But in being alone, I have faced my demons. I have named them. I felt, in some moments, far into the mountains in this isolated commune high above the more populated Sorrento coastline, that I abandoned myself. What were you thinking , I asked myself at least once, coming here alone, for all this time, without anywhere to go on your own? There are two restaurants down the road, a market that closes for siesta, and winding streets of farmland that cannot be traversed by foot. First of all — traveling abroad is not like going to the cinema alone or sitting awkwardly, fidgeting during a solo dinner.
The end point is not soon. The awkwardness is replaced by a small village curiosity, a light that shines on you and is hot and is real. You begin to see yourself as the subject. But you realize the ego is a type of demon you must drag out to the little square and send off on its way. But more than noticing my aloneness, control issues threw me into the sea.
I could not control the inevitable surprises, which came in the form of car breakdowns, missing boat rides, nearly fainting in degree heat. Walking up hundreds of steps, on a cliff, just to get to some semblance of where other people are. And of course, the quiet. The heavy quiet that pools in like a ghost, under the door and through the shutters, at night. The quiet that tells you how far you are from everything, how many hours you have until sleep finally settles in. What of the anxieties and rogue feelings of sadness?
They are there, a chaotic circus of them all, prodding you, reminding you how far up the mountain you are — without a car nor a means of leaving. When you look out the window, you see Vesuvius.
Hans Christian Andersen
In life, we are forced to move through our traumas — things that have happened to us, things that have been done to us. And life has dealt us all a heavy hand. What are your wounds?
Why would I willingly stoke the flame after survival? Why I let myself be lured by sirens? In some sense, choosing to be uncomfortable and choosing to work through the quiet is the lesson. It was the pain I brought with me.
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I was the hurt. I brought my fear. I brought my anxiety. And a definite freedom. I felt so alone on so many nights, an aloneness that was less about not being near people or places and more about my individual decision to fly 4, miles from home. How the gift of autonomy comes with a solitude that must be understood and appreciated, rather than feared. How we are, ultimately, alone. But being alone is not the same as loneliness. The people in the market, the people in the farms plucking lemons, the people who make me limoncello, the people who steer our boats from island to island, the people who direct me to the nearest whatever it is, the tourists who see me sitting alone and ask me to dine with them — there are people everywhere, and that is a treasure.
One night, I texted my father for help. The loneliness followed me up the little hill when I walked back from dinner. My father, Italian as they come, served many years in prison — and weeks in solitary. Always realize today is just one day. And tomorrow is a new beginning. A new opportunity to feel differently or experience different things. Think how lucky you are —being able to travel.
And having people in your life that love you and care about you. You are never detached or isolated. The world is much too small for that anymore. Everyone is connected. I love you. In silence, we grow. It reminds us that not only can we and do we survive, we are self-resilient when we willingly put ourselves in uncomfortable situations, when we decide to settle in and let the silence fill us with every thought and memory imaginable.
There is no way down the mountain. There is nothing but your own mind — and no matter how luxurious or beautiful the country or place you are in, we are all alone, bodies full of chemicals and traumas that demand we look them in the eye. We have Spanish and West Asian ancestors as well. My nonna, from Palermo.
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My grandfather, part Napolitano. I only saw Naples from the car, its hundreds of homes — colorful, scattered, boxy, so much laundry hanging you could see it from space. Many of its people are living in poverty, under the stronghold of a mafia, the Camorra. My grandfather, Sabatino, whose family hails from this city — what must his family have done to get to America? What drove them out? What sort of assimilation problems did they have when Italians were considered dirt?
Hans Christian Andersen
She told me once about the blackshirts, Benito Mussolini's men, wandering around as she sat under lemon trees. She spoke Sicilian, my grandfather spoke an Italian dialect.
They forced assimilation in the household, as many immigrants do. In any sort of ancestral work, you aim to understand your bloodline. In my case, my grandparents were relentlessly catholic, deeply disappointed in many of their non-catholic grandchildren — me — and generally chose favorites.
Some were favored, coddled, loved. She pulled a long lock of black hair from a box and wielded it over the dinner table. She kept her hair, as if to keep her youth, her vitality.
To this day, my black hair reminds me of her. I care for my hair — wavy and coarse and wild — because it is Italian hair. It is my own. And on this trip, when I boated from Sorrento to Capri, I thought of them, of their struggles, of how hard they worked to make a life for themselves.
Where they failed and how they loved. How they made my father, the artist and musician and poet, and how he made me. I dove from the small passenger boat into the deep emerald-green water.