What would you do if you knew you have to die tomorrow – would you sleep in so you enjoy the last day of your life rested and in a good mood and start the last journey well prepared, or would you wake up really early, so you won’t miss a thing?
He sounds a bit worried. He tells me he’s in Berlin with his mother. And Toni, his boyfriend, is in Heidelberg.
“You live in Heidelberg and Toni in Berlin, not vice-versa, right?” I ask him laughing, trying to confirm what I presumed true. What? Why? And then it occurs to me as he becomes continuously quieter – he is in Berlin only to be with his mother, strictly Catholic and chronically ill.
“We’ve just gotten back from church. My mother…you know, the typical Italian Mama…”
“Oh dear, you’re right – Happy Easter! I completely forgot it! Now I get it - that’s why you are in Berlin.”
“Yes. Toni had things to do in Heidelberg and left us the apartment.”
“Say hi to your mum for me – even though we haven’t met yet. Now I understand why we are speaking in German at the moment…”
“Yes. Thanks. Of course I will send her your regards. She’ll be happy about it. Actually it’s a pity you are not in Berlin; we could have had dinner together. She would have loved to meet you. She keeps saying that in her opinion only a dark-haired girlfriend fits the bill.”
“Oh, I see, I would be the perfect daughter-in-law…”
“Definitely! By all means!”
And then he pauses to think before he continues speaking…the break feels almost awkward for me… And, almost even quieter than before, he asks me one more time to keep an eye on Toni… I promise to do my best and then say goodbye.
Luca is a good friend of mine, queer as a three dollar bill. He’s been together with Toni, a blond Northern German, for about a year and a half by now. The two of them are a really sweet couple. Like really gay sweet. Now Luca is really wired - his mother, who has been chronically ill, needs support and care. He is a single child and has to look after her. His father died a long time ago; he grew up as a mama’s boy. Now it is his turn to give back attention. Too bad he has to earn the money as well. He works as a business consultant, jet-setting from one project to the other. He works until he drops. Every two weeks he has to go see his mother in Ascoli Piceno, a small and boring place in one of the poor and not-so-wonderful regions of eastern Italy. He tries to have a life in between all this madness as well and maintain his long-distance relationship with his boyfriend. Luca says that Toni has been weird lately. To tell you the truth, I’ve always thought he is weird… nice, but weird…beats me, I am just a straight woman, have no idea about gender’s meanders.
I call Toni on the pretense that I need to drop a book off for Luca. Toni is absentminded but not repellent, rather cordial. He says he has to meet three old maids from some organization; there are recordings scheduled for tomorrow and the camera people are impossible to reach. He seems stressed out. He works as a freelance journalist focusing on political topics. Here in Heidelberg he has to meet some people from an NGO that plans on breeding some animals…sounds like a place holder or a newspaper hoax… Well, Toni explains, it would have been impossible to stay with Luca and his mother under the same roof; that would have for sure driven him crazy after a few hours. Toni, the cuddle pussycat and freedom-loving character… Last time I paid a visit to the two of them, they were kissing every few minutes, holding hands, and showing openly how in love they are. Above all by their body talk. That was probably a sign that they trust me. They are very reserved towards each other in public, even at the movie theater or other public places. Unfortunately in their open display of intimacy in my presence, they missed to take into consideration that I’ve been single for forever and a half and that the whole show was a bit awkward for me… Oh well… when I was super in love I must have behaved the same…who doesn’t?
Toni is sincere and is trying very hard to find an open slot in his schedule, which, according to him, “is not an appointment! I am not meeting you on business grounds. I am really looking forward to a relaxed catching up with you over coffee.” It really sounds to me like Luca’s concerns were ungrounded. We agree to meet the next day at 10 for brunch.
Toni enters Café Rossi at Bismarckplatz at 10:05. He’s got blood-shot eyelids; he looks extremely tired and pale. Maybe Luca’s concerns were not entirely unfounded?
He dishes up the story of “I have been working on the script for the shooting the whole night…” I don’t believe a word. He looks deeply into my eyes and asks me if he might entrust me with something. How am I supposed to reply to this? How should I react? Actually I have been Luca’s friend for forever and a half… If this is the confession of a love affair, what I do I do then…so many thoughts are crossing my mind within seconds…before I pull myself together and reply with a quiet “yes.”
He was in Mannheim in a gay club last night, got dead drunk…he can’t take it any more…he wants to support Luca, but he has noticed a long time ago already that he falls by the wayside himself. He cannot remember a thing from yesterday, not how he got home and stuff. When he woke up he looked like a zombie, but body-wise he seemed okay; nobody raped him and he didn’t even spend that much money yesterday… I can see the inner conflict in his eyes.
I hug him and sigh. “Fucked-up life, telling you,” I am thinking… I am such a dumbass… I get a really bad conscience…the day before, after I was on the phone with Toni I had no doubt left that he is happy to see me and that he has nothing to hide. This morning though when I see how hung over he is I think I should have paid him a visit at Luca’s apartment and not meet him in a café… Luca wanted me to “inspect” him at home… I did not follow the instructions… Well, now I think it is all quite obvious… or maybe I should have doubts? Maybe there is truth in Luca’s skepticism? Maybe Toni is about to break loose from this very intense relationship, because he can’t take it all any longer? How many times should I tell myself I am not Mother Theresa and I cannot rescue the world? What will be, will be…
I paid my dues for the well-being of humanity for today; I bid farewell after a long discussion with Toni and leave. Later I call Luca and tell him that everything is all right, but Toni is not very happy. Luca is surprised. He thinks that when one is going through hard times the partner should be there supporting unconditionally. I understand him and I give him the oral confirmation that I feel the same… it’s just that it’s undeniable that Toni can’t take it any longer and it’s probably smarter to talk about it all. Luca is all quiet and I think he starts to cry at one point…he doesn’t dissemble though and says good-bye very abruptly.
Now I feel even more awkward. I only meant to help a good friend and instead I feel reminded of my own past…it all looks so familiar! How I hated my ex because he didn’t stand by me when I was down…how I understood him later, when I could not take care of my grandma any longer… “Fuck this life, tellin’ you” - it’s all I can think about.
“Well hello darling!” – he reaches me at a moment of high spirits. “How are you, sweetheart?” He is fine; his voice has a laugh in its undertone four weeks later when he calls. Is everything all right with his mum and Toni, I ask him. Yeah, it’s all good, but he has to talk to me, urgently. “Bring it on.” No, it would not work on the phone, he can’t even hint at the subject - he has to meet me and talk to me in person.
“You sure everything is all right?“ I am asking, slightly worried. Yeah, it’s just that the matter is very sensitive and a bit urgent. When could we meet? “I always have time for you, darling,” I reply. Okay, then let’s have dinner tonight, he’ll order Chinese or Italian food, he’s got champagne in the fridge too, 6 o’clock? I would love to, 6 is perfect, I reply. “What’s the bloody rush” is the only thing that crosses my mind. And I must think about this sentence…it sounds really familiar…where do I know it from? Of course, Top Secret! The first movie in which Val Kilmer played a leading role. Super cool parody. I loved it! I must have watched it like 10 to 20 times. Joe, my ex, had a VHS tape version of it. I can’t stop thinking about Joe…I am enraged at myself for being unable to stop thinking about him. It’s been such a long time since we broke up. And I feel like I have not managed to move forward even one single inch…
I only keep on living because I can distract myself so well. He took it all when he left…he took me away from myself…
Now I am really curious and excited about dinner with Luca. Italian guy, but cannot cook a bit - that’s why he offered to order food.
