The Life I Imagined
My Personal Renaissance in Florence, Italy
Perfect Bound Softcover
Life happened. I had a marriage of almost twenty years, two wonderful sons, a successful but unfulfilling career in corporate America, and a divorce. I needed a change. Who would have thought that a New Year's resolution to "Live somewhere else and do something different" would have been so life changing? I sold everything, took a one-year sabbatical, and moved to Italy. I planned to accomplish two bucket-list items: (1) live in another country and (2) learn another language. With a couple of suitcases of clothes and personal items, I set out on my year's adventure. I found a new freedom, new adventures every day, how real happiness feels, that love is always a possibility, and how the rest of my life might look. I learned to dream again, I learned to love again, and I learned where my place in the world was plus so much more. This is the story of my soul reawakening, my personal renaissance in Florence, Italy, and living the life that I imagined.
"Sometimes things fall apart so that better things can fall together." Marilyn Monroe Chapter 1-The End of One Thing, the Start of Something Else "You mean you're having an affair?" "Those are your words, not mine. I said I'm emotionally attached. "He folded his hands, opened them and rubbed his thighs over faded jeans. The cat that had settled on his lap adjusted itself. Leaning forward, I growled, "What does that mean? You got that word from your personal therapist, I can tell. Tell me what you told him before he put that name on it." "I told him just what I told you, we were talking and meeting and writing emails. That's it." "Then what's the "attachment" part about?" "I really miss her when I'm not around her and have a longing to see her at all times. We kissed one time but haven't had sex. After we kissed we didn't see each other for a week or so, but our attachment was too strong. We had to meet again, but we agreed it would not go there again." "And you're telling me this for what purpose?" "Well, I wanted to be honest with you. I mean we're trying to work things out, right?" "Up until this moment, I guess I really thought we were, but when you tell me you have an emotional attachment to someone else, there is a big question in my mind. Are you still seeing her?" "Yes. But, like I said, we're only friends." "No, you can't continue to see that bitch." He looked shocked. "What do you mean? She's my friend. I don't tell you who you can be friends with." "I've never told you I had an emotional attachment to a friend of the opposite sex, especially one that I kissed once." "Well, that just happened one time, and we decided we wouldn't go there and we haven't." "But it never occurred to you to decide to stop seeing each other altogether?" "Well, we talked about it but decided we couldn't." He stroked the cat softly and glanced at me. I started shaking uncontrollably I knew I needed time to think but I also knew that for him to continue seeing her, at the same time we were trying to work on the marriage, was impossible for me. "The first thing I need you to promise me is that you'll stop seeing and talking to her this very instant! Later on, after I've had time to process this, we'll have to talk about what it looks like going forward. Up until now, our problems have been a matter of differences in our future dreams now that the kids are grown. This changes everything. This is a major trust issue. Promise me now." He looked at me, surprised, "Not see her anymore?" He paused, swallowed, licked his lips and tears filled his blue eyes, which had always seemed so kind and gentle. "I don't know if I can." "Well, you have until tomorrow to decide. I think you're asking me to let you have your cake and eat it too. That's not going to happen. So you decide, and then we'll talk about what the next steps are." Still shaking and with tears in my eyes, the betrayal slashing deep into my heart, I felt hollowness in the pit of my stomach. He left the room, and although we shared a bed that night, we said nothing to each other. He came to bed long after me, and though I wasn't asleep, I pretended to be. I suspect he had talked to her about our conversation. That discussion about her was not the last, although for many more months I thought that he had stopped seeing her as he had finally promised. When I found out that he hadn't, the wound was as fresh as when he first told me, or maybe even worse, because now I felt a double fool. In the end, we decided to divorce when our youngest left for college and I had moved to Nashville to accept a promotion. It had been almost a year since we had that conversation when I planned a trip to Greece as a present to myself. Two