Like all things, or almost all things, it was inevitable that it would break. It was held together by two sad strings and this morning while I was tickling Luca they finally said, "enough, we give up". I'm talking about a little bracelet, one of those thin ones made of colorful strings that street vendors sell and that, according to some, bring good luck.
It was June of last year. I had been touring Italy to present my book, and I happened to be in Milan, where I met my friend Paula, who had come to visit me from England, where she was for a conference.
Paula and I first met when we were both pregnant, she with Keegan and me with Luca. We went to a Wednesday night birthing class, where the teacher tried to convince us that if you breathe right, giving birth doesn't hurt quite as much. Bullshit, it hurts like hell, breathing or not. We had exchanged phone numbers and promised to stay in touch.
Then one night, as I was watching a Seinfeld episode, I had the first of a million contractions, and with a very nervous Dan and a car seat that we didn't know how to install, I rushed to the hospital. As the nurse was injecting my first (and sadly, last) shot of morphine, I asked her if a woman named Paula had already given birth. She said that she had, nine days earlier, but that there had been complications and she and the baby were still in the pediatric ICU.
The next day Luca was finally born. He was ugly, with a pointy head and a red eye from the pushing. We took him home the next day, and soon realised that we had no idea how to change diapers, or nurse, or wash or dress an infant. All I knew was a Communist song in the dialect of Milan that seemed soothing, and Dan knew an Italian lullaby, which he would sing at four in the morning, in his underwear, with big black circles under his eyes. Back then we still thought we had a typical baby.
I called Paula and soon after I went to visit her. Keegan was born with many problems that only well-trained surgeons could repair; he was a very beautiful little boy with sweet and expressive eyes. The same eyes I still admire now when, as a young and finally healthy man, he hugs me and calls me aunt Marina, which melts my heart every time. As a baby, Keegan was often at the hosptal, and not long after Luca would spend time there too, with issues that were very different but just as scary.
Paula and I instantly became best friends. Our discouraging moments were balanced by many others in which we laughed and drank beer, as beer makes milk and melts anxiety. We never lost touch; not when she lived in Boston and I lived in New York - not when I moved to Boston and she moved to Pennsylvania, then to Florida then finally to Toronto, where she lives now. She has without a doubt remained my rock of stability, my fourth sister.
Anyway, I was in Milan with Paula for the first time in the seventeen years that we have known each other, and I took her for a nice tour of my city. I had just arrived in Milan, and the next day I was going to Bologna, for the last presentation of my book before coming back to the States. We sat on the steps of the Duomo, eating ice cream and chatting. At that moment a tall, and beautiful African man, dressed in a colorful outfit and holding objects he was selling on the street, came towards us and, without speaking a word, he took my arm and tightened a bracelet on my right wrist. He smiled and then he left. I was left with my arm in mid-air watching this gorgeous man walk away.
That bracelet stayed around my wrist from that day on, and I remember thinking that its loss would signal the end of a beautiful chapter of my life. A chapter in which I met so many interesting people; some were beautiful (also physically). A period in which I shared the memories I have of my father that were printed in a book with many people - a book that, it seems, was well received. A chapter I lived all alone, for once, without Dan, without the kids; I was just Marina Viola and not "the wife of" or "the mother of".
That bracelet followed me when I came back to the States, and when I left again soon after to partcipate in a festival in Tuscany, and to present the book, once again, in Bologna. It stayed with me along three other trips that I took to talk about my work and my father. It was always with me, my good luck bracelet, and today it broke; that chapter has officially ended. People say not to focus on the past, but to live in the present and to try to do the right things to ensure a good future. They are absolutely right.
However, today, secretly, while I was lying down on Luca's bed trying to tickle him, for just a second I peeked back at the past. And I really like what I had done in that chapter.
I loved it.