What happens to your life when you’ve grown up seeing perfection?
I had memories of Lake Titicaca in Peru,
of the stunning scenery of its eclectic geography. I had memories of walking along the city of Arequipa with my dog, alone, but always unafraid, and never had any cause to regret that daring. I lived as good as alone, yes, in a big six-level-villa surrounded by a garden, but my maid Gladys prepared my meals and I would sit and watch a couple of telenovelas with her, and I had my animals: my llama, Bibo, my dog Churro, and various kittens that would come and go. I already said I played with earthworms, in Peru I had progressed to earthworm races.
I loved my freedom and I loved my own presence in this world. The occasional encounters with parents or siblings I remember little about, this was when my parents were beginning to split up for good and so I saw them even less than before, and that suited me just fine. There were once or twice long trips in the car with my dad, and we all just focused on the extravagant magnificence of the Peruvian landscape and fauna. Back at home, I was happy with the chats with Gerardo, our driver, looking out from where we sat in our garden out over the city of Arequipa.
But this is all part of the tale of my years in Peru, in its own chapter in the book I am writing.
From this I was swept up and taken, along with my brother, to the north of Italy, where we would now live in a small house with my mother and my sister. This is where the chaos in my life began.
I was 12 when I arrived in Italy, and what a hugely different place that was. It was massively crowded, both in the house and outside. There were people everywhere, and there was no escaping talking to all of them, it seemed.
I struggled to understand why my Peruvian jumpers were funny, and I struggled to understand almost everything that was supposedly funny, even when not about me. My father had picked out in advance some girls for me to become friends with, and though they were indeed nice and gentle, I didn’t understand them. Oh, I knew enough Italian to understand the words they spoke, but they made little sense to me. I tried, but I soon found myself preferring the company of boys, who were more boisterous, more interesting, more adventurous. Boys took their bikes and went exploring places, and that was far more my style. So I began tagging along with them.
I had always been precocious in my appreciation of boys, so by all means part of me wanted to be with them because I found them overall more interesting: they were cute, one of them in particular, and they did things that were more fun: girls, particularly these «good» girls my dad had picked out, never stood a chance, really.
I will write more about these boys and those first years in Italy in my book, but because yesterday was Valentine’s Day I wanted to tell you about a couple of perfect Valentine’s.
You see, I come back to the perfection I mentioned above.
Valentine’s Day has now become absurd, according to me. It is everybody’s day. I’m not kidding when I tell you my father sent us girls (women and children) a «Happy Valentine’s kitten in a champagne glass» email. I had to respond with laughter and say hahah but why, it’s not like it’s women’s day!
Crazy stuff happens now with Valentine’s: people moaning about how it should be abolished because they are bitter or depressed as they don’t have a boyfriend or girlfriend, America trying to establish a «Galentine’s day» to celebrate best friends (just so more people buy on the day before too), friends say Happy Valentine’s to friends (why!) and so on and so forth.
But to me, as I was growing up, both in Peru and in Italy, Valentine’s Day was the day when hidden love was revealed, confessed, brought out into the open. Sometimes anonymously because they were too shy, or not quite ready, sometimes with open declarations. It should mean a lot to gay people coming out these days, since heterosexual kids these days just whatsapp their love to each other before it’s even formed!
The story behind this day was that it was named after a priest who would marry the couples who were secret lovers: this way, they could finally come out into the open. It’s a lovely story and why can’t we keep it?
Well, I have had a couple of perfect Valentine’s. But the two most perfect ones have got to be the one with Massimo and the one with Michele. How do I tell these stories without their long backgrounds?
I will try, but they’re both worth reading up about in whole in my book, I promise you.
Massimo was a boy, a couple of years older than me, from the group of houses next to ours. He was a cyclist, a serious one, sure to become professional one day, it was clear to everyone, especially his dad who trained him. He was a cute boy with large brown eyes and brown hair and light skin. We’d gotten together around the age of 13, but because his friends, who were jealous of the time he spent with me, had found out about my running around with the kids from my school and their older siblings, they began calling me names and insulting me in front of and to Massimo. Massimo always told me to just ignore them. But it wasn’t enough for me to ignore them, they were hurting my feelings deeply and I wanted him to do more about it. So I broke up with him. He accepted it, though he was sad, but he began cycling past my house where I would sit with my friends to watch the world (and cute boys) go by. Then he began doing funny things, such as cycling past and then immediately cycling past again, making faces and singing songs, until eventually he convinced me to get down from the rock my friends and I sat on and come outside the gate and talk to him.
By then I had started to go out with a bigger and older group of friends, a result of following a couple of older brothers of the boys from my school. These all had motorbikes, mostly Vespas. Massimo had seen me with them, they were cool, and older, and they smoked, and they had motorbikes: he knew he couldn’t compete, so he began to tell me he was thinking of buying a motorbike. He must have seen my eyes open wide. He would tell me all about it and eventually one day instead of cycling past, he drove past with his motorbike, and he’d gotten good with it, and he did wheelies with it, and he convinced me to go for a ride, and we did, and it was such fun. We were still split up, but we had become fast friends.
More than once, he’d fall off his bike. He would come and laugh with my friends and me about his scabs, the big scabs from his falls, we would have fun picking them off.
Then Valentine’s day arrived. There was a party at his group of houses, organised by his friends. He invited me and I was very worried because his friends continued to be very frosty towards me, adding to their scorn for the boys I hung around with their supposed anger at having broken Massimo’s heart. He told me not to worry, he’d walk in with me, and never leave me alone.
So we went, and there was music as there was in the eighties, you know, fast pop music for dancing, and then slow ballads for slow dancing.
I still remember that day as if it were yesterday: Massimo and his black jumper, thin enough that as I hugged him and he hugged me as we prepared to dance to a song he said he’d prepared just for me, I could feel the scabs from his latest accident all over his back and strong arms. I felt enveloped and protected and loved, and I was also hugely aware of the piercing stares from all his friends at the party: Massimo had many friends, some even came from the church, as you’ll read in the book. The song «Hard to Say I’m Sorry» by Chicago came on, and he hugged me tighter, and spoke in my ear gently that he should never had left me undefended, he should have stood up for me, he should have told them all to go to hell, and he should never have allowed an ill word about me to be spoken by them. He promised me that if I ever gave him another chance, he would be proud to hold me in front of everyone, and slam down anyone who dared speak badly of me. We would «come out», into the open, and even if I wanted us to remain friends, he would hold me and love me in front of everyone.
I cried into his jumper. I apologised and we laughed, it didn’t matter that I’d gotten his jumper wet. The party was over and we left together, and he didn’t let go of me one minute, and he stayed close and looked openly and defiantly at his friends, who had to look away and gossip amongst themselves. I felt like the Queen of the party, because Massimo was by all means the King.
This is hard for me to write.
To this day, I can barely hear that song without shivering and crying, and even as I write these words now, my eyes fill with tears and I am not sure how I will continue.
A few days later, Massimo came up to our group of houses as always, and we went for a short walk into town. I walked, he pushed his bike, on which he had just done his usual pirouettes to impress me. As usual, I told him off about them, pointed out his many falls, and told him how he had to be more careful. He asked me whether I’d thought about what he’d said, and whether I was going to give him another chance. I said hm well, let’s try, and see how it goes. We arranged to meet that coming Sunday, it would be the first day of our renewed relationship. He was so happy and whoopped and bounced on the motorbike and began to set off and I laughed and yelled at him over the racket he was making «That’s if you make it to Sunday considering the way you drive!».
He laughed as well and drove off.
That Thursday he crashed with his bike, and died.
This will have to end here. Part 2 tomorrow.