Monday, 25 February 2008

Ti Voglio Bene - I Wish You Well

Looking back now, I can see how many things had to come together in some special way to align themselves 'just so' to guide me along my life in the direction I've gone so far. All the loves, the interests, the coincidences and even the long periods of doubt and self-loathing which had to come to pass before I could be where I am today.

Crikey, did it have to be so difficult, though? I suppose, in the end, the answer is inevitably and undeniably 'yes!'

Without the pain, the confusion and the disappointments, I wouldn't be able to appreciate what I have now, and would have lacked the maturity to recognize it for what it was: a true miracle in my life.

I shudder if I allow myself to consider that I could have missed this chance by clinging to habit and the comfort of living in the past.

So long ago, a dear friend told me to appreciate the pain that had gone before – after all, he reasoned, it was what made me who I was in that moment, and didn't I think I was someone special?

I grudgingly acknowledged that I reckoned I was, maybe...

It was hard to remember that as time went on. My teenage years ended, I stepped out into the world and allowed my insecurities to guide my hand along to make so many bad choices, I could never count them all.

But for all the pain and uncertainty, were those choices so bad after all? They got me here, in the end.

Perhaps the time has come to quit regarding these events as mistakes or horrible errors. Mis-steps, perhaps. Stumbles. But not mistakes.

'Cause I am someone special, after all.


The events of the last few years couldn't have happened if I hadn't done the following:
1) Quit my job at Movie Gallery.
2) Refused to return to work at Wal-Mart.
3) Gone home and written down the images of young Burke Wilson which filled my mind one November afternoon.
4) Learned to accept myself for who I am and refused to accept less than I deserved.
5) Finally ended my 9-year-long 'Co-Dependent' relationship.


The web of events goes back much farther than 2002, of course, but if I tried to untangle each thread to show what it meant, the work would never end. But these were the most significant events to occur just before the 'Fairy Tale' began.

You see, that is how I think of the events of the summer of 2003. I eschew the negative connotations of 'Fairy Tale' and embrace what I see as the truer meaning of it: 'A story of highly unlikely or somewhat fantastical events happening to the person you'd least expect.' Because that's what happened to me.


In brief: I was miserable trying to manage the Movie Gallery video store in the Wal-Mart in Newport, Tennessee. I quit without notice one Saturday and never went back. Never mind the reasons why – suffice it to say, it wasn't for me.
I could have gone back to work for Wal-Mart but I hated that, too. For the months I'd worked in those places, I was as depressed and exhausted as I'd ever been in my life. I no longer cared what happened to me, and those initially self-defeating actions actually proved to be a salvation (of sorts). I suddenly had time to write, and a new, haunting image had come to me shortly after abandoning my posts.
I looked for work and wrote when I was home. The story poured out, feeling as necessary as air or food and water to my survival; I was held in a thrall I'd not experienced in a long, long time.
I found a new job one month after leaving the other. I worked, I wrote, and didn't do much else. I eventually found the courage to show my work to my friend Byllie over lunch one afternoon and she received it enthusiastically. Buoyed by this response, I continued writing and showing the work to her – her still-excited responses told me I was on to something.
Time passed swiftly. The writing filled the gaps in my life – I didn't mind that I was alone, even after February, when I broke off my 'relationship' of nine years (give or take) with my long-distance 'boyfriend'. We were still friends, we said, but no longer beholden to one another, so I felt a freedom that was somehow new to me – and I no longer had a 'boyfriend' to hide behind.
As winter faded into the spring thaw, I realized that I would not settle for less anymore. I had high standards, yes, but if someone decided he wanted me he'd better want me for more than just a little fun, so to speak – and only the best qualified need apply. If pressed for details as to what I was looking for, I would say I was hoping for someone smart, funny, passionate, and maybe even a little opinionated. He'd have tact, though, and a generous nature – he'd care about other people, love his family, but if we were together, he'd put our relationship first.
Would he be good-looking? Well... my taste in men's looks has always been a little different, to be fair. But yeah, it'd be nice to find someone with the aforementioned qualities who was also 'cute', though it wasn't absolutely strictly necessary.
In the months that followed, I met a few fellows who seemed to 'fit the bill', but they were always unavailable (read: 'married or gay'). So, they became friends and nothing more, and that was fine, too.
All the while, I wrote. Soon, my novel was nearing its end, and I decided to test its marketability by posting a few chapters online. I let people in the chat areas I frequented know about this 'publication' since most of them were my target audience, and then I waited to see what they'd say.
The response was again overwhelmingly positive. So many people wrote me to encourage me to continue, and my confidence was buoyed still further. Publishing in the real world was my next plan, but when? How?
Then, one morning I received a private message on one of the chat groups. The sweet, heartfelt missive brought tears to my eyes and a warmth to my heart I could never have imagined before. For the first time, I knew what it meant to truly 'touch' a reader, to evoke their own emotions through my words and sentiments. It was a marvelous but somehow melancholy feeling all at once.


