May 29, 2013
You may have wondered at the long silence on the blog front. Well, here’s the story.
I don’t make a habit of running away from home …
…though it’s long been an understanding between my husband and I that if I need to do so I can.
His job requires frequent moves and neither one of us has any control over when they occur, or where. We’d often talked about what would happen if he were sent to the frozen north or to a desert somewhere and I’d firmly stated that I’d try anywhere he was sent on for size and if I found it to be too much I’d go visit family or rent a small apartment somewhere until he found himself somewhere civilized again.
Every time a move was coming up we’d reiterate that option. And during 20 years of moves I’d never once had to take the opt-out plan.
I had expected if I were to leave it would be because of harsh, unlivable conditions. No one, not even I, expected those breaking point conditions to be in Rome, Italy! So I guess it came as a little surprise to family, friends and even me, when in the Spring of 2013 I had had enough.
It started with a winter move, a first for us.
The preceding two and a half years had been stressful for both of us, he because of the nature of his work and me because of a poor landlord and the strain of maintaining an overflowing social schedule without allowing enough Introvert-required down time. During that time we had also traveled all over Europe, and to The States for the joyful wedding of our favorite (and only) daughter, lost three beloved pets to illness and old age and I had been plagued with near constant health issues. So, needless to say, even before the move I was exhausted.
Balancing the winter holidays around moving companies and required bureaucratic visits & paperwork and attempting to learn yet another language and culture while wringing the last hurrah of enjoyment from the current exotic local took my reserves down to a dangerous low.
We were warned the new assignment was considered ‘remote’, meaning it was a few hours away from the normal assignment support structure. We’d be living right in the community instead of on a work-centric compound. But we weren’t concerned. We’d done that once before, our first assignment to Germany, and it had been fine. This time we were being sent to Italy, an ancient civilized country, home of the Roman Senate, the Aqueduct, Colosseum & Pantheon, free flowing water fountains, thousands of years of history to be enjoyed and explored. I’d visited Italy once on a tour and loved it. It would be warm and sunny. The people were friendly. I love the food. How bad could it be?
Famous last words, right?
It wasn’t warm. It was cold. And rainy. January is January, after all. I’m not sure why I expected any different, except whenever I thought of Italy it was of sunshine. In January, February? Not so much with the sun.
The food was everything I remembered, pasta, grilled vegetables, cannoli, but their food culture has them eating dinner when I normally would be getting ready for bed. It’s amazing how bad even excellent food can taste when you’re struggling to stay awake long enough to eat it. Thank heavens for the pizza shops, open nearly all day and into the early evening.
But the apartment we were assigned was the worst part.
My husband and I, we’re country folks. We love living out away from town and the privacy and quiet a stand alone house gives so for nearly all of our moves that’s what we look for in a place to live.
This job was different. Because of the limited time we’d be there, just six months, and the high prices and tight availability of rentals where the landlord spoke English we’d be moving into a fully furnished assigned apartment. It was only six months. How bad could it be.
Again, those words. I got to find out.
Before we accepted the quarters and moved we had been assured it would be quiet. We were told it was very convenient to stores, buses, parks. It was an older building with comfortable furniture and all the modern conveniences. It was full of older, established families, mostly little old ladies and gents. There was a quiet time to be enforced. It was in a business section so while maybe a little noisy during the day, it quieted right down after rush hour.
What they didn’t say was it was on the fourth floor, in the center of the building, next to the elevator and stairs. They didn’t mention that the culture revolved around daily family gatherings full of loud conversations, or the thin walls, ceilings or floors. They didn’t tell us that some of the other tenants were under 24 hour in-home nursing care for dementia, about the help-nurse buzzers that rang day and night or the nurse’s shoes clacking across tile floors echoing through the walls. They didn’t say a thing about the others who were just barely mobile by hanging onto the back of a kitchen chair, scraping it across the floor, then toddling along after it at odd hours. Or the senile woman in the apartment upstairs who would open and close her shutters or vacuum from 10:30pm to 2:30 am every night. Or about the yelling screaming fights from the apartment next door, or the loud moans of the dying elderly woman below.
Daytime brought the traffic noises, loud radios, scream of brakes, honking horns from the people triple parked outside. Even with the windows closed and the fans going for white noise it was too loud to nap. Earplugs caused ear infections, and noise canceling headphones were too bulky to sleep for long. The people my husband worked with were having the same luck with their assigned housing. And there was nothing the landlords could do about any of it.
I was averaging 2-3 hours of broken sleep a night, constantly sick, not able to enjoy any of the things I’d hoped to experience in Rome because of being so completely drained and exhausted. It started having a terrible effect on my marriage. No matter how compatible you are, no two people should be that tired and live together. And I’m no angel when I’m that rung out, let me tell you.
I felt trapped, angry, scared and alone.
I was either going to go mad, get a divorce or run away.
I chose the later.
But where to go?
Rent in Rome is insanely expensive, so there was little money left over for a second extra rent, much less plane fare back home to The States. Anywhere else in Rome would be just as noisy, according to everyone I talked to. Renting somewhere out in the country in Italy was moderately less expensive, but still outrageous. And I didn’t speak Italian yet, not enough to get by, really, unless I stayed at a tourist spot that knew English, but then the cost would be too high.
I was afraid I was stuck with no way out.
And then I thought of Ireland.
My husband and I had vacationed there when we were assigned to Germany and loved it. They spoke English. And plane fare there was cheap. After looking around the Internet I was able to find a place I could afford for a month. It wouldn’t keep me out of Rome for the whole of the assignment, but maybe it would be enough to regain my health, and my sanity, and I could put the time to good use writing that novel I’d been thinking about, or catching up on other writing works in progress in my backlog folder.
Discussing it with my husband was easy.
Which would he rather, a divorce or living single for a month?
Thankfully, he still loved me.
I emailed my sister back in The States what I was thinking of doing, and she emailed back,
“Once had a psychologist tell me that running away is a perfectly valid option and decision. I’m sorry to hear that Rome has impaired your health like this, and glad you are taking care of yourself by leaving. How wonderful that you have both the ability and opportunity to do so.”
Emails were sent, reservations made, and I set off for my first ever solitary writing retreat to a cottage in the Ireland countryside, sight unseen, with one suitcase and a computer bag, heart in hand, hope like wings on my shoulders.
One month later, here I am, back in Italy, with a wonderful secret.
Check back tomorrow, and I’ll show you what happened in Ireland!