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The Italian Time Machine

Since my wife passed some six months ago, I’ve been compelled to do “good” things.

Frank Sinatra

MISTER Frank Sinatra to you and me.

Perhaps this is motivated by all the help we received over the four years of her cancer, perhaps on a larger scale by the sense of guilt I still carry from once being in desperate need of such help. I don’t know, but any way I slice it, I find it difficult to just sit and do nothing.

Being graceful with my time and money has been satisfying. The first thing I did was make sure the people who gave so much of their time for my wife’s care felt appreciated, and I feel as if I’ve achieved that.

I’ve also spent time with families touched by cancer. I shared our story and listened to theirs. I am constantly amazed at the power such a seemingly innocent act contains, and I hope I made a small difference in some of the lives of my growing cancer “family.” Someday I hope to spend time with those struggling to understand their grief from losing someone they dearly loved, but only after I understand my own grief on a much deeper level.

In all cases, I walk into a room filled with strangers[1] and walk out with family.

Doing “good” things energizes me, but recently I’ve come to realize it also acts as a distraction for me from the little voice in my head growing more and more insistent about “going home.” I sincerely wish I could.

In fact, since she passed, I have struggled with two unresolved thoughts, “who am I?” and “where is home?”

Before her illness I was “computer geek”, “musician”, and “photographer.” While she was sick I became “caregiver”, and then reluctantly, “writer.” [2]

So, last night after another night of volunteering my time, I heard the “go home” voice stronger than I ever have, and it led me to my favorite Italian restaurant.

Walking through the front door, I was quickly embraced by the smell of the food and sound of Sinatra wafting in the air. Every table, knife, fork, spoon, glass, and candle was precisely where it belonged. The other diners did not intrude with their presence; they felt like guests in my “home.”

Cassie, my waitress escorted me to “my” table and asked if I wanted my “regular.” I answered, “yes”, except I wanted a tall whiskey, water, and lemon instead of red wine, “and make it a double.”

After the water was poured and the bread delivered, Cassie returned with my drink and asked if I was having a “bad” day. After experiencing four years of being a hands-on caregiver, I typically scoff when I hear someone say their day was “bad” simply because I don’t believe the average person walking the streets can even imagine how hard a “good” day is being a caregiver.

I just nodded and ordered my “regular.”

Looking around, I saw a party of five sitting at the big table in the middle of the room.

There were three women and two men. The women were obviously related, probably sisters by the similarities of their faces. They also shared a common love for too many diamonds, too much gold jewelry, and the same Loreal platinum blonde hair coloring. They were not clones, but they were a matching set. I imagine if they were found on your local drug store shelf, they would be on sale, three for twenty bucks, same as their hair color.

The men were decidedly different from each other. A Caucasian man sat quietly with his back to me, barely saying a word. He reminded me more of a poodle than a person in his demeanor as he sat quietly waiting to be spoken to, which he rarely was.

Across from him was a Mexican man who was trying to establish dominance at the table, only to be thwarted by his wife at his every attempt. It was clear to me, and anyone else in the room, that these two were having issues. They weren’t “fighting”, that would start later in the car on the ride home. No, they were “sparring”, this was only the undercard to a more robust confrontation that would likely last into the weekend, out of the public eye, but within earshot of the whole block.

Except for poodle-man, everyone at the table was talking at the same time and using their hands for additional emphasis. Italian restaurants often bring that out in people. Cassie occasionally interrupted to ask if they needed anything, and the response she got from their body language was, “What? Go away! Can’t you see we’re talking here?”[3]

I watched all of this without any sense of annoyance because I missed being a part of it, or something like it. I confess there have been times I was the dominant Mexican and times I was the poodle, but tonight I was no one. There I sat, alone in my own poodle-like place at my poodle-table entombed in my envy to be addressed by anyone. In fact, I was the super-poodle. I am unsure super-poodles are even seen by others, but they are certainly never heard from, and cannot judge others.

And then it happened.

While the jaws were flapping and hands were dancing, I saw a flash in the low light of my substitute home. It was the light reflected off of the Mexican man’s wedding ring that sent the gold lightning in my direction, and instantly I knew what I really wanted.

I was quickly immersed in a desire to go back to my house and put on my wedding ring. I wanted more than ever to wear that ring as I opened the door and see her sitting there, waiting for me. For me.

I could hear her voice again asking me how rehearsal went, or how I was home earlier than expected. I recalled the too few times I kissed her on the top of her head as to not disturb her as she sat immersed in yet another book. I rejoiced in the hugs I had received upon my arrival for no other reason than my arrival.

In so many ways, I had gone home. Somehow, once again, this Italian time machine brought me to a place I thought could not be found to a time I thought was gone. My heart drank up the memories, my soul expanded once again to try to contain the love I missed so dearly.

I finished my dinner[4] and left before the party of five finished theirs. As I was leaving the Mexican man was informing poodle-man that any desert other than the triple-chocolate cake was far beneath his reason for being there. I don’t know if triple-chocolate cake was ordered, but it’s a solid bet poodle-man acquiesced.

As for me, I drove home alone, entered the house alone, absorbed the love of our dogs alone, and felt full from the chick parm and the memories of how great things once were.

You just can’t buy that anywhere.

[1] “Strangers.” What an odd word considering we all share the human condition. If you throw away trivial distinctions such as gender, race, religion, sexual preference, and politics, we are all the same. We need to come up with a word with the more eloquent and simpler implication of “people just like me who I haven’t been introduced to yet.”

And the flipside of that coin is our need for a word that describes removing “people unlike me who I have met” from your life, those who “share” your grief but feel unfulfilled as human beings unless they express through their words and actions an eternal disapproval of you. The word “foe” is reserved for those I respect; the word “forgotten” comes to mind for them.

[2] Now, the words of Yogi Bera play in my head, “when you come to the fork in the road, take it”, but at present, I am cannot see the tableware through the trees.

[3] To me, their idea of talking was more of a battle for air supremacy than conversation. Think “Battle of Britain” with your mouth full.

[4] Cassie told the guys in the kitchen I was having a bad day, and they loaded my plate with almost a double helping of everything. “They know you here,” she said, “it was their idea, they just wanted to help.”

3 Responses to “The Italian Time Machine”

  1. Barbara Volker says:

    Dearest Bob, my heart aches for you. You can rest assured that you have succeeded in making those of us who had the privilege of helping you and Carole feel appreciated. As time goes on, I pray that you will find comfort in the knowledge that you never gave up on her and that you did all you could to see that she had the best of care.

  2. Mark says:

    “I cannot see the tableware through the trees.”


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