Saturday, October 17, 2009

When in Rome...

Before I left for my trip I went shopping. A lot. But among the new outfits, scarves and comfy Tory Burch flats, I bought the basics: Shampoo, Conditioner and Body Wash. I wasn't out of those items when I left, but I replaced them with smaller, travel-size versions to make it easier to transport. One day, I'll open up a bottle of Biolage Color Care and be taken right back to my two weeks in Italy. I like that.

I have debated whether to spare you the details of the travel, leaving just the one-liner that encompasses the whole trip... the sentence we said to one another over and over and over again while there: "I'm so happy."

But I digress. I can't help it. Read further if you like. For you history buffs not interested in my playful lease on this part of my life, you can stop after this paragraph: We saw The Vatican, The Sistine Chapel, Michaelangelo's David, The Cathedrals of Rome, Siena, and Florence, The Trevi Fountain and The Spanish Steps. We spent time exploring Tuscany, shopping in Cortona, and we visited a vineyard in Montepulciano. Justin and I hiked the Cinque Terre Trail (in one day!) and we swam in the Meditteranean Sea. But that's not what I'm writing about.

Words can do a lot to describe what we experienced. But they can't do it justice by any means. I wanted to walk in the door on Sunday at 9 pm, fresh off the plane with memories recent, and begin to hammer out my entry. But jet lag and the need to refresh myself for the impending daily routines won out. Truthfully, I have had more fun reliving the moments, and recapping them to friends. I've been unable to get through a description of our time together without shedding a few tears. It was magical. It was perfect. I could not have asked for more.

Before I left, I wrote about Justin's heart. I read back over that entry this morning and realized it was a far cry from doing his character any justice. I realize the self-indulgence that bloggers possess. For some reason, we think others want to hear what we have to say. I don't care what you take from me, my opinions and my way of thinking. But I hope you get to know my husband. I hope you get him like I do when this is all over. I hope you have that honor.

That fateful Saturday in September (seems like so long ago), I was dressed in my aforementioned knit dress and Ms. Samuels' bracelets. I was calm after landing in Rome. I had been much more nervous during my connection in Detroit... that feeling of the unknown. The stress of travel ahead. But in Rome, I exhaled. I stood in line at the wrong baggage claim for over 10 minutes- waiting, watching, to never see my bag come around the corner. I wasn't hurried like I thought I would be. I was just at peace. When I made it to my bag, I headed toward the swinging doors that protected baggage claim from the outside world. As the doors swung open I saw the partition- much like something they would have between adoring fans and celebrities at a red carpet event. Everyone was watching anxiously to see their loved ones. And there, as the doors swung back, I saw him standing, just to the right. Clad in a blue polo, khakis and tennis shoes, his hair was short and his face was more toned than I could remember. He was the most handsome man I had ever seen. I ran to his side and we embraced, my 66-pound rolling suitcase knocking into my hip. We couldn't let go for at least a minute. Tears came between our kisses even as we were giving them. He had 3 gerbera daisies in his hand. LOVE.

I was dying for someone to capture this. But the short distance between the door and where he was standing didn't allow for much time to hand the camera over and I am sure it was the furthest thing from his mind at the time. Immediately, we had an overwhelming feeling of picking up right where we left off in April. The six months between our goodbye and hello seemed to disappear. We felt the instant connection that had bonded us to one another over seven years ago. The attraction, the sense of humor, the respect and love. I was the happiest I have ever been.

That feeling stayed with me until I left his side last weekend. We spent the first week with family- amongst food and drink and love and laughter (an abundance of all those things). To try to summarize the moments we all shared together would be impossible. I could never recap the memories from that week with our parents and brothers. We traveled Rome, attended happy hour in front of the Pantheon, made friends with our wait staff, and relished in our tourist attitude. We rode the double decker bus and saw the sights like true Americans. We spent four days in a Tuscan villa that became our home away from home. We were hosted, fed, loved and nurtured by Italy. Life was so good.

