ONE YEAR MY WIFE AND I lived in a third-story apartment in Grenoble, France. We were studying French at the University. That summer I decided to enroll in a four-week actor’s camp to be conducted in a small town about 200 miles away. My wife elected to stay in Grenoble and continue her studies.
As soon as I arrived at the camp, I knew I was in for a cultural awakening. The tip-off was the young French girl sunbathing in the nude at the courtyard pool. When I walked by, she smiled and said, “Bonjour.” I wanted to say something cavalier like “Spiffy suit,” but my French was still sketchy, so I just said “hello.” I think my voice squeaked.
Later that first week, several of the young actors decided to go swimming at a nearby stream. I was invited. When we got there everyone stripped. There I sat in the sand—the only one wearing trunks—trying to decide where to look. Again, I pretended to be nonchalant, but what do you say to a naked French lady at a picnic? “Oops, you dropped a little potato salad on your . . . err . . . Arc de Triomphe.”
It was all new to me. Like the woman who slept one night with my roommate and the next night with her visiting husband—and back again.
By the end of camp, I was ready to go home. In fact, I left one day early around midnight. On the long trip back, I kept thinking about all I had seen and how I longed to be home.
It was about 3:30 in the morning when I drove in. I got out of the car and looked up at our apartment. “Oh, my God, no.” The lights in the bedroom were still on. In an instant, a full-length movie played in my head. I saw myself chasing up the apartment stairs, crashing through the front door, and finding my wife in the throws of uncontrollable continental passions. I could see him now: long, black hair slicked back, reeking of cheap Parisian cologne. “Aarg, I’ll massacre the guy!”
I took the elevator to the third floor. I unlocked the front door. I walked directly to the bedroom. The door was shut. I turned the knob and pushed in. It was jammed; there was a chair braced against the door from the inside. (Ha! As if that could stop me!) I called out to my wife, wondering if a Frenchman could survive a leap from a third-floor window.
My wife came to the door. Sleep was in her eyes. She smiled sweetly and put her arms around my neck. “Oh, I’m so glad you’re home,” she said. “I was afraid to be alone tonight.”
“I knew that,” I lied. What else could I say?
It is a wonderful faculty, this thing we call imagination, yet deceptively dangerous. Authors know this, as do old-time radio producers (think of Orson Wells and his 1938 broadcast of War of the Worlds). We are capable of scaring ourselves silly. So, when preparing for a job interview, or an impossible exam, or a second marriage, let logic prevail. Think it through and then proceed with a gentle spirit. For, after all, a light turned on in the middle of the night may be nothing more than a deflector of shadows or a beacon for the homeward bound.