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Working it out in the world, and sometimes writing about it.

Friday, February 11, 2011

A Totally Cliche' Story

Caparbio* is a very hard topic to write about. Not because thinking about him brings me impressive amounts of pain or because he throws me in a tizzy—I just don’t quite know what to make of it all.

A brief history: I met Caparbio through friends. He liked that I was a soccer-playing American, and I liked that he was a sweet, vibrant, Italian artist. We didn’t meet until I was to leave for a few weeks traveling. But when I returned, he met me at the train station and walked me to the house where I would au pair for only a month. He hadn’t forgotten about me while I was gone. We spent June watching the Euro Cup, eating pizza, and becoming a pair. There could be no way I could make up a more typical Italian study abroad story of meeting a boy. 

The view from his window.

The family I nannyed for was awful (that’ll be another post), and so Caparbio called his mama to see what he could do. 10 minutes later, I was calling my parents telling them that I was headed to Sicily in three days to stay with Caparbio’s family. I packed up my suitcase and was gone from the awful house on Via Giambologna.

The window from which I met him. My friends were across-the-way neighbors. That's how it all started.
I stayed with Caparbio’s family for three weeks in Sicily, on an island where they have a fishing business. Beaches, Vespa rides, and incredibly fresh seafood were my days, and I was absorbed with Caparbio. In the way I could at the time, I loved him. The way you can love a person who does not: speak your language, understand where you come from, your history, your wounds, your love, your life. He was kind, patient, protective, accepting, and open.

A month after returning home and going back to school, I broke up with him. In Italian, the phrase translates to “I left him.” In English, these phrases mean very different things. Caparbio felt the latter. He yelled at me on the phone and told me I had taken advantage of him, said that I had only used him because I needed him, and that I had lied to him—I had never loved him. He was sarcastic with me and mean. I had never seen that before from him.

Why did I break up with him? It never would have worked, and I knew that going in. That’s my fault.  But Caparbio was the first guy I’d dated since Stephen—that was big to me, because Stephen was so important to me. He was my version of testing the waters again, and I guess, too, that he was an innocent casualty of that.

Caparbio handled my vulnerability beautifully; he also gave me some of his. He showed me his home, he took me in, he took my hand and walked me around his town’s streets. He made sure I wore a helmet on the Vespa; he made sure I stayed away from the poisonous lizards on the wall that leech out in the evening. I felt safe with him, but I didn’t feel passionately toward him.

And so, when I told him I loved him, I was telling the truth. But to Caparbio, love can only ever mean one thing. Caparbio is not someone I could ever be with long-term. He adores his small corner of the world in Sicily. All he wants is to graduate and return home to his family (this, I can relate to). He hates travelling (this I can’t). He doesn’t make friends in Florence because he would rather not leave any behind. He goes to school, comes home, studies, and does it again the next day. Caparbio has a confined and bordered life in comparison to the one I want for myself. I want so much from life, and Caparbio wants so little; he just wants to get school over with so he can return to his Sicilian corner.

How is this not an ugly thing to say? Who am I to pass judgment on the way another human lives his life? Only because I see in Caparbio’s life what I do not want for myself. I could not live happily on an island, folding laundry, and waiting for him to come in with the night’s catch at 3 AM.

I want to live big. I want to take up space. I want to make my corner of the world the whole world.

So, I left him alone for a year. Eventually, he came around bit by bit. We chatted politely on the phone a few times a year later, and the year after that, this past spring, he added me on facebook, which was not only surprising that he would make such a gesture, but also because he’s totally computer illiterate. All the same, it was good to feel the searing Sicilian anger fall off my back. We were polite.

And then I told him I would be visiting in some months, and things changed. Suddenly, I was no longer the bad guy. He wanted to see me. He would make time.

We spent a nervous evening together trying to catch up a few days after I arrived. My Italian was rusty, and with my nerves, it all felt funny. But I stopped by the next evening and the next. We were coming to learn about one another. He would practice his drawing, and I would ask him questions from my perch on the couch. Things were beautiful.  

And then a perfect storm occurred. I was relaxed, we were bantering, and then Caparbio wrapped me in a quilt of blame, etched in the years since we’d been together. He was upset that I’d started dating Danny so soon after he and I had broken up. He didn’t yell, but he spoke slowly and emphatically, making sure I understood every Italian word coming out of his mouth. I had lied to him, played with his feelings, taken advantage of his family, he said. It was all just an adventure to me, he said. Me breaking up with him was happening again, over two years later. How had this happened?

I tried impossibly to defend myself. I couldn’t. Even in English, it would’ve been hard. I couldn’t tell Caparbio that I had loved him as best I could when we were together; though, that it was probably a different kind of love than the kind he wanted. I couldn’t say that I knew the distance would have made the relationship impossible. I couldn’t tell him how important he was to me and how much I appreciated all the things he and his family had done for me. I began to, and I started to cry.

So, in the place of my defense, he said many mean things, and I got up, whispered a “ciao” and left.
That’s how it ended.

At least for now. He’s since apologized over email, but with google translate, things are lost and intentions remain confusing. I think he regrets that night. But the apology is huge. Sicilians don’t apologize; instead, they patch things so they work again, like a leak in a boat. He wishes me well, but he does not understand why I am taking this trip. He does not understand why I’m here alone. He is confused by me.

I wonder why it’s so hard for me to let go of Caparbio. I have no romantic feelings left for him, but there is a genuine fondness and appreciation for him that will always be there. He was there for me in such a strange spot in my life. He made it ok to move on. He is part of my Florence.

I went by his house today while I was waiting for my train and while chomping down on some gelato. I had hope because his shutters were wide open and there was a window cracked. I rang the bell, nothing. I rang it again, two short spurts. Nothing. I imagine he was in school, but maybe he was inside, drawing human figures, his glasses on his nose, in his small apartment and ignoring the American downstairs who lied, lied, lied.

*Name has been changed…it’s probably a really good idea. Look up what it means in Italian. Bonus point!

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