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By Fabio Volo, Gianluca Rizzo, Dominic Siracusa
MondadoriCopyright © 2013 Arnoldo Mondadori Editore S.p.A., Milan, Italy
All rights reserved.
I have a lot of doubts about myself. I fear my life is nothing but a long misunderstanding. Maybe I'm not the woman I think I am.
These are the thoughts that ran through my head as I woke up, after I tried to remember the details of what I had just dreamt: It was a Sunday afternoon in summer, I was wearing a T-shirt that just barely reached my knees, and I was hanging the laundry out to dry on the balcony of a row house. From the apartment across the courtyard I could hear the sound of a razor tapping against a sink. Suddenly a man came out the front door and lit a cigarette. His hair was slicked back and he was wearing a white tank top and hazelnut-colored pants. He smiled at me and we exchanged hellos. "Remember, we're having dinner at my place tonight." I went back inside to pick out a dress.
I was feeling anxious, excited, and happy. When I got to the door, he took my and and showed me inside. It was the house I grew up in.
"I used to live here, you know."
"Of course I know."
I looked around and everything was exactly as it had been when I was little. Even the orange clock hanging from the wall. He came closer, took my face in his hands, and sniffed my neck. I started shivering. Then, as he was about to kiss my lips, the doorbell rang.
That's when I awoke: It was Paolo's alarm clock. I knew it would ring two more times at ten-minute intervals.
The dream was still fresh in my mind: the sense of freedom, the anxiousness for the date, the excitement of the encounter. I turned to look at my husband sleeping, and I stared at him for a few minutes. In my dream I didn't think I was married or that I should refuse the invitation.
I went to the bathroom, I took a shower, and I still felt like the woman in the dream. Lately there's a voice inside me that confuses me, questioning my core beliefs—it makes me insecure and uncertain, and what I felt last night in my dream certainly doesn't help.
This afternoon I remembered the dress from the dream: I bought it last year but I never wore it because when I tried it on at home I didn't like the way it looked. After dinner I took it out of the closet, and as I looked at it I wondered whether it was really the dress that was wrong.CHAPTER 2
I'm glad when I can't find a parking spot. Lately I've been having long phone conversations in the car with Carla, so I don't have to go inside right away. It's always been like this with her, since high school: I don't have to tell her what mood I'm in; she understands everything from the sound of my voice. Then I step out of the car, I slowly walk toward the house, and I hope he isn't back yet, so I can have those fifteen minutes of solitude that do me so much good. If I know he's home, I try to walk even more slowly. When I enter the house I try to hide the discomfort I feel inside. This is how, without realizing it, I have learned to pretend, to fake it, and more importantly, to imitate. I imitate my idea of an ideal wife; I imitate my friends who are happily married; I imitate who I was at the beginning of my marriage, someone I don't know how to be anymore. I do this so he doesn't see the discomfort I keep inside, the excessive sadness. As I open the door I am often afraid I am coming home without feeling anything for him.
Before entering I always take a deep breath, and I put on a mask. Some days I get the feeling he knows I am faking it but decides not to say anything. With all this faking, sometimes I don't even know what the truth actually is.
How did it happen? We were so certain of our love. I remember our wedding as if it were yesterday. I remember the preparations, the excitement for what we were doing together. I had always dreamt of that day. In my head there had always been a husband; it was something I had always wanted. I only had to discover who that was.
I had already decided I wanted to marry before I met Paolo. I always thought the only way I would become a woman was by having a husband. I was a happy woman; how could I not be? By marrying I was making a serene future for myself, curing my fear of loneliness once and for all. That was why we were happy, and we weren't the only ones: everyone seemed to be. Now I wonder whether it was a coincidence or if I was looking at my own life through their eyes.
Everything was clear and immaculate, like the sheets on our queen-sized bed where we would sleep and make love for the rest of our lives.
At first I was so enthusiastic, and I was easily satisfied: buying a couple of colorful breakfast bowls, white dishcloths with blue trim, a throw pillow, new towels for the bathroom.
Perhaps it was all just in my head. In fact, come to think of it, we almost never used half that stuff. Most of it is still practically new: the wok, the champagne glasses, the Japanese teacups, the pot to make beef bourguignon ...
Our house is full of candles that have never been lit. Like the two of us. Their wicks still white.
Before getting married I often imagined my life with Paolo: I would talk to him every night, telling him about my day, what I did and what I dreamt of doing with him. I imagined the dinners with friends, and the intimacy as we cleared the table, after everyone had left. I imagined the evenings spent just the two of us, watching a movie on the couch, snuggling under a blanket. Almost none of the things I had dreamt came to pass. We started talking less and less, to the point that I convinced myself people don't need to talk if they really love each other. As the years go by, it is certainly less tiring to endure silence than to talk to someone you are not interested in anymore.
