The trip back to Italy was riddled with missteps. For starters, I realized on Friday morning in Indianpolis, as we were hauling all of my luggage into the car, that I didn’t have enough bags (this became apparent upon stuffing the remaining things into various plastic bags and looking down at all of it, head shaking, wondering what I could do.) We were going up to Chicago, and I started a desperate search to see if (and how) I could add a piece of luggage on to my checked luggage. We stopped at a CVS and found the only thing they had: a light blue plastic book bag covered in green hedgehogs, hearts, and rainbows for $9.99. I shrugged. It would have to do. Back at my brother’s house, my 14 year old niece announced that it was the best backpack ever, but I instead couldn’t shake my concerns that, with my new backpack in tow, I was almost certainly going to be stopped by airport security.
And then I had my CoVid test on Friday evening (afterwards, we couldn’t make any phone calls for a full two hours as we waited for the call from the pharmacy informing me, with a long suspenseful pause, that the results were indeed negative), and Saturday morning, the morning of my flight home, we realized after check out that I’d left my tablet in the hotel room. I panicked. We had to call the front desk and convince them to go upstairs and take a look (and then, when they came up with nothing, dad and I marched over there and said — well, dad said mostly — we were taking a look for ourselves. And there was the tablet, under a chair in the corner of the room, as plain as day). My flight wasn’t until 9 PM but no matter: most of the afternoon before going to the airport was spent worrying and fidgeting and repacking my things — placing some of them into my brand new hedgehog bookbag (which it turned out wasn’t very spacious at all) and sorting out the others so that everything was in its place. Somehow I got all of it, from the Sour Patch Kids to the Reese’s Pieces to the three bottles of bourbon, to fit snugly inside. I realized, as I searched for this or that, or double checked that my passport was safely in the pocket of my purse, or attempted, with no luck, to call Lufthansa and ask about their luggage policy (only to remain on hold until the calls automatically hung up) — that travel is like anything else. Practice makes perfect. And I hadn’t practiced in oh so long. Here I was, endlessly forgetful, extremely clumsy and entirely scatterbrained, making mountains out of molehills with every single move. Everything that had once gone smoothly, on all those past trips, stood before me like hurdles, insurmountable, road blocks on my long trip back to Italy, hedgehog luggage and all.
But, it turned out, once we got to the airport, things went fine. Better than fine, actually. At the check-in desk, when I said I needed to pay for a second bag, the man saw my pastel hedgehog backpack and my carry-on, and he just smiled and waved me on through, checking the second bag for free, referring to it simply as an oversized carry-on. And I even had time for a quick dinner, and for a brief moment of shopping for last minute cooking magazines and mint chocolates and Big Red gum, things that are in short supply in Italy. On the plane, I had three full seats to myself, and as we took off, I barely even glanced out the window at the city of Chicago — those final glimpses: the lights that twinkled below me, the city all lit up like Christmas below my feet, rows and rows of it, Chicago bright and beautiful as we began to fly away.
That was a week ago. I can hardly believe it. Now I am back in Italy — these days passing like nothing at all, swift and filled to the brim with the first signs of fall — rainy evenings, sunset at 7 pm. My backpack is hanging in the closet now, and gifts and souvenirs are piled up on the dining room table. School has started — a brand new classroom of students who tell me that I speak too fast for them to follow and whose voices remind me nothing of the familiar voices in America. How did it all happen so fast? I thought about it as I was going to bed last night, trying to adjust the fan speed (it’s too cool for a fan now, but too hot to sleep without one) and attempting, with little luck, to doze off. I looked at my watch. It was 11:45 pm. 11:45 in Italy meant 5:45 in Indianapolis, which was dinner time at our house. I thought about what that would look like — we’d be having dinner at the dining room table, set with the bright plates dad bought years ago in Orvieto. We’d be talking, sipping wine, breaking bread and eating tomato jam (that Marilyn’s been making with the fresh tomatoes from the garden) having dinner all together, the lamp light on and the sound of cicadas chirping and buzzing outside. It would be like any other day at home, years and years of days like that, collected in my memory: spilling over. I can still feel it, even now — how can it be? — those moments in the dining room, on the patio steps. Yesterday. A week ago. I closed my eyes. Those late summer evenings back in Indianapolis that have already slipped through my fingers, so far away.
Today I am listening to: The Adults Are Talking by The Strokes.