Hugs and kisses. He tells me how amazing I look, and I can see in his eyes that he doesn’t just say so… he means it. He thinks I am great. He has always thought I am brilliant, he said that before. He even took care of me last summer after the short affair with Daniel. Back then he took me in his arms and said: “Look at yourself! Just look at yourself in the mirror! You are so wonderful, you must know that! Stop selling yourself short! Don’t let guys like this one break your heart anymore! If you want sex, just go for it, but stop developing feelings for losers!” Well, how many times did I hear that before? From how many people? Even my mother berated me, I should not feel X and Y…I should look forward…if he does not want me any longer, why should I?..and stuff like that. Well, sometimes I also wonder, why am I so dumb? Or maybe I should say, why do I invest so much feeling? Emotional? Nooo…just plain all stupid - admit it, girl!
Luca’s big, dark-brown eyes twinkle. He looks awesome! We take a seat on the balcony and look over at the castle. Luca has the best, most decadent apartment in Heidelberg! Castle view! “Million-dollar view” - that’s what it’s called in certain circles.
He smokes. One after the other. He is very tense. I can see that. As always caring, he is asking about 10 times if it really does not disturb me that he smokes in my presence. I quit smoking a while ago, and he knows how difficult it might get to watch someone smoking. “He is sooo sweet” crosses my mind and I reassure him that it really does not matter to me. He starts with small talk…I guess it’s fine for me that way. After we finish eating, he asks me if I mind going in, we have to get down to the nitty-gritty. On the balcony it’s not safe; people could listen to us. Of course I don’t mind. We go in. He puts music on, some World Music disk that sounds really good, takes a seat next to me on the couch, and starts.
If you could help me out with this one, I would be very grateful. If you don’t wanna do it, I won’t be mad at you and our wonderful friendship won’t suffer. “Luca, this sounds damn serious - are you sure I am the right person for the job?” Well, yeah, he knows that something like this could strain me, but he is willing to take a risk. He takes a large sip of champagne and chatters it all in one breath: his favorite cousin is getting married in two weeks and since our call on Easter day he has been making his mother believe that I have been his girlfriend. He lined it all up pretty smartly; necessity is the mother of invention. His mother noticed how depressed he was after our call and peppered him with questions. She put two and two together – the woman at the other end of the line must have something to do with the melancholy of my son. After a further question session, she made sense of the situation and ascertained that her son must be in love and I must be the cause of his mood.
So he then admitted that he fell in love with me, but he added he doesn’t know if I have the same feelings. His mother was more than sympathetic in taking care of her son and instructed him to take me out as soon as possible, obviously to an Italian restaurant, buy me flowers, and ask me to marry him right away. He managed to explain to her that the proposal would not be a very good idea for a German lady, even if she speaks Italian. The Italians are spirited; however, the Germans are much more reserved. After this conversation, his mother raved about how happy she is that Luca finally has a girlfriend, and she swore she has the feeling she got much closer to her son after the intimate conversation and that she thinks her asthma is doing sooo much better. Her doctor confirmed and explained to her one more time that asthma is a psycho-somatic illness _ that is, when the patient is stressed out, it gets worse; when the patient is happy, it gets better.
I’m not sure if I should start laughing or if I should start crying instead. Poor lady…she is imagining all these things and Luca does not have the heart to contradict her. He only wants to make her happy. She does not care a bit that he feeds the family and has a brilliant career abroad; instead she thinks the most important thing is the fact that he now has a girlfriend and will soon get married and have bambini, as many bambini as possible.
Luca takes a strong sip and carries on: now his cousin is getting married and he has to and wants to take part in the wedding. He could tell his mother that his girlfriend is out of town on a business trip, but that would not make a good impression. Or that she is ill. That would work out a bit better. He would, however, prefer to make her happy and to show the entire family that he really made it: great girlfriend, career, caring son when it comes to his mother. Would I agree, and, even more importantly, do I have time and feel like accompanying him to Italy in two weeks for the wedding? He knows he is asking a lot of me, but… it just so happens that I would be the perfect daughter-in-law, and, furthermore, because I am the dark type and speak Italian, that is impossible to top. He even went as far as asking at an escort agency; he could not afford that though, even if he works so much and although he is so successful. He didn’t like the girls, and they are expensive too. He takes my hand and takes a deep look into m eyes – would I do this for him?
Now it’s my turn to take a strong sip of champagne…and I choke…I am such a dumbass…well, this perfectly reflects my inner conflict. I can already imagine the deteriorated village close to Ascoli Piceno, where the wedding is going to take place… all the curious Italians that threaten to suffocate you with their warm-heartedness. Congenial people, but after three days even I, the not-so-typical German, would not be able to help but capitulate. I rescue myself with a time-winning question…time… I desperately need it to think right now: “What does Toni say?”
“Toni… Toni… is just being Toni. Sometimes I have the feeling that he is a complete sunny boy…or rather should have been born as a sunny boy. He has been telling me for a while now that all this stuff is really too much for him… Nevertheless, he agreed with this solution for this one event. He knows and likes you after all. He wouldn’t have agreed with an escort. He has started to hate Italy and our customs…I think he secretly hopes to see mum die soon, so we both enjoy peace and I finally have more time for him. That hurts.”
His eyes get moist and look like the innocent, huge eyes of a deer… I take him in my arms and tell him that I have always loved Italy and that the region where his mother lives is for sure well worth a trip…that I would love to help him and that I would have liked to meet his mum anyway… Now he bursts out in tears. I am not sure if he is crying because he is happy and relieved that I accepted to join him or if he is overwhelmed…no idea…his feelings spilling over?
He calms down after about 10 minutes and sobbingly adds that he really appreciates it. He says he knows it must have been hard for me to accept, and that’s why he knows even more to appreciate how I wrapped up my response and used a velvet glove to cater to his needs when I claimed I wanted to go visit anyway. He really does appreciate it. He says he knows I have not always wanted to go visit and I had to overcome myself to do it. Then he waves his finger at me and starts to laugh.
Yes, indeed, he caught me red-handed…I told him once about the language course in the Marche region, the area around Ascoli Piceno…the disaster…back then, when my boyfriend dumped me in the middle of the holiday…I was 16. Something like that shapes you and takes its toll on you. The whole class laughed at me…even years later…
Luca reassures me: the wedding takes place in Rome. We have to stay for a whole two days, get there on Friday and return on Sunday afternoon. Of course he covers all the costs… I am trying to protest quietly, no, I am not going with him for the money… he interrupts me with a “shhh” and presses his finger on my lips. He looks at me intensely and says, “I could not thank you enough for this or pay you back even if I used all the money in the world. What you are doing for me is incredible! Besides, mama ordered: ’Non sei un coglione! Questa e la tua donna!’“
I smile…a very, very weak smile…and I feel very, very tired all of a sudden…exhausted…I lay on Luca’s lap and he starts stroking my hair. I have missed this closeness terribly… Oh well, I have to stand up at one point and Luca drives me home, although I live only 10 minutes away on foot. I feel how he is trying to do everything for me, trying to take tasks off from me. Because he is grateful? Or because he notices how fragile I really am? We say good-bye with a short elusive kiss on the cheek. I would never manage the three floors I have to climb without an elevator. I was so done! I have to call Maria, my best friend. I have to tell her the whole story. And I will tell it to her all over the phone, after all I didn’t commit a crime and am not liable for persecution. OK, shower first. Wash away the sins. I feel refreshed afterwards. Then I call Maria.
