for community college in the fall. I had also failed to apply to college while in Denmark. I'd sent Harvard a query but they replied that they didn't accept foreign students very often. I decided to concentrate on Denmark.
In August we went to the lake in Ontario. Grundoon and I were in an old military tent on cots with two of our cousins. I woke up one night in the pouring rain and literally crawled through the woods to the outhouse. I crawled back and decided that something must be wrong. I was running a temp of 105. My parents took me to the emergency room in the morning. I had mononucleosis. I lay in bed in the cabin and gargled aspirin in water, drank weak tea and water. Dropped 10 pounds in a week. Weak as a dead cat when I got up. Sister and cousins would come visit but I'd ask them to go. Everything hurt. I could barely swallow. That was the first autoimmune attack that I remember....
I started community college in the fall. My mother and I took an art class together and chorus. She told people we were sisters. They didn't even blink. I took two quarters of English and one of government. I took the winter quarter off to go back to Europe with my two cousins, to travel with a Eurorail Pass. It felt awful to leave my sister, in 10th grade. I was 18, one cousin was also 18 and the other was 24.
What I remember about Paris is being hungry. We were hungry all the time and were trying to live on $10 per day. Bread and cheese and fruit and lunch meat. My cousins had lived in Paris for a year because their father was a professor at the U of MI. We were invited to dinner at a real house, with a real French person.
The meal was in a dining room, with mirrors and gold accents. The meal was in courses. The woman was older and very elegant and somewhat formal. I did not speak French. She had a woman working for her. The crowning course of the meal was a souffle, brought in with elegant ceremony and shown to us before it was served. It was hard to eat slowly because we were so glad to get real food. My cousins spoke French, so they answered her questions, while I quietly ate as much as I could, still trying to catch up from the mononucleosis.
And then we went back to bread and cheese.