Italy makes me feel like falling in love.
I feel nostalgic. That I’ve been on this same cliff overlooking the waves crash against the rocks. That my breath was taken away by its beauty in my previous life.
It makes me feel like the person smiling at their phone is in love with the person who just sent them a message. Was it a joke? Maybe it was a grocery list, but they added, “Can you please pick up the Key Lime Pie that you love?”
Maybe they have a dog.
It makes me feel like I’ve fallen in love with a man who deeply loves me and we’re walking through Venice, maybe near the Rialto Bridge. I’m not sure. He’s holding my hand and my hands are calm, not the sweaty and unpleasantly damp hands I had with old loves. It makes me feel like it’s right. Similar to the way I felt when I was in Milan, Italy and with an empty stomach and cold hands. How I stumbled soaking wet from the rain into a restaurant, Bello e Buono, around the corner from the metro. The street was cobblestone and my favorite, three year old, worn out black boots did not hold well. They never do, but I won’t throw them away. They are mine. This is how I feel.
How the waiter smiled and handed me a cup of coffee and sat me next to the heater even though the restaurant was closed. The head chef came out and communicated with me through Google Translate. How the waiter smiled at me warmly, showing me the restaurant. Let me taste what fun sized, straight from scratch pasta sauce they were making in the kitchen. “Probar” is Spanish for to try and she whispered, “provare.” Italian and Spanish are similar so I went for it.
I feel that maybe, just maybe, we’re in Venice during a time when the bridge wasn’t under construction. Like when my mom came to visit me in Madrid last December for her birthday and we went to Venice. She was so happy. She is so happy.
To only discuss her past emotions would be a robbery to her 24 hour spirit.
Smiling, singing as the water buses roared past in the canals, leaving behind a small hum and crashing waves. “But what if you fall in!?” She giggled. Fulfilling her #1 bucket list item that she had when she was 17 years old and here we both are years later. Singing “Just The Two of Us” by Bill Withers while our Airbnb Host, Francesca, smiles and plays the piano.
“Thanks for the great energy,” she wrote on our Airbnb review two days later.
Here we are, drinking wine together and laughing. Crying. Those mother- daughter talks that stem from a beautiful, simply wonderful, mother- daughter relationship from the time I was inside her womb, 24, almost 25 years ago. You know, 30 years ago when she was driving home from work off of Sunset Boulvevard in Los Angeles, California, and saw the street sign “Tianna Road.” How she decided to name me Tianna, 4 or so years before she ever met my father.
Your mother taught you optimism, kindness, love, and forgiveness, along with so many other things wrapped up in life’s many challenges and struggles, your father taught you determination, tough love, composure & nonverbal communication, and how to put yourself first. Things to teach your little brother when he is older. He is 19 now. They share the same name. You love watching him grow into his own person, you love it when he says “no” and makes his own decisions. You are proud. You watch him grow. You talk with him, trying to navigate between the friend and sister roles.
You are a big sister. No one says it, but sisters end up being just like their mothers. You are a physical replica of your mother. You get yourself mixed up with her on FaceTime, in-between a 6 hour time difference and day to day life. You have your fathers long, lanky legs. Your cousin, the articulate speaker, the 21 year old, or second little brother, half closes his left eye when he smiles, like you. Your brother looks just like you, but you don’t have a mustache or facial hair. Thankfully. When you were younger, you tried to play the big brother role to make your little brother “tougher” before you realized that he is just as sensitive as you.
This is how Italy makes me feel.
Italy makes me feel hopeful. I’m not sure how we met. Maybe I was walking down a hallway carrying heavy books and knocked into him. Books spilling everywhere. He stops what he’s doing and helps me pick them up. His eyebrows raise when he sees that I am reading the latest Pablo Coelho book, my favorite. He is not Santiago, but he is my Santiago. I desperately wish I had a store full of crystals for him to shine for me.
He allows to me pick up the last book off the floor because he gazes deeply into my eyes and immediately recognizes that I am a strong, independent Black woman. He goes home and immediately throws out the Black ink cartriage in his HP 2050 InkJet Printer and from now on, he only prints in Color. I go home and blast Nina Simone loudly in the house. My windows were cracked, but I open them even more.
With myself, I am happy alone, but I take up space. With him, I take up space, but I am happy alone.
