Saturday, October 10, 2009

Leo comes for a visit

It's been just 10 years since Leo came to visit me in the US for the first time.

In late summer, Leo wrote to tell me that he would be coming to California on business for an extended period of time. This would be his second trip to the USA. We had not seen each other since San Gimignano but we had continued to carry on email correspondence. I also had had the opportunity to observe some of his business activities by watching his Internet webcam. During the summer months he and his colleagues followed and broadcast live, a summer Fair, as it traveled to various Italian beaches. I watched volleyball tournaments, dancing contests, food vendors, beauty pageants and normal people milling about, all though the lens of a webcam.

Each weekend I would awaken in the middle of my night to observe what was happening at the Fair. Leo's group had several fixed cams setup, plus a portable one. It was through the portable one I was once able to observe a tent of perhaps ten woman getting facials, each covered with a greenish blue clay mask, as Leo interviewed them! It was fascinating. I was even able to watch attendants setup beach umbrellas and chairs, in the Italian fashion. Neat, tidy and orderly. In Italy one rents a spot on the beach and it's not inexpensive.

During the Fair days, Leo and I were able to communicate in live chat mode. I always let him know when I had arrived on-line. Leo would make it a point to casually step in front of one of the cams for a minute or two so I could see him. I also observed a rock concert in Sanremo with its brightly colored stage lights. I snapped lots of computer screen prints of the events. I treasured that summer in Italy!

I responded to Leo that I could certainly pick him up at LAX whenever his schedule allowed. Then September arrived and one afternoon I drove my old Volvo to LAX and picked him up. My car was not too reliable, but I felt secure in making the trip straight up and then back down the freeway.

Our meeting at the airport was not a bit awkward. He was thrilled to be in Los Angeles. As we left the airport, he saw signs pointing to Marina del Ray and asked, could we make a quick side trip? He had been there once before during his first trip to the US. I agree, but suddenly I was not feeling very calm.

I never drove my car too far from home, always worrying about a breakdown. It had over 250,000 miles on the odometer. But I made the side trip and Leo was happy. The only thing I remember about that afternoon is the car would not start after we had stopped to sight see. The engine finally did turn over and I nervously drove us home in the dark, praying the car would not break down on the freeway. Oh how I hate to drive at night. My night vision is not good and I worry about other drivers. Leo was distressed for my nervous state.

At that time I lived in an adorable two bedroom, small cottage rental. It had a fireplace and was within walking distance to the beach. I had my own kayak and hand trailer to pull it to the beach. My two sons had lived with me here but had both already departed in anger for parts unknown.

One girl friend was horrified I was allowing a MAN come and stay with me. It was improper, even if he was using the second bedroom and there was a lock on my bedroom door. An Italian man was even worse. She suggested he stay down the street, in a friend's home which was currently unoccupied. I declined her offer.

Another friend, an Italian woman, warned me. "Be careful Francesca! He is an Italian man. He only wants something from you, perhaps a foothold in America. He may think you have money. Italian men are self centered and only think of themselves. Don't let him steal your heart. He has nothing to give you in return. He will use you without regard for your feelings." I listened, but her bitter words didn't feel right to me.

My third friend, a romantic like me, gave no advice. Instead, she did me a favor. It was Leo's birthday and for the first time in his life, Leo was celebrating it outside of Italy. I ordered a helium balloon birthday bouquet. Early in the morning, my girl friend picked up the gorgeous bouquet and secretly left it in my patio. It was her own idea to stop at the bakery to purchase breakfast treats.

When Leo woke up later that morning, I had already brought in the balloons and pastries. He was stunned, really. We decided to pack up the breakfast and walk to the beach overlook to eat. It was there he released into the wind, one balloon which he had taken with us. He had written our two names on the balloon. Leo is also a romantic. He enjoys planning activities that are memorable. He appreciates living.

He told me more about his life. About five years before we had met, one day, alone in his home, he had suffered a stroke. He was able to place a quick call for help to his doctor before he passed out. During this experience he recalls approaching the light during this near death experience, and being told it was not his time to die. He thinks often about the message he was given before he was sent back. Afterwards, he worked hard to change the direction of his life.

During his birthday visit we spent most of our time on the beach. He loves the heat of the sun and the fresh ocean air as much as I do. I had always been afraid to play in the waves, but he held my hand and told me not to be fearful. We laughed like children and had such fun. A stranger offered to take our picture. Wherever we go, strangers seem to always offer this service. I suppose we always looked like a blissfully happy couple.

We took my kayak out and enjoyed navigating the Newport Back Bay. I asked questions about his life and we spoke about his wife. Apparently she had always been a bit fearful about life and had never learned to drive a car. Then, she experienced an early menopause and her personality had changed. I listened and wondered what kind of a life Leo really had in Italy. He tends to brush off the negative to only focus on the positive.

Leo flew back to his group after spending a few days with me. It had been a pleasant visit. I had never dated even one time after my divorce. It had been so painful and my sons had been so angry, that I really had no desire to ever spend any time with a man again. With Leo, it was possible to have a friendship. I was comfortable and unafraid. We were able to communicate. I think the language barrier worked in our favor because we had to work to find the right words. We carried our big dictionary everywhere.

Two weeks after his birthday trip, Leo returned for another visit. He was so easy to be with. I decided life was short and I would take a chance. Our relationship progressed. I asked him when he was planning to return to Italy. His American trip was coming to an end in a few weeks and he was departing from another city. So, tell me, I asked, who else is in your group...your colleagues? "No..." Sometimes I surprise even myself with my naivety. So, who is with you? "My wife..."

I could feel my breathe leaving me. His wife...was close by and I was ... here. For a shy naïve girl I had really gotten myself into a situation I had never intended. In that moment, I think Leo, seeing my eyes, realized he needed to be honest, finally. He hadn't really been dishonest, but by omission he had deceived me. I quietly cried as I drove him to the airport. He told me it was impossible to leave his wife. He had obligations in Italy to his extended family. He was a Godfather and what would his nieces and nephews think? He needed to set a good example for them.

My heart felt broken. I was foolish after all.

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