In Which She Buys Her First Pack of Cigarettes
Trip Start Jun 14, 2008
28Trip End Aug 2009
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Important to know that only a couple of hours before my frustrating phone call to vayama.com, I had closed Truman Capote's "Breakfast at Tiffany's" with the lasting impression that fear and sadness can be easily avoided with a martini buzz, the right accessories, and a rather loose (albeit vague) attitude towards men. Aubrey Hepburn's Holly, at the time, was my heroine.
Picture me nearing end of my last day of freedom before the C-- family returns from their week of vacation in Normandy, during which I stayed alone in Torino. It's early evening and the fading afternoon sunlight filters across the hardwood floors to me, barefoot at the marble-topped dining table upon which I've opened my laptop to read the email containing my international flight itinerary. I have the black cordless phone up to my ear, fingers beginning to cramp from their clutched position, and I'm thanking Jamie at Vayama for all of his help, accepting with strained civilty his scripted apologies about my situation. Long story short, I've just discovered that I paid close to 1800.00USD for what turned out to be not a round-trip but a one-way flight from SFO to Turin, Italy, and although that's considerably less than most international one-way flights nowadays it's enough money lost to make me hiss, "Shit. Shit. Shit," into the empty house. I sit for a bit like that, one foot up on the chair, the other on the floor, muttering aloud to myself, eyes going in and out of focus, until I get up and go into the kitchen to hang up the phone and realise that I need to get out of this house NOW. My frustration about losing the battle with the airline companies and third party, my impatience with telephone transactions, my anger with myself for not buying a one-way ticket at the start, underlined by an immense fear accompanying my spanking new lack of a conrete return date: all of these combined, if left to fester within me in this small space would soon leave me in no condition to receive the family back into their (my) home. Still had on the running shorts, wild hair and grubby t-shirt I had this morning. I paced the kitchen like a tense, caged animal. I had to get out.
Recalling the unshakeable composure of Capote's Holly Golightly, I thought what better way to take a furious walk than in style? It might lift my spirits to gussy up for all the strangers out there, all those unsuspecting people past whom I will boldly stride in my brisk walk down to the River Po to burn off some of these brittle, bright red feelings I have bundled up like so much tinder. I donned the black mid-thigh jersey dress from Old Navy that Mom sent me a few weeks back; slipped on my new black flats with sturdy, audible heels; cinched a little red belt around my waist, applied a generous amount of eyeliner and my new rose lipstick from Paris; angrily stuffed into a shoulder bag my wallet, mobile, an apple, journal; and then, with my chin up and unnecessarily huge sunglasses on, strode out of the apartment building onto the warm sidewalks of a European city transitioning from late afternoon to early evening. Ha-rumph! I hate you, vayama.com! Stupid United Airlines! Stupid three-month limit on my round trip ticket! Stupid lady who gave me the wrong info the first time I called!
Destination: The River Po. (When I came to this part of my story, Dad said, "No! Don't jump!") More or less fifteen minutes away from the house on foot, I figured I could steam along the oft busy Corso Vittorio Emmanuele II until the park near the River, then sit for awhile and vent into my diary like the predolescent schoolgirl I sometimes am before going home again. I walked two blocks in a blink, anxious anger settling into more of a vague mauve depression, when some mangy young "tamarro" (Italian word for the guy who drives by in a tricked out outdated sedan that once belonged to his uncle, wearing reflective aviators and blasting techno) approached me on the right, muttered something rude-sounding into my ear, grabbed a huge handful of my ass and squeezed it, HARD, before jogging away. I had just enough time to widen my eyes in serious, serious disbelief, and gasp aloud-- but, because of my dark Olsen-twin glasses, I think he registered only the lipsticked gasp, and I can hardly bear to think of the satisfaction he probably gathered from that. Ugh. What a PERV! My fury flared up anew, though this time shaded with indignation and disgust, and having no one to turn to I said to myself, You know what? That does it. I'm fed up with
sucking up my frustration!
not having any G.D. friends in Turin,
that other thing...
and worked myself into such a huff that I may have alarmed the poor guy who sold me my first packet of cigarettes in a convenient shop near the train station, Porta Nuova. I don't even know what kind they are, or what led me to choose the box I chose. Whatever I saw behind the counter that wasn't Marlboros (because that makes me think of the anti-smoking cowboy ads of my youth, the tan denim men toasting frothy beer mugs with body bags (Remember those?), and then I feel REALLY bad). While I've smoked a cigarette or two in my life, I've never before actually bought my own pack: a streak I was, afterward, somewhat remiss to break. The remaining seventeen now cower pathetically in the bottom corner of my handbag, ashamed of themselves for sharing my purse with the kids' juice boxes and afternoon snacks.
I digress. Basically, I was tired of being so danged healthy about my feelings and my body and everything, for taking care of myself for such a long time, being a good girl who generally does the right thing, and decided that I had experienced in this day two moments of such profound disappointment - in the travel companies that should have secured for me my passage home from this crazy job I've undertaken, and in Men (Yes. ALL of you.) for grabbing girls' butts. It's just. not. nice. So I bought some cigarettes halfway between my house and the River, eventually sat down on the lawn in Parco Valentino to write in my journal and proceeded to smoke three in a row. Also burned a couple of holes in the page, just for kicks. After ten or fifteen minutes of chain-smoking I stood up, brushed all the dead grass off my butt, noted the nasty blisters forming on my heels on account of the new shoes and not-so-leisurely stroll, and headed home. At a pedestrian stoplight I reached into my purse to light up one more, clinging stubbornly to my waning rage like the kid whose tantrum was interrupted by someone saying, "Don't smile! Don't smile!," keeps whimpering after the tears have stopped, when my hand instead brushed the apple... and Good, Rational Lauren shook an admonishing finger at wannabe Hepburn's movie character Lauren, brought the apple to her lips instead of the cigarette. When I got home I showered, hung my dress outside to dispel any odor of nicotine, and tidied up the house. Later that evening after a raucous reunion with the C-- family, I sat in the living room with the parents and told them about my cancelled plane ticket. P-- was mildly surprised at my frustration. Spreading her hands wide and lifting her eyebrows, she said, "Oh, but, Lauren. It's only MONEY." And very secretly in my head (next to the cowardly box of cigarettes nestled deep in my shoulder bag) I screamed at the top of my slightly-blackened lungs a series of ugly words in two different languages.