Life As It Once Was
It’s confirmed, Wanderlust is my internship for this summer. I, Valentina Perotti, am going to leave the boundaries of the state of California for the first time in my life. Of course Benji is the first person I want to share the news with, but I have been so good about respecting his relationship and keeping us more study buddies. Reminding myself that this was my choice, dumb or not.
Instead, I head home to surprise my parents. I could definitely use some amazing home cooking and I need to check in on Stella, make sure she is all good.
“Ciao! Anyone home?” I announce myself as I let myself in.
Squeals from the kitchen says yes. Stella and my mom run out to greet me. Dad smiles from the kitchen. There is nothing that he loves more than his three ladies happy.
“Ciao bambina! Why didn’t you tell us you were coming?”
“I wanted to surprise you.”
“I would have made your favorite.”
“Everything you cook è il bio preferito mamma.”
“Valley-girl, to what do we owe the honor.” Daddy teases as he gives me a big hug.
“Are you checking in on me? Making sure I am behaving?” Stella knows me so well.
“I would never!” We both laugh because it is exactly what I am doing. “Actually, I have great news to share.”
“You finally have a boyfriend?” Stella teases.
“Funny, I will leave that stress on Dad up to you.”
“Why have just one?”
“Stella, basta! Why do you say these things in front of your father?” Mom warns Stella.
“Mamma mi dispiace.” Stella sullenly offers.
“I see not much has changed. Stella, how are college applications coming along?”
“It’s all good, and no, I don’t need your help. You may be the smartest here, but my skills as a dancer will get me into a few of my choices, thank you very much.”
“You are such a smart ass, as always.”
“I am just stating the truth. I don’t need you to mother me or rescue me. I can do this on my own.”
“I am just offering, I have already been through this process so I know a thing or two.”
“Girls, let’s not do this, it’s dinner time.” My dad intervenes.
Mom doesn’t like controversy so she leaves us to bicker and finishes dinner. Stella and I set the table, all of a sudden we are 12 and 7, me trying to keep her in line and she working out her resentments towards me being a mom to her versus the big sister she has always wanted. I head to the kitchen to help mom, asking her about life in Italian. My mother’s English isn’t as good as my Italian, so I find if I really want to know what’s going on in her head, I better speak in her native tongue. She fills me in on all the family and bar gossip as I help her put our dinner onto serving platters. Just as I suspected, mom made more than enough food.
We all sit down and my mom says grace. She is very religious in traditional ways. She never has a meal without saying grace and never goes to bed without saying prayers. Thanks to my dad, she is a lot less rigid than my aunts and grandparents. Still, she is oddly old fashioned. The only time you get to see the real her is when she is behind the bar or on stage, singing. I see now where I get my comfort zones from.
“Allora, what is the news?” Mom asks after she has served us dinner.
“I applied for and internship with a magazine in New York City, and I was accepted.”
“Amazing, can we visit her mom? It’s been my dream forever to visit Manhattan. The New School there is one of my choices, they have a great dance program. We can even visit Syracuse University, another amazing college with great arts programs.”
Just like Stella to make it about her. No matter, just as long as she can help convince my mom to join us. I can only imagine what a trip to New York would do for her.
“How about it mamma? It would be so fun. I’ve been working all year and saving money, and the magazine is paying my way. I can totally afford flights for you and Stella. And you too dad if you can get one of our uncles to watch the bar.”
I knew that means no. My mother always says maybe and it really means no. Although the bar does really well, my parents are always worried about bills and never allow themselves any vacations. Even though I have earned a full scholarship to Berkeley, they are saving for Stella's education as well. And they both are always helping out their family. It seems an aunt or an uncle or a grandparent is in need of help. My parents love me with all their hearts, but they are not good with mushy talk, or talking much at all. Mom likes to blame it on her poor English. She does speak to me with more emotions when I use my Italian. But when she answers in English, I know she isn’t in the mood to be on the phone. I get it. They spend their days listening and talking to people, it’s hard to want to do the same once they are home. Although it was hard to live through as a child. After a day with Stella I craved adult conversation, sad to say when I was under the age of 18, but from the looks on their faces, I alway knew when to leave them be. Mom has that look on her face now, let it be. I change the subject and talk about what I know about Wanderlust. Of course I only started reading the magazine when my advisor had me apply for the internship. It definitely started a nice travel bucket list for me.
