once upon a time...

C’era una volta. This is how a story begins. There was a time. There was a time when I was musing upon something. Something like a future. A real life. I was nineteen when I left Minnesota for Italy. I was to stay for a year and attend l'universita di bologna. This seemed good, as my life at that point felt bleak: it involved a lot of skipping class, smoking pot out of gravity bongs and developing disastrous love affairs with people for whom I had little real feelings. I knew it would be good to go away. But I didn't know what a year was. Do you know what twelve months feels like?

The day before I left I was standing in my cleared out apartment. I was holding an ice cube on my wrist and melting it into the hot skin. A bee had just stung me. My wrist was swelling and throbbing. My heart was pounding. The landlord signed the check. I got in the back of the car and my parents drove 80 miles per hour down 35E to the Lindbergh Terminal. There, I kissed them goodbye, took photographs, waved and walked through the gate.

I was probably still stoned when I got off the plane. In the Bologna airport, Radiohead was playing. Oh, yeah, we in Europe now, I said. It was 1999 and I was not even in my twenties yet, but the weariness hung over me like a dull worry, like rain on Sunday morning, like a letter from the bank. I pretended it wasn’t there, wasn’t real, was something I was concocting and therefore could easily unconcoct. I got a little drunk at dinner, was propositioned by the waiter, and when I refused, he pinned me against the bathroom stall and shoved his tongue down my throat. I wandered home and promised to be less friendly. Laugh less. Talk less. Keep a low profile.

The year was long and strange. I went to the doctor frequently. Am I dying? I asked over and over. What does it all mean? I asked the descending sun from my balcony. What does it all mean? I asked the wine from its bottle. What does it all mean? I asked the hole in my head that grew wider with each successive inquiry.

I knew only one thing for sure that year. That Parmigianino knew how to paint real people and that discovering him had made something tolerable inside me. The miles I walked, in search of a thought, a feeling, an understanding that would bring everything together. How to make sense of the randomness? What did it matter if I could quote Ungaretti or Saba if there were people dying, including me? The infinite was acute, and so was my loneliness. I wandered home everyday, pulled a kitchen chair out to the balcony and lit a cigarette. I unwrapped what recent purchase I’d acquired at the Virgin record store. That year Moby’s album Play came out. I listened to it endlessly. A single by Blur that was unimaginably depressing. Un cantautore chiamato Ligabue. A disc called Hits of the 80s full of songs I’d mostly never heard. A No Doubt single called Simple Kind of Life that struck me as particularly apt, despite finding the rest of their work unspeakably awful. I’d put in one of these discs and open a bottle of wine and smoke and drink and wait. I marked off calendar days like marks on a prison wall. I knew my mind was hanging by a string and rather than do the difficult work of rebuilding it, I decided to cling to that last thread and ride it till morning.

The day I left was a comedy of errors that if I relayed would lose some of the magic of that enterprise, but one thing’s forever in my mind: running alongside a train, my friend’s boyfriend holding the door, my luggage inside, and last night’s dress blowing back as I ran.

AMD, il 16 di aprile. 2011.

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