message sent on: May 12th, 2003, 05:44am
Dear Granny,
it's Alessandro, here, one of your fans, from your very first witty posts!!! (Well, I'm a bit ashamed to confess it... but it's the truth! )
I'm at the end of the 3rd chapter, and reading your novel was all I did during my private week-end!
And you know what? I feel... richer! Your story moved something inside of me... just made me think a bit more about myself... which is one of the great effects novels can do!
In order to explain better, I write that me and Legendary Girlfriend, (my lovely sister Roberta) lost mum when I was 13 and she was 9...
What can I say.... You expressed something that I felt in my stomach of lad, girl! And you did it from the point of view of the kid.... and you did it perfectly...
The first chapter... contains exactly the emotions I felt.... nothing less... and nothing more!
It was strange... reading my own private emotions and finding they were written by somebody else who wasn't myself......
And again... yes... a motherless child can just feel alone.... hoplessly alone... and crying desperately... as the world looks fucking unfair when you're a kid-without-his-mum" and you feel everyone can see it from how you look and act....
Ok... I wasn't alone, we were 3: Me, a wonderful sister and a great, awsome dad... This helped our family to resist and go on and grow serene, in the end...
But... inside you bring with you the emotions you recalled in your work... they never leave...
It takes years to forget the kind of "black shadow" that blackens your life... I guess It took me 15 years to say the words: "I can be a happy boy, me too!"
I don't mean that each day you cry and dispair... but it's true that something veils your smiles... even when you do feel at the top!
You have a mark on you... you just don't see it anymore... but the people around can.
Oh... and yeah... I've never been beaten up by boys at school... as in Italy none does it... but definitely I was the favourite target of my friends jokes... quite innocent I have to admit... but painful for a sensitive lad...
So... I can say I did grow up differently...Not unhappily... but differently. (As my sister did... if she'll ever find the strenght to tell it)...
At the end of the 3rd chapter... the only wish I expressed... (You made me feel a kid, granny... and kids do express wishes often!) was: "If only someone had made me meet a nice "Deus ex machina" too, like the ones Burke meets!!!!"
That's what I thought, mate.
I'm working a lot on the fact I never had the love of a girl in my life, as anyone knows me like a very sensitive and loyal guy instead... and your novel came in the middle of my long term reflection
What can I say... At this point of my life I'm still trying to learn, as Burke does... that I have the right to be loved for what I am....
I don't know if I'll find an answer going on reading... I don't expect to... But at least i can thank you granny.... as after reading your story, I can say "I didn't woke up alone" too....


I wrote him back to let him know how profoundly glad I was that he'd appreciated my work (as well as my posts on the forum). It wasn't long before a regular correspondence developed, and in a short while – just a few days, in fact – I found myself anticipating his emails every day, missing them if one wasn't sent, deeply excited when one was.
It was May, roughly six months after beginning the novel, I had completed the first (rough) draft. I was elated to have finished the work, and to have a new Italian online 'friend'. About a week after our correspondence had begun, I sent him my photo. I suppose I thought – in my usual, self-deprecating way – that he'd see my photo and the flirtatious, sweet nature of his messages would change. My previous honesty regarding my appearance hadn't done so, but I felt perhaps a photo would.
Instead, he thought I was cute. Really cute. He loved 'tomboys' and found 'chubby girls' appealing.
Then he sent me his photos. I remember all too well sitting in front of my PC, telling myself not to expect too much, and that it was okay to be a little bit let-down when I saw what he looked like. After all, how could he compare to what I'd started to imagine? I clicked on the file and felt my heart hammer nervously in my chest.