I will sleep in my own bed tonight, it's been a while since I have but it's time to find that connection between my past and my present, I can't keep them separated forever. When I was younger, my mom used to come up to tuck me in after I had put Stella to bed and the bar had wined down. She would tell me stories of her childhood in Italy and sing lullabies to me, in Italian. It’s one reason I speak more fluently than Stella, that and she is so stubborn and rebels against everything.
“I am so proud of you baby girl.” My mom begins in Italian. “I am sorry that I don’t know how to show it sometimes. You know I have a hard time finding words in English to show my emotions.”
“It’s okay momma, I know you love me and are proud of me. Any you and dad are great parents.”
“You have been your own parent since you were born.”
“And it has made me who I am today, and although I am not perfect, I’m pretty awesome.”
My mom studies my eyes, like she is trying to read into my soul. It’s a bit uncomfortable, I don’t want her to see the lies I hide from her. Instead I look around my room. Not much different from my room at the dorms. My walls are filled with posters of classic and contemporary art I hope to see in person some days. No K-Pop boy bands but many of Baryshnikov. If he ever knew the fantasies I have had of him growing up.
“I wish you would come to New York City with me for a visit. We could have a fun girls long weekend.”
“You know baby girl, sometimes I hate your dad for being the best man ever. It’s hard for me to think of life outside of these walls. It makes me sad for the dreams I don’t dream anymore. I am so lucky to have a great husband and even better daughters. I am sorry if I sound ungrateful. It’s just that I met your dad too early and I missed out on so much.”
No child should have to parent their parent, or worse, be their therapists. But life doesn’t always work out the way it’s supposed to. We all have to make tough decisions and sacrifices. My mom gave up her dreams of being a musician when she had us. Dad told her she didn’t have to give up the band but mom’s strict Italian Catholic upbringing makes her the perfect martyr. She loves us all dearly, but we definitely know what she gave up for us. Maybe that’s why Stella is so selfish and I am such a do-right.
Although being home was great, I have to say that telling them versus Benji just didn’t do the trick. Benji knows me and knows what this internship means for me. Once everyone in our group started announcing their internships, I fill everyone in on mine.
"How long have you been sitting on that?" Benji corners me at study hall.
"I heard that Izzy is going back to Tokyo when we graduate." I respond, changing the subject.
I didn't want to admit to him that he was the first person I impulsively wanted to tell, nor that I was stalking his girlfriend on Facebook. She posted so many dates for DJ gigs, she has lined up all over the globe. He has a lot on his plate as is. Deciding between an amazing opportunity to work at the most successful gaming company or going to Tokyo with Izumi this summer.
“No, you don’t get off that easy Val.”
“I didn’t want to bother you.”
“How is sharing great news a bother? You are the one saying you want us to be close again, how can we be close when you pull shit like this?”
“You don’t have much time left with Izzy, I want to respect that and give you the space you need to enjoy what little time you have together.”
“Sorry, Jodi told me that Izzy is going on tour this summer and you told me you got a job of a lifetime for this summer. I figure you both need all the time together you can get.”
“You are still lying. But yeah, she really blew up this year as a DJ. Her parents aren't too thrilled but they can't say much, she is graduating college as they asked. She will have no issuers finding what they consider a real job when she is done playing around with vinyl, so they say. As for she and I, we are planning a few rendezvous. Starting with Ibiza before I start my internship.”
“That’s amazing, but aren’t you upset about it at all?"
