Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Only Way to Paradise- romance love stories

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The Only Way to Paradise by G.G. Vandagriff

While viewing Enchanted April with her therapy group, MacKenzie relaxed for the first time
since her husband had disappeared. She had found a character counterpart in the movie: Rose—a driven, unhappy woman—slowly mellowing under Italy’s spell. Mirroring Rose’s tension at the beginning, MacKenzie gripped her armrest, the muscles in her neck and back taut. Now, as the steel melted in Rose’s British backbone, MacKenzie’s feelings actually approached tranquility.
In Italy, things like that could happen. It was the next best thing to Paradise. You could stop your sensible pursuits in the middle of the day, lie half-dressed on a friendly slab of rock, hand trailing in gentle currents of seawater, while the sun in its periwinkle sky warmed your body clear through to your heart. Problems dissolved, heartbreaks vanished. Italy embraced you with its vast love of mankind. Philia—that’s what the Greeks called it. Right now, MacKenzie hungered for that all-embracing love.
The credits began scrolling and she dropped back into reality. She had always taken for granted that she would have a happily-ever-after. But MacKenzie’s life had taken a hairpin turn.
She was definitely not in Italy. She was in Oakwood, Ohio, sitting with the three other members of her therapy group in Georgia Todd’s home theater. Her marriage was probably over, but she still had no clue why Kurt had left so mysteriously in the night, six months ago. His voice mail said only: “This is Kurt Davenport. If you need to reach me urgently, you can leave a message for me at the Naples, Florida Yacht Club, number . . . .”
She tried to picture him living on the sailboat he had inherited from his father. Kurt was no sailor.
Next to her, Roxie, her perfect curves disguised in oversized purple scrubs, bounced to her feet, her pony tail swinging out the back of her “Dayton Flyers” baseball cap. “So—if Italy is so therapeutic and healing, what are we doing in Ohio?” She planted her fists on her hips, challenging them.
MacKenzie smiled. So crazily Roxie. With her approach to life as a circus, you might think her a children’s book writer, but never a journalism professor. One of the many mysteries about Roxie was her choice of that staid profession. She was as miscast as Sara, their fourth group member, a miserable ob-gyn, still much too enmeshed with her traditional Vietnamese immigrant parents.
“Calm down, Roxie, for heaven’s sake,” Sara said, her usually pale cheeks flushed. “We are in Ohio because we belong here. This is our home. We have responsibilities.” She lowered her almond-shaped eyes. Even after six weeks in group therapy, no one knew what Sara was really about.
Georgia ignored Sara’s dash of cold water. “I admit, my thoughts run along lines similar to Roxie’s.” Her lazy voice sounded like a cello playing something warm and melancholy. In her silver-threaded caftan, her white hair in a Gibson-girl do, she exuded glamour. “That’s the reason I wanted you to see the movie. We needed to detoxify after that horrible therapy session today. Dr. Kathy is so condescending. You know, after seven weeks, she hasn’t a clue where our real problems lie. We know far more about each other than she does about us.”
Sara agreed. “I’ve never been in therapy, but I don’t think it’s supposed to make you feel worse.”
“You girls are all still so young,” Georgia said, as she picked up her intercom telephone. “But even for me, there are still possibilities out there. Dr. Kathy traps us so tightly into our anxious little spheres, we can’t see out.” She paused, tapping a fuchsia painted fingernail on her phone. “And in Italy, there are always men. Fascinating men.” While the group digested this, she said into her intercom, “Tina, you can bring in the gelato now.”
MacKenzie silently agreed with the assessment of Dr. Kathy, as she arched her back, which had cramped up again. What happened to the carefree student I was all those years ago when I was in Florence? The second half of Georgia’s statement drew a scoff. “You think men are the answer to everything, George. If I were to go back to Italy, it wouldn’t be for a man.”
Roxie collapsed onto the floor and did one of her spontaneous somersaults, ending in the lotus position. MacKenzie strongly suspected Roxie suffered from ADHD. “Not for a man,” the gymnast said, “but because of that rat you’re married to.” Throwing her arms up and using the bright red fingernails of one hand to smooth an exotic caress down her other arm, she said in her Jean Harlow voice, “Dahlings, I really do think we should just drop everything and skedaddle.”