She tells me first about the assholes that have not fixed her Internet connection yet (“I feel as if I live in the 19th century…two weeks without an Internet connection, they gotta be freakin’ jokin’. But obviously they charge!”), about her mother-in-law, whose visits became just about overbearing after the death of the father-in-law, about her sister, who is pregnant yet again, about her boss, who most likely is hitting on her and is getting harder and harder to put up with, about the colleague that noticed something is going on and now is making all sorts of jealousy scenes in the office, about her wish to get pregnant so she finally finds time for herself…at one point I almost quit listening and I start feeling tired again…about 40 minutes later she notices that I start getting more and more quiet and she finally says: “So, what’s new on your side?” “Maria, I am about to explode. I have to tell you something.” She knows when I introduce the subject like that, she has to start making coffee and get a full pack of cigarettes - the conversation will take a while.
She is speechless at the end of the story. She even says so: “I am speechless.” I hoped she would mitigate the situation, play it down or tell me it's not as bad as all that. Because she didn’t do that, I try a diversion: “Hey baby, let’s go shopping, Luca pays!” She starts laughing. Her hearty laugh that I so appreciate. Since she works full time, she suggests we go shopping on the weekend. I argue that the city is too full on the weekend…but we go shopping in exclusives boutiques anyway, so it shouldn’t be that bad. All right, Saturday it is. We have lunch first to get a firm base, then we can dedicate ourselves to decadent shopping in Mannheim and as an ultimate coronation of the day – we go out. We haven’t done it in ages, it’s high time. “Okay,” she says and I know now there is no way back.
I have been single for five years now. Last time I went shopping in such a decadent manner and I was throwing money left and right was when I bought my wedding dress, five years and three months ago. In Mannheim too. I remember it with a nostalgic feeling. First I had been out and about in Heidelberg with Maria, who was my bridesmaid. We couldn’t find anything we really liked, so I ended up going to Mannheim with Ralph, Joe’s best man. Weird somehow to go shopping for your bridal gown with the best friend and best man of your future husband. I should have seen it coming… Ralph’s presence didn’t bode well…it was all under an unlucky star. Joe cheated on me one week before the wedding. Confessed. Left me. As if there had been nothing between us.
Well, now I am not shopping for a wedding dress, I am just going to Mannheim with Maria, nothing can go wrong this time.
Our lunch is cool, the shopping tour starts with a glass of champagne, followed by a second glass of champagne in the first boutique we go in. At one point we take a break at the fine imports deli…around 7 we are both stocked up on clothes, shoes, fitting hats, gloves, bags…a new cologne for Luca, perfume for me, and above all incredibly relaxed and happy…we throw everything in the car and land at the Ivy, a stylish uptown bar in Mannheim city. The place is already filled with trendy people wearing Ralph Lauren Black Label, hip hairstyles…There are plenty of girls in there too. “Competition is fierce,” Maria notes, but not as fierce as in Heidelberg. It’s just that they all look so appallingly young. Not that I have something against it… There is no real, adult man present.
Wine cooler, a cocktail that tastes so good I have to have a second and a third one, chatting with Maria about fashion, the weather and the sorts… at one point we go to the club next door, Baton Rouge. Almost the same crowd as before, très chique. Cool place. Now I get what Lara was saying – she is in her mid-30s and said in Baton Rouge she felt like she was in the middle of a kindergarten. It’s actually not that bad, but you know I am only 27… A few glasses of champagne later, we get back to the car and return to Heidelberg. Successful tour! We laugh a lot in the car on the way back and we drive with open windows, because we both have an urge for fresh air.
I have not talked about how it feels inside to anyone…not to Maria, not to Luca, not to anyone else. Who can understand? I am afraid. Really scared. I am afraid that Luca will behave off the mark. I know I have myself under control and would not bumble. I know self-confidence is not something people usually appreciate, but I know myself and my trade well enough and I have enough of it to know what I can put up with. This will not exactly be a simple stroll in the park, but I know I can make it. Without a shadow of a doubt. At the end of the event, they will all love me and invite me to come back. I simply know that. I just don’t know if Luca has himself under control and if he’s not losing his cool. Or maybe he will get too emotional and cry in my arms. All this stuff worries me. In fact I have known him pretty well and for a long time now; however, this situation is pretty dodgy. To be honest, it’s hard to tell. I distract myself with lots of work in the next few days and time flows by.
I call him on Wednesday and ask him what the plan is for Friday. He suggests that I should stay overnight at his place on Thursday so we can talk through the last details and he will then take me to work. At 3 p.m. on Friday he’ll pick me up from work and we’ll go straight to the airport. I agree with the plan, except for 3 o’clock; I can’t make it, I’ll take the airport shuttle at 4. He can check us in in the meanwhile. He agrees.
On Thursday I pack after work, Luca picks me up and we have dinner. He tells me a bit about his family, gives me background information about his childhood, school, when and where he broke his arm, where he got the scar on his right knee, etc. I tell him a bit about my background as well, but realize at one point it is imperative to define when and where we met. We agree that no matter what kind of a question we get, we would try to answer it as closely to the truth as possible. Yes, we met in 2006 at the university. We were good friends first; after Easter we got together. And how did it all happen…
When he forwarded his mother’s greetings, I felt at home right away. It all felt so right. That day I had on a dress in 80s look and he simply could not resist. He kissed me. And the rest is history. When his mother asks about bambini, I will tell her that I have a genetic condition that in fact permits me to have healthy children, but not that many of them. Since we are both very busy and have to work a lot, we decided to wait for a little bit.
I sleep on the couch and wake up the next day completely calm and unperturbed. Luca doesn’t feel quite the same as me. I notice in his hectic movements in the bathroom while he is shaving that he is running on adrenaline. His boss, a complete motherfucking asshole, is in the office that very day of all days, he says. And cuts himself. He is bleeding pretty heavily. Now he is even more agitated. He has to stop the bleeding and keep on shaving. He is telling me at the same time how much he hates his boss. This whole wedding is such a huge effort for him. He is happy for his cousin and all that, but nobody notices all the things he does – that he… and he cuts himself again! Starts cursing! And how! Keeps on talking about his stressful life and how not one single person appreciates anything he does: not his mother, not his boyfriend Toni… I put my arms around him from the back, pet his bare chest with my small hands, cuddle and nuzzle my face into his strong, broad shoulders and back. Luca is 6’4”, I am 5’2”. He drops his shaver, turns around and we hug all quiet. It helps. Both of us, I think.
We get ready fast and leave. I have a pretty typical day, reach the shuttle, and get to the airport on time. I send him a text message on the way to ask if everything is fine, and he calls back to tell me it’s all great and thanks me again for this morning.
Thanks to his 1001 spare Miles, we get an upgrade to business class and a glass of champagne before takeoff. La vita e bella is what comes to mind at that moment, and I make a grimace right away because I realize that the eponymous movie does not have a happy end at all. Benigni at the Oscar’s, when he almost jumps on Sophia Loren’s lap…and she is obviously overwhelmed by so much feeling and at the same time touched… Yeah, I guess that’s how I feel about Italians… I like their warm-heartedness; it is too much at times though… Luca and I hold hands in the plane, “we have to practice after all,” he says. I don’t say a word, but I am thinking, he has to practice, I know how to hold hands. Even though I have not done it in such a long time.
Arrival at Ciampino airport. Because of a strike at Fiumicino airport, we got redirected. We are literally in the middle of nowhere and have to figure out how we get to where we need to go. We decide to take a cab. Francesca is waiting at the door before the cab has a chance to stop. She hugs and kisses me, hugs Luca very dearly, and asks somewhat anxiously if everything is okay. Before we can even at least allusively suggest sketching the beginning of an answer, she starts rattling about the idiots striking at Fiumicino; they will end up ruining her wedding and actually the fault is with someone else, but what can you say, the situation is like that in Italy and Rome is particularly difficult and actually the people at Fiumicino airport have no choice but to go on strike, etc. etc. etc. …
While she is speaking we follow her up the stairs into the villa. At the grand entrance her future parents-in-law are waiting. Stiff. Italian gentry. Very discreet. Not warm-hearted. Somehow I do not like this at all. Of course I cannot follow Francesca’s waterfall any longer; I have given up after 10 minutes, but these people breathe coldness…not fun…I am exchanging looks with Luca. I have no idea what he is thinking. He is listening to his cousin very carefully. Or at least he looks as if he listened to her closely. We drink a grappa, followed by a Chianti from the family’s properties (the family of the bridegroom, nota bene), then we are served finger food and slowly but surely I am getting impatient. I want to freshen up, taking a shower would be great, I am curious about where are we going to sleep…and where are the other people?
