Jan 15, 2006

UP IN SMOKE
The pre-wedding festivities are a blur. My fellow bridesmaid, Anne, was in a nine-car pile-up the night before. She and her family spent about nine hours at the E.R.; happily everyone's intact, just jolted.

“I'm not wearing a matching neck brace,” I tell her. She doesn't look terribly amused. Maybe it's a bit soon for hospital humor.

***

We primp Andy and Amy's new house – a gorgeous Craftsman full of wooden floors and window seats – welcome guests, devour food, walk the pug. The bride shreds through my suitcase for rehearsal attire. She winds up in my burgundy cashmere sweater and a grey pussy-willow-print skirt I gave her last year. “Something borrowed,” we laugh.

A petite Korean woman hurtles into my arms at dinner that evening. My fatigued brain takes several seconds to process: it's Mimi, now a full-fledged professor. Twelve years ago, Amy and I forcibly enrolled her as a Classics major. She's the only one who stayed the course.

The three of us were roommates, the first time I lived in Rome. Our French doors overlooked the Campo dei Fiori, the outdoor market in the city's core.

The bars' hub-bub lasted late into the night. After closing, workers smashed all the empties on the piazza's cobbles. Street sweepers sucked up the glass about 2am. Silence. Brief, fleeting silence. Then vendors began sledging together pipe-metal stalls and singing opera about 4am.

Strangely, I slept well for the first time in my life.

***
Two Italians stood beneath our balcony. One clutched his breaking heart.

"Come down, my Juliets," this complete stranger crooned. "We will buy you red wine and roses.”

Sono sposata,” I lied, brandishing my fake wedding ring.

“No problem! We're not jealous!"

***

I married a man I met there in Rome. He was an American academic. After eight and a half years, the union imploded in Athens. “My big fat Greek divorce,” I labeled it. Like hospital humor, many people do not find such things funny.

***

We reminisce carefully, along with Mim's partner, Brian, who also lived in our cramped medieval apartment. Little mention is made of my ex, John Curtis Franklin. Instead, we focus on other friends, including John Butterfield, now a lutemaker.

***

Sophia, the flower girl, rescues us all from maudlin memories. “I have something to show you,” she whispers urgently. I follow her elfin mass of curls into the base of an old smokestack. Wind and echoes surge up the 225-foot brick tunnel, now a sanitized feature in the Steam Plant Grill.

Mimi, Brian and Amy join us. We holler into the night sky. And – for a heartbeat – I feel like a 19-year-old girl again; the sort of girl who would oversleep her shuttle, perched on the edge of the Forum for the first time, seeing a fresher world with brighter eyes.

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