It's December and here you will find the last instalment in the Senza Ali e Senza Rete series, our monthly piece of Italy as kindly offered by author Kimberly Menozzi.
I don't know about you, but I will definitely miss this appointment on the 22nd of every month...
My letter to Santa included a whole new series of exclusive guest blogs penned by Mrs Menozzi. Will my wish be granted? We can only wait and see...
In the meantime, please let Kimberly feel your love by leaving a comment below!
December 23rd, 2003
I am finally here.
My plane lands in darkness, the runway lights looking hazy in the light fog, and I sit quietly in my assigned seat wondering: What happens now? What lies ahead of me?
I wait for everyone around me to gather their things before I stand and get my own bag from the overhead compartment. I look out the windows as I walk to the doors and take a deep breath when I reach the metal stairs there.
I am shaking. I haven't seen him in nearly four months. I grasp the cold metal handrail and descend on unsteady legs.
Even the air smells different, even though I've been breathing recycled air in one form or another since I arrived in Atlanta nearly two days ago. Or was it only one day? What day is it, now?
After spending about twelve hours in Gatwick waiting for my flight to Bologna, after flying about seven hours from the US to London, after several hours in the airport in Atlanta, after five hours of driving from my home to the airport…
Time doesn't mean anything, now.
I follow the people ahead of me to the buses waiting on the tarmac in the freezing cold. We pile in and I feel a momentary urge to cry. I am tired and a little scared, too. I've never done anything like this in my whole life. I am thrilled and intimidated all at once.
All around me conversations ebb and flow, a still-foreign tongue surrounding me. How will I ever learn this? Will those words ever make sense to me?
The bus stops with a jolt and I try to make myself small so the people can get out around me. I follow the crowd inside the automatic doors and I see the signs for Passport Control and the indications for EU citizens and others.
I go forward, wait. Step, step, pause. Watch. Listen. Wonder.
Somewhere my suitcase – loaded until it was ready to burst at the seams – is being unloaded onto a conveyor belt. I have to collect it.
Crap. Customs! Do I need to worry about Customs? What is it called here?
I'm so unprepared. What was I thinking? Why can't he be here with me?
Step, step, pause.
My turn. I hand over my passport, hating my picture and knowing that it's the most accurate image of me after so much travel, and so much waiting. The agent looks at the picture, looks at me, stamps the random page with a flourish and slides the passport back. He doesn't say anything, just nods and tilts his head toward the baggage claim.
It's late, maybe after eleven p.m. I didn't set my watch correctly.
I go to the conveyor belt where passengers I recognize are standing. This airport seems so tiny after Gatwick. There's no sign of activity beyond the flaps where the bags will come out. The people around me are chatting calmly, so this must not be unusual.
Again, I sniff the air. A hint of cigarette smoke is coming in from somewhere. I shrug the thought away.
Under my coat I'm warm, where it's open I'm chilled. I spy Christmas wrapping paper in some of the shopping bags and backpacks of my fellow passengers. Before I left home, he told me that the Christmas present I ordered for him is already here. It was expensive, but worth it, I think.
The belt jumps to life with a low grinding of gears just as I notice a policeman with a German Shepherd dog on a leash. The animal is sniffing around, investigating, inspecting. The policeman is handsome beneath his black cap.
Looking around at the other passengers, I find myself thinking that they don't look like I thought they would. But I didn't really expect them to look any particular way, either.
I turn back to the conveyor belt and watch for my bag. Long after nearly everyone else is gone, it finally comes around, looking none-the-worse for wear. I collect it and orient myself.
The exit is that way.
Clumsily dragging my bag along behind me, I go to the doors which slide open with a soft "whump" to reveal rows of seats facing my way. There are people scattered about, some right in the path of people exiting, exchanging hugs and greetings and chattering loudly to one another.
Panic tightens my chest. Where is he? He has come to pick me up, hasn't he? Will I recognize him? Is it possible that I might have forgotten his face? What is wrong with me?
Then I see him. Rather, I see it: The small smiley-face balloon I greeted him with in Tennessee is waiting for me here in Bologna. It's a little deflated, but it's there, and Alessandro is the one holding it. He's smiling at me and I feel a warmth flow through me, cold weather be damned, and the room seems a little brighter than it did a moment ago.
He's here. He's come for me.
He takes me in his arms and hugs me tight, gives me a kiss like the ones I remember from before, from the last time I saw him, even from my dreams. I want to cling to him. I've come far enough, and he's here, so what else could I ask for? What else could I need?
I have returned the favor of his journey to meet me last August, and now there's so much more ahead. I know it, though I can't possibly know it. I will go away, and I will come back, again and again, sometimes by choice, sometimes not.
For now, though, that doesn't matter.
We go out into the cold, to his car, where he loads my suitcase into his little Fiat Bravo. He pays the parking fee and we go out of the bright lights of the airport into the darkness of a wintry Emilian countryside.
He tells me stories about everything we pass which is illuminated against the night. The drive seems endless – mostly in a good way, though I'm getting so tired it's hard to think – and all the road signs mean nothing and the names of the cities and companies along the road don't quite sink in to my frazzled, harried brain. It's all a blur. All that matters is his voice in the night, his profile lit by the reflection of his headlights off the road and the glow of the car's dashboard.
We arrive at last to his home town, few cars on the road, silence all around. His building is on a quiet street just outside of the city. He has to get out of the car to open the gate so we can park.
Once inside his building he puts me in the elevator with my bags – there's no room for him, so he tells me "Press number three" and closes the doors. When I get to the third floor, he's there, waiting.
His father is asleep in his room, and we try to enter the flat quietly, but there's no carpeting and my suitcase's wheels seem loud on the marble tiles. He shows me the light switch for the bathroom – it's on the outside – and I freshen up before returning to the bedroom in my flannel pajamas, ready for sleep.
We settle in at last. It's now the 24th of December.
I'm in Italy, with the man I love.
And even though it hasn't sunk in just yet…
I am home.