Francesca speaks and speaks and speaks some more…incessantly…at one point she asks where I am from. “Colonia” “Ma, che bella! E tuo italiano e perfetto…e senza accento!“ I have said just ONE SINGLE WORD!!! She is really nice. All about her is genuine. She does not pretend a thing. She kills me with her kindness. I can feel it. It’s exaggerated anyway. And how!
At one point I ask her if she speaks German. She denies it and says her family hates it, because their neighbors were not treated very well by Mussolini in World War II…this is old stuff, but there is nothing I can do about it. That means, no one speaks German in here…we are safe…Luca and I have a secret language to communicate. The bell rings and the bridegroom in spe enters the room. He doesn’t look a bit Italian; he is tall, blond, has green eyes. He is wearing a Ralph Lauren polo shirt and slacks. He’s just returned from golf. One can recognize a light tan. He reminds me of the fraternity boys from law school in Heidelberg. He seems very nice. Not as loud as Francesca, aristocratic, poised, yet at the same time cordial and hearty. Francesca soon bids farewell, explaining briefly with a wink that she is not allowed to stay overnight at the house of the bridegroom. We soon go to the garden and have dinner…I am tired and I do not perceive everything happening around me.
I am trying not to drink too much - after all, I have to wake up early tomorrow. I must leave a good impression. Luca talks to the bridegroom. They seem to like each other. They do get along. At one point I explain I am tired and I am getting brought to my room by the personnel. My luggage is waiting tidily and already unpacked, everything hangs in the closet and is in its place; it all looks just perfect. I could get used to this… I am trying to register the room colors, but I am too tired…first thing that comes to mind is this hotel I stayed at in Philadelphia. They described it as “European style” on the homepage…this heavy, “homey” style or whatever the Americans understand whenever they call something “European”. I was so surprised back then…it didn’t look a bit European to me… Now I understand what they meant. This whole villa is indeed fully crammed with family relics. I suffocate. I feel like I did when I was in Prague…after four days I could not stand looking at yet another Art Nouveau building. Completely over the top.
I throw myself on the bed, clothes on and all. There is a knock at the door. Luca enters. He asks me if everything is okay and closes the door behind himself. He shows me the bathroom – I didn’t even notice there is a door connecting my room to it. Then he explains that, although the family of the bridegroom is Catholic, because they are dead rich they take a lot of liberties… guest rooms that are basically connected through the bathroom, among others. Quite unorthodox… His room is on the other side of the bathroom. Now I get it – that’s why the bathroom has 2 doors. “These people are open, but not as open as to overtly put us up in the same room, we are an unmarried couple after all” he says and smiles… a weak, tired smile. It is tolerated to go from one room into the other through the bathroom.
His mother arrives and he asks me to go downstairs one more time. I have a headache. I don’t suffer from stage fright; however, I am not incredibly looking forward to meeting his mother either. Oh well. I kick in two aspirins and go downstairs one more time. His mother is petite and extremely thin, the dark type and very hearty. She smokes like a fiend, but suffers from asthma and insists that Luca comes by every two weeks… il unico bambino…magari. I am getting very angry all of a sudden. She ruined her own health with her incessant smoking very early in life – besides that, Luca had to breathe in all the smoke ever since he was a small child – now she ruins the life of her only son. She controls him as if he were in the kindergarten.
She is very loving with me, the typical Italian mother, yet she examines me very critically at the same time. After about a half an hour of pointless small talk about my career, my family background, my car, and so on, I think I pass the test. I stay in the garden for a little while. I hear how she tells someone in a very loud voice that her daughter-in-law to be is very successful and that she is very proud of her son.
He walks by and she presses a smacking kiss on his cheek. Luca is peeved, turns red, but says nothing and disappears in my direction. I think his mother is tipsy. He asks me in German how I’m taking everything so far and thanks me very much. I nod…I am tired…I notice he would like to speak, he feels lonely and put under tutelage… Giordano, the bridegroom, comes our way and waves at one of the housekeepers. One of the house employees comes by right away with a tray of champagne glasses. Giordano is obviously in a very good mood. Or at least that is what he displays. He is radiant and that is contagious. Two minutes before, when I noticed how down Luca was, I would have loved to go to bed. Now I take another glass of champagne and I raise my glass with the two men.
Giordano tells us about the wedding preparations - how the gazebo had to get some proper decoration and this would have actually been the task of the wedding planner that anticipated every one of their wishes from the very beginning, but Francesca preferred to do it all herself. At the beginning he found it pretty cool – “self-reliance is the name of the game” he says in perfect German in the middle of the Italian sentence and I realize he must speak German dangerously well if he just drops that in – but later his parents’ concerns convinced him to talk to her. People get paid for that, it’s just the way it is, and now that she marries into this family she must get used to it.
Luca smirks and says he would love to get used to something like that as well. Giordano looks at me and asks me if I would like another glass. I laugh and deny the offer; I say I would love to have another one but tomorrow is another day and I have to lie down and call it a day. Giordano says he understands. I notice what a sophisticated and yet subtle predator he is – Luca’s remark was completely out of place and Giordano steered the conversation my way in order not to comment on it. The guy is very ingenious. Congenial? Yes, I guess. Affectionate? Not a bit.
I still have half a glass full. I don’t leave immediately; I take a few more sips and listen to the conversation further on. Luca asks Giordano how was his bachelor party. Giordano’s face expression displays surprise. He says bachelor parties are for drunken Brits. He doesn’t do that. In fact Francesca reassured him that she doesn’t mind it; however, he did not want such a supervised, organized booze night. He plays golf with his boys and once a month the men meet at the cigar club. That will stay the same after the wedding. Nevertheless, Francesca partied with her girlfriends; they had something like a bachelorette night out.
In Central, a cool club I happen to know from my last visit in Rome three months ago, Giordano rented the VIP area for her. I notice how self-evident it is that the future husband takes care of his bride. Without thinking before speaking, I am asking where Francesca work. “Uuups… that was probably out of place” is the first thing that crosses my mind right after I ask the question. Luca looks at me, I find, very intensely and I think I can see the shadow of disapproval in his eyes. Giordano is again very astute and elegant and answers without batting an eye. She used to work for a management consulting firm that advised Giordano’s family’s company. That’s how they met. He was very impressed with her strong character and her inapproachable independence from the very beginning. He fell in love with her at once.
She quit working three months ago; she had to plan the wedding after all. She says she will have her hands full after the wedding too. I don’t quite understand what the “hands full” is about, but I refrain from asking more questions. Right, her strength and her independence cross my mind again…the very traits of character that seem to get in the way now when he tries to teach her that home employees are there to take care of everything and cater to one’s needs. Maybe not so much in contradiction to her strength, but even more so to her independent core. I find it more than interesting that these were the traits that fascinated Giordano so much as to fall in love with her. The very characteristics that are now in the way and need “reeducation.” Because of the parents, at least that’s what he says. She must let the employees do their jobs… I am wondering if she will manage that in the long term. She is probably so blinded by love at the moment that she is not thinking about these details. Now I see Francesca standing opposite Giordano in my mind. Mental picture.
