Monday, September 21, 2009

An Italian pen-pal

Leo is still sick. Now he has pneumonia. I know he would be getting better faster if I were there. He's been in the hospital for such a long time. I often think about how we came to meet. It was really an impossible meeting. In truth, I am much too shy to ever meet an Italian man.

When my trips to Italy began, the people around me were sure I had a secret romance in progress. I tried to explain, that the glow in my eyes was brought on by Italy and they nodded knowingly. The true love I found in Italy was family love I had never experienced.

Several years into my Italian studies, I was invited by a work supervisor to attend a software demonstration and luncheon. I was to take the seat of a last minute cancellation. My company was introducing a new program to our executives. Since I was to be their trainer, I eagerly took the opportunity to learn as much as I could.

That afternoon, I returned to the office and began to devise a training tool that our executives could not resist. During my research on the Internet I came across an Italian website. It was lovely! I was unable to use this for training, but each morning, I re-visited the site. I devoured the site, looking for information about Italy. One day, to express my thanks, I clicked on the tiny information button and wrote a short letter, using my limited Italian. I thanked "them" for the site which brought me so much joy each morning. I never expected a reply.

To my amazement, a very nice person named Leo Leone responded to my letter. He told me he had very little time, but if I wanted to practice my Italian, he would find a little time to briefly answer, when he could. I had had pen-pals as I child so I was thrilled to have an adult pen-pal. I had no personal information on him. In fact, I recall he once questioned if I was a man or a woman.

My Italian family was very leery of this pen-pal relationship. Leo and I corresponded for more than a year and I continued to glean his website and the Internet for clues to confirm the things he wrote about himself. I was not interested in any romantic relationship. Then, he wrote to say he was married and I felt a vast sense of relief. I was safe with the knowledge there was absolutely no chance of romance. I'm a bit naive sometimes...

One spring, Leo learned I was in Italy, visiting my family. He wrote that it was possible to meet face to face in his city. Marta and Rosa decided it was best if they accompany me to the meeting place. This man was not to be TRUSTED because he was...Italian. They would come and be my chaperons for the 3 hour meeting. Because of my extensive detective work I felt absolutely no fear in meeting in a public train station and strolling in an area packed with tourists. I promised the girls I would under no circumstances get into a car with him, nor would I let myself be cornered in a dark alley. He was a well-known person in his city.

I bought my round trip day train ticket and set off alone to meet my Internet friend, Leo. I tied some purple ribbons on my purse to identify myself. I asked him to wear a baseball hat, not realizing that Leo would never embarrass himself by wearing this headgear in Italy. The train pulled into the station and I climbed off, walking and looking for Leo. Of course, I never did see anyone with a baseball cap...but he saw me coming toward him. I just kept walking and looking and then there he was, casually standing near a post. His eyes were happy and sparkling.

Most of the day is a blur. I became so nervous and dry-mouthed I was unable to relax or think. It was a hot hot day and we stopped to get something to drink. The very sweet waiter asked if I would prefer a nice cool lemonade over the hot chocolate I had ordered.

The afternoon came to an end and Leo helped me return to the train station. It had been an extremely stressful day for me, because of my painful shyness. I usually avoid strangers and very rarely do I feel comfortable speaking with men. But Leo was exactly as he had presented himself to be through our emails. He had been the perfect gentleman. He was highly educated and also artistic. I noticed people greeted him as we strolled. He was a very nice man and I was glad I had taken the chance to meet him in person.

I called my family from the station to let them know I was still alive and returning home. I never thought I would see Leo in person again.

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