Over a month ago, I wrote a version of this piece for an online class that I’m taking. Recently I decided to revise it for said class, and now I have decided to share with you something I’m proud of that came from heartbreak.
Il Principe Ranocchio
I have, under no circumstances, ever considered myself a smoker. In fact, when I was little, I often tried to hide my mother’s cigarettes so she would stop. In my family, our lungs are bad enough. But there I stood, cigarette pressed awkwardly between my fingers and lips. My tongue craved the bitter taste, and the growing burn in my lungs seemed to dull the ache caused by an object across the room.
In the week prior I had to come to see my life as a carnival ride. The one where you’re spinning around in your seat while the entire ride is moving in its own never-ending circle. You hang on, wondering how the fuck you ever convinced yourself to jump on for a ride. In the beginning it was fun, invigorating, full of adrenaline, and then reality sets in. You realize that all good rides come to an end at some point, and when it does you’ll get off, head spinning with vomit corroding your stomach, wondering if the feeling will ever go away. Italy was the ride, but he was the one spinning me in my seat.
I tried to drown the dizziness in shots of Bacardi, dancing, and cigarettes. Dressed in wedged sandals and a brand new salmon colored dress in 54 degree weather, I felt like a fish being watched by men. They tapped constantly, demanding my attention, but I refused to give it. I was already spiraling in my own cage, wrapped uncomfortably in my love for the only man trying to avoid my eyes and lips that night. I could understand why, however. Our situation was already too complicated to introduce affection into the mix again.
Looking back, much of what I can tell you about Italy or Sorrento involves him. I saw more of this little region holding his hand or in the passenger seat of his yellow car than without him. But that’s what happens when you start to fall for someone the moment you land. Your every waking experience involves them. They become a permanent groove in your memory, into which all other experiences fall.
In the beginning, the dizziness was different. I felt like I was in some coming-of-age film. Everything was unreal, and thoughts that it was impossible had consumed every moment of my day. My previously pessimistic mind had turned positive. I had finally found someone who complimented me in a place that I had thought wouldn’t accept me. Before I left home, I hoped to find a fairytale, and then I met a boy on a Thursday night and was infatuated by Sunday.
My life became filled with night drives. We’d park somewhere, surrounded by far off city lights, and kiss until my lips should have been purple with bruises. And unlike the past, somehow he even managed to stimulate my mind. Like most men, he scoffed at my English and Philosophy majors, declaring economics preferable. But somehow he seemed to match my views on religion and philosophy in a country where it was safest to assume most were Catholic.
I think that was the first moment I fell in love with. Between his views and the way his hand would touch his face as he searched for the correct words in English, I was bound to fall. Yet I tried to remind myself that it was just a fling, that from the experience I could grow stronger and learn more about myself. I hoped that it was truly chemistry I was feeling, that it could be magical if it was. At that point, it already was magical. But Italy isn’t a sprint like America. It’s a stroll through windy roads and down hidden pathways to treasures I never expected. I needed to remember to take everything day by day and that if my prince turned into a frog, un ranocchio, what did it matter? I had until May to live my fairytale.
But May turned into August, and August turned into March 19th.
Somewhere in my first two months, however, I lost all sense of reality. I became trapped on my ride, like Alice falling without any sense of time. Italy was home. He was home. All thoughts of my real home were being forgotten. I had convinced myself that I had found my future home. In my mind, I saw beyond May into a future I had always hoped for. A life in Italy felt tangible.
It was after my trip to Tuscany that my mind and situation began to turn. For the first time, we were separated for an extended period of time, and thoughts of the fairytale turned into worries. More than ever, I felt him waffling in how he felt for me. It still felt like more than a fling. He knew my face, which looks and actions meant that I was pissed off or uncomfortable. And the way he’d touch me was still intimate. If I was standing, he’d nuzzle my stomach and hold me like he didn’t want to let go. It was like the way I would touch his face because I didn’t want to forget how it looked or how he looked at me. Our mutual attraction didn’t feel fleeting, but our time was. It was scaring the both of us.
I was realizing something at this point. Either we needed to put space between us or I needed to face the idea that if we raced on like a train without breaks, we were bound to crash and burn. But for such a smart girl, I am incredibly stubborn. All I could see was how he challenged me to be a better version of myself. I am independent, but I am also quite timid. He pushed me to free myself from the negative effects of others, to live outside their shadows. But what happens when the person pushing you to be better becomes your biggest shadow?
On March 19th, as I sat on the rocks next to Bagni della Regina Giovanna, things started to come together. Or, better yet, I began to realize the end. I realized that in my infatuation, I had missed out on important things. I hadn’t made friends like everyone else, and the one person I depended on was beginning to distance himself. I started to feel like an extra piece in his life, something disposable. And I had nowhere to go. So I told myself the separation was good, that I needed to stop stalling the inevitable. I was going to leave in August and not return to Italy for at least a year, and he was busy with graduation and his real friends. The ones that would be around after me.
In amore vince chi fugge. In love, he wins who flees.
But every time I thought about letting go, I felt like my air stopped, and all I wanted to do was cry. I felt like a mess, un casino. I wanted to go home, thinking that I’d feel more sane there. Because here, I was falling in love with something with an expiration date.
He ended things, sort of, that night in the car I had seen everything in. I wish he had cried. I’m sure I did every time I looked at him. He was valiant, rationally deciding that it was smarter to stop our feelings from progressing further. I understood, though: one year was a long time to be 5,152 miles from each other. He was trying to prevent us from hurting too much in August, but I think this way made me hurt more. It felt like a tiny knife slowly cutting out a part of my heart that only had until August to live. I wish he had stabbed me that night. I wish he had made me hate him.
We saw each other occasionally that first week. The first night he acted like I was a parasite he didn’t want to touch or look at. So I spent that week of my life alternating between crying until sunrise and trying to remain strong and move on. I tried to focus on other things, like my upcoming senior year, internship, and fixing my broken Italian. I even tried flirting with other Italian boys, but nothing seemed to make my heart hurt any less.
But a little more than a week later, after trying to hide behind my brave face, I stopped telling myself I was over everything. On the dance floor, somehow we found ourselves wrapped again in each other. I tried to rationalize it as alcohol, even though rationality and alcohol don’t mix. But it was the car ride home the following night that really broke my resolve.
We were in the back of his friend’s car, significantly more sober than the night before. Maybe it was the way his hand just barely brushed my leg at first, his palm up as if an invitation, that broke me. Somehow the skin on his wrist felt like home. A home with sons running around. In my mind, I yell at them to stop juggling a ball so close to the television. And as I grade papers at the dinner table, I accept his homecoming kisses.
I locked myself into that image. I wanted to squeeze it, so scared that it would fly away. But I think I was more terrified I’d suffocate it, so I softly clung on.
It’s been days since that moment, and nothing has become easier for me. I still find myself trapped in his arms, in his kisses. People talk about falling in love abroad like it’s romantic. What they don’t talk about is how it can break you apart completely. They forget to mention how you can find yourself staring from across a bar with a cigarette in your hand, wanting to cry at his smile. That you can lose pieces of yourself in someone’s smile, only to cry more because you’ll wonder if your smile holds the same.
Falling in love abroad isn’t a fairytale. Fairytales have happy endings.