They are opposites in every respect. She is small, thin and dark. He is well-built, tall, blond, has green eyes. She is everything he has never been, is what comes to mind when I think of their social provenance. She was always poor but very driven, made it to college, kept working besides college and made it to the job Olympus, landing a position with a management consulting firm. She had to start from scratch and worked very hard to get where she is now. She came a long way. He never had to lift a finger for all the things he had; he must have had everything served on a silver plate. Does he know how to really appreciate her? You know, now that I give it a second thought – maybe she took everything in her stride because she wanted to get to where she is now, because she didn’t want to be self-reliant any longer, but rather a rich woman who gained her wealth through marriage and quit her job in order to organize the wedding. And then she ends up on a tight leash…she must let the employees serve…
I do not actively listen to the conversation between Luca and Giordano any longer. The latter notices I haven’t left right away and that Luca is ready to chat and party some more, and he seizes the opportunity to invite us to 25, a trendy club. The conversation between the two continues while we follow Giordano to the car. They talk about business consulting firms and all the differences between the consulting firms that solely advise management, the technology-oriented ones, the ones that pay well, and the really great ones that pay up to double the starting salary. On the way to the car, we pass by a house employee and each of us helps ourselves to one more glass of champagne. That’s a pretty decadent ride to the club, with a champagne glass in hand. Giordano wants to take the Porsche, but he notices the three of us do not fit in very comfortably. He decides to take the Mercedes.
Luca asks during the ride how much a management consultant earns in Italy, to tie in with the previous conversation, as he says. I notice by the look in Giordano’s eyes, his looks sideways and his hesitant answer that he finds the question – yet again – out of place. He starts explaining that top earners start at up to 45,000 euros. Luca compares it to Germany and remarks that we get paid better. Giordano throws in: “Money is not something people talk about…” I realize this is one of the universal laws of the rich – not only in Germany apparently.
He changes gears with an aristocratic elegance, very skillfully, with a determined gesture, not at all hectic or nervous. That’s how he steers the conversation too – he tells us his family has German ancestry and his parents were adamant about him learning German. He went to a German high school here in Rome and even spent a year in Munich with the Erasmus student exchange program. Monaco, bello Monaco, he beams with delight. “What do you think of the Germans,” I ask. “Hmmm… inhibited… self-conscious” he answers. “They don’t whoop it up like the Italians. The Germans are a raped nation if you ask me. Raped by the Nazis. Sixty years later they are still wondering ‘why didn’t we even try to resist?’ You know what I mean?” I am too tired to think about it now, but I make a mental note and am planning on thinking about his words and analyzing them after I get some sleep and have sobered up.
It dawns on me that I know Christian in Rome…Christian who..? Good question… I pull out my Blackberry and start to search. I type in Christian and I have 38 results! “This is ridiculous” is the first thing that comes to mind. Sure enough, these are both private and business-related contacts altogether, but still… I start going through the names…Cristian Abele, Christian Dabas, Christian Ellington, Christian Flock… I decide I am too tired to go through all the 38 names. I have no clue who some of these people are to some extent…Flock, for example…who was that again…Dabas does not ring a bell either. I briefly run through the contact list in my Blackberry and I am wondering who X, Y, or Z might actually be…
Since I cannot remember the last name of the Christian I am searching for, I end up not finding him… I could exclude the one or the other, but I don’t feel like it anymore. I am annoyed with contemporary technology – a Blackberry can save up to 8,000 numbers, but you don’t find the person you are looking for…my ass! What was I actually looking for? Right, I was trying to find the Christian that lives in Rome, give him a call, and ask him to join us at the club we are going to. I haven’t seen him in a while, he used to be a cool guy…never mind, I am with two guys already.
Besides, who knows, maybe it would not make such a good impression if I go to Rome with Luca but I meet a different guy…although that shows I have established connections everywhere. Indispensable for a business woman. Would Luca’s mother look at it the same way and appreciate it at its real value? Probably not. Both she and the entire family would probably look at me in disbelief, with suspicion and disapproval. After all I have to keep up appearances…whatever…all of a sudden I am sickened by this debate, even if it only runs in my mind. I do not feel like having a mental match with assholes who persist in their cemented positions.
We arrive at the club; Giordano stops right in front of the door and gets out of the car. At first I don’t understand what is going on ‘til I see a guy jumping behind the wheel. At that moment I realize the valet is taking the car to the garage. I try to open the door in order to get out, but before I manage to do so, Giordano opens the door for me and helps me get out of the car. Luca was just about to ask a question, has just turned my way shortly before that, but now understands what is going on and gets out of the car as well. He refrains from questions. We get chaperoned in by a VIP hostess; Giordano is obviously well connected.
Maybe more than that. As soon as we take our seats, the owner comes by in person to greet us. Very discreetly. Not at the door but now in our separee. It all looks a bit unreal to me. Is Giordano involved in Mafia business? It dawns on me that his family is dead rich, and I simply imagine the rest. They are for sure very influential as well. They seem very stiff though. So, no mug Mafia - real noble Mafia. Luca goes for the next goof-up. He asks Giordano in all seriousness if Mafia people mix in this club. Giordano does not smile any more this time. He only gives a very brief answer that sums up that Mafia is everywhere and he would not be surprised if their people were here as well. This is not a typical meeting point though, at least that’s what he thinks. I am surprised that Luca does not notice how out of place his questions are. I am actually used to him behaving in a discreet and courtly manner.
Does he try to put Giordano to the acid test because he is getting married to his favorite cousin? Is he tired? What’s gotten into him? If he does not stop soon, he will leave a bad impression. He is definitely not a country boy. I notice how he is unable to sound Giordano out, despite his brilliant career and his success. At the same time he is unable to at least somewhat behave in this world, the world of the (money) royalty. Giordano now explains why this club is called “25” – the name has nothing to do with a particular age. At that very moment Heinz comes to mind, a friend in his 40s that only dates very young women. “They age by themselves,” he says. It’s just two days ago that I saw the ad for a talk show on TV: “I don’t want a woman over 25.” Youth obsession…I’m feeling old…a new bottle of champagne arrives. No, 25 has nothing to do with a particular age, Giordano carries on, it ties in with the hours of the day. A day is finished after 24 hours; however, you need 25 in order to enjoy this club the right way. They have everything in here: go-go dancers, a few floors, various bars. It is all very trendy. I know days from the other side – 25 hours would not be enough to finish everything I would like to get done…
Somehow the bottle is done, gone, and a new one arrives and then another one. We dance and laugh. Luca has to leave for the restroom and is asking Giordano where he can find it. Giordano calls the VIP hostess; she shows Luca the way. Half a second later, Giordano decides to follow the two and excuses himself. I remain by myself in the soft and cozy VIP corner. It is now that I notice the semi-round, very stylish sofa and its dark red velvet cover. This is a real VIP corner, like the ones in strip joints, separated from the rest of the room with tall, large curtains and built into a gallery. Great view over the dance floor!
Our “booth” is right in the middle of the VIP area, king’s loge so to say. Left and right there is an entire gallery of VIP booths, all decorated with white leather or dark red velvet. Almost everybody keeps the curtains open, showing off the champagne bottles and the many - to a very large extent - extremely young women that are escorting them. Only two booths have the curtains closed. Left, that’s probably empty. The booth was reserved; they didn’t show up. Not yet. There, behind the other curtain, on the right side, I imagine a couple having sex. I always get horny when I drink champagne - it is not at all difficult to imagine the show. She, a model, on his lap. She is not even undressed, her short dress still on, just pushed her string to the side and rides on him, middle-aged guy. They are not alone. Two more models stretch lasciviously on the dark red velvet of the sofa… They are probably on drugs.
