Cocooned in my parents’ house in Wisconsin for six weeks, it was hard to remember that I actually live in Rome. I spent most of the time in my pajamas, waking up early to work and curling up on the couch in the afternoons to catch up on reading. On the weekends, I ventured out into the freezing and snowy tundra that was their front yard, enduring the weather for bachelorette parties, weddings, Christmas dinners, and a whirlwind trip to the East Coast.
The US was so comfortable that my life in Rome started to seem fake. Falling into a routine back home was so easy that Rome started to seem like distant memory, like a life I had dreamed once, but never really lived. When my mom dropped me off at the airport in Madison I cried to be leaving the country for the first time in my life. I didn’t cry leaving to study abroad, even though I was going to the Middle East and had never left the US before. I didn’t cry leaving to backpack in Asia. I didn’t cry moving to Rome, and I didn’t cry when I came back and left again after finally receiving my work visa. For some reason this time was different, and I actually hesitated stepping on the plane. My original flight was delayed and rerouted, and I saw it as a sign that I shouldn’t be going anywhere. When I stopped in Boston I wasn’t fully convinced I wouldn’t turn back.
Landing in Rome, it took approximately 45 seconds to be jolted back into reality, proving instantly that it wasn’t a dream life but a real one, and it was just as I remembered.
“Guarda!!” the taxi driver shouted out the window at a woman crossing the street in front of the airport. “Guardaaa!!” The woman, who was walking in a crosswalk and most definitely had the right of way, but who the taxi driver didn’t see because she was talking on the phone and instead almost slammed into her, stopped in her tracks to shout back, gesturing wildly.
“Welcome to Italy,” said the Priest sitting next to me, turning to slap my hand in a high-five handshake. We laughed, and within seconds were flying along the highway at dangerous speed, the taxi driver cursing under her breath, lighting a cigarette while simultaneously putting on lipstick in the mirror, fiddling with the radio, and doing everything possible to not look at the road.
The priest was right, I thought. Welcome to Roma. I sighed, smiling. Typical. And this wasn’t even the craziest thing that had happened since landing in Italy. The first was meeting the priest, a nice man from Michigan working at a seminary here. He approached me in the customs line and asked if I wanted to share a taxi. He’s a priest and from the Midwest, so of course I said yes. Taxis are expensive, after all. I walked up to the Italian customs officer, who lazily stamped my passport without looking, leaving me thinking my work visa was a waste of time and money, and met the priest on the other side to wait for our bags.
Here, we ran into my seatmate on the plane. A large, very Italian, very talkative older man from Pescara, a small town in Abruzzo. He talked my ear off for the first three hours of the flight, first about his son in Boston, then about his favorite wine, and on and on about his theater business, until finally I had to pretend to fall asleep. Still, he woke me up twice to say, “aren’t they gonna give us some wine,” then nudge me and laugh, like we were in this together. The middle buttons of his shirt were broken, leaving his large and hairy stomach exposed for the duration of the flight, and every time he laughed the shirt stretched farther open.
At the baggage claim, he sat in a wheelchair while his brother, (who he woke me up to meet before breakfast), hunched over the luggage belt. “Roberto!” He yelled at his brother. “Come and say hello to Miss Rebecca!”
“Giovanni! I gotta concentrate on the luggage!” his brother yelled back, even though they were about a foot away from each other.
The priest, a tall, thin man with a tuft of white hair on the back of his head and rosy cheeks, looked at me with sympathy as I was dragged into another story from Giovanni about why his son is still single, his gaping shirt widening disturbingly the entire time.
Bags finally in hand, we struggled through the masses haggling over taxi prices and found the passionate woman who would become our driver. The priest at this point offered to pay for the whole taxi, which was a little weird but I’m not in a position to refuse a free ride. We climbed in, and about five seconds later almost hit the poor pedestrian.
Ten miles into our highway terror, and after exhausting small talk about the Midwest and the seminary, (I couldn’t think of many questions to ask him without revealing my total ignorance in that area, and we’d already gotten in a mini tiff about Jordan and I didn’t want to ruin his generosity), he turns to me and asks if I’m dating anyone.
I looked straight at him, trying to decipher this question. No, it wasn’t that strange of a thing to ask, but it was a bit personal. His tone as he asked was disconcerting, almost nervous. “So, um, are you like, dating anyone or anything?” What?? It was the last thing I expected from the middle aged, white haired man clad in black with a clerical collar sitting next to me. Either he lied about being a priest, or he’s going to give me a lecture, I thought, staring him down. “No.” I replied, launching into stories about my past, hoping he would deem me so far from salvation that he would stop whatever lecture he was about to launch.
Instead, he asked me to dinner, promising that the view from his building was stunning. The building, that is, where he lives with about 100 other priests. He then commented on my eyes. Again, what??? I took his card, stunned, while he explained he’s part of a non-secular diocese. “Umm thanks. Have a good day,” was all I could stutter when he got out. I felt a little better when I saw that we did in fact drop him off at a compound teeming with other priests, and as soon as we drove away the taxi driver burst out laughing with me. Needless to say, we will not be going to dinner, no matter how great the view is or how much free communion wine he can give me.
A few minutes later I was at the door of my friend Sabrina’s house, where she and her wonderful boyfriend cooked for me, took me in for the week, and reminded me of the importance of friend-families when your actual family is 4000 miles away. And now I’m writing this while searching for apartments, drinking my espresso, (the steaming mugs of coffee my father poured daily just a figment of my imagination), the Colosseum in perfect sight, the smell of pizza in the air, and surrounded by Italians talking about food, of course. Yep, back in Rome, and it’s really pretty great.