by Melinda Gallo

Flashback: Planning on staying

It wasn't as hard for me to get up the next day to go to school. I was the first one to breakfast and Rea sat next to me eating quietly. I tried to talk to her, but we didn't have much to say to each other. I wondered if I should wake up the girls as I served myself another cup of caffè, but maybe they need to sleep off their drinks from last night. Right before I left the house, I heard Catherine rummaging in her room, so I felt it was OK for me to leave.

When I got to school I saw my teacher Enzo with one of the pretty Austrian students in our class. He leaned into her with one hand on the wall behind her. She seemed stiff with her hands behind her back. Enzo jumped back a few feet when I said, "Buon giorno!" as I approached them. The Austrian girl giggled and followed me up the stairs.

Classes went as usual: grammar in the morning, lunch in the bar downstairs, and conversation classes in the afternoon.

I walked to the bus stop alone after school. When I got there Megumi and another Japanese girl, whose name I keep forgetting, were already standing there. They told me that they were going downtown to go shopping. They're leaving next week, so they want to pick up a few things before they go. I felt a pang of sadness. My new friends are already leaving.

She asked me if it's true that I'm going to stay in Florence indefinitely. We had talked about how long each of us was staying in Italy and I said, "Non lo so." I told her that I had no real plans. I'm definitely staying in Italy for a few months to learn the language and we'll see what happens after that, I explained in much simpler Italian. I didn't tell her that I'd really like to stay for a few years because I didn't know how that was going to work itself out.

During class, I learned that the Japanese girls had to get visas to come to Italy to study. I didn't have to do that because I'm planning on only staying a few months. I know that if I want to stay in Italy legally, I have to file papers, pay money, and get documents stamped. Most likely, I'd have to leave Italy to do so and that idea doesn't appeal to me.

With each day that I spend in Florence, my old life back in England seems to get farther and farther away from me. It's as if I can't remember what I used to do with my days. I remember pieces of my life, like driving my little black Renault to Richmond on weekends to check out the bookstore.

The next day at school I couldn't wait to ask Gianluca what I should do if I want to stay in Florence longer than the three months I'm allowed. He told me to wait until the time comes. I told him that I'd like to go to Rome for a month and go to school. He looked up at me and shook his head. "Non è una buona idea," he said. He explained that the accent is different, they have a dialect there, and they're not as nice as the Florentines. "Pazienza," he said finally and patted me on the shoulder as he walked to a classroom and shut the door.

I was a little disappointed that he didn't like my idea of going to Rome. I remember when I went to the Italian consulate in London and the woman told me that if I wanted to learn Italian that I should go to Florence or Siena because that's where the "pure" Italian is taught. I didn't know what she meant, but Gianluca's mention of dialects confirmed her statment.

For the rest of the week, I kept up my routine and forged ahead with living life without any official plans.

The family dinners have become impossible. I hate feeling like I'm in a war zone while I'm trying to twirl the pasta with my fork against the plate. "Solo un bambino usa un cucchiaio," (Only a baby uses a spoon) Giorgio told me the first time I requested a spoon to eat my pasta. I wanted to tell him that I'd seen grown-ups use them in the States, but I figured it'd only be ammunition he could use against me and my countrymen. He tends to generalize a lot and doesn't have a high regard for anyone but himself. By his errant comments, I can tell that he doesn't like foreigners much.

The two parents, who should be forced to live apart, yell back and forth at each other during the entire dinner. Their son sits and eats with his head down and only speaks when spoken to. For his own protection, he seems to side with his dad. I can understand that; I wouldn't want to be the object of his father's fury. The only benefit to these dinners has been the quantity of parolaccie (bad words) that I've learned. Not that I need to use them, but I just want to recognize them if someone says them.

I had to hold myself back from screaming for joy when Gianluca announced that we'd all be going out to a pizzeria for dinner. I had not gone previously because I felt I should stay with the family for dinner. I went straight home from school to tell Signora G. that I'm not going to be around for dinner. She seemed a little disappointed and told me that I don't get a refund for missing meals. I didn't expect I would. I would've paid anything for a quiet meal. A part of me feels guilty for leaving her alone, but I can't see how she can stay here at all. I've been here only a few weeks and I've already surpassed my limits of patience.

I tried to avoid Claudia all week. She has mentioned getting a call from Luca, but I'm not interested in getting set up with him. I like him a lot, but am not interested in him in the same way that he appears to be. I wonder if Claudia wants me to fulfill her fantasy of falling in love with an Italian and living here forever. Claudia knows that I have a boyfriend in England although she also knows he's not really my boyfriend.

I quickly shut the door to my room when I get in. I immediately turned on my cell phone and plugged it in. I don't know why I charge it since I don't even leave it on any more. I used to be attached to it and now it just collects dust on my dresser. I wanted to see if I had any text or voice messages and while I'm scrolling it, it rings.

I was startled to hear P.'s voice. He tells me that he misses me and with each word he speaks I believe that I miss him too. His voice seems to comfort me and I feel like my whole body relaxes. When he tells me that he wants to come to Italy to be with me, I suddenly stand upright in fear. I can't imagine him here in Italy. I can't imagine us in Italy together. I explain that I want to be here alone and if we still feel the same when I get back to England in a few months, we'll go from there.

Instead of his soft voice, he responds to my questions with long pauses and harsh words. I want to make peace with him. I don't want him to get upset with me. This trip is for me and only me. I have this need to be alone. A desire to just do what I want to do and maybe just to be free for once. I feel like I've gone from one relationship to another like a frog jumping lily pads. I need time to regroup, to find myself, to figure out who I really am and what I want out of life.

Turning thirty seems to be weighing heavily in my mind. I find myself thinking about life in ways I never did before. I am no longer thinking about having fun, but about creating a more satisfying life for myself. I don't even know what that means, but that's what I think I'm here to figure out.

I've been writing for only a few years and it is something that has become important to me and to my livelihood. I have been writing lately to find solace, to find wisdom, and to ultimately find myself. Writing, both fiction and non-fiction, has become such a large part of who I am that I can't survive without it now. I find myself writing a lot here in Florence; every morning and every night I put pen to paper and go over my day, my thoughts, my feelings, and my dreams. It has been my trusty friend and has never let me down. I want to follow this path as long as I can to see where it'll lead me.

We hung up the phone--he was the first to slam his receiver down--both unhappy. He seems to think that I want to be single and I think he wants me to be under lock and key. Maybe if a relationship can't survive a brief separation, it is not meant to exist.

I will be continuing to write about my arrival to Florence back in 1997 and will preface them with "Flashback" in the title.

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