An Epic Mother-Son Reunion in Italy
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You Over There, You
There you were on my ancient doorstep, late, or early, unannounced,
in the thick black coat I bought you for Christmas. Of course,
you were on your way, but when would you arrive? As always,
no phone. Me, no extra-key or place to hide it, only two days into
my teaching abroad, Florence sodden, dark, full of shadows
and confusion. But you convinced the smoking college students
on the cobblestone street—who knew me as professor mom—
to let you through the first two doors, and then you were at mine,
a one, two knock. Bearded, cold, smiling. It was February, and you’d
landed at Heathrow, taken a bus to the City of London airport.
Then the flight and travel path went something like Frankfurt
to Macedonia. Macedonia! You huddled on a frozen hill in the coat
and in a down sleeping bag. Then to a rickety communist era train
to Thessaloniki and on to Athens. Next a port town I can’t remember,
maybe Patras, and a night ferry to Ancona and another train
to Bologna and back to Florence until you found my building
with directions jotted on a ragged scrap of ferry napkin. Long ago,
you and I were alone together in the small house, your father student
teaching in another town, coming home on weekends. It was you
and me, day after day, me too young to mother properly, me
in charge of you, already smarter with a wicked baby smile.
But there we were in the dark mornings, the slog of the day.
We went to every free Wednesday at the merry-go-round, every
park. You and me together in the nighttime with fevers. Here,
in Florence, in the medieval building, in the odd apartment, you
and me again, planning meals of roasted eggplant and
brocolo romanesco, walking to the store pulling the cart
behind us. You and me in Pisa, Lucca, Roma, and Napoli. The ferry
trip to Procida, the walk across the island to eat at the restaurant
where Il Postino was filmed. Then the journey around and back
to the dock, the man who opened the bag of oranges, beckoned
us to take one, two, more, both of us eating while we strolled
to the boats. Wandering Florence’s churches, the nunnery,
that half hour of echoing song. The Zeffirelli Museum, no other
patrons on that rainy afternoon, we two sitting in Dante’s Inferno, an
animated show drawn by the director. Hell was wild with color, fluid,
beautiful. The Uffizi, Boboli Gardens, finally getting you a phone.
One Sunday walking up the hill to Fiesole, each of us eating a whole
pizza at the crossroads bar. Walks before bed to get the water
from the Piazza della Signoria spigots, fresh and con gas, talking
about free will and metaphors. You are a man now, not a baby,
grey in your hair, a man caught up in his life. Italy could never
happen again, me free for months, without husband, you free, always,
throwing off rules, our expectations, searching only for love.
Late in the trip, that day in April, you brought your newly beloved
to the apartment, we three hiking to the Piazzale Michelangelo,
you both looking out toward the city, your arm around her thin
shoulders, me behind you now, taking the shot. Me still behind
you, remembering, holding this precious cup of time, you, as you’ve
always been, so unique, so impossible, so wonderful, you and me
over there, you and me over, you over there, you.