MacKenzie shook her head. Thirty-year-old Roxie often gave in to her spurts of imagination. It was easy to picture her flying off to Italy this very afternoon. Only heaven knew what had brought the colorful Cubana to a place like Oakwood.
“C’mon, guys!” Roxie propped her fists on her thighs, elbows out. “Show some life here! We’re not dead yet. Let’s give it a try. Can anyone honestly say that Dr. Kathy’s therapy group has helped? She’s on a ‘God trip’ and we’re her little acolytes. I’ve had enough.”
“Roxie, that’s unkind,” Sara said. “I’m sure she’s doing her best. The thing is that there aren’t easy solutions to any of our problems. Like, she can’t bring Georgia’s Ben back from the dead, or make her be able to play the violin again.”
The gelato arrived, carried by Georgia’s cook, Tina, who wore her hair in two nobs twisted on top of her head.
“Umm,” Georgia said, making Tina a circle with her thumb and forefinger after her first taste. “I’d say you got the consistency perfect, Tina dear. Chocolate and pistachio! It always reminds me of standing on the Piazzale d’ Michelangelo looking down on the dear Duomo. Did you know it was the first dome of its kind? My Ben was fond of saying it was an engineering miracle.”
MacKenzie took a bite of gelato and savored it, considering Sara’s earlier statement. “I’m beginning to think my problem with Kurt leaving isn’t really meant for group therapy, either. Dr. Kathy isn’t married, and none of you are. Besides, even if Dr. Kathy taught me how to be the perfect wife, I’m only half the problem. I don’t know what Kurt wants or even have the vaguest idea why he left.” Taking another bite of gelato, she tilted her head thoughtfully. “So the problem isn’t just with me. George’s right. I mean going to Florence maybe a little extreme, but we are all too focused on our ‘own anxious little spheres.’” Lightly tapping her spoon on the crystal dish, she said, “Therapy makes you look inward. Maybe the solution is looking outward.”
“Using those very rational words, you’re looking inward again,” Roxie said. “But I only look outward, and as far as I can tell, no offense, but I’m the best-adjusted of our bunch.” She licked every last bit of her gelato from her spoon. “I still have no idea why my doctor bullied me into signing up for therapy. But Florence sounds like just the ticket for me—and for the rest of you, too.”
MacKenzie squirmed. With the temptation of that golden city digging at her, she spoke more sharply than she intended. “Quit talking crazy, Roxie.” Putting down her dish, MacKenzie tightened her boiled-wool jacket around her spare torso and crossed her arms over it. “This is real life. Much as I hate to admit it, Sara’s right.”
But she couldn’t quell a tiny spark of hope. Wasn’t Italy once my creative touchstone? What would it be like to go back there now? This very minute?
“We’re all crazy.” Georgia said, chuckling and throwing her arms wide. “Why else would we be in therapy? We’re expected to do things no sane woman would consider!”
In the dim light of the home theater, MacKenzie watched Roxie thrust out her bottom lip. “How many times do I have to tell you? I’m not crazy. Just Cubana. We’re impulsive. We know how to enjoy life.”
MacKenzie grinned. “If you’re not crazy, why did you stuff a $250 jacket into the ladies’ room trash at the opera?”
Roxie glared. “That was your fault! You promised it wouldn’t make me look like J-Lo!”
This was a very sticky issue. Although Roxie’s natural golden beauty, tawny brown eyes, and signature one-sided smile marked her as one gorgeous Latina, her life’s mission was to obscure any resemblance she might have to the uber-famous Jennifer Lopez. Far from being just a whim, Roxie’s preoccupation was pathological. Another mystery.
MacKenzie’s grin faded and she knotted her fingers. “Sorry, Rox.” Then, “Do you know that my daughter’s latest tattoo is this horrible snake that winds around her arm?” Closing her eyes, she tried to bolt her battered emotional doors. “And Josh sneaked out of the house tonight without telling me where he was going, so I know he’ll come home drunk again. He’s only fifteen!” She looked at Georgia. “And here you go tempting me with Tuscany, the perfect escape. But my life isn’t important now. My children’s lives are. And they’re falling apart.”
