Four weeks after giving birth to the baby that was not mine I needed to escape. I was not back at work yet and I spent my days arranging and rearranging china in my kitchen cabinets while my daughter was at school. I had money in my bank account but no baby to wake me up for midnight feedings. I was free but I still felt trapped. My body was playing terrible tricks on me- it was convinced that it should be caring for a baby. My breasts leaked and my stomach drooped and I had nothing to show for the battle wounds that it acquired. I needed to get away- from my prison of a house, from my cabinets full of china, and from myself. I called a travel agent and three days later I was boarding a plane to Italy.
I didn’t have any expectations of what I wanted to do or where I wanted to go. I was making hasty decisions mostly derived from the need to get out of my own head. I missed a dear friend’s wedding for my travel and I regret that very much. I didn’t tell many people I was leaving- just a few close friends and my mother. I needed someone to pick my kid up from school and a ride to the airport and my mother loves to be needed. The girl next to me on my flight could not believe I was travelling alone. Her name was Fiorella and she lived in Rome and gave me her phone number and told me she would take me out to dinner a few nights later. After spending some time chatting, her fear for me turned to excitement, “I am actually jealous of you experiencing the colosseum for the first time. I walk by it every day to work and it’s meaningless to me now.”
My first stop was the Vatican. I didn’t know the language, I didn’t know the rules, I actually didn’t even know what time it was, but I knew Catholicism. I was raised Catholic and went to Catholic school for most of my life. I am not practicing now and haven’t for a while, yet tears started streaming down my face as I walked through the tomb of the popes. I wanted to forget my past life and start fresh with this trip. I wanted to come out the other end of this as a new person with a new outlook on life and a new inner peace. Yet here I was thrust directly backwards into my faith and my childhood. I have no other words to describe the feeling other than it felt like coming home. It was not the type of inner peace I was expecting to find but there it was.
You have the option to climb to the top of the dome at St Peter’s. It required climbing up 561 stairs with signs urging you to turn back every few flights. I had gone through child birth exactly 28 days prior and I was instructed to not even go down my own basement stairs. The stairwells became narrower and steeper the higher you went. I suffered a great deal of anxiety throughout my pregnancy and post partum. I no longer would even drive in the dark for the fear of the unknown. This task was paralyzing to me but I somehow willed myself to continue. I did not know how many more steps I had to go and I did not know what would be waiting for me at the top. I was crying the entire time. Luckily the crowds were thin and I could hide my shame in my scarf. I actually turned back down and then back up again twice. The climb became metaphoric for me. I made it through the last year of my life trapped by my own body and now I would climb these steps and free myself and be me again. As I reached the top, the bells were ringing and the pope was leading his weekly Angelus address and the crowd was roaring. Now I’m pretty sure none of that was happening because I made it to the top of the dome, but I like to tell myself that it was.
Shit. Now I had to go back down 561 stairs…
I bought myself a shirt with the pope’s face on it at the bottom. I wandered around the basilica and then headed back to my hotel. I ate an entire pizza and drank wine by the liter (actually an accident as I only meant to order a glass but the metric system still fucks me up). I met a group of girls from Chicago who were booked on the same tours and they took me under their collective wing. They wouldn’t let me go to the bathroom alone in Florence for fear of being abducted. I met two men at the only hipster bar in Italy and spent hours drinking limoncello and telling them all of my best pope jokes. I went on a lovely date with one of them the following night. I went shopping and ate gelato every day and continued to order wine by the liter because it was actually quite nice having an entire carafe of cab with lunch. I slept with the doors to my balcony wide open and I sipped on espresso first thing every morning. I was learning how to live again.
I came back home with a new appreciation for my life. I missed my kid terribly, I missed my own bed, and I missed my friends. I was happy to be home and my house no longer felt like a prison. My body and my heart were healing. I was going to be okay.