Now it is midnight and foggy, and Giovanni is walking me home to my apartment through these back streets of Rome, which meander organically around the ancient buildings like bayou streams snaking around shadowy clumps of cypress groves. Now we are at my door. We face each other. He gives me a warm hug. This is an improvement; for the first few weeks, he would only shake my hand. I think if I were to stay in Italy for another three years, he might actually get up the juice to kiss me. On the other hand, he might just kiss me right now, tonight, right here by my door ... theres still a chance ... I mean were pressed up against each others bodies beneath this moonlight ... and of course it would be a terrible mistake ... but its still such a wonderful possibility that he might actually do it right now ... that he might just bend down ... and ... and ...
He separates himself from the embrace.
Good night, my dear Liz, he says.
Buona notte, caro mio, I reply.
I walk up the stairs to my fourth-floor apartment, all alone. I let myself into my tiny little studio, all alone. I shut the door behind me. Another solitary bedtime in Rome. Another long nights sleep ahead of me, with nobody and nothing in my bed except a pile of Italian phrase books and dictionaries.
I am alone, I am all alone, I am completely alone.
Grasping this reality, I let go of my bag, drop to my knees and press my forehead against the floor. There, I offer up to the universe a fervent prayer of thanks.
First in English.
Then in Italian.
And then just to get the point across in Sanskrit.
And since I am already down there in supplication on the floor, let me hold that position as I reach back in time three years earlier to the moment when this entire story began a moment which also found me in this exact same posture: on my knees, on a floor, praying.
Everything else about the three-years-ago scene was different, though. That time, I was not in Rome but in the upstairs bathroom of the big house in the suburbs of New York which Id recently purchased with my husband. It was a cold November, around three oclock in the morning. My husband was sleeping in our bed. I was hiding in the bathroom for something like the forty-seventh consecutive night, and just as during all those nights before I was sobbing. Sobbing so hard, in fact, that a great lake of tears and snot was spreading before me on the bathroom tiles, a veritable Lake Inferior (if you will) of all my shame and fear and confusion and grief.
I dont want to be married anymore.
I was trying so hard not to know this, but the truth kept insisting itself to me.
I dont want to be married anymore. I dont want to live in this big house. I dont want to have a baby.
But I was supposed to want to have a baby. I was thirty-one years old. My husband and I who had been together for eight years, married for six had built our entire life around the common expectation that, after passing the doddering old age of thirty, I would want to settle down and have children. By then, we mutually anticipated, I would have grown weary of traveling and would be happy to live in a big, busy household full of children and homemade quilts, with a garden in the backyard and a cozy stew bubbling on the stovetop. (The fact that this was a fairly accurate portrait of my own mother is a quick indicator of how difficult it once was for me to tell the difference between myself and the powerful woman who had raised me.) But I didnt as I was appalled to be finding out want any of these things. Instead, as my twenties had come to a close, that deadline of THIRTY had loomed over me like a death sentence, and I discovered that I did not want to be pregnant. I kept waiting to want to have a baby, but it didnt happen. And I know what it feels like to want something, believe me. I well know what desire feels like. But it wasnt there. Moreover, I couldnt stop thinking about what my sister had said to me once, as she was breast-feeding her firstborn: Having a baby is like getting a tattoo on your face. You really need to be certain its what you want before you commit.
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