“What makes you think it would make any difference whether you’re in Oakwood or Italy?” Sara said, still eating her gelato in tiny spoonfuls. “Can’t you see their rebellion is about their father, not you? Why do you take it so personally?” Her voice was that flat, no-nonsense doctor’s voice MacKenzie had come to dread.
The childless Sara’s comments about her situation had always inflamed her. She had tried to give the Asian doctor the benefit of the doubt. After all, everyone knew where those words came from. Sara was thirty-one, way too old to buckle under her immigrant parents’ tyranny. But despite her advice to MacKenzie, Sara was the queen of bucklers.
Roxie scowled at the doctor. “Enough already. You’re always so hard on MacKenzie. But how would you like it if your parents didn’t care if you were a drug addict or put a silver stud in your tongue?”
Sara’s eyes widened. This wasn’t Dr. Kathy’s therapy room. The gloves were off. MacKenzie shot Roxie a thumbs-up.
Bowing her doll-like head, Sara said, “This is not really me. I mean, I’m not really this angry person.” Silence descended. MacKenzie could make out the glitter of a tear traveling down Sara’s cheek. “Forgive me, MacKenzie. I’m the last one who should be giving you advice. Maybe I do need to get away.”
MacKenzie reached where Sara sat next to her and gave her shiny black hair a caress, as though she were calming a kitten. “It’s okay. I know I’m not myself either. There’s a reason we’re in therapy.”
Sara was right, as usual. The children never would have done these things if Kurt were home. He had been such a devoted father. Why had he left? The question tortured her almost every moment. She had become a real drag to be around and hated herself for it.
A rare burst of anger jolted her. This is Kurt’s fault! How is it fair that I have to deal with the consequences? As she had learned, anger only triggered her cortisol hormones, and she twitched with new anxiety. Pulling at a loose thread on her jacket, she watched it unravel. She tried snapping it off, but to her annoyance, it kept unraveling. Just like me.
She felt the normal urge to defend her kids, even as she despaired of them. “The point is that my children are not really Goths even if they dress that way. They’re not nihilists, but basically good, caring people. I mean Josh never forgets to kiss me good-bye before school, and he still sleeps with a scrap of his satin baby quilt, for heaven’s sake.” Holding out her hands, fingers spread, she showed off her sparkly golden fingernails. “And look what Jessica did tonight. She wants to give me a ‘new look.’ I think it’s sweet.”
Sara wiped her tear and showed a naughty grin. “I think you should tell Kurt to pull his hindquarters out of the Gulf, say good-bye to his sailboat, and come home to look after his children. Meanwhile you can go off to sample some of Georgia’s Italian men.” Reaching out, she put a hand over MacKenzie’s. “Who knows? Maybe Kurt’ll be jealous.”
“Do it!” Roxie said. She was always antagonistic when MacKenzie’s husband was mentioned. “It’s time he saw what his desertion has done to his white-bread children!”
MacKenzie bridled. “What do you have against white bread? This is Oakwood, you know. It’s completely beyond me why you chose to move here.”
“We’re getting off topic,” Georgia said. “Are we going to Italy to have a try at mending ourselves, or not?”
“You really mean it?” MacKenzie unfolded the arms that were holding in her dangerous desires. Thinking of all her charities and obligations, her problems, and her fruitless attempts to fix them, an urgent need to flee overcame her.
I am a stranger in a strange land. The artistic, “Florence MacKenzie” of more than 20 years ago had never pictured herself as a suburban housewife, wrestling for board positions in a back-biting community full of frustrated women. What has happened to me?
She craved the irreverent sound and smell of brightly colored motor scooters dodging in and out of traffic. Oakwood would never allow motor scooters. She wanted to lick authentic gelato on the Piazzale d’Michelangelo as the setting sun warmed her back and changed the city below her to gold. Mostly, she wanted to “go home” to the pure white David, the frescoed Pitti Palace of the Medici, and the pink, green, and white Duomo with its signature brick dome.
“I lived in Florence as a graduate student,” she said.
Staring at the blank widescreen TV, she could almost smell the exhaust of the scooters, combined with the fragrance of fresh dough and basil emitting from a pizzeria. MacKenzie could even imagine the bearded proprietor leaning against a peeling green doorframe, smoking a cigarette. Of course, there was the brilliance of the Renaissance everywhere—the galleries, the streets, the architecture. “I always felt like the answers to life’s hard questions were hidden there. You know what I mean? It’s a city of creative genius.”
