I had decided that I would fall in love with Émile Bonnet before I’d ever even met him. He possessed so many desirable qualities: he was my junior high school boyfriends foreign exchange student, 19 and french. I loved Émile because he was smart and worldly and he did what I wanted him to do.
When he arrived we stayed up late sitting out on the picnic bench in my boyfriends families backyard. The breeze from the ocean cooled our sweaty skin and carried with it the pungent aroma of the tomato cannery and the garlic fields that surrounded my tiny village. Émile and I laughed and flirted as the yard sizzled and hummed with the sounds of frogs and crickets and the world was wonderful and smelled like spaghetti.
Émile showed me photos of his college hazing, regaling me with tales of being made to run around Paris on a scavenger hunt covered in raw eggs and carmel sauce in only his underpants. In one such photo Émile was standing atop a formica table before a blackboard in a lecture hall. He wore an ill fitting french school girls uniform that one of his classmates had brought with her from home. He sang into a child’s toy microphone, head thrown back, chest thrust forward and he looked positively radiant. Not in the least humiliated. I had already begun dressing my boyfriend in my goth girl drag and my approval and subsequent titillation were all the incentive Émile needed to become my cross-dressing femme entertainment.
One summer afternoon I bleached his outdated Beatles bowl haircut and dyed it bright pink. He rinsed the dye out in my shower and he stained his entire face (and my bathtub) Manic Panic fushia. I sent him home on the skate board he borrowed from my boyfriend. I had no desire to make out with his tomato face.
He was a good kisser but his breath often smelled of anchovies, which he ate almost daily. I knew of no other teenagers who ate anchovies or the kind of hot mustard that stung your nose and made your eyes well up with tears when you swallowed.
After he returned to Paris we maintained a love letter romance for about a year and a half before one of us eventually lost interest and we fell out of touch. I will always remember Émile in photos. Émile the naughty schoolgirl. Émile the pink haired teenager in a red pleated skirt and silver thigh high stockings. Émile the slutty goth girl in my driveway blowing kisses from beneath the shade of my Ren-Fair head dress. Because that summer, in America, in Gilroy, Émile was fearless.