Certain topics have become taboo, and so, afraid of saying too much, we ended up saying very little. Sometimes I wonder whether these unspoken things were responsible for our growing apart. Our priorities and values had changed so much that we forgot what we used to long for.
Now, my days are sad and nothing transpires. He takes my sadness for tiredness.
Nothing surprises me anymore: not Paolo, not life, not myself.
I wonder when the future I imagined began to fade away and where those dreams I had on my wedding day have gone.
Maybe there is something worse than lost dreams: the hesitation to keep dreaming. We expired slowly, we fell asleep without realizing it. First we emptied our future, then did the same with the day to day, the present. When you can't get what you want, you end up loving what you can.
My husband has become a brother, yet in spite of this I can't bring myself to leave him. I see everything that is wrong with my life, but I'm paralyzed. I dream of waking up and of being another woman who leads a different life. And yet, if I left everything behind, I know I would miss it.
Reading these words I felt deep sympathy. The woman who wrote them is so fragile that I cried. I wanted to go to her and hug her and reassure her. I'd like to tell her not to worry, that things will change, and that they'll go well again, actually, that they did go well, even if she doesn't know it yet. She doesn't know she will find a way to come out of that situation, that she will soon have answers to her questions. She doesn't know she is about to break free from the thing keeping her tied down, imprisoned, paralyzed.
Mine are not just hopeful words. When I read this journal I don't imagine her future by venturing some optimistic guess. I look at it from the vantage point of my present.
That's because I was that woman, a few years ago.
If I could travel back in time I would go to her, because I can remember how lonely she felt. I wouldn't try to prevent her from living the experiences that divide us, not even the more painful ones, because that pain has helped her grow. I would sit by her side so she felt my presence.
I love the woman I was. Even if she was fragile, she was never weak; even if she was tired and exhausted, she never stopped fighting. She knew how to resist. I feel like I should give credit to the woman I was, a lot of credit: for her courageous mistakes, her determination to hang on, her good sense in putting herself first.
This is the second time I've moved in my life. The third, to be precise, if we count the time I was seven, when my parents decided to change cities. Back then I didn't help much; I would mostly cry.
"You'll see, Elena, you'll like the new house ... Your room will be bigger and there'll even be more toys," my mom would say to reassure me.
"I don't want a bigger room, I want this one—I want to stay here."
Yesterday afternoon the movers said not to worry; they would take care of everything. They asked me how they should organize things, but I told them they only needed to take the boxes—I would take care of the rest.
Carla offered to help, too, but I decided I would do it myself.
I'm thirty-eight and I am packing up my life again. How many boxes will I need? How many boxes will my life fit into?
"I have two days to get it done," I told myself. "One step at a time. It'll be a long and hard weekend, but I'm sure I'll manage to pack up everything."
Yesterday I started with the kitchen: dishes, glasses, bowls, cups. Between today and tomorrow I'll get the rest done.
I just made a cup of coffee. As I drink it, I walk through the rooms. It's strange seeing my things ready to be packed, to look at the open boxes, to walk through the house one last time.
I'm about to get out of here. And I want to do it alone, quietly. I want to leave slowly, aware of everything, conscious of what I leave behind and excited about what lies ahead. Whatever it may be.
I try to steal the smells, the sounds, the light that lingers on the walls. Listening one last time to the sounds that have accompanied my existence in this house. This is why I wanted to pack the boxes myself: because I want to fold up my life neatly, touching every object, reliving the stories and memories they conjure up.
Every memory will be like a word in a tale.
I put down my cup and take a few books off the shelf. I like to open them and look at the sentences I highlighted over the years. Discovering what interested me, what I felt, and what I was looking for.
My move starts here, in the pages of my journal, with the tale of who I was.CHAPTER 3
I keep telling him: "I'm tired, I'm fed up, I'm bored, we need to do something," but he doesn't listen. He acts as if nothing happened, as if everything's fine. The only difference is that he doesn't try to make love to me anymore: He knows I'd say no and to avoid my rejection, he doesn't ask.
How can anyone desire or love a man who rebels against nothing? He used to react the opposite way: He would come close and ask me if I felt like making love. I have a clear memory of the time he asked me, as I was doing the dishes: "Do you want to go to the other room and make love?" Asking out loud, just like that, even if I had the slightest desire to do it, he would make it go away. The more he does humbling things, the more he's kind and submissive, the more I react with disdain and violence.
Now it's harder to make love to him. In the past, I would have rather done it than talk about certain things. And it would have been over in a few minutes anyway. I keep telling myself that making love is not crucial, because our relationship can rely on other things after so many years: affection, solidarity, and the fact that we know each other better than anyone else.CHAPTER 4
I really want to travel, to laugh, to have fun. To live in a new world, different from my own. I need to be able to hope. I need to love. I don't want to find excuses not to love.