weeks of sightseeing and relaxation on a Greek cruise that started from a port in Venice was just what I needed. I had traveled quite a lot, but always with someone. The thought of going alone made it seem a real adventure and very liberating and independent. That independence was something that I cherished. My love affair with Italy started on that trip. Chapter 2-The Possibility of Love When the plane touched down in Venice, the departure point of the cruise, I felt strong, independent, and excited. The ride from the airport to the pier was a blur, and a water taxi took me to my hotel. I looked at the rippling water in the amazing red and gold sunrise glowing on the antique, ornate palaces and felt the stirrings of something inside. A bubbling up of who I might be, where I might go; the life I might lead in the future dawned like the new day over Venice. I laughed aloud and then cried with joy. Other passengers turned and looked at me with puzzled faces. We were all tired after the long overnight flight, and I laughed again and chalked it up to my emotions. The rest of that day spurred on by some well of energy that had surfaced with this new feeling, I walked the city. I could feel the smile on my face as I took photos of everything and everybody. I noticed things that I probably wouldn't normally notice; the curve of the wrought iron on a terrace, people kissing by the ocean, an old man eating gelato alone on a park bench, and the smell of the sea. I got lost in the alleyways and narrow streets and crisscrossed the many bridges over the canals, gasping when I came upon the Rialto Bridge, St. Mark's Square and the Bridge of Sighs. I booked dinner for one in a fabulously expensive restaurant and drank prosecco, Italy's bubbly, elegant answer to champagne and people-watched others at nearby tables. Around midnight, more than a little tipsy from exhaustion and prosecco, I made my way across St. Mark's back to my hotel. The streets were still busy with folks strolling or having an after-dinner drink at the outside cafes. The October breeze blew the first notes of autumn into the air and I shivered. "Are you cold? Here take my jacket," said a heavily accented voice behind me. I turned. "No, I'm fine, just the wind, thank you," I said, turning to walk away from his outstretched hand holding the jacket. I heard his footsteps quicken behind me as he asked, "Can I offer to you a drink?" Here, there is a table by the seaside. A beautiful woman should not spend this beautiful evening all alone. Please." I turned and looked at him. He was just what you would imagine if you were having a wonderful dream. Dark hair and complexion, with deep warm brown eyes, a well-trimmed mustache, what appeared to be none other than an Armani suit and of course, black Italian leather shoes. I‘m in a public place with lots of people around, I thought. What‘s the harm? I smiled and said, "Okay. Why not?" I moved toward the chair he was already pulling out from the table for me. His name was Marco and we shared a few drinks and then walked the city until the sun came up. We talked about our marriages and children and divorce and meeting new people and growing up. He had some similar experiences and some that were different, and it struck me how alike people really are all over the world. He was from Milan and was in Venice for business. We kissed goodnight in the middle of the Rialto Bridge and went our separate ways. We made no false pretenses about our future, but I still cherish the memory of that day and evening. Everything about it was new, exciting, adventurous, and honest. I felt like I could fly. I returned to my hotel room in a state of euphoria. I had a couple of hours to shower and get my things together and over to the ship, which was departing at eleven a.m. I wasn't tired at all and felt like I was high in a very good way. I showered, changed, and got a taxi to take me over to the ship. I boarded and looked back at Venice and the beautiful canals and palaces lining them. I didn't want to leave this magical place.
Karen Mills was born in Laurel, MD in 1958 and raised in Nashville, Tn. She is the author of a travel blog called An American in Italy, www.anamericaninitaly.com. She has written travel articles for The Wall Street Journal, Go Euro, International Living, and other internet travel sites. She has two sons and currently lives in Florence, Italy with her husband and two cats. In a prior life, she was a corporate executive in the auto insurance industry. She lived most of her adult life in Alexandria, VA where she raised her sons and also spent time in Nashville, Tn, Memphis, TN, and Boston, MA. She enjoys reading, traveling, movies, music, art, good food and wine.
Perfect Bound Softcover