“It would reawaken your passions,” Roxie said. “Once you’d rested. Your self-image is all messed up because of that lousy husband and the hundred and one things you expect of yourself. I think you’re so tired that you can’t even feel anymore.”
“Thanks, Dr. Kathy.” MacKenzie shot her a glare. “I’m aware that I’ve turned into someone I never thought I’d be. I don’t want to go anywhere with you if you’re going to psychoanalyze me.”
Roxie raised her perfect eyebrows. “You’re the one who brought up the jacket.”
Sara stood to her full five feet, looking as unlike an ob-gyn as possible in her Bryn Mawr sweatshirt and no-name jeans. She faced them. “Okay, guys. The only way we could ever make this work is if we have a pact. No cracks about my parents. No one talks disparagingly about Kurt. Comments about Roxie’s determination to look as different from J-Lo as possible are taboo.” She looked at Georgia. “Anything you want to say?”
The diva smiled. “I believe you once called me a narcissist?”
Sara colored. “That was before I knew how much you were hurting. I’m sorry.” She raised her small hands up in a gesture of surrender. “My insensitivity shows why we just can’t criticize or make judgments. We can’t really understand each other’s pain. If we go anywhere, we go with the object of letting each other work out her problems. Now, convince me why I should go to Florence.”
“It’s a magical place,” MacKenzie said, her fingers curved in front of her as though she were clutching a sphere. “You have to feel it for yourself.” It was never easy to put ethereal thoughts into words. She repeated, “Literally magical. I mean a miracle happened there.” She leaned forward. “Try to imagine it. There we were in the Dark Ages. Then came the Medici, who must have had some kind of vision or something. They began commissioning art from men whose gifts were astonishing. They made the Renaissance their ‘brand.’ The world changed almost overnight. How Brunelleschi, Donatello, Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Botticelli, and the rest of the greats happened to be in the same place at the same time was a miracle in itself.”
Sara rolled her eyes. “And this is supposed to help me how?”
Frustrated by Sara’s lack of imagination, she said, “In Florence, the world started to wake up and live again after a thousand years of darkness!”
Sara’s face remained a blank.
“There is something about the Florentines and their surroundings that made that happen.” She grabbed Sara’s hands and squeezed them. “I tell you, it’s still there. I remember feeling like I was in the midst of some creative energy source. The best way I can describe it is that it makes you sure your own dreams can come true.” Her words surprised her with their intensity. Oakwood had forced her into its mold of conformity, and she hadn’t been in touch with her Florentine self in far too long. She stood and paced the room, fueled by urgency to recapture that self before it died of neglect. It was, it seemed to her now, the best part of her. A part that deserved saving.
And her children? This mother had failed them. Maybe a new one, revitalized by Florence, would have better perspective.
Roxie gave Sara her most beguiling smile. “Isn’t that more appealing to your imagination than sitting around a table and listening to Dr. Kathy trying to be our mentor?”
“As long as it doesn’t end up making us delusional.” Sara ran both hands through her shiny hair, pulling it out of her face where it tended to fall like a curtain. MacKenzie chose to see the action as a grudging attempt to listen.
“We can go our own ways,” MacKenzie said. “I know we’re all different, but if we stay in Florence, there’s not only fabulous art, but great food, music, and, of course, the street market where you could spend days prowling the stalls for bargains. And if you prefer the country, there’s the whole of Tuscany just a bus ride away. Autumn in Tuscany shows colors you never knew existed.” Sitting again, she clamped her hands together between her knees to still their sudden trembling. I’m actually talking about this as if it were going to happen!
Roxie said, “That’s all I need to hear. I’m gone.”
Georgia looked at Sara. “Would it help if we looked at this practically? I believe I’m right in saying we can all afford it. Can’t we all spare a month? October is the perfect time—after the tourists and before the winter rains.”
“William could take over my Intro to Journalism classes,” Roxie said. “He’d be a treat for my graduate seminar kids. And wouldn’t the Dayton Daily News love a nice meaty feature on Tuscany for the travel and entertainment section?”