He waves at them and they start touching each other. He wants more - now they have to satisfy each other. They kiss and lick each other, their perfect hairdos, perfect mouths and perfect teeth in action. He turns the woman that is riding him around, now she is sitting with her back to his face and keeps on riding him. Are they on drugs too? I am getting really horny. I have a look around and I see there are a few male go-gos on the dance floor too. I notice the look of the VIP hostess and I feel caught red-handed. She must know exactly what I have been thinking about. The next second I think, that’s her job – and I remember Giordano’s words: you must let people do their jobs. Hmmm…I could for sure easily have a hunk sent up to me. I glance down at the dance floor, and I am wondering if the people’s purpose down there is only to entertain the ones upstairs, in the loges.
They dance and pull their stunts. Every now and then they are ordered upstairs, get champagne, and must represent…most of them get displayed. Together with bottles of champagne. Like goods at the fair. Fresh meat lands for all purposes behind the dark red curtains. Or maybe they are almost purple? I take a large sip of champagne and try to brush all the thoughts aside. It’s just a feeling. This is for sure a “regular” club, no brothel. In Italy are the differences between establishments just as clear as in Germany? For sure nobody is having sex with anybody else, and I am just bonkers at the moment! Too much champagne. I gotta watch it anyway, I have to wake up early tomorrow and I have to be in shape. Why do I have to? I can definitely go in dozy; I just need a bit of makeup to conceal three hours of sleep. Besides – it’s not that late anyway…it’s for sure the champagne that’s kicking in. I’m feeling lazy and I do think of sex again…that one male go-go can move…he would be great for a round…I am about to imagine how it would be to have sex with a male go-go here in this VIP area, on this semi-round sofa…I am probably dozing away when all of a sudden I am getting shaken up by a visual blow, excuse me – earthquake of the highest magnitude.
Luca is standing in front of me, his right eye overflowing with blood, a laceration on the right eyebrow, his face covered with hematomas, his shirt full of dark skirting and scrub marks, probably as a result of chaotic kicks planted on him with meticulously brushed shoes. His all so proper hairdo is a mud-wrestling ring. He shivers. I stand up, my jaw drops, mouth open, I cannot articulate a word. He looks at me briefly, takes my hand and starts dragging me to the door. He hesitates. How do we get out of here is what comes to mind now. Are we being followed? How did we get in? Right, the VIP hostess took us up in an elevator.
I remember she stuck in a plastic card in a slot, so the elevator would start moving. She is here, looks at us inquiringly and says we should take a seat: “the paramedic will be here any minute” and will take care of Luca. I am looking at him. “Are we being followed?” are the only words I manage to speak. He shakes his head in denial. He keeps holding my hand and slips down on the sofa. I take a seat next to him. Slowly but surely, I realize the VIP hostess is in charge of us exclusively. The paramedic is here before I manage to really sit down. He is cleaning up Luca’s face, is trying to clean up the wound too, but the bleeding is impossible to stop. After trying a few times, he gives up and says he will take Luca to the clinic - the wound must get stitched. He is asking Luca if he has other injuries. Luca shakes his head without saying a word.
“Seniora, would you like to join us?” he asks. I am still sort of not quite awake…Champagne plus shock didn’t wake me up, but made me slip into a state of complete shock. I am definitely not sober, I would like to be there for Luca and support him, but I am not even able to articulate a proper answer… He looks at me, shakes his head yet again, his eyes are glowing and he spits out a creaky “This asshole.” He tells the paramedic that he is fine and does not want to go to the clinic. The paramedic insists. Luca starts screaming at him, curses; he tells him he’s had it with employees that tell him what to do. No, he is not on drugs, he is just tired.
He does not need instructions. At that very moment, Luca’s mother comes to mind. What would she actually be saying now? And Toni. And Giordano. Yeah, right, where is Giordano? Luca is still scolding the paramedic, is ignoring me and my question, is holding my hand tighter and tighter and waves with the other hand at the VIP hostess. She is there right away, is trying to calm him down, is asking if there is anything she can do for us. “Absolutely, kick this guy out, I do not have to take this from him and bring me a bottle of Absolut vodka,” he screams. “With Red Bull?” she asks. “Do what I say,” creaks Luca and almost crushes my hand! “A bottle of Absolut on the rocks!” He has hardly finished the sentence and the bottle arrives at the table in a bucket filled with ice, three glasses accompanying it. Luca takes a glass, smashes it to pieces against the table and looks at the VIP hostess menacingly: “Put it all on Giordano’s bill!” he adds warningly.
I do not know him like this. I do not recognize him. What in the world happened? I am trying to comfort him, and I realize I am a bit afraid of him now. Would he be capable of hurting me in a state like this? I have to listen to my inner voice… I feel numb. The tide of events shocked me thoroughly. The paramedic leaves after a sign by the VIP hostess, Luca lets my hand loose, opens up the bottle of Absolut, and drinks straight out of it almost a quarter the content in one gulp. He is bleeding like a slaughtered pig. His face, just a few minutes ago still clean after the paramedic took care of it, is now completely overflowing with blood. A huge gush of blood runs on his shirt – a light blue business shirt. He takes back my hand, holds it vigorously, stands up and says, “We are leaving.”
He sounds so resolute that backtalk is not an option. Not that I feel like staying…I sigh and bid farewell mentally to the male go-go I would have loved to have “serving” me in the booth… The hostess is calling after us that we should wait, she is taking us out. She does it without a word, by elevator. On the way out, people are looking at us appalled…interrogative, distraught glances are cast upon us. The guy that let us in and that greeted Giordano very friendly on the way in wants to say good-bye, but when he sees Luca he only makes a sign at the doorman that opens the way for us and lets us out. We are now in the street, and I have the feeling that the first thing I would like to do is take a deep breath of fresh air. Lucca is pulling me into a cab before I know it.
“Via della pecora nera ventotto,” Luca says. The cab driver throws a pack of Kleenex at us in the back and asks us not to let the blood smear the backseat. Then he asks if he should take us to the hospital. Luca answers furiously: “I’ve already told you where to take us. Cut out your idiot conversation!” The cab driver starts apologizing, Luca screams at him: “Shut the fuck up! I told you to keep your mother-fucking mouth shut!” Then he turns to me and says, “We are going to the hospital eventually, but first I have to see Francesca. I have to warn her. My little cousin. Poor girl.” And with eyes that spit fire, he is now telling me in German – probably because of the cab driver – in one breath that Giordano asked him into one of the toilet cabins, offering a full line of cocaine. He went in. (Fuck, I did not know I am traveling with a druggie…FUCK!!! We checked in our luggage together at the airport…got away with it this time.)
It was apparently very good cocaine, and it hit him right away. He doesn’t do cocaine that often, he adds. Giordano took two lines and seemed to be still completely sober. Then Giordano grabbed him from behind and with a broad smile on his face and without a word tried to pull down his pants. Luca says he was absolutely shocked and didn’t quite realize what was going on. He was still having the cocaine flash and didn’t even try to resist. Giordano didn’t even have to try very hard - his pants were open and his underwear was gone within the shortest time and when Luca was about to try to articulate a “hey!” and tried to turn around, Giordano’s huge and warm dick was already stuck up his ass. He says he started screaming, the hit hurt really badly, and at that very moment he realized what was going on…his first thought was, he says, “Shit, how do I explain this to Toni?” He tried to free himself up, but Giordano held him tightly from behind and said: “Hey you, tomorrow I marry your cousin, it stays in the family!” and started laughing… he heard the name of his cousin and the laugh and he lost it…
Pulling all his strength together, he turned around and tried to release himself. Giordano punched him in the face. And then he started throwing punches without aiming, managed to free himself up, but Giordano beat back quite a bit. Giordano kept screaming that he knows everything, he has seen right away what a faggot Luca was, he got that right away. And that he wanted a piece of the action. After all he shared his cocaine with him, why can’t Luca share with him, why doesn’t Luca want him? Not because of the German chick for sure? The fight continued in the restroom area, at one point he fell to the floor and Giordano kept on kicking him until an Italian guy pulled Giordano to the side and that’s how he managed, with a lot of effort, held by the restroom lady, to stand up and walk back up to me.
