Rome, I discovered, exudes a sort of organized chaos. However the word, “organized” is relative. So is the word “chaos” for that matter. Stepping off of the plane, not knowing the language and having never been to Europe by myself, let alone as an adult; although intimidating, was at the same time exhilarating. What I have come to learn as I age is that most everything that seems at first intimidating, usually becomes exhilarating in the end.
I always figured I’d be considered tall in Italy. I don’t know why, but I just did. However, my 5’4” frame, floating in a sea of tall pushy Italians seemed to shrink, if not disappear entirely when I retrieved my bag. For years I had thought myself taller than I actually was. Call it a Napoleon complex, short woman’s syndrome or whatever you will, though in my eyes, I never looked up to people. Instead, always feeling at eye level with whomever I was talking with. Deciding then that if I continued to be passive I’d never get my bag, I pushed my way to the front of the mass and snatched it up. The small victory gave me just enough confidence to make it out the door of the chaotic Rome Fiumicino Airport and into a cab. I knew I should’ve taken the train as it was cheaper but I had a month to be cheap and honestly, I just wanted to arrive at my flat comfortably; safely.
Almost thirty minutes and forty euro later I arrived at what would be my new home for the next thirty days; Via Serpente. Which interestingly enough, translates as The Snake Street. The driver left me sanding in front of the tall narrow door which housed itself next to a busy snack bar. The street itself was narrow like the door and curved gently, much like the snake it was named after. I buzzed the number of my flat and one minute later was greeted with a smile by a Romanian woman I’d have guessed around my own age; Simona, who cared for the property and managed the cleaning, etc.
While following her up the stairs, I imagined myself in a carnival fun house. The marble steps were narrow, not all the same size and twisted and turned through the hallway which housed doors that seemed to be placed in the middle of the stairs; no landing in front of them. She used another key to lead me through yet another hallway that housed four apartments. As we passed the little room that held the washing machine she pointed it out. There was nothing else to point out really. She used the same key to unlock the door to what would be my apartment.
To say the flat was small would be an understatement. It wasn’t an apartment really; so much as it was a bedroom. Neat and tidy, with a little window in the corner that gave it enough natural light. I was a bit thrown off at how really small it was. A large antique armoire sat in the corner. A pull-out sofa bed was positioned along the wall and the “kitchen” was near the window and had a sink, small stove and a mini refrigerator under the counter. There wasn’t much to show me, and it wasn’t as if she had to walk and give me a tour of it. In fact, even the little bathroom, with it’s door open, had nothing to hide but the basics. She handed me two keys: one that I had seen her use to open my door, and another, a large skeleton key, she explained opened the main door into the building. I began thumbing through my wallet to pay her and she said, “No, Paola get later from you,” smiled and left. And that was that. No contract to sign, no money exchanged ahead of time – nada.
After Simona left I sat on the hard couch that would be my bed feeling excitement, that same old anxiety I’d been feeling and a tad of regret all at once. I was exhausted too. Realizing that I had been up for almost twenty-four hours, I left my unpacking for later, pulled the sofa bed out only to find that when extended, I had to actually crawl on the “bed” to get around the flat. It was that small. After finding two pillows and a blanket in the armoire I laid down for a nap. The bed was hard, the medal bar running across the middle was unmovable and the sheets she had made the bed with barely fit. I found that if I lay directly in the center of the bed, ignored the bar running across my back, I could have enough sheets and blankets to curl myself up in. I closed my eyes and fell fast asleep. My last thoughts before I dozed off were of my children. My pangs of guilt, of which seem to never leave my side, stirred within me.
In his play Hamlet, William Shakespeare wrote, “So full of artless jealousy is guilt, It spills itself in fearing to be spilt.” Guilt and I have been good friends for quite a number of years. He is jealous of me should I not pay him full attention. We’ve never been far from each other since he was first introduced to me by the church when I was a small child and I’ve grown accustomed to him in my life ever since. I find that those who usually carry a ton of guilt, such as many church-goers, like to deny ever meeting him. It’s as if he’s the embarrassing old uncle you try to keep a secret so as no one knows you’re related. I don’t even try to hide him anymore.
The rod in my back woke me only an hour later. Although still exhausted, I decided to get up and unpack. I crawled across the bed to the bathroom, sat on the toilet; my knees almost hitting the sink in front of me, and did my business. Crawling back into bed, I lay there, unmoving, except for my mind, for another hour or so. Eventually I got hungry, cleaned myself up and walked downstairs to the snack bar. I ordered pizza and a side of cooked spinach in the most pathetic of attempts at the Italian language I could muster and took it back upstairs to eat in bed. I was too tired to explore the city just yet and evening was approaching anyway.