When in Rome…

This is summer.  Balmy air draws warmth from my arms when the breeze caresses my skin.  Neighborhood birds squawk, nothing more.  I sit with my red wine and think and write, my most cherished past time.  Just two weeks ago I spent the longest day of the year in Italy; the sun has long since disappeared tonight.  Days are getting shorter.  Summer won’t last.

People might wonder how single teachers in their thirties spent their two months of freedom.  First, it is freedom.  I can’t speak for us all, but my mother and I would agree that it is freedom.  When you teach like she taught me to do, your kids and preps and lessons and ideas for making them all better consumes you August through June.  Kecoughtan High School defines me during the school year, and I find my mind circling back to students and colleagues readily long after the dismissal bell rings.

The freedom I find in summer is in the absence of constant investment.  It takes its emotional toll, even when the students give back like they did this year, my best in ten years of teaching.  For ten months, their needs are a top priority, and bells don’t constrict the pervasiveness of that responsibility.  Teaching virtual summer school online is a smart way to make some extra cash, but you don’t foster the same depth of relationship with these phantom students.

During the summer, I can recharge.  In my twenties, I always picked up a part time job just to experiment; unfortunately, I’m not as young as I used to be.  I spend the free days doing all the things that are left neglected the rest of the seasons.  I call it my “Summer Productivity” list.  I have the mental and creative energy to scrapbook, crochet, garden, eliminate junk piles, reorganize the shed, and read a book not off a required reading list on the beach for three hours if I want to.

Back from Italy and my holiday weekend with Charming, I’ve had about a week of official summer.  I finally sat down with my yearbook and read my students’ signatures, wiping clumsily at tears.  I’m teaching writing remediation half days this week at a local high school, and I was reinvigorated by the chance to bring my A game and power through an effective review with some new kids.  Despite my waxing nostalgia for Italian soil and the stories I’ve yet to write about my family, it was good to be reminded that I picked the right career.  I fit easily into an unfamiliar classroom, quickly establishing rapport and expectations, ultimately covering far more material than I thought was possible.  It was good to be in the classroom.  For a few days, anyway.

My Italy scrapbook is my top priority.  I sense an urgency to complete it while the anecdotes are still fresh, so I am able to do the details justice.  Each day, I research and write the captions for another day of my trip there.    The last time I took on a project of this magnitude, it was at the end of last summer.  Charming and I had broken up because I wasn’t sure I could wait for him to make a greater commitment to us.  I opted to knock the “Year With Charming” memory book off last summer’s to do list.  It seemed a bit masochistic, recording every tidbit of our first year together that had ended so abruptly.

In fact, working on the scrapbook ultimately led me to renege on the break up and reconcile with Charming a week or so later.  I wanted more memories with him.  Countless hours spent with our romantic love affair playing out before me as I arranged and narrated every moment brought me closer to him.  I was convinced he was the one even if he wasn’t there yet.

Almost a year later, I should say I’m still waiting.  But there’s a new scrapbook summer obsession vying for my attention, and I’m not really thinking about the waiting anymore.  A friend of mine from the church Charming attends in Silver Spring cautioned me about my view of the months ahead.  Living day to day life with Charming while he took classes in Norfolk for the summer would either lead to an engagement or a final breakup.  When we reach the two year mark, either he’ll know I’m the one or that I am, with some supernatural assurance, not the one.

Italy gave me new life.  It was just ten days, I know, but I made them count.  The collective sum of moments could fill a scrapbook as large as my year with Charming.  I lived.  Over there, I wasn’t waiting for anything.  This was the great thing I had been waiting the longest for, even longer than I’d wanted a second chance at marriage.  I’ve been losing myself, every day, in the photographs and ticket stubs cataloging my epic journey to foreign soil that resurrected qualities I thought lost decades before traveling abroad.

Like my classroom consumes me while school is in session, each current scrapbook undertaking takes me under.  I wish I had twenty-four consecutive hours to binge-scrapbook the Grand Tour of Italy and click on the order form in Shutterfly.  When I’m not able to work on the captions, I’m thinking about what I might add.  My friend from Silver Spring, the one who advised me not to look at this summer in such extremes, sent me a book called, “Wait and See”.  I’ve read a few chapters, and it resonates with me.  Though we’ve not talked often, she reads my blog, and she felt compelled to bless me by sending me a copy to assist me on my summer journey.

When I picked it up today, the title didn’t make me cringe.  I think it happened somewhere between Rome and Capri, but it was suddenly clear.  As clear as Mt. Vesuvius during sunset while I was writing my blog post two weeks ago was the acute awareness that I wasn’t waiting for Charming anymore.  This is our summer.  What will be will be.  Wait and see… okay, but I’d rather document life in Italy than sit and think and wait for what might happen.  I was truly alive there.  I wasn’t a teacher or a girlfriend, not really.  I glimpsed myself, stripped down to the borrowed watermelon, cotton pajama set one of my girls had lent me, and I saw a hope in my own reflection that had been absent days before in my own vanity mirror.

My gym mentor Chuck asked me why those moments sneaking a clove or sharing an espresso with a stranger in Italy were so important to me.  They were stolen minutes, unplanned and unexpected, and there was zero judgment and complete freedom.  I could free speak about my Protestant faith while nursing a little cigar.  It wasn’t a paradox.  When in Rome, do as the Romans do.

The problem is, I’m not in Rome anymore, yet the longing to do as the Romans do remains, fighting for breath and grasping for a hold on the controlled existence of day to day life back in the States.  If I am to be a childless woman in my thirties, one who’s not a teacher for a couple of months, then let me be an Italian-American relishing in the life-changing encounters I had in the homeland of my ancestors.  Charming inspired me to make the bucket list that led me to that EF tour.  Somewhere, somehow, without my notice, I stopped waiting.

And yes, my deference towards him has changed, but I can only imagine Charming finds himself unburdened in the shift of my obsessive focus away from marriage and children and toward a potential calling to write a book about my family’s Christian heritage.  When I was in Rome, the personal application for doing as the Romans would do led me to do something quite contrary: miss seeing the Pope bless the people and go visit a Protestant church instead.

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Maybe that’s when I stopped waiting.  After dropping the group off at the catacombs, after Pasquale made our bus into my taxi and left me with just a fifteen minute walk.  Our group would tour the Colosseum that afternoon, but I was seeing it right then.  Because I was free.  I was on my own.  I was making choices I wanted to get to live with, starting with Chiesa de Valdese.

I thought, When in Rome! And the answer was simply, Live.  This sentiment continues to fight the All-American, normal, daily, routine counterattacks.  I think I’ll let it do its worst.

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