He opens up the button of his shirt, and I see his beautiful body full of bruises. The body that I admired in all its beauty exactly the day before. He says his ass hurts really badly, he has no clue how to explain all this to Toni, and we are going to his cousin’s place now because he wants to tell her about all this and warn her. “You have to go to the clinic afterwards, baby,” I mumble. I don’t quite dare to speak out; I’ve seen how he treated the VIP hostess, the paramedic and the cab driver. I am trying to communicate with him over a hug, he is answering with an “AUCH!” Fuck this! What was I worried about before the trip? I was worried that he might behave all weird and would blow our cover? What was it that I was sure I didn’t want? This exact situation – I didn’t want to end up playing spiritual advisor; I didn’t want to be forced to take over the role of Mother Theresa. I wanted to avoid being there for the others…like Luca is for the others. I am sick and tired of this. Completely. I can understand Toni sooo well…I can’t take it anymore, and I don’t want to either. What do I have to do with all this shit? Not even all the money in the world would be enough to pay back this fucked-up stress. Who am I to take care of everyone all the time?
I feel emotionally raped. And I am not fighting back…Giordano’s words come to mind… Yes, indeed, I am very German. I am not feeling well. I have to throw up. I tell the cab driver to stop. He asks me if I am sure. I am looking out of the window and I notice we are on the game. One prostitute after the other lines herself by the side of the road…now I really have to throw up. I am opening the door while the car is moving, the fresh night air blows into my face. The driver finally gets it; he must stop now. I am almost falling on my knees when trying to get out of the car and start throwing up right away. A hooker approaches and asks if we want her, just 30 euros for half an hour. I can’t believe my ears. I am throwing up in torrents. I raise my eyes at one point and I see a huge black transvestite. So, this was the 30 euros per half an hour offer. I start shivering. Luca pulls me back into the cab and tells the driver to start driving. The driver starts explaining that when people take this route in a cab during the night they usually, in 99 percent of the cases, are looking for cheap sex. He took this route because it is the shortest and fastest way to the address that il signore told him when we got into the cab. He has been a cab driver for 30 years now in and around Rome, and he knows the best routes and shortcuts and… Luca screams with the entire force of his baritone voice bundled up together: Shut the fuck up!!! in English. The cab driver probably has no idea what that means, but the way Luca screamed was impossible to misunderstand.
He is quiet the rest of the ride. I lay my head on Luca’s lap; he pets my head and hair and says he is sorry, he never planned this, and he could have never have foreseen all these things happening and he understands that this must be too much for me. I am looking out of the window…the street is really seamed with hookers…one next to the other, about 10 miles long… It seems like that at least. I am not well. This all is too much for me. The rape with the fight following it, now these poor souls, selling themselves for 30 Euros per half an hour…my head spins.
Is the champagne involved in this too? I have to puke again. This time the driver stops without too much hesitation. I can puke in peace, no hooker shows up. Luca gets out of the car and hands me a Kleenex. I am trying to get everything out; however, nothing comes out of my stomach any more. Just yellow slime…my head is about to burst. I wipe my mouth and we get back in the cab. After about an hour ride, we finally reach number 18. A small block of flats with a vegetables shop on the first floor and a Gelateria. It looks like in the deepest, darkest parts of Eastern Europe. Gloomy, bleak, cold, grey. I have never seen Italy like this before. Are we still in Rome or far, far away outside of the city? Is this the next small town already? Luca pays and we stumble out of the car. So many questions are crossing my mind. I am asking Luca if he is all right. He is full of blood and is walking slightly bent, holding his hand on the right side as high as where the liver might be.
He nods and we stagger the three steps to the door. He holds his hand on the bell and rings it off the wall. Nothing. Luca gets his mobile out of his pocket and is looking for a phone number, probably Francesca’s. “By the way – Francesca’s parents live here. This is where she grew up.” He calls, nobody answers the phone either. He rings the bell for minutes again and we finally see a light being turned on on the second floor. An older lady shows up on the balcony and asks us who we are and what do we want. This is quite an intercom, I am thinking when I hear her. Luca shows himself. Elena, his aunt, recognizes him and says she’ll open up right away and then disappears from the balcony. Francesca appears on the balcony shortly after. At first we hear a smile in her voice: “Ciao Luca.” She says in high spirits, “How did you lose your way and get over here?”
In the meantime the front door opens, we can’t see one thing… at least outside the moon was shining, here it is pitch dark…we climb up along the stairs holding on to the walls… It seems an eternity passes ‘til we reach the second floor… At the door there is light coming out of the room. His aunt apologizes for the lack of light on the staircase, then she exclaims an “Ahhhhhhhh!” when she sees Luca. “Che successo?” she is asking, screaming out “Francesca,” although her daughter is no further than a few steps away. After all, the place is tiny. “Go get band aids and fresh water” she keeps on screaming in the same loud voice and then she turns my way and looks at me very reproachful, as if it is my fault! “Who are you and why didn’t you take him to the hospital?” she keeps on screaming. Francesca screams too, first when she sees Luca, then she screams at her mother - she should go fetch everything herself and leave me alone, then she asks what happened. Meanwhile Francesca’s father and brother also entered the minute living room, dozing in their horrible, totally ugly pajamas with puke green, broad, vertical stripes. The strong, foul odor of aged people sticks to everything in this living room. They must have bought the furniture shortly after the wedding of the parents and never replaced it.
Crocheted table decoration, cheap picture on the walls… Luca is briefly trying to explain that he is fine, he just wants to… His aunt dismisses his speech with an energetic wave; she sends him to the bathroom with her husband and her son, he must clean himself up, then she screams at her husband for doing nothing, at her son as well, he is no-good and amounts to nothing, she spits at Francesca for still not having fetched the band aid…she herself however does nothing, except for stressing everyone else out. Luca is trying again to explain… my head explodes…I am walking out on the balcony. And I hear behind me Luca’s voice quavering that he must speak to Francesca now, A-L-O-N-E!!! All of a sudden it is all quiet. I stay on the balcony and look at the desolate area around. Blocks of flats all over, all grey and bleak…I hear a weird noise underneath the balcony, there is a pestilential stink, I look around and…indeed, on the ground, on the side of the building, next to the vegetables’ garden, there are chicken down there! “Yo, bro’, this is how it stinks,” that’s what my buddy Leo would say! I miss Leo. He would do me good now. Or maybe not. Leo can’t deal with somebody else’s sorrow. I count him as one of my best friends; however, he has been overstrained on a few occasions when I felt like crying on his shoulder. Why I am thinking of this right at this moment? No idea, maybe because I need comforting at the moment. Because this whole thing is too much. Nope, Leo would probably not be the right one for that. In his broad dialect, he would probably advise me, “You gotta see how you get out of here. This is not your problem.” He would be so right in saying that. This whole thing really isn’t my piece of pie. What did I get myself into? What did I let myself dragged in? My head bursts.
