Sorry to those of you who enjoy the sound of my voice. There's no audio for this piece because I don't do accents.
So, I ask him, how does it feel to be written about?
He narrows his eyes at me and does that thing with his shoulders and his mouth, that particularly Italian gesture where his lower lip and his shoulders make this twin parabolic arc, two parentheses echoing one another. He sets his fork down on his plate next to the brown bits and blubs of rabbit.
“You want to know?” He asks. He’s got these blue eyes. He chooses clothes in colors that match, blue and white as the sea and the wakes of boats trailing away in the distance. (He says his favorite color is green. I’ve yet to see it.)
Yeah, I tell him. Lay it on me.
His left shoulder does a quick jut forward; the left corner of his mouth pulls down. It’s like his speech is Michael Jackson and his body is the remaining four of the Jackson Five. There’s always that somatic Greek chorus providing back-up, counter harmonies, vital subtext.
“It wasn’t about me.” He says.
Yes. It was. I say.
He blinks and looks at me. “It wasn’t,” he says. “It was flat. It was…” He searches his polyglot Rolodex for the word. “Predictable.”
Predictable, I say.
“You are an American. You come to Italy. You fall in love with the land, with the food, with the strawberries. You fall in love with Italy. Of course, you fall in love with an Italian. It’s not about me. It’s a story that everyone has heard, everyone has read. It’s flat. It’s…”
Cliché, I suggest.
“Yes. Cliché.” He picks up the rabbit with his fingers and takes a bite, chews, and swallows. “You don’t name me. I’m not a real person. I’m just an Italian. Like the strawberries.”
I don’t name people on my blog, I say. My stomach presses like a subway fondler against my solar plexus.
“It’s not about love. It wasn’t about love,” he says. “You want to read about love, read Pablo Neruda.” This conversation is going nowhere good. My ego looks at the door and wants to bolt my body. My superego considers the pragmatism of walking down the long, black and tortuous road back to Recco. I hear the siren song of my interior Verdi opera calling. I hear the rise of the emo aria, and I want to sing it, loudly and ferociously, all the way from my beleaguered solar plexus. I play a quick game of anywhere but here.
“It wasn’t about love,” he continues. “It was about sufferance.”
Sufferance, I say.
“Yes,” he says. “Me dica. It’s your loneliness. You don’t have anyone to tell all these things to. You think about telling the panificio lady but you can’t. It’s not about love or falling in love or Italy. It’s about you, alone.” He spears a potato and eats it. He’s so thin. His cheeks hold hollows that compel me to fill them. In bed, and sometimes out of it, I press my cheekbones, my nose, my mouth in those hollows. I want to fill him.
“You could have left off the last part. You don’t want to talk about love. You want to talk about loneliness but you make it this story that everyone knows, this American girl who comes to Italy and falls in love. It’s flat.”
He looks at me. “If you didn’t want to know, you shouldn’t have asked.” His voice is rough with decades of cigarettes, and his accent is flecked with French, with British English. He sprinkles his conversation with Brit slang. There’s a lot of knackered and fuck-alls. When he denies something, he says “not-a-tall,” all Queen’s inflection and clotted cream. He’s the first man who has ever first used my preferred term of endearment to me.
“My love,” he says, “I don’t mean to upset you. I am honest. I could tell you something you want to hear—when you first showed the writing to me, I said ‘It’s good. I like it’ because I didn’t want to say to you things you don’t want to know. But you asked and I will be honest.”
He is, of course, right, and that’s the thing that pains me the most. The piece was pat. It was cliché. It was flat. It was—most horribly—not honest. The one emotion that has defined my time here in Italy has been loneliness. I thought I knew loneliness before; I have spent my life alone and know loneliness like my own shadow. Its expansion and its contraction, its dark, diaphanous shape and its sinuous movement, always there and always shifting with my life’s light’s slant. I have never known the loneliness I've come to know in Italy. Here, I've felt this disassociating whirl of absolute alienation, a removal so surgical that I can't even parse the body language--and yet, the vertiginous pull of the familiar. American pop songs, American t-shirts, the cultural markers of a familiar landscape slapped like posters on a world I don't know and doesn't want me. My loneliness here has curled on my body like the weight of a constant cat.
I listen to him and come to recognize that frottage of stomach and solar plexus comes because I wrote and I relied on cliché. Its blankness pains me for everything that I thought I knew about myself.
I’m accustomed to men kissing my cupcake ass and quailing in the power of my tiger eyes. I’m used to being on top. Rare is the man who can stand up to my titanium-clad bitchiness that strides as a colossus. Of all the things I expected to find in Italy—and I admit that a lover was one of them—I didn’t expect to meet a man who has the ability to see me for who I am and to tell me when I’m not being real. I didn’t expect this man.
His name is Alessandro. He likes to be called Alex. When Italians say his nickname, they leave off the “x” and say “Allay.” I don’t often call him anything. Words fail me. And who am I, when I cannot trust my power, my words.