Every now and then I share an excerpt from the book I'm currently writing. The working title is The Intensity of Romantic Gestures. (I've found that working titles are often subject to change,) The book picks up where An Ocean Away leaves off. While the new book continues to reflect my experience in marriage, it much more chronicles a spiritual journey, God's gestures, too, mysteriously, uncannily romantic.
It's all so beautiful--the spring--and books and music and fires--why aren't they enough?--Kathleen Norris
People envied me traveling to Europe. I understood their thinking. People usually associate travel with sipping espresso in a hidden alcove overlooking the Mediterranean. What they don't realize is that most times Europeans hurriedly approach an espresso bar, order their coffee and drink the strong, black elixir in two swift gulps--while standing. There is no sipping. There is no time for contemplation.
That is how, in my mind at least, the trips to Europe with Giovanni felt. There was limited time for pausing. No semicolons. And so once again I sat at the Charleston airport waiting for a flight to New York. From there we would bridge the Atlantic and arrive in Barcelona for several days before rendezvousing with the family in Cremona, Italy. Always there were paradoxical feelings--excitement and anxiety. I peered out my window as we flew off and up into the air, the sky so blue it looked like the ocean.
Barcelona is a relaxed city. It almost seemed to me that everyone was on valium--even the dogs. A Chihuahua sat under a palm tree one sunny day and looked at me, his brown eyes glistening and sleepy. But even in that temperate jewel of a city, I felt slightly agitated. I couldn't relax. I did not know what was wrong with me. Giovanni found an incredible deal at a luxury hotel. We stayed on the sixteenth floor, and when I looked out our window, mountains rose to my left and to my right lay the Balearic Sea--a cord of sapphire.
I began to fret inside. I had some vague clues to what lay underneath the layers. I'd always lived with a faint feeling of "less-than." I remembered how this feeling clung to me, even as a child--like gauzy spider webs that I could never quite strip from between my fingers, from the creases underneath my neck. I learned early to compare myself with other people, and in my mind, I never measured up. For as long as I could remember, I'd been dissatisfied with how I looked. And when I traveled to Europe, the vulnerable feelings rose to the surface. That day in Barcelona in April, I saw a beautiful and elegant woman board the train. Her hair gleamed, and her skin reflected no flaws. She had pink, full lips and gloriously white teeth--shiny natural nails. She wore a silver ring. The beautiful woman sat close to me. I wanted to be her. Giovanni held my hand, his thumb gently rubbing back and forth over the freckled skin on top. The woman glanced briefly at us. She looked at our hands. Her glimpse wasn't even a second, but I saw a flicker on her face--that expression that lets you know she saw something intimate--somthing that wasn't an everyday kind of thing. And then she quickly looked away. If I hadn't been watching her so closely, I'd have missed it. Maybe she wanted to be me--sitting there with someone, connected to someone.
I could hear the rushing of the train, its loud rumblings. And my thoughts howled as loudly as the train. I cried out, "Please stop. Please stop. Please stop. God what is it? Let me want to be me."
That evening I soaked in the deepest bathtub I'd ever submerged myself in. The verbena-scented soap permeated the bathroom. I felt weary, my horrible thoughts exhausting me. I rose from the warm, fragrant bath waters, enfolded myself in a terrycloth spa robe and lay down on the bed. Giovanni sat propped up by pillows, glued to his ipad. "I'm going to sleep now," I said as I kissed him on the cheek. "Buona notte, Priscilla." "Buona notte," I whispered back. I turned on my side, still wrapped in the spa robe, my sopping hair making the pillow case wet. I slept. And my answer to what hid beneath the layers would come in a dream there in room 1614. In Barcelona.
In the dream, I stopped to look in a mirror and noticed a long hair coming from my eyebrow. I plucked the hair out. But as I looked closer in the mirror, I noticed a minute hole in my skin where the hair had been plucked. There was the slightest bit of material that I could see inside the opening, and I began to pull at it. When I tugged, streams and streams of a gauzy-like fabric began to flow out. I felt determined to pull out all the material emerging from the narrow exit. And when the end finally came, I looked down. Mounds of soft, ugly, gray material lay at my feet. I noted a very faint plaid design in the fabric. I felt supreme relief.
I awakened with a start. I sat up and looked out our window. The sky appeared dark violet, light beginning to seep into the horizon. I got my journal and began to record the dream. "God, what was that material that spooled to the floor in a heap of darkness? What came out of me?"
I stopped writing and once again gazed out the window. I observed an open terrace, two chairs sat around a wrought iron table--a pot of red geraniums at its center. People would sit there later in the day, living their lives. I wanted to be them. I wanted to go to my terrace and sit in my own chair and look at my container of geraniums and be happy and glad and love myself. And it was then, that I sensed God say, "I love who you are, and I long for you to see yourself through a different lens--my lens. Priscilla, the repulsive material symbolizes the layers and layers of self-consciouness over the years. That's out now. Plaid has patterns. Allow the dark, gray, shadowy thought patterns about who you are to remain on the floor. Step out of that mound of dingy, unsightly material and move on. Lay hold of your freedom, dearheart."