But I know that isn't true.
I am sure it was Polma who hung up on me.
The question was: Why? She'd written to me welcoming me into the family. I'd written in my letter that I was sad that the spelling of our name got changed from Cutuli, and she'd started her letter:
Cara Joan Cutuli....
From the moment I read this, I was sure we'd become great friends.
When I wrote back that I was coming and she called me to say she hoped I would come, I could feel the connection on the phone. We were on an adventure of discovery together.
When I called Polma from Florence in 2011, I said I didn't know where I would sleep in Maierato. Was there a hotel?
She said I could stay with them. But the day before I was to fly down to Calabria, she called to say there'd been a death in the family. She and her mother were going to Canada. There was no one in Maierato "to help me." It struck me then as a strange phrase. I would need help with Maierato. Now I know what she meant.
She said after that call that she would phone me from Canada when I got home. She never did.
When I wrote again in 2012 that I was coming, she never responded. Yet when I called from Rome, she sounded quite enthusiastic. So when someone hung up on me, I figured I'd called the wrong number. But then when there was no answer for a day and a half, I realized it had all gone wrong. Why? Italian friends at home and in Italy had said I would be greeted with open arms and tables filled with food. Nothing was more exciting than Italians than welcoming someone who cared so much about family. There was even the MasterCard commercial about how making such a trip, despite the cost, was priceless.
So, I thought, to hell with her. I'd just scrap the trip to Maierato and hang out in Lamezia for a couple of days...but then I thought, hey why not just go to Pizzo, see what's going on there. The train from Rome had been so relaxing and enjoyable.
After we returned from Maierato, Tony and Carmelina dropped me off at a restaurant in Pizzo. After lunch, I felt agitated. I had nearly two hours until train time. It was perhaps a ten-minute drive along the coast to the station. Tony had promised to leave work to pick me up. But he wasn't answering his phone. I grew panicky. I tried to walk, but the road had no sidewalk, and the long way felt too dangerous. I was also tired. Emotionally drained. The owner of the restaurant was Tony's friend. He'd told her to take care of me. She did, driving me back to the train station. I figured I'd knock on Tony's door to tell Mariateresa that I'd gotten a ride back.
But the next thing I knew I was invited in. Tony was out. Carmelina was there with Mariateresa, her mother named Teresa, and the three kids. Did I want coffee? Perhaps some chocolate. Use of the bathroom. We began talking...in Italian...about my day. Somehow the words were there to express the emptiness and disappointment. They asked about my family in America and my life there. Mariateresa checked out m my Web site. Then I brought forth my iPad to show pictures of my family that I'd planned to show Polma. This family was delighted by them, asking questions and getting all the relationships straight. Little Nicole was more interested in the iPad and wanted to get her nursery-school hands on it. So we decided to take a picture.
Tony came home. Everyone was talking. A real Italian family. Tony friended me on Facebook. I kidded around about whether to accept. I did, and then he sent me a friend request from Mariateresa. She liked my profile picture. Then she tried to figure out how to get a translation of my blog.
This was the family I'd been looking for. Tony took out pictures Nicole had drawn and showed me the drawings of Papa and Mamma. He was such a proud Papa, beaming as Nicole explained all her little drawings to me. She's four, and Tony helped us both with our language. When little Francesco started crying, Tony held him. And baby Rebecca got handed around from Nonna Teresa to Nonna Carmelina.
One hour passed. Then thirty more minutes. In preparation for my departure, I took one final portrait of the family who took me in...back row left to right: Mariateresa, Rebecca, Carmelina, Nicole, Tony, with little Francesco and Teresa in the front.
This was what I'd come for, to be embraced by the real meaning of family. As I prepared to leave, I told Carmelina she'd been my angel for the day. She gave me a baggie of chocolate for the train.
Then I pulled my little traveling companion from my pocket for a picture. Strange as this was, it felt right, and Carmelina was delighted:
After a terrible day of being shut out, I had experienced the feeling of family in Italy. I'd been taken in, helped. Encouraged in my quest. Supported. And all per caso. By chance. There was a kindness in the world. And I'd been touched by it. This was the lesson I came here to learn. To have trust in life. Trust I'd maybe never had, having always been haunted by that darkness that narrowed my grandfather's vision of life and the world. I was like my own family: bright but shadowed...confident yet insecure...loving but skeptical...forgiving but not...it was an exhausting way to be. But the day had somehow freed me from this.
I walked up to that boarded up station, a transformed person. The conductor never came through the train to collect my money. I had a free ride home...a metaphor, I was sure...and by the time I got back to Lamezia, the sky was blue and sunny. All was well with the world...until that is, Orlanda thanked me for Cinzia the Plant and asked if I'd made it to Maierato. After having survived my day in Italian, I felt confident enough to describe the experience...the wonderful family and the dismal, spiritless town.
And Orlanda said, in Italian, "It is not possible to know a town in one day. Perhaps you will have to come back to find out about the town and what happened."
Orlanda always had an usual expression on her face, probably due to her eyesight that was very bad. She seemed to look at everything through a microscope. And suddenly, she seemed to see through me. Like a wave from that mean green sea crashing on the rocks at Pizzo, the truth of what had happened swallowed my so-called transformation and all the glib phony drama of me and my metaphors. What happened had been my fault....
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