Roxie’s words blew MacKenzie’s inner spark into a blaze. She straightened her shoulders. “Kurt owes me this. And he needs to see what his irresponsible actions have done to the children.”
“Sara?” Georgia asked. “How about you?”
The doctor picked at her fingernails, her head down so the fall of her hair covered her face again. “I’m actually on mandated leave right now for therapy.”
The other three women exchanged glances and there was a moment of silence. MacKenzie held her breath. That was the first clue Sara had ever given about why such a closed person would consent to join their group. But the important thing was her decision. “You could always have your parents sleep in your house at night,” she said. “Then you wouldn’t worry about them being in that slum that creeps you out.”
Sara nodded. “I guess that’s a possibility.”
Georgia didn’t wait another second. Lowering her recliner, she stood and lightly clapped her hands. “We’re on then. This Saturday. Five days away. I know the perfect bed and breakfast.” Her hands rested on her knees as she looked at each one of them in turn. “Elisabetta and her son Cosimo are like family to me. Ben and I always stayed there when we visited Florence.” Her voice dropped an octave. “It was our favorite city.”
“Won’t it be hard for you to go back?” Sara asked, a new gentleness in her voice.
Georgia sighed and then smiled her sad smile. “I have to start living again sometime. And won’t the city of the Renaissance be the perfect place? Maybe I don’t have Ben any longer, but I do have at least twenty more years of life to live. What I need is reinvention.”
“Hear, hear,” MacKenzie said.
“I second the motion,” declared Roxie.
Georgia took a deep breath and put her twisted, arthritic hand flat on the ebony coffee table in front of her. “All in favor of an escape to Florence, put your hand on top of mine. It’s a pact.”
Sara hesitated while everyone looked at her. Then, slowly, she put her hand over Georgia’s swollen knuckles. Roxie was quick to place her hand on top of Sara’s. MacKenzie followed.
“No angst, no worries,” Roxie said when second hands had been placed on top of firsts. “Here’s to the Crazy Ladies of Oakwood!”

Oct 1
I wish I could be loved by a blind man. Lady Caroline in Georgia’s movie had no idea how lucky she was to be loved by a man who couldn’t put her physical beauty into the equation. And here I am, committed to go to a land full of men famous for their flattery. And talk about grabbers! Didn’t I move away from Little Havana just to be rid of them?
Madre de Dios, I should be an investigative journalist! I am finding Oakwood far too tame for me. I should be using my education and mind to write about things that matter. Like how to achieve world peace. It’s the only justification I have for becoming a journalist instead of someone truly scary, like a novelist.
The closest I dare come to the feelings in my heart is in thoughts of William, the Unattainable. When I told him yesterday I was going to Florence for a month and asked if he would take my classes, I worried he would think I was loco. But all he did was slap the armrests of his wheelchair and smile that wonderful smile that turns his face soft. “What else does a department head have to do?” Sarcastic or sweet at heart? Will I ever know?
The DDN is delighted with the idea of a series on Tuscany for the paper.
Oct 2
Tengo miedo. Flat-out scared. Of what, I have no idea. I woke with my stomach in knots, and it even took me a while to realize I was scared; it’s been so long since I’ve had knots. Since I’ve been in Oakwood, they’ve vanished. No se para que. I have no idea why, just as I can’t understand what drove me from Florida to this typical American suburb and a white frame house.
Por que tengo miedo ahora? Because I’m going to be spending a month with women who only know me as a clown and think I’m nuts because of the jacket-in-the-trash incident?
Maybe. But Sara doesn’t think I am nuts. Technically, all four of us are neurotic, but Sara defended my right to throw the jacket away without obligating me to answer a lot of questions. I can almost see her doing something similar. But she wouldn’t have been public about it. She would have taken it down to her basement and cut it into tiny pieces and then set fire to them. And no one would have ever known.
Will I get to peek behind that mask of hers? Is it even fair to her that I want to? She’s allowed me my privacy. Shouldn’t I allow her hers?
Oct 3
I woke moments ago with black dread hanging over me—the kind of dread I used to have of the summerhouse on Grandfather’s estate at home. With the ivy crawling over it and the palmettos crowded around it, it gets no light. And the damp has gotten in. It’s a haven for spiders. Even snakes. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were an alligator in there one day. Ay mi!