The first picture I saw of Alessandro.
My first impression was of his smile. His smile was bright, charming, and beautiful. That alone was enough to overwhelm me, but he was a handsome man, too! I looked away from the screen, my heart still speeding, and thought; 'Naahh…' I looked again to find I was correct – he really was that attractive. The other photos he sent along told the same story, but how could it be true? Men this attractive don't spend their day on the internet – they go out with girlfriends and have romances! They don't find chubby girls cute, they go out with gorgeous girls all the time.
He must be crazy.
I impulsively printed out his photos and showed them to friends. They all agreed he was an attractive man, and we joked that these photos were of someone else, not the fellow who had been writing me.
All the same, he and I continued writing. I told him that I had a hard time believing he was single – such a handsome gent! – and he assured me that he was. In fact, he'd had only one previous relationship of a short duration a few months before.
Soon a new 'wrinkle' was added. He asked me if I'd like to visit him. I jokingly responded that, since I couldn't afford a trip to Italy, he'd have to come to the States instead.
'Okay,' he said, 'I have vacation in August.'
It was still May.
On May 24th he wrote and sent me his telephone numbers. Would I like to call him? My heart raced anew, excitement and disappointment mingling heatedly. 'I wish I could,' I explained, 'but I simply can't afford to.'
'I'll call you, then,' he wrote, 'if that's okay. Are you available next Sunday?'
'No, I'm working. How about the next?'
'Okay, I'll call you then.'
After a long, anticipatory week, on June 1st, he called me for the first time. I loved his voice immediately, as it held the same warmth of his messages. I could tell he was nervous, as I was, but we spoke for three hours straight in between my nervous giggles and his nervous stammers. He called back a couple of hours later and we spoke for two hours more. Soon we were speaking every day for hours at a time.
The phone calls and emails combined to make his presence felt in my life as much as if he'd been there in person. Perhaps even more so, in some ways. His calls were arranged around my schedule, which meant that he was calling me in the middle of the night, his time, or in his afternoon, or as soon as he had gotten home from work, etc.

****

I was disappointed to find his flight was delayed. I stood looking at the 'Arrivals' screen in Tyson-McGheeAirport in Knoxville and read that his flight, due at 9:45 p.m., wouldn't be in until 10:30. With a sigh, having finished my phone call with Byllie and Cristy, I sat down in the lounge area to wait.
The soft blue lighting was too dim for my contacts – I had to really focus to see the end of the ramp and the security check there. Another flight was deplaning and I watched them waft into focus while I adjusted my clothes and patted my hair for the millionth time, it seemed.
I was terrified. Would I recognize him? Would he recognize me? Would either of us be disappointed? How would we hide it? Would we hide it? Why did the plane have to be late, anyway? Was it obvious that my hands were shaking? Will Byllie and Cristy act on their threat/promise to come spy on our meeting? Was it a bad or good idea to come alone? What time is it, now? Did he make his connection? If he calls does my phone have enough charge? What if -?
'Kim?'
I turned to my left where the voice had come from, and there he was. I stood and joined him and we exchanged awkward, shy smiles before a brief kiss and embrace. We hugged again and I could feel his heartbeat, smell his warm, faintly salty smell. He felt so wonderfully, beautifully solid in my arms after countless hours of phone calls in the middle of the night. 'You're real,' I said, and he chuckled softly.
We went down to the baggage carousel and found ourselves embracing yet again while we waited for his suitcase. I wanted to laugh and cry all at once: He's here! He traveled all the way from Italy to see me! to meet me!
He chattered nervously for the first part of the drive home, telling me all about his trip and the eventful stopover in Chicago. Then he drifted off to nap while I drove toward home in the dark Tennessee August night.
God knows just what he thought when he awoke in the car to find me turning up the off-ramp to Newport. We drove past the 24-hour Wal-Mart, and with that oasis of perversely American light behind us, pushed deeper into the darkness of the country highway.
I don't remember what we talked about. I probably told him yet again that his room would be the 'guest room' upstairs but we would enter the house via the downstairs door – the better to permit my mother and stepfather to sleep at that late hour. Maybe I jokingly (mostly) reminded him of my suggestion that we have a 'pajama party' – a relaxed and non-threatening introduction to each other – nothing too intimate, but somehow on a level of the closeness we already seemed to share.
I led him into our basement television room and we put his suitcase aside before I gave him the rather brief tour of the place – my room, the bathroom and the TV area. I offered him a glass of water and he accepted, then waited downstairs while I went up to get it.
Any nervousness I felt at the time is hard to recall. We talked awkwardly for a while, both of us a bit overwhelmed by the reality of his arrival, I think.
I remember folding my arms around one of his, embracing him innocently while we sat on the sofa together. I breathed in his scent, clean but with just a hint of warmth and salt and the faintest tinge of sweat beneath it all. He was warm and velvet under my fingertips and somehow so masculine at the same time. I was trembling a little with nervousness and anxiousness again, too. What did he think of me? Was he pleased or disappointed – or worse, neither? Did I match my descriptions of myself enough for him to appreciate that I'd told him the truth? What could we talk about? Had I been quiet too long? Would this upset him? Was I boring? Was he too tired to stay awake? Was I being selfish, keeping him with me this way? Should I show him upstairs?
I must have blushed a thousand shades of pink when he looked into my eyes a short while later. Maybe my hope that he would kiss me was written all over my face? The very thought brought on an even deeper blush, and I wanted to hide my face.
He wouldn't let me.
When he did kiss me, I found myself all ridiculous teenage-type awkwardness. I didn't seem to know how, any more! Embarrassed, and perhaps mortified, I apologized for my lack of skill. He laughed and kissed me again, and I in turn laughed to keep from crying with joy.
To be quite honest, it was all ridiculously innocent. Two full-grown adults alone in the wee hours of the morning, meeting after months of shared intellectual intimacy, and all we did was kiss. But I'd never felt so connected with someone, so satisfied and contented after such contact. We held each other close, exchanged small, gentle kisses until his travel fatigue proved too much at last.
He took a shower and I changed into my pajamas – a pink nightshirt with black paw-prints all over – and my pale blue robe, which just happened to match the color of the towel he'd brought from home.
When he rejoined me, he smiled at my nightshirt, immediately liking the paw-print design. In fact, he walked his fingers over them, carefully avoiding any 'indiscreet' contact, smiling warmly all the while. When we kissed again while standing in my bedroom doorway, I had an impression of falling. I thought 'This is what they mean by "falling in love"! This is really it!'
Nothing more happened that night. I took him upstairs to his room and bade him goodnight, and that was all for that first night together, though a fairly sleepless night followed for me.

