We are back home already. Our vacation flew by — six days in the blink of an eye — and I was already back to work on Tuesday morning, bright and early, pulling up to the main gate and handing them my pass — the first day of school. It’s hard to get started again, and I know that there are still some days to go (almost two weeks left of this new course), but afterwards! — oh, afterwards! My mind is set on afterwards. I leave for the states on September 3rd. Two weeks away. It can’t get here soon enough.
Coming home on Sunday night and driving the long coastal road from Venice to Macerata, I didn’t feel it. I didn’t feel it Monday either, until early afternoon –but then it was there, all at once, that kind of shock of knowing that work is just hours away, and that there’s no turning back at this point. I think it was all of the things piled up together: those six days and everywhere we went in them seemed shuffled into one now, and I could hardly remember the details of our time scampering around Friuli in the mountains, walking down the long roads of Ferrara, and stopping over bridges to take pictures of Venice, in this summer heat. I still had my hiking shoes packed in the trunk of the car, sundresses in my luggage, the pictures on my phone to scroll through, staring up at me in full color. All that is left of a vacation, when you get back — souvenirs and gifts piled up on the living room table. Where did all the time go?
And Cardamom came back as well. It happened on that same Tuesday, that same first day of work. We’d spent the last couple of weeks wondering where she’d gone. She had disappeared entirely it seemed, the day after a dinner party we’d had at the house with Sandro and Stefania, and Valentina and several of her friends at the tail end of July. That night — with everyone around — Cardamom had purred and brushed up against people’s legs, even let Valentina pick her up and cuddle her in her arms. And the next day she was gone. Completely missing. Nowhere to be found.
Oh did we have questions! I considered knocking on the neighbor’s door to ask: Where is Cardamom? But it seemed a little silly. (What is her real name anyway?) So Antonello and I sat at the kitchen table, deep in thought, trying to figure it out. Did they give Cardamom away? Did they sell her? Did they go on vacation? Did they move? All of these questions went unanswered, and we spent too many afternoons peeking over the wall onto our neighbor’s balcony in little bursts, checking for signs of kitten. It wasn’t looking good. Cardamom’s bed had been piled up on top of the empty dog house (the dog appears to have disappeared as well — a mystery that is still completely unsolved) and the litter box was missing entirely. The balcony itself changed daily — packs of cigarettes on the table, empty soda bottles, beach towels hanging from the line. There were lights on at the strangest times (we took note): in the middle of the evening, late at night. There was even music in the afternoons. After a bit, it started to feel vaguely like a Hitchcock movie, but Cardamom was no where to be found, no matter what. On every occasion, I just stood there, shaking my head. Perhaps Cardamom, for all of these months, had just been a figment of my imagination after all.
So it was a shock to me, coming home — from my first day of work in this very strange, sweltering August (Tuesday was still hotter than any other day of the year), my eyes glued to my cell phone — to find little Cardamom sitting patiently, timid, looking up at me from the kitchen door. I almost tripped right over her. This version of her was slightly different. Quieter perhaps, for the weeks we’d spent apart. She was like a ghost, floating through the hallways of some memories past. I called Antonello immediately. “Cardamom’s here,” I said, and I took a picture of her and sent it directly to him, as if to pinch myself into believing it was real.
But that’s how this summer has been, so far. It has not been a normal summer. This endless heatwave (it’s supposed to get hotter tomorrow), all of the work (which never seems to end, even today, with only one day left before the weekend), these summer vacations: one in August with Antonello, and the one in September without him — me going all alone to Chicago, boarding the early morning flight. But I’m getting there. After this course, that Friday right after, I’ll be homeward bound. Leaving on a jet plane. I’ve spent every lunch break so far this week closed up in my classroom with the air-conditioning on, trying to research what I need to do at the airport, what the procedures are, where to go and when — just how to fly again. Travel is like a language I haven’t spoken in years, and I wonder how quickly it will come back to me. I’m anxious, I’m excited, I’m nervous. I’m ready.
But for now, it’s still two weeks away. I’m in the middle of another busy week, another rush to get things done, in this island of in between: stuck in the middle of two vacations — one already having slipped away, while another is yet to come. And me, making way for this new English course, this classroom of students, all eight of them. My heart is hardly in it. This evening, I stepped onto the kitchen balcony as the sun was going down. The heat has slowed now, it lingers in the corners of the house, but on the balcony the air is fresh — the cool of the day and what was left of it still taking its timeC. I stood there for a moment, looking out. Cardamom had just slipped through the space between our two balconies, heading back home. I looked up at the summer moon, almost full but for a sliver of it, just that tiny bit missing. For a moment it reminded me of Friuli, of our days in the mountains just a week ago, of the fingernail moon in the sky that night, when we were there, sitting outside, watching the night fall. Perhaps the piece that was missing in tonight’s moon was still back in Friuli, I thought. Right there in that evening sky, hovering over the mountains, just where we’d left it. Miles and miles away from here.
Today I’m listening to: The Wind by Cat Stevens.