During the day we were pulled in all directions. A family of 9 means 9 opinions, 9 ideas (at least!) and 9 ways to get there. But we managed. All prior personalities were left at the door- in honor of our most important guest and his newfound, albeit temporary, "freedom." At night, we ate some of the best food any of us had ever tasted. Some nights, we ate at the villa, thanks to Mom's home-away-from-home-cooking. Most meals were shared together outdoors, including those at the villa, where we ate and drank underneath the vine-covered trellis.

The family left on the second Sunday and we cried. I cried because I hurt for them not getting to experience him any more than they did. I felt so blessed to be the one who had that honor. After our goodbyes we hopped on a four-hour trainride to Cinque Terre where we would spend the next 6 days... alone.

When we arrived in Vernazza, the 2nd-most northern town on the Cinque Terre Trail, we were speechless. We were situated in the most pristine and lively of the five towns, a point I had not missed when doing my research for our lodging. We literally felt like we had rolled our heavy suitcases right into Heaven. Our quaint little room looked right out over the Mediterranean Sea. The air was so cool that night that I wasn't sure I could move from the balcony to do all the things on our "to-do list" (shower, nap, get ready, drink, eat). It was here that we began uttering the words, "I'm soooo happy."

That night and the next day, we explored our little town. It didn't take long to walk through the main cobblestone street and scope out the shops that I would frequent over and over again later in the trip, contemplating souvenirs. But it was that quaintness that had us feeling like we owned the town by the time we left. We felt like locals.

On Tuesday, our 2nd full day there, we had planned out a route that would take us on the roughly 7-mile hike along the entire Cinque Terre Trail. We hiked from our town (Vernazza) down to the most southern (Riomagiorre), ferried back up to the most northern (Monterosso) and then hiked the trail between Monterosso and our home for the week. The terrain is extremely rugged, with manmade, rocky steps most of the way. By the time we arrived back in Vernazza around sunset, we felt victorious. We threw off our hiking clothes, bought two beers from the hotel bar and jumped into the turquoise water of our port.

Wednesday was my most favorite day. We put on swimsuits and took a train back up to Monterosso, where the best beaches awaited. We rented the two beach chairs furthest from the public and sunned, swam and snorkled in the clear blue waters of the ocean. Their beaches don't have shells, but rather rocks. I taught Justin about "sea glass," a phenomenon I had only read about, and we went on a day-long treasure hunt to find the best and most beautiful. We made memories I will never forget that day. The time was peaceful and playful and the moments ahead only got better.

The next day was overcast and we were debating how to spend it. We ended up in a few shops, but napped and relaxed most of the day. Every single night was spent the same way- drinks around 7 and dinner between 8 and 9. We always spent the evenings wrapped in conversation with one another.

It was Friday evening, our last night there that we had our best talk. We had made a last-minute decision to head up to Portofino earlier that day. It rained on us and the shops were closed when we arrived. Justin and I shared hotdog and egg pizzas while the rain poured down in front of Gucci, Prada and Emilio Pucci. When we got back to Vernazzza that night, I had every intention to shower and change into a nice dress for our last night in the Cinque Terre. But good conversation turned great and I realized that after sitting down for a drink as we waltzed back into town, my biggest fan was sitting in front of me and didn't care if I got my 138-dollars-worth out of that Anthroplogie dress I had been planning to wear. We ordered drink after drink, there at the Blue Marlin, where we had shared a breakfast of eggs (the only eggs in town) most mornings. We told stories of childhood, ones I know we'd both heard before. But somehow, they all sounded new and different.

That's how the whole trip went. The experiences were new and different. But the feeling was the same. Good, wholesome, comfortable love. That's what I got. That's what he gives me every second of every day of every year.

I left him on Sunday with less tears than I had thought possible and far less than what my silly heart had dreaded leading up to it. I left him with a sense of security, of memory and wonder. I wonder what the Lord has in store for us. I wonder what He'll surprise us with next. I know for sure we weren't expecting any of this.

And now that I am home, I realize I won't need the smell of a familiar shampoo after all. The memories are so real I can almost touch them. I pray they never fade, not even a little. I want to revisit them from time to time. I want to travel back to the place where everything was just right, just for a moment. In less than four months, I will have that chance again. No, we're not planning another trip (it will be a long time before we can afford to).

He will be home. And every day with him is like a vacation.

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