Tonight, I am here but I am also in the little cafe somewhere in Rome that was tucked into a corner of some piazza I could never find again without my friend, the tour guide’s help. I could never have found it in the first place. I remember leaning against the white painted beadboard wall with my Red Bull-shaped can of Diet Coke and looking into the glass cases where the pre-made panini and treats looked back at me. Everything was eminently lovely in such a way that you realize that this is just how they live, surrounded by the character of the architecture, not needing to fuss about tchotchkes and decor to build a saleable story for you. The history does it all, really. My friend had stepped into the restroom, so for a brief time, I felt aware once again of what it was to be entirely alone on the other side of the world. Nobody knew me. Nobody cared particularly. The land of the Great Boot had zero need to coddle me or celebrate my presences on its streets. Nobody calls it the Great Boot, I’m sure. In a deep swell of sonder, I was overcome with the idea that every moment I have drawn breath, all of this has been here. People have lived and loved and died here and I have not ever imagined them. To be in such a city as Rome is a dangerous place for an empath. If the people were colder, more traumatized, less in a state of relaxed acceptance of their luck and their lucklessness, perhaps it would have been worse. Everything held energy.
My seat, the catbird with the view of the whole busy, tiny trattoria where three waitresses attended to the full crowd, had offered this same view to a thousand other would-be someones. The cobblestones outside had brought a thousand thousand past the doorway.
It left me shaky, but there was American music, some sort of sly jazz playing overhead and an American sitting next to me ordering in unsure English to a pleasant and unbothered waitress who understood his pidgin perfectly. My friend returned and I sipped at my coca-cola and we ordered pizza big enough to feed everyone, but meant only for me. It was delicious and a coolish breeze came in from the open windows that surrounded me as well as the open door.
I am thinking of that now, when I wonder about my aversion to red lights, to grumpy assholes, to showing up fully in the world. I handled being in Italy beautifully. I luxuriated on Florentine bed sheets travelling alone, I spoke with the gypsies, I flew a thousand miles an hour in countless cabs driven by questionably licensed drivers, I saw Bernini’s marble, I went into a cave and passed by where they worshipped Mithras, I danced, I drank, I greeted strange Italians with the three-cheek kiss.
And here I feel so small and ashamed and imperfect. I felt that there, too, of course, but I couldn’t do anything more but carry on being the outrageously errant being I was. There wasn’t opting out and it was glorious.
It needn’t be as it is. It needn’t be so!