It was just past midnight when he texted. "Are you back?" I was in Rome, and had just returned from Sicily. I sent a picture of the Tiber from a few hours before as my answer.
Because it was midnight and because he's predictable, it wasn't hard to guess that he wanted to fuck. I was ready to tell him no, I cannot see him. No, I am in bed. No, I do not want to keep playing this same bullshit game. But he said he needed to talk to me, needed to talk to someone. Something was wrong. Please.
And so I said okay.
"Thank you," he replied. "Twenty minutes."
I told myself this was just about talking and nothing more. I was just going to show up for him and listen to him and that was it. No sex, just being a good listener. I repeated this all to myself as I sat in my sink-sized bathtub frantically shaving my legs.
Forty minutes later, sitting on the steps of the fountain of Piazza Santa Maria, watching the moon and the people smoking pot and the last of the street musicians, my phone dinged.
"This may take a bit longer."
"You should go to bed."
Recently I had explained to Laura I must have been Casanova in a previous lifetime. Clearly, I had fucked a lot of women over somewhere in my Akashic record, and so in this lifetime I was paying for it. Because no one - and I mean no one - gets stood up as much as I do.
My inner crazy man-hating bitch had a lot of things to say to Francesco. This was the third, maybe fourth time he'd done this kind of thing in the last few weeks. Probably the tenth in total since we'd met the previous summer. But the wiser part of me - the one who knew that this wasn't some cruel life joke or some evidence of my undesirability but rather life inviting me to find peace in the face of my biggest wound - begged me to stay and keep my heart open. Rise little baby. Use this. Please don't run. Please stay here. Please stay open.
I tried so hard to do all that. Like, really. But all I could type back was "Fuck. You."
Which felt amazing for a minute, as Fuck Yous do. But then I felt that Fuck You in my body and I felt my heart close and I felt my pattern repeat. And I stopped. Because the bullshit game I was playing? Had nothing to do with Francesco's inability to keep plans. Had only to do with me.
I blocked him. I unblocked him. I wrote some slightly neutral things. I put my phone in my pocket, and I got up and walked, and I pulled my phone back out and I texted Laura. "Officially been stood up six times in Rome."
Then I went to the place in my heart that was trying so very hard to close and I told it that everything was just right, and that we were going to stay open this time because being the angry man-hating bitch isn't really working out for us.
And then I bought a gelato, and I walked the streets, and I told my God that I would keep taking whatever I was given, and I held my hands open as if to offer it all up. I imagined my heart getting softer and wider and bigger, and I imagined Francesco running through the front of it and falling right out the back like the whole thing was a giant fleshy Slip N Slide. I touched the back of my heart, where the little heart tattoo to remind me of such things lives, to put a point on it.
And then I went home with my freshly shaven legs that hadn't been touched. Alone. Smiling. Okay. In tact. And so open it felt as if the whole wide world could slip right through my heart.
The next day I woke up early and I walked to the other side of Rome to go to the Santa Maria della Vittoria. There's this Bernini sculpture there I'd wanted to see again, and when I got to the church I saw it was roped off from the public. It was the 15th of August, Ferragosto, the day that Rome officially closes down for the summer, and there was a huge mass taking place. I stood for a moment and observed, and then watched an American man with a camera untie the ropes that held back the tourists. He walked through the ceremony, past the alter, put money in the box that lights up the sculpture, and took a picture. I simultaneously heard the voice inside of me say Just like a man and Holly be peace.
I left and went to the church across the street, where a man sitting out front gestured at my body and called me his baby. I got so mad I started to shake, and I stuck my pointer finger in his face and screamed "NOOOOO." I walked into the church and instead of being in the room and being in God, I spent my time on my phone looking up the translation for "I'm not your baby you pig." I could only manage to say "Tu fucking porco" on my way back out, and he spit at me in response.