****

I won't go into too much detail about the next two weeks – the full duration of his stay, that is to say. Suffice it to say that he awoke before I did the next morning, and by chance he met my mother and stepfather before I'd gotten upstairs. I don't know all of what they talked about before I arrived, but he seemed to make a good impression, all the same.
For the first week he stayed at my parents' house, in the guest room. I think I only worked one day that week, so I spent a lot of time alone with him. I took him for drives, to meet my friends (who were dying of curiosity) and then to the hotel near my workplace where he had reserved a room for the rest of his stay.
I continued working (more or less), but I stayed with him in that hotel on the Little Pigeon River and knew that if he asked me to go with him, I would, without a trace of doubt or fear.
Somehow, I already knew that he wanted the same. The 'Big Question' loomed over us, unspoken and yet already answered. He wanted to tell my parents on the final weekend of his stay, but was too nervous to do so. We had discussed the other important questions, too; in the days we'd spent together such things evolved naturally, and we felt ourselves to be a good match.
At last, he asked me to come visit him in Italy. He offered to buy the ticket, told me I'd stay in his house with himself and his father. He said I could come for Christmas, when he would be off for two weeks also, and we could be together the whole time.
I accepted, of course. The whole arrangement wouldn't be finalized for a while, but by the time I drove him back to the airport, it was a 'done deal'.
All the same, I thought my heart would break when I had to say goodbye that first time. After only two weeks, I found myself madly in love with this wonderful, charming, sometimes silly but always tender and caring man. The idea of three months without him was painful to say the least.
He went to great pains to soothe me before he left, making jokes, singing to me, giving me countless 'tiny kisses' while we sat on a bench in the airport. When at last he went to the security gates, he told me to go on home, to be happy, that he'd call from Chicago if he could.
After a last, silly wave goodbye – and a 'V' for victory for good measure once past security – he disappeared toward his gate and I watched until he was well out of sight. I walked to the parking garage and my phone rang just as I reached my car.
'Don't be sad,' he said, 'I'll call you soon, and when I get home, okay?'
'Okay.'
'Ti amo.'
'Anch'io.'
He arrived in Chicago as I arrived at home. He called me from a pay phone in the airport and we spoke briefly before he had to hurry off. I sat in my floor at home and cried. I missed him so much already, it hurt.
We'd known each other roughly three months.

3 comments:

gwen hayes said...

that was lovely.....

AJ Chase said...

What a nice story. I love knowing how people met and fell in love. Its probably the romance writer in me.

Barefootbelle said...

sigh…