People find each other. In 1973 I met the love of my life on board the ss Leonardo da Vinci —a green-eyed, gorgeous Italian 17-year-old who worked as head waiter in the ship’s Tivoli Restaurant. I was a dreamy 18-year-old, stricken with devotion every time we made eye contact. Somehow we managed, impressively so, to bridge an ocean and two languages. We hung on to each other. But people lose each other too. By the end of 1975 we slipped out of each other’s grasp —a fizzling end —sad and final. I was a mess for longer than awhile. Imagine a red balloon floating away —that sinking feeling of realizing just two minutes ago it was in your hand. It doesn’t dawn on you at 18 that red balloons are fragile things, easily burst. And one slip of the fingers to adjust the string can mean great risk.
In 1998, pre Facebook, I penned a letter to the lost love. He had been conjured again in my mind after watching the movie “Titanic.” Leonardo di Caprio’s eyes were almost the exact match to the long-ago boy’s. The letter was a cathartic experiment, a way to transcend midlife angst, a troubled marriage. The act of mailing that letter was like pointing a paper airplane into the Atlantic. There was no expectation for flight.
The letter sat vulnerable in an Italian post office. “Return to sender.” A postal worker noticed the last name—an associate of his in another postal district had that identical surname. Was the colleague a recipient of a letter from an American? He decided to follow his hunch and contacted the neighboring town. The co-worker in that region said, “No that’s my brother. Don’t send it back.”.
The astonished now 42-year-old, green-eyed man remembered the girl. After he read the letter, the memories began to pour into his mind. He quickly contacted the woman—email now making it easier. “Ciao. Here I am.”
We ultimately conquered the ocean. Being older made it less daunting, but not simpler. We still get tangled up with cultural rows, and with my not-so-fluent Italian and his much better English. Communication can frankly be insane. We are a modified Lucy and Desi.
Not long ago we took a walk down by the Battery in Charleston, the site of many of our wedding pictures in 2004. It was already dark, the clouds low in the sky. We could see no moonlight or stars reflected in the water. But the pungent salty ocean smell seemed to break through our skin as we held hands, no words between us. There was a breeze though, amazingly fresh on the humid night. I laid my head on my husband’s shoulder and said, “This feels like a zephyr wind.” “What does it mean zephyr?” he asked in his deep, accented voice that is distractingly velvety, that makes me melt. “Well, it’s a wind that feels like a caress, not too hot or cold, but pleasant.”
We finally tore ourselves away from the intoxication of that gentle gust and crossed the street to sit on a park bench. We began to reminisce. “Has it really been eleven years?” “Time goes so fast.” “We’re making it.” I could feel the warmth where our thighs touched. I would not hold the string of my red balloon too cavalierly, too carelessly. I would appreciate it there, bobbing in the wind just above our heads.
Priscilla K.Garatti lives and writes in Charleston, SC with her husband, Giovanni. Read more about their synchronous love story in her book, An Ocean Away, found at priscillakgaratti.com