But why this dread? Perhaps it’s left over from a dream I can’t remember. I can’t have any dread of Florence. I only spent a weekend there years ago, but it’s magnificent. Not a bit like the summerhouse. Florence is full of light and beauty. And the Italians laugh and take life as leisurely as the Cubanos. We’re like cousins.
I’ll do my deep breathing exercises.
Oct 1
I woke with mixed feelings this morning. I am very excited about going to Florence again. But is it possible for a good mother to want to leave her children?
I think I won’t even straighten my hair in the mornings—I’ll just let it go curly like it always wants to.
I have to admit that the dread/excitement I feel over seeing Kurt is threatening to overcome everything else. When I called him yesterday, it was very strange. It’s the first time since he left that I have called him, so he was, of course, very surprised. It was so good to hear his voice, even though I know he’s a traitor to us all.
But he didn’t hesitate about the kids. He really wants to see them. I decided not to warn him about the changes he would find. I just didn’t have the guts.
The kids looked a little panicked when I told them my plans. But when they heard their father was coming, I could tell they were pleased, even though they tried to hide it.
Oct 2
Kurt arrives today and my little bit of excitement is gone. Now I am scared to death at how I will feel when I see him again. For some crazy reason, I still love him, and am so afraid of him seeing how much. I just wish he could walk into a perfect family and want to be part of us again.
But I’m just going to dress in sober black. I may even wear my glasses instead of my contacts. I’ve already decided I’m not taking contacts to Florence. Too much trouble with all the fluid restrictions, etc., at the airport.
I just know being in Florence again will open up all this constriction in my chest and I will be able to really breathe.
Oct 3
Kurt no longer looks like a doctor. He has let his beard grow. And his hair. In fact, he looks just like he did when I met him at the Met in front of Van Gogh’s Olive Trees. I remember he asked me about their significance. I pointed out the red in the corner and said I thought it represented Christ’s atoning blood, and that the olive trees were the twelve apostles. As though there were no doubt about it! Where did that confidence go?
When he came, he used the front door and knocked. We just stood and looked at each another.
Then, he said, “Hi, Mac.” He hasn’t called me that in years. My heart’s pounding as I write this: THE KISS.
I was so shocked when he grabbed me like that, kissing me like he never does any more. We couldn’t get enough of each other. We were absolutely welded together and couldn’t end it. If I had any doubts, the passion between us in the early days is still there. And there was such neediness and wanting. Kurt once said that I was the only one in his life who had opened his “love door.” I believed him in that moment. From his kiss, which seemed to bracket our whole life together, I surmise that this must still be so. I could feel his heart racing beneath his perennial golfer’s shirt. It was pink.
Now I don’t know what to think. I had convinced myself it was over. It must be over! How can I forgive him for what he has done to the family?
“Are you really still my Mac?” he asked. I could only stare like the proverbial doe in the headlights into those blue eyes under his heavy black brows. To my shame, all the electricity and urgency came up from its near-dormancy inside me, meeting what seemed to be the same feelings in him. I could read the want in his eyes. Kurt takes his kisses seriously, unlike the other men I dated. Another woman might have found him stiff and reserved, but for me, breaking down his barriers, knowing how much he wanted me, had been a thrill. Probably the Elizabeth/Darcy syndrome. I know that this man was not unfaithful to me. All my doubts on that subject are gone.
Perhaps we could have solved things then and there if we had simply walked out the door and left to meander in Elizabeth Gardens, sorting our feelings as we did years ago. But the children were staring. We were like two teenagers making out in the back row of the theater! I was embarrassed and I pulled away. I tried to quench the feelings rising in me by searching inside for my anger.
I did this by showing him Josh’s basketball and track trophies, all boxed up and addressed to Kurt. I told him about the drinking and smoking. I pointed out Jessica’s body piercings. He was stunned. Our intimacy fled and my anger took over again. I wanted to shake him, I was so mad.
I left the house before he could see me cry and wandered around alone through Elizabeth Gardens, throwing rocks in the stream to get my feelings out. I know I was upset with myself about that kiss. How could I have gotten so carried away, when he had done a 180 in the middle of our marriage and let us all down?