“What is there to be upset about? Like I said, we will meet up here and there. I won’t be the same as having her here all the time, of course, but I knew this when we met. And how can I be upset? She is living her dream. She is so talented and although it's scary, she is going for it. If she is happy then I am happy."
“Why bother getting to know someone and falling madly in love with them if you knew that there was a slim chance of it all working out after this year?”
"Because to have a year with Izzy is better than to never have had her at all.”
“You are so corny and romantic.”
“And you are so pragmatic. Everything is so black and white for you.”
“Because it’s easier that way. No room for misunderstandings.”
“No room for love. Izzy, she is amazing and has introduced me to so much. And she is blast. If I look at things from your perspective, I would have never taken the chance.”
"But why purposefully set yourself up for a heartbreak."
"See Val, that's the difference in you and I. I don't think about the heartbreak. I think about how my heart has had the chance to feel. Think of how much you miss out by guarding that heart of yours. When I am over the sadness of Izzy being gone from my daily life, I get to enjoy all the great memories we made.” Benji loves to lecture me. I sometimes think it makes him feel good that I am so fucked up.
"I am not as strong as you. I don't think I can handle the heartbreak. And I don’t need lectures from you about it. Even my father doesn’t lecture me as much as you do.”
“I do it because I care for you. Plus you don’t listen and you are even worse when it comes to communicating your feelings.” This is where Benji is better than me, the one space where I don’t emasculate him.
If he only knew. In order to keep from pouring out my heart to him, it’s better I keep it all locked up inside. It’s not like I can control what actually comes out at times, so best to just keep my mouth shut and thoughts to myself. Plus my parents aren’t the best examples of sharing emotions.
"You don't know until you try, just open your mouth and talk, communication is a learned behavior. Now I can't believe I am the one saying this, but can we please focus on studying? I need to ace this exam."
For the first time in all our years studying together, Benji has to help keep me focused. I couldn't stop replaying all the nameless interludes I have had, definitely no love loss there. But how does someone love knowing they will be crushed?
I look around the lawn and see couples everywhere holding hands and laughing. Some are cuddled on blankets, napping in the sunshine. A few haven't removed their lips from one another. Why can’t I be more like them, carefree and in love.
"There are no guarantees in life, Val, sometimes you just need to take a leap of faith. Yes, Izzy and I knew that we had a year if we were lucky, we could have even had this summer. And now I have been offered the internship of a lifetime, so I am stuck here while she travels the world, but we both get our dreams. But because we took the risk, we enjoyed each other to the fullest this past year. Including all the fights and of course, the making up moments after."
The pain in my heart is sharp, it still hurt to think of him making love to someone else. But I can never tell him this, it's not fair, I was the fool that ended us. And yes, I can now admit that Benji and I made love, it wasn't just fucking. Even with someone like Mr. Leather, whom I became physically familiar with, there wasn’t the sweetness of a real connection when making love to someone. A connection that can only be gained over time. After all the meaningless sex, I now know the difference. I may be top of my class when it comes to Computer Science, but apparently I am a slow learner when it comes to the matters of the heart.
I can't tell you how many times I think about taking the leap in love with Benji. But I could never live with myself if I fail royally and hurt him again. Instead I just sit in that grateful space where he and I are friends again, getting closer every day. He still isn't a fan about me talking about my attempts at dating, at least that's what I like to call my escapades. So I share some of that with Jojo and Emily and some with Jodi. I seem less fucked up when I split my stories amongst a few people, the number is frightening to me at times. But other than Mr. Leather, they all want relationships. Even Mr. British became complicated after a few encounters. He would show up at Triple Rock every so often, which worked out great at first. Then he started asking me to dinner and theater. So that ended pretty quickly. There is no point. Eventually he will go back to London and I will be here. Like I told Benji, I am not strong enough to love when there is a guaranteed heartbreak at the end of it all. I know there are no guarantees in life, but I really want a love like my parents. I want a man to fall for me, to be too nervous to talk to me and to fight to be with me. Is that too much to ask?
