Friday, December 9, 2011

Running Away: Lessons from a Little Boy on a Piazza

It seems unlikely I’d see as sudden and aggressive a downpour, but it comes as my espresso does, changing every conversation in Como’s large umbrellaed restaurant courtyard. Each of us surely appreciated even more our choice to dine here, the piazza’s only covered terrace, though the rain exits almost as quickly as it entered. I’m watching a trio of young Italian boys poke each other and laugh, their relaxed parents a table away and completely unconcerned about their children’s doings.

A sudden reach across plates catches the table cloth, bringing down a glass to shatter our relaxed chatter. The eyes of the other boys focus on one, whose face now displays a child’s universal look of fear, chagrin, and a desire to run fast away. His face struck me as horribly familiar: the expression my husband wore when he heard my doctor dully proclaim I had a brain tumor.

I didn’t blame him for his reaction—I had the very same one. Our already fragile marriage would not survive the 100% certainty that I was not going to be a peach of a patient. A kind person who loved me despite my unlovableness, Jack would push his fear down and try to soothe me—me, someone incapable of accepting comforting words or gestures. He was sunk before the game began.

So instead of freezing in fear, like the boy who broke the glass, I gave in to the other instant reaction and fled. Fled to Italy, then France, then the south of Spain, and now back to Italy. Soaked my discomfort in bottles of homemade limoncello given to me by nice Italian grandfatherly types at the many restaurants I visited alone and quiet, drowned unhappiness in gallons of champagne consumed in bars and bistros and brasseries in Cannes and Alsace and Paris. Ignored calls from my doctor, asking, his voice holding a rough edge, when exactly I’d be returning for treatment.

And I fled the affectionate hand squeezes, the soft knee grasps, and the loving gazes I knew Jack would inflict upon me once he had time to hurdle his fear—fear for me, for our marriage, and for himself. Wasn’t it a gift to all, then, that I was here in Europe drinking myself away every night? Jack knows, in his heart, that he cannot save me, knows I may not want to save myself this time.

He met me three days after I was given the all-clear on my first brain tumor and was acting just that way: grabbing every opportunity, every man’s arm, every glass of champagne off passing trays…was squeezing the haphazard out of each moment and not really caring where I landed since I now knew I would land instead of disappear.

The boy who broke the glass felt something. And right now, I feel nothing. Last time, reckless—this time, careless. And somehow, there’s a difference.