I get back into the living room and I see a snow white face – Francesca’s. She says nothing, she is transfixed. Luca says nothing either. Obviously he’s already told her everything. “I wanted to warn you against him by all means,” he concludes. Francesca does not move and for a split second I try to imagine how it would be if she stayed like that forever. Slowly she notices me, turns towards me, looks at me inquisitively, turns back to Luca, and then she lets her fists loose on him. “You are lying you fucking faggot, you lured him asshole, you seduced him you fucker, you are a liar, you only came here to destroy my luck, you resent my luck and envy me because you have such a fucked-up life. We all know it, you fucking faggot, you AAAAAAAAAAAASS!” He is trying to hold her fists. After her last word, the whole building must have woken up because of the full-blast volume. Her family pours into the room; it’s really full in here, we don’t all fit in the room together with the furniture at the same time, her mother starts beating Luca with her fists, her father too, Francesca’s brother is trying to hold them apart. I sneak out into the lobby. There is nothing I can do anyway. None of my business. One should stay out of family business anyway, I say to myself, and I call the international directory assistance.
A cab is what I need. I get put through. What’s the name of the street? Shit, I forgot it. “OK, give me your number, I’ll call you back right away,” I say fast. The stupid operator does not get why I need her number, since I called. I start explaining that the international directory assistance…I hang up. This is beyond stupid. My head throbs. I walk down the dark staircase and out into the befouled smell. The stink of the chicken house is unbearable. I hope Luca is coming out soon to tell me the name of the street. I am looking around. No street signs. I am really in the middle of nowhere. A few minutes later he is indeed coming out. He is soaked in blood. I can’t believe this. It is unreal… What a bad joke. Luca is calling a cab for himself and goes for a walk before the car shows up.
I leave him alone. At the moment I also feel like being by myself. It strikes me what an ass he is – he drags me to all the fucked-up events and now leaves me alone, in the middle of the night, somewhere in some suburb of Rome. I don’t see a single soul far and wide; it’s really not that peachy over here. I hear screams from the second floor; in the meanwhile a few windows are lit up, the people look out at me… One of them is on the phone…calling the police maybe? I see Francesca, out of herself, storms out of the block of flats and I am thinking, what a good idea Luca had when he went for a walk. She doesn’t see me.
The cab finally arrives. I get in and I realize that I don’t even know the address where Giordano’s family lives, where my luggage is; I am thinking, fuck it, and I say to the driver to take me to this hotel in the embassy area, where they filmed a movie…I can’t remember which movie, but I’ve always wanted to stay there. I don’t know the name of the hotel either. My head throbs, pulses, it’s spinning…it isn’t even funny. The driver is totally dumbfounded, turns, looks at me on the back seat…he is for sure wondering what drugs I am on. I raise my left eyebrow, look at him and say, “No?” He replies that he has no clue. Well then, just take me to some good hotel. He starts driving and then it occurs to him to ask: “Downtown?” He smells the chance to big bucks…bites me at the moment. From here to downtown he will for sure earn his hundred euros. I reply yes, downtown. Embassy area. Five stars, please. Now we are talking.
He is on his way to Sofitel Villa Borghese and is asking if that is all right for me. I say yes. We take a different route, we don’t pass by the on the game area. I must have fallen asleep; the driver wakes me up when we get there. It’s almost daylight outside. 4 o’clock. I look at the indicator, I have to pay 180 euros. I pay, open the door, take one step out of the car, and then turn back to the driver. I look at him; he looks tired, has plenty of dark circles around his eyes and wrinkles. He reminds me of Nicoletta’s father, my Albanian friend. Simple man, for sure, nice, southern European, overworked. I look at him and I am asking him if he has kids. And I imagine him having a daughter. He answers, he has three sons and two daughters. I return to the cab, close the door behind me, and I say to him he should take me to the airport. I’m not into this whole bullshit anymore. Now that I got a bit of sleep and can think straight again to some degree, getting out of here is the only thing I want. And Luca? I leave him alone? Well now, fuck it. I am not Mother Theresa, and I am sick of this. My luggage…no idea where the villa might be. So, write it off. I have my wallet in my bag and my ID with me, that’s enough. I write off everything else. In the meanwhile, it is dawn and I am getting really hungry.
I ask the cab driver to stop at a fast food place on the way. I can’t believe I am in Italy, the country of super-delicious food, and I am going to have fast food…I don’t wanna bother getting out of the car, so I ask him to go through the drive in. First he doesn’t get it then he says, there is none. I send him in, he should get me a croissant. He asks what I want it with. I am annoyed. I end up going in myself and I get half of the stock available. Afterwards I eat in the cab, the driver looks at me in the rear view mirror. He must think I lost my marbles a long time ago. When I look back at the past 24 hours, I am also thinking that every normal person would think I have lost my marbles. Including me. Is this a sign that I still haven’t entirely lost my marbles? Ha! I am smiling. I notice that he looks at me in the mirror and he smiles back. I made a huge mess on the back seat and he is smiling. He must be a really nice person. Five kids. Old buddy!
We arrive at Fiumicino airport, and I realize that they were on strike yesterday. I pay and get out of the cab, but I tell him he should wait. If I still have to go to Ciampino airport, then at least I should go there with the nice driver. I have the feeling that we built up something that you might call a relationship. He didn’t talk too much, didn’t stress me out too much, and let me sleep peacefully. I wouldn’t like to start the entire “education process” with a new driver right now. On the other hand, if I do get a flight I am not coming back to tell him that I’m gone…well, he will get it eventually, right?
I do indeed get a ticket for the 7:05 flight. I go through the security check and of course I must throw away my nail scissors. It is probably the 20th that I have had to bid farewell to in this manner. As soon as the flight takes off, I feel freed. I am wondering what will become of the wedding. Of Luca. Of Toni. Of our friendship. And I fall asleep. In Frankfurt I feel great. Although I need another hour or so till I get home, I virtually already feel like home here. Everything is clean - the restrooms have just been cleaned, there is enough toilet paper and soap. I always feel like home when I arrive at Frankfurt airport, no matter where I come from. In fact it is all grey and huge and nobody asks you how you are – and that is exactly the thing that gives me the feeling that nobody will disturb me in here, nobody will get too close, nobody wants anything from me or anything else. All grey, extremely sparking clean. Sterile. Home.
Four days later my mobile rings. It is Toni. I don’t take the call. I have no desire to listen to his hokum. I don’t want to have anything to do with the whole thing. That’s enough. More than enough. Beep beep. Message. For sure from Toni. I decide to listen to it later. I grab the jacket from my suit and speed to the next appointment. In the car I do after all get the headset attached and I listen to the message. 5 minutes and 23 seconds! Who is gabbing that much on my answering machine and why? I stop after the first words. I am lucky not to be on the highway. I drive my car up the sidewalk and stop. This does knock me for a loop! I had been absolutely determined not to let myself influenced by this story any longer…
Toni invites me to the funeral. Luca hanged himself. In the night when he walked away from his cousin’s house, he went on the game, picked out an old hooker, and beat her black and blue the whole night. Eventually he wanted to strangle her, but the pimp found them right on time and prevented him from doing so. He then disappeared, and they found him yesterday. Hanged. In his farewell letter, he apologized to me. He told his mother he couldn‘t take it anymore.
He wished Toni all the best for the future and thanked him for the wonderful time together. The funeral is in two days in Rome. There is no funeral service though, since he committed suicide.
I didn’t go to the funeral. I had feelings of guilt for a while; after all, maybe I could have prevented him from committing suicide that last night in Rome… This can’t change anything. I shut off the guilt. I am not Mother Theresa, and I cannot save the whole world. I would love to tell Toni the whole story one day. In case he wants to hear it.
Petruta Tatulescu is an eclectic European. Born and raised in Romania, she moved to Germany at 19. She has published articles, reviews and interviews with various personalities. She lives in Heidelberg, Germany, where she is completing a PhD in Comparative Literature.
April 6th, 2010
Griffin Poetry prize shortlist announced
April 1st, 2010
Gaspereau Press Wins Five Alcuin Design Awards