“Yes, Val, that is too much to ask.” Benji responds.
Izzy is away working at a club in Chicago. Benji is helping me close up the bar. We both have had way too much to drink. There is no way this conversation could be happening otherwise.
“But why? My parent’s have it? And they met so young.”
“Val, in life you get what you give. You have told me the story of your parents so many times, usually when you are drunk and nostalgic. Your dad worked to get the courage to even ask your mom out. And you see how hard they work now to keep it all together. I am sure you have witnessed their fighting. No situation is perfect.”
“I know it’s not perfect. But it all flowed so nicely for them.”
“You only know the story your parents tell, you don’t know the truth of it all. Regardless, you can't possibly think you will meet Mr. Right when all you will allow are random hook-ups. And yes, I know all about those men. I just find solace in knowing it was us way before them.”
“Wait! Isn't that an REO Speedwagon song?”
“Yes, yes it is. We have officially become a sappy soft rock song.” We both laugh.
“Oh God Benji, I miss you so much!”
“You fucked up sweetheart.”
“I fucked up? Or I am fucked up?”
“You are a bit of a mess, but a fuck up you are not! It's okay to fuck up, it humbles us all. You just refuse to learn your lesson.”
“I am trying, I promise.”
“Life isn't like your text books. You can't learn how life works by reading about it. You learn by living and making mistakes.”
“My way of learning has gotten me this far, I have accomplished everything that I’ve put my mind to. It’s not bad. Life could be a lot worse.” I am over his lectures at this point.
“No, your life somehow still manages to be impressive in so many ways. I just find it so odd that a creative soul as yourself lacks the luster for the unknown.”
“You can be such an asshole to me at times. I am sorry that we didn’t work out and I apologize for it over and over again. But why can’t you just be my friend instead of always my conscience? I am heading to New York City and I plan find ways to live a little more there.”
“I hope so Val, don’t be so serious and don't waste your youth. It’s actually fun being young.”
“Young, free and single; that has to be a song.”
“Okay, you are too drunk, let’s get you home. I can’t reason with you when you are sober, let alone in this frame of mind.”
“I love you too.”
I want so badly to ask him if we could ever try again but like I said, I don't think I can give him what he deserves in a girlfriend and can't hurt him or hurt like this again. I watch how Izzy is with him, it's so natural for her. I watch Jodi and Wynn and admire how it's so easy for them.
“No relationship is easy, Val.” Jodi told me after Benji and I split. “You have to work at it. Wynn and I have as many discouraging moments as great ones. You have to learn to keep the faith during the rough patches. And truthfully, you can be rather selfish and stubborn at times, that does not make dating you easy.”
Faith, Sunday school may have ruined that word for me. I don't know if I know what faith is. I only know how to work for everything I have and not depend on a blind entity to guide things to me. I am here at Berkeley because I worked my ass off. I applied for every scholarship that I could qualify for in order to afford to be here. God didn’t get me here, yet I look to him in my attempt at faith. I work at Triple Rock so I can make my way to New York City when I land a job there. Without working all these weekends this past year, I wouldn't have been able to accept the internship in at Wanderlust. I will work this internship so they will want me after I graduate. I make my way, there are no guarantees but there are sure footed steps I can take to get me to my goals. When the reality of me being a dancer or a writer was replaced with the reality of making a real living, I made the adjustments I needed to in order to pave the way for a great career where I can financially succeed. Be the Working Girl I grew up watching. Day dreams are for little girls. I am a grown woman and have a responsibility to give myself and my family the future we all deserve.
With Izzy leaving most weekends now, Benji and I manage to spend more time together. We are getting the chance to grow the friendship we should have grown had I not complicated things by wanting him to begin with. I know it was I who seduced him and it was I that hurt him. Now I am being extra nice and trying my hardest to be extra compassionate to make up for it all. And he has no problem making me work hard to earn it all back. Good thing I am not afraid of hard work.