Paolo is the exact opposite: He works, he comes home, he talks about work, he eats, he watches television, and then he goes to bed. It looks like he has expired, he speaks very little, he falls asleep with an expression on his face and wakes up with the same one the next day. We live in a routine that cannot produce any other results. If we aren't happy today, we'll never be happy tomorrow. I feel like I'm wasting my life waiting for something that will never come.
Over the past few days I tried to talk to him about it, to tell him that it can't go on like this. He always says that it is not the right time. In the morning, it's because he just woke up; in the evening, it's because he had a long day at work and he'd at least like some quiet at home; and in bed, he says that he's tired and that he'd like to talk about it another time; otherwise he'll get all worked up and won't be able to sleep.
"Let's talk about it tomorrow."
But that tomorrow never comes. Perhaps I don't even know what I'm talking about. I'm afraid of dealing with certain issues, too. I have invested so much in my relationship with Paolo that I don't want to accept that I was wrong. It bothers me to admit that all those sacrifices, the crying and the silences, were all for nothing. It kills me that I wasn't able to get what I always wanted and to accept the idea that I have failed. I don't want to hear people say: "I would never have expected something like that from you two, you looked so good together."
I am tempted to choose sacrifice over defeat, to pretend that life hasn't quietly separated us. So I begin to wonder if it's my fault; perhaps I don't know how to be happy, maybe I'm chasing a dream of perfection that reality can't produce. After all he is a good man and I should learn how to be less demanding, more emotionally independent, and learn to adapt a little better. I am the one who is wrong, and Paolo is fine with the way things are. It seems he's content with finding me here when he opens the door at night.
I try to think of it as just a temporary crisis. I tell myself I don't love enough and I must love more, as if everything could be fixed by loving more intensely. And then I don't know where to turn to find more strength, and I invest everything in the illusion of transforming the lies into truth.
It takes a lot of energy to create a present in which the future resembles more of a threat than a hope.
I begin by focusing on my own behavior, my actions, my words. I make new plans: a weekend trip, a dinner, a recipe, a new haircut. I want to make sure I did everything I could to keep this marriage alive. I went so far as to make up strange fantasies. Like imagining that Paolo is with another woman, cheating on me, just to make myself feel something.
For a while I believe it, and it appears to be working. Then one little incident is enough to drown me once again in a sea of doubts. Last Saturday, for instance, I woke up and wanted to have a quiet breakfast, in silence: butter, jam, orange juice, coffee. When I entered the kitchen, Paolo had dismantled the broken vacuum cleaner, with all the pieces spread across the table, on sheets of newspaper. I didn't say anything, I prepared my mocha, and I went to the bathroom. Then I drank my coffee, and I went back to the bedroom. I was irritated, but I didn't want to have a fight, so I stayed in bed. After a few minutes he came in and asked me if I knew where the warranty was. He opened the closet and searched for something in a box. Then he left the closet and the bedroom door open and went back to the kitchen, where he kept working loudly.
At that very moment I felt like this life was not for me anymore. I felt like that vacuum cleaner: a heap of pieces I couldn't put back together.
A stupid incident like Saturday's was enough to make me want to be somewhere else. I don't recognize myself anymore: I was always smiling, upbeat, understanding; instead, now I am discovering certain behaviors I'm ashamed of. Sometimes, when we have a fight, I know he is right and that I am exaggerating and that I am just nagging, but I can't help it: I can't stand him anymore. Some mornings I wake up in a bad mood. I have to jump out of bed because it seems like even the covers are trying to imprison me. That's never happened to me before. I fear I'm becoming a mean woman. I see in myself the same things I despised in my mother.
I don't know what to do, I don't know how to escape it. I don't even know if I want to face all the difficulties, both emotional and practical, that a separation would entail. Not knowing what to do with myself drains all my energy and resolve. I wonder if I'll have the strength to break the ties I built day after day. I don't have the serenity to face what I would discover if I left.
I would need someone who listens to me.CHAPTER 5
I came back after a hard day at work. Ever since they put me in charge of marketing, everyone at the firm has started to notice me. The stupid malice of certain people leaves me speechless. Sometimes I feel like telling everybody off.
Federica told me that Binetti was telling inappropriate jokes about me today. He was implying the boss and I had a thing. This is not the first time he's done it.
At dinner I wanted to vent to someone. I told Paolo what happened. I needed a friendly voice, someone to understand and reassure me. How many times do I listen to him talking about his problems at work? This evening it was my turn. Paolo didn't even let me finish: "What do you want me to say?" And he began to tell me about his day, comparing my issues with his, and telling me that I shouldn't be complaining, that my problems were nothing compared to what he had to go through every day.
I didn't say anything. I would have liked him to listen to me just once, and to say something nice. Even a silent hug would have been enough. I am the stupid one for feeling disappointed. That's the way he is and he will never change.
Excerpted from Daybreak by Fabio Volo, Gianluca Rizzo, Dominic Siracusa. Copyright © 2013 Arnoldo Mondadori Editore S.p.A., Milan, Italy. Excerpted by permission of Mondadori.
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