A few blocks away, at the Santa Maria Maggiore, I started to walk in the direction away from my home when I decided to turn around and walk back towards where I had come from. I sighed at the exhaustion of being so angry at men and the exhaustion of being exhausted. Instead of listening to Bowerbirds I decided to listen to a chant, and as Aad Guray Nameh came on my mix, I understood that I needed to forgive them all. All the men, from my dad to F. Right then, right there, right now.
So I walked, and I listened to the chant, and I lined all the men up in chronological order.
First, my dad. I saw his face and I saw his smile and I saw his innocence. And I said hello and I told him that I loved him and I saw that his humanness was only a coat he was wearing. I saw all his good and I bowed my head and he bowed his and I thanked him and I smiled and I felt my heart open. And just like that, one step on the cobblestone towards the direction of the Pantheon, the music repeating in my ears, the sun on my back and the world around me exactly as it was, each man from my past came forward in my mind. In kindness, in love. Each part of a tapestry of experience that had brought me to today, each one with their own special mission of teaching me who I am, of teaching me how to love, of teaching me how to forgive, of teaching me how to stand and walk and fight and yell and laugh and cry and grow and be.
By the time I got to Francesco, I was back at where I had started my day, at the church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva. I hadn't planned it this way, but it had happened this way. I was in tears and I was so full of love that I thought I might explode, and as if on cue, the mantra repeated one more time. It had been 22 minutes since I started my walk. I went into the church, because I had to.
I had been inside this church earlier that day, on my way to that Bernini sculpture, and I'd lit a candle under the big alter where the plastic Mary and the plastic Baby Jesus are. And even though hours had passed, that candle still burned, and it was still by itself. I nodded to it as I walked passed it towards the nave.
I looked at the pews and I noticed just one shaft of light streaming through the stained glass from high above; it illuminated one little part of one little pew and I decided that was where I was supposed to go to finish what I'd started. I sat in the light and I pulled out my rosary, and I knelt on the board in front of me, and I closed my eyes, and I saw them all. All the men, all lined up, all together, all smiling.
I noticed in my heart how that felt and it felt like more love than I could handle, and then I watched them from left to right as one-by-one they began to crumble and explode and completely deconstruct into dust and finally into nothing. All that remained of each was a ball of light, right where their physical hearts had once stood.
I marveled. Because right there in the Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, the same church where that one Michelangelo Jesus with the loin cloth is and where Fra Angelico is buried and where St. Catherine lay resting, some twenty balls of light of all the men that had ever made me feel something stood suspended in the air before me.
And then my own little form destructed, and all that was left of Holly was the same ball of light, right where my heart had once been.
And then all the balls of light - mine and theirs - rose up and joined together into one big ball of light. And my heart grew, and the tears came faster, and even though I have heard this was the case of us beings - that we're really just balls of light - for the first time in my life I didn't just know it, but knew it. For the first time in my life I understood that bodies aren't real and that bodies are just fences and that bodies are just the coats that the light wears in this world so that it can find the other lights and learn from the other lights and remember the other lights are really just their own light.
By this point I was sobbing, and smiling, and I felt like the whole wide Universe could slip right through my heart. Or better yet, that my heart might be the Universe.
I wiped my tears and I tucked my rosary back in its place and I walked towards the exit of the church. I stopped at the place where I had lit the candle that morning, and I dropped a Euro in the donation slot to buy another two. I sat them up to the left of the candle from the morning, and I lit them, and then I called the first candle from the morning The Candle of The Old Me, and I called the second candle The Candle of the Now Me, and I called that third candle The Candle of The Men That Made The Now Me. And I bowed to us all, and I walked out of the church, and I decided this one thing:
No more of the same Karma with these men; no more of the same Karma with the future men. No more of the old games, no more of the mean words, no more of the pulling of the thread and the picking of the scab.
If I want to move forward in my life in a way that keeps my heart open, in a way that finally frees not only me but them as well, I will have to remember that I am the light; and to remember that I am the light, means I act like I am the light. And light? Doesn't say fuck you or tear new assholes when it gets stood up or otherwise hurt. No. Light just shines.