He doesn’t complete me. I don’t complete him. He knows I am tired of the Disney fairytales and Tyler Perry movies where the man comes in and saves the helpless woman.
I don’t need to be saved.
I am my own.
He builds a bookshelf, I design the shelves. I twirl paintbrushes on my canvas and he builds wooden picture frames and hangs them in our living room. The picture frames are crooked, but oh, I love his crooked. I can’t paint, but he enjoys the process. Most of the time I dip my fingers in the paint and draw smiley faces and laugh and laugh and laugh at old jokes friends told me back in 2006. He laughs at these jokes with me. Sometimes I yell out “pequeña” and he screams “hechate pa’ ca,” slowly, softy, in his best Elvis Crespo impersonation.
Sometimes my earring backs are about to fall off but he stops and fixes them. Sometimes I straighten his tie in the morning before work and make him Oscar Mayer Center Cut Pork Bacon, but make sure he gets his daily vitamins. He can’t build bookshelves, but I position it so it is the first thing we see when we enter our house.
Please take off your shoes at the door.
Sometimes we argue, but we understand that such is life.
Sometimes I plan potlucks with our friends while his favorite sports teams are playing. I get better at this. He brings me dried mangos. Sometimes he buys me flowers, but throws them out and buys me new ones before they wilt. Sometimes he cooks dinner and weeps uncontrollably to the movie, 500 Days of Summer, and I clean the toilets and bring home the bacon because we are both open minded, liberal adults who do not play by 1950’s gender roles. When he falls asleep on the sofa watching his favorite tv show, I cover him with a blanket.
Maybe love is just being kind.
Sometimes he sits alone and I let him sit with his thoughts. Other times I ask him what is on his mind.
“A penny for your thoughts,” I say. This is what I imagine our love is like.
I think our wedding was in Manarola, a small fisher[wo]men village off the coast of the Italian Rivera in Cinque Terre. My mother was wearing a bright yellow dress, her favorite color, just like her book. I could see all of her teeth, her overflowing with happiness. My father, standing tall, next to me. Smiling. Giving off strength and joy.
Nicaury was there, smiling, giving me that extremely warm smile that appears every time I see her. The inspiration you feel every time you talk to her. Jess. Rheaya. The twins. CeAndria and her cool coworkers from Buzzfeed. Tosin. Tyler. Allie B. Zae. Matteo. My friends and family were there. We laughed. We cried. We danced. We reminisced.
“Do you remember those hard times? Look at you now.”
“Do you remember when you were 19 years old?”
“Look at who you’ve become.”
This is how Italy makes me feel.
I feel safe and at home. His fingers are wrapped around mine, not too softly or too tightly. He’s wearing an orange sweater and my favorite smile. My hair is curly and wild, the wind taking it in the direction it desires. I’m unsure how old I am, maybe 30, maybe younger since Black don’t crack. I’m watching several children play on the playground. There’s a little boy laughing, doubled over and breathing deep, heavy breaths between each laugh. At that moment I know he’s mine. This is how Italy makes me feel.
I do not know what language our child and the children are speaking.
They say if you ask a child who they were in their past life, they’ll be able to tell you.
I smell like Coconut Oil and gelato.
Italy makes me feel free. It makes me feel like everything and nothing. It makes me feel like I could live there, in an apartment with a piano. I don’t play piano, but I invite my little brother over and he plays for us. My mother sings. My father, video camera in hand.
I have plants. I’ve never had a plant before, except the Good Luck Bamboo my God Aunt gave me in 2014 for my college graduation. It’s in a beer bottle right now, with water from 2014. Italy makes me feel like I’m a good plant owner.
I am overwhelmed with happiness. Like how my chest bursts with excitement when the plane takes off. The balls of sweat rolling off my hands. My heart beating fast in my chest. How sometimes when the plane just took its wheels off of the runway, I lean forward and try to look out of the window. How I laugh at yourself when I get dizzy from this.
A sense of calm, my calm. Everything will change when I arrive in a strange land, with its beautiful people. The people are always beautiful and lively. I tell myself that for every insensitive, spiteful, and angry person I meet, there are 15 more positive, beautiful, and loving people out there, and five more adorable dogs.
Italy makes me feel like the world is good.
Italy makes me feel like all is good.