A month before my birthday, I started going out with Leo.
On my birthday, he left for the Slovenian capital, Ljublyana. I was smitten and heartbroken. He was to be away for “one or three months, depending on how my research goes.” He got me a cake, wrote me a poem and gave me a book with an intensely personal dedication.
We emailed but as the months passed, I told him that it was stupid to continue. His emails were scarce and all he did say in his two lines was that he was hungry and cold. He pleaded with me and it wasn’t until March of that next year that I was able to meet with him. I couldn’t go as far as Lyublyana so we arranged to meet in Venice for a day.
A week before I was to depart, he wrote asking if I would be mad if he invited a friend along. A girl. I wrote back saying that I would not be mad as long as she was just a friend. As I was traveling with family, I couldn’t stay in Venice for a night and he had to go back that same day so I had to content myself with just seeing him.
Piazza di San Marco. Near the Cathedral. Our reencounter was warm as he told me that his friend was at a museum exhibit. We whiled away the time and went to pick her up. She was an attractive blonde, studying fashion design. We walked along the streets and as I was looking in a shop window, I just happened to look at the reflection that was further along the window: Leo and his “friend” holding hands.
When I was looking, they acted innocently with no indication of extracurricular activity. He asked me to take a photo of them, sitting on the steps leading up to a door, on either extreme of the steps, with easily two yards between them. They sat so far apart that I had to back up a lot to fit them both in.
I played it off.
They had come with very little money, save for their train fare and the hard-crust sandwiches which they had brought with them. I offered to buy them lunch and when we were in the Catedral di San Marco, I offered to pay their fare into the museum on the second floor.
“Oh, we’ve seen the museum and have already been. If you want, you can go and we’ll wait for you out here.”
To say that I was not pleased with this arrangement was an understatement. We walked out into the plaza and saw the bell tower standing in the middle.
“That’s the Bell Tower,” Leo said. “You should go up. We’ve already been so if you want, we’ll wait for you out here.”
Without another word, I just kept walking, ignoring him, paid my fare and went up the elevator to the top of the tower.
From the top, you can see all of Venice, the canals hidden by the houses and palazzos that were built so closely together. But all I could focus on was my anger, my rage. All I wanted to do was to vault my camera from the top of the tower and scream.
That thought stopped my rage.
Throw my camera from the tower? Destroy the one thing I love? What sort of person am I to destroy something I love for a person who obviously does not care about me? I’m in Europe on vacation and I’m going to let this nob head ruin it for me?
Suddenly, I could see the colors of Venice. The blue of the banner announcing the reconstruction of a nearby palazzo. The dusty reddish brown rooftops that looked alive even on that cold, cloudy day. The people walking about, bright canvas of pointillism. The bird feed vendor of the plaza with a flock of pigeons that surrounded him like random pixels.
I had died in that tower and I came down a new person.
I sang through the streets and I could hear Leo behind me say to his “friend”, loud enough for me to hear, how beautifully I sang.
I let down my hair and commented to her what lovely hair I had.
And all I could think of was how silly he looked to me.
At the train station, I gave him the last hug I would ever give him and as the train pulled out the station, I never looked out to see if he stood there to watch me go.
In my mind, I had already left.