Monday, October 5, 2009

Watching Marina

I’m having nightmares again. On top of that, a panic attack started two days ago. I have been worrying about Leo. He is learning to walk again and I'm concerned he's not getting enough structured physical therapy. In the hospital, it seemed to me that he was taking too much medicine and he has been in varying levels of lucidity for 5 months. Thank goodness his mind is more clear now.

Leo has been discharged home instead of to a rehabilitation clinic. I suspect he was a difficult patient in the hospital. He was bedridden for too long, past his tolerance point. His exterior is normally calm and controlled. He's had many years to perfect this behavior. I think this illness has scared him to his core and it has unraveled the methods he previously used to live in his environment. I believe he has spent years and years being slightly afraid of Signora Leone’s anger. He is an expert in avoidance. I recognize my own avoidance behavior.

I'm in no way a witness but I think Signora Leone is a good caregiver. Leo is at home, just where she wants him. In the beginning of their marriage, Leo tells me, they decided the home would be her job and his would be in the outside world. I think they did a disservice to themselves with that decision. They stopped doing fun things together years ago and went in diverse directions. In my opinion, there is duel anger simmering in their home. And now, Leo sounds depressed and fearful to me. The balance he so carefully maintained has slipped. Does he know depression is an indication of unresolved anger? Probably not. Not in this weakened vulnerable state. It’s too much to face right now.

We all adjust to our environment in unique ways. I remember the earliest visits to my Italian family. The first time I heard Marina’s voice raise, I felt a tightening of my chest and a sense of panic. In my childhood, loud voices were the signal for me to hide in my closet. I learned to avoid conflict at all costs. Those loud voices quite often escalated into physical violence. And then in the opposite direction, my father would go months regarding me as not there, invisible, not worth speaking to. As an adult, I am now a fierce advocate of communication.

But with Marina, I very quickly realized her raised voice was not cause for alarm. No violence followed, ever. I watched and analyzed her. No thrown items, no tears, no pleading, no submission to her will. It was such a pleasant release of my anxiety, to trust I could change my perception of the raised Italian voice. Marina’s anger is like steam quickly expelled from a tea kettle. No harm is done.

Marina naturally shows her frustrations and no dangers lurk nearby. And now that I can sometimes understand the words of her outbursts, I smile a little. She is so fortunate. She enjoys the freedom to express her emotions.

Primo is steady as a rock. He has been surrounded by four women on the premises for years. I need to ask him next time, how he release his stress. Is this why he goes to the gym every day? I never tire of watching Primo with Marina. Their love is so strong. Sometimes his eyes twinkle when Marina is angry and he turns to me and says in English “Marina is in charge here.” He in no way discounts her outbursts and he doesn't feel threatened. I need to talk with Primo about his philosophy. He’s a good male role model.

I've never had nightmares at home in Italy and it’s been a blessed relief. I feel safe there. Marina never yells at me but she does do that charming Italian gesture, with her hands clasped in prayer mode, she moves them up and down. “ can’t sleep with the windows open, you’re sure to catch cold Francesca.” “Madonna...Francesca, you've washed your hair this morning after having it cut and set just yesterday afternoon?”

Or she does no hand gesture which is worse! With five people chattering and snacking in the kitchen as she’s preparing dinner: “Too much noise in my kitchen…shoo!” but the door is closed only partially as we exit.

I love Marina! She is good hearted to her core. She is open with her emotions and so honest. I love to watch her work with Anna, who comes in weekly to clean. She and Anna work as total equals, chatting away, cleaning the house spotless together. I’ve seen Marina lovingly prepare early special dinners for Nonna. Something simple and delicious to entice her to eat a little. I've watched Marina prepare for Rosa's wedding, making sure the event was simple and tastefully elegant. Under wedding pressure she never nipped at me, even as I became a pest, as I tried to capture the entire day in my camera.

She attends mass everyday and sets a quiet example for me. I'm always welcome but never pressured to tag along with her. She corrects my Italian lovingly. I don't feel stupid or embarrassed.

Usually, each afternoon, Marina rests and has her break watching her favorite soap operas. This is her uninterrupted time. Otherwise, she's a whirlwind, never stopping. She's the first up to prepare Primo's coffee and she's the last one to bed at night. I admire how she runs her household. But she frequently looks tired...

Marina has taught me every one of her cooking secrets. She patiently has helped me to roll fresh gnocchi with a fork and make ravioli from scratch. Once I innocently asked how to prepare octopus and that very afternoon a large fresh octopus occupied the refrigerator. Oh yes, dinner was delicious! Boiled octopus with potatoes.

She lets me raid her refrigerator as I want and shares her kitchen with me. She tolerates my water glass on the counter. She finds that glass no matter how hard I try to tuck it out of sight. She gently stacks and makes order of my magazines, dictionary and copious cooking notes, which I invariably leave on the kitchen table. Marina likes spotless order. I try very very hard to live neatly out of my suitcase. I know the stress it causes her when she sees clothes strewn about.

Culturally, in Italy, the tone of the household follows the personality of the woman. I am so grateful Marina pulled me right into the heart of her family.

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