Sunday, October 11, 2009

Love Arrives

Leo and I are both problem solvers. As a child, in my mind, I would work out every checker's move possible, before making my choice. As a child Leo experimented with electricity and often shorted out his parent's home.

We had created a big problem: We had fallen in love. First, Leo offered to break off the email contact. He told me he didn't want me to be hurt. Too late for that Leo.

I thought through all the scenarios. Leo's wife had not had any feelings of tenderness or love for him for at least ten years. I felt pity for her. Leo had taken to heart her disinterest. He seemed a little battered to me too. If I continued the relationship it would mean letting go of the hope we would live happily ever after together. The shield I had put up, prevented any local men from seeing me. I had no interest in being under a man's thumb again. We would hurt no one if we continued. Our children were grown. In fact, his college-aged son had moved his girlfriend into the family home during this extended birthday trip. Leo was not happy about that, but never made too much of a fuss.

My choice was, live life with love. Leo's choice was begin to change jobs so that he could find work here and spend as much time as he could with me.

I introduced Leo to my friends and family immediately on his next trip. Everyone loved him. I always told the truth about us. It was clear to anyone nearby we were deeply in love. When I'm with Leo anything seems possible. And Leo? He has changed. He has become more confident and outgoing. He was so happy. He has changed careers and has written more than one book. He has a large circle of friends in America.

Leo suffers from high blood pressure. He carries his medication and cuff with him when he travels. The first time he checked his blood pressure with me, he looked startled. He tried again and told me the cuff was broken. We would need to purchase another one. Really, I said? Let's take my blood pressure to see. My readings were fine. We purchased an electronic device, more modern, and he discovered our local Fry's Electronics store. Leo does love gadgets and found paradise in Fry's. The new cuff showed the same lower blood pressure readings. Guess what Leo, you feel no stress when you're with me. "True, true."

We have been very happy and content together. Leo has a closet of clothes, shoes, underwear, handkerchiefs. I even iron his t-shirts. Unbelievable, but true. He cherishes being a handyman here. Even when he is not here, I see his presence. He has installed towel racks, light fixtures, patched walls, torn apart the antique balcony doors and re-screened and repainted them. He has hung pictures, fixed broken furniture and installed a big plasma TV screen. All the tile has been freshly re-caulked and now I even have a portable dishwasher and microwave. "Francesca, you really do need these modern appliances. Please do not call the microwave an alien device."

When we eat our meals at home, we always remove our shoes and touch our bare feet together. After 10 years, it still feels thrilling. Leo rents a car when he visits. During our outings, I rest my hand in his belt waistband. It's comforting and not distracting to him. He smiles.

Leo leaves me love notes. I have saved them all. Some are still in their original locations...the freezer, the salt box, the linen closet, on my clothes hangers, in my drawers. I love to rediscover these notes. I never tire of reading them. Once he left a blue note sticky, stuck onto the inside front door.

It's still there and it says (in Italian):

Note for Francesca:

  1. Don't leave your house keys outside in the door.
  2. Leave your mind open, so I can visit you in your dreams.
  3. Don't eat too much chocolate.
  4. Don't think you're alone, because someone is always with you.

Signora Leone has become more independent over the years. It made me happy to hear this. She even took dancing lessons. I hoped she might find the love of her life. Often she would send me little gifts. Leo tells her he stays with a family here. I've always believed she has known otherwise. I used to have nightmares about her accusations but not lately.

When I visited Leo in the hospital a few months ago, he introduced me to some members of his family. He said it was only right. His son wrote me a lovely letter afterwards.

I did not meet his wife at the hospital. I had already encountered her. Once when Leo was conducting a conference in Italy, I was in the audience. The room was elegant with chandeliers and heavy drapes. A table with computers had been setup on stage. A large screen illuminated the presentation. Leo had been speaking at the podium. The small audience was enthralled.

Suddenly I heard an annoying loud clickity clack clickity clack as someone made their way down the aisle. How rude I thought. I turned to my right to see who would do such a thing. A short woman, determinedly making her way, down down, closer to where I was sitting. To my surprise, she chose my row. She noisily sat down about three seats to my right. I peaked at her profile as she proceeded to constantly swing her feet back and forth, like a happy child in school. Her short legs prevented her feet from touching the ground. How rude and annoying, I thought as I focused back on Leo.

Leo finished his talk. The woman to my right stood up and made her way toward me. I was was Leo's wife. I recognized her from photographs I had seen. She totally ignored me and proceeded to hone in on the elegant, fur-clad woman sitting directly in front of me.

Signora Leone was almost touching me as she leaned in, to the side of the woman to get her attention.

I was sitting still in shock as I heard her exclaim in Italian "That's my husband!" I did not understand her other remarks. I was holding my breath. That fur-clad woman was a well-known theater costume designer. By watching her body language, it seemed to me that she had snubbed Signora Leone. Without a look in my direction, Leo's wife departed.

I remained seated as the presentation had come to an end. I heard Signora Leone clicky-clack out of the auditorium. I was still frozen in place. I waited to see if she would reappear, surely to congratulate her "husband" on his fine talk. But she was gone.

I felt very shaky. I do avoid confrontations for a reason. I may be shy but I am not meek. I hold back because I will defend myself if pushed. This woman I instinctively sensed was a passive-aggressive sort.

I casually made my way outside and then quickly turned and walked until I found a large bookstore. I stayed inside for an hour while I calmed myself. Leo had tried to telephone me, but my phone was off. I did not want to respond until I had stopped shivering.

Finally, I answered. "Where are you Francesca? I've been looking everywhere for you!" Leo, you didn't tell me your wife would be there. I would have never attended. I would never have embarrassed her by my presence. "I'm coming to get you. Don't worry. It's ok."

And when he arrived he said " Oooh I've never seen you flushed and angry. This is interesting." I responded, I don't like to feel this way. This is my defensive mode. I need to be calm. He took me to buy chocolate gelato, always an antidote for my stress. I told him what had happened and he answered, "Don't worry, she's just like that."

After that day I knew the source of Leo's stress.

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