Then I went to WalMart of all places and bought some cheap jeans. I don’t know why I did it. I never wear jeans and the fit is terrible. I’m going to eat in Florence and I’ll probably fill out these hideous jeans and look like Two-Ton-Tessie. I’m definitely feeling defiant.
While I was packing, Jessica came to my room and said something like, “Mom, I’m really glad you’re going. I think it’s going to be totally good for you to do something for yourself for a change. And good for you, ordering pizza for dinner! You’ve always been, like, too linear, Mom. There really are more levels of existence outside Oakwood!”
Somehow, Jess understands. Maybe it’s the T. S. Eliot quote she read to me yesterday about getting from where you are to where you are not by going through the way in which you are not. I found myself smiling like a conspirator. “Give your dad heck, Jess. Show him your navel ring and tats and play Stravinsky till he loses his mind.”
“If the opportunity arises,” she said, grinning. It’s been a long time since she’s shared a smile with me.
Oct 1
Keeping these “morning pages” like Dr. Kathy prescribed is a very unlikely thing for a person like me to do. But it is forcing me to dwell on my thoughts. They are so far below the surface, I can’t even find them. Searching for them is counterintuitive, but probably good for me. Haven’t I been in hiding most of my life?
Why did I agree to go to Florence with three other women I barely know? The fact is I’m exhausted. Perhaps I will sleep for a month.
Oct 2
Last night I panicked and called Georgia. I couldn’t go through with it. But she simply would not accept my excuses. She came to my house and made me call to tell my parents while she was here. To my shock, they were happy! They want me to go. I told them that I would only do it if they stayed in my house at night while I was gone. My father told me something I never knew. He speaks Italian and studied art in Florence when he was a young man. It must be the romantic, French part of him.
I wonder if I have inherited any of that romance? How is Florence going to make me feel? Apart from Georgia, I really don’t know these women. I’m used to such a solitary life, except for the constant responsibility for my parents. I think they have taught me to always think the worst of everyone. Will that change?
Oct 3
I am more scared than before my medical boards. I am completely overcome by fear—of the unknown, of three women with strong personalities, even of the flight. And failure, always failure. How can I fail at a vacation?
Oct 1
Finally! Something wonderful to look forward to! I booked the B&B yesterday. Tina cried when I told her to take the month off. She’s going to live here and take care of the house, but I’m afraid she might be lonely. I’ve never wondered until now why such a lovely girl would rather cook for me and live here in this spooky, dark mansion, rather than somewhere with friends. That doesn’t speak very well of me. I’ve been such a prima donna!
Without Ben or my dramatic violin persona as Sasha Delacourt, I’m having to learn a whole new way of getting from day to day. I’m finding that I can’t do that in staid Oakwood. It’s too insular and homogeneous. Florence with three complex, delightful young women will be a wonderful change. A definite improvement over self-destruction, no matter what great opera dictates.
Oct 2
I am writing this while listening to my CD of the Dvorak. I always have a terrible time deciding which concerto I like best. Ben fell in love with me when I played the Mendelssohn. He said it was like silk.
I am my music. When Ben was alive, conducting hither and yon all over the world, I felt like I was still engaged in the “Life,” though my hands were so crippled by then I could no longer play. How can I ever have an identity without music? What else could ever fill this huge hole inside of me? Perhaps, as in the past, another man would be the answer. There has always been a man.
Arturo? I’m dreaming. It’s just that I recorded this when I was in Italy with him, in a funny little place outside of Florence, years before I met Ben. Maybe that’s why I picked Italy. I wonder where Arturo is now and what he’s doing. He would still look great. Italian men always do. Silver hair combed straight back, immaculate suit, and a Mercedes. Maybe even a Vespa for around town. What would I do if I ran into him? Just the prospect of that gives me the desire to go to the spa and have a complete day of it. Must take care of my hair, my nails, and get a good facial. I wonder if I can still turn heads?
Oct 3
Tomorrow is the day, and now I find that I have butterflies in my stomach, just like I used to before a performance. I feel responsible for these women. I want so much for them to enjoy themselves. I want an “Enchanted October” for them! I suppose that’s very co-dependent of me, my happiness depending on theirs. Maybe I’m not a narcissist after all.
What kind of mother would I have been? Is that what getting old is all about—more and more hypothetical questions?


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