25. The Conversation

When my wife was single, she lived in a three-unit apartment house. The owners occupied the first floor. Hailing from Spain, they retained many of their Spanish customs. For example, in their tiny back yard, they set up a long table under a pergola where they would spend many Sunday afternoons enjoying hearty meals with family and friends.

In the wintertime, they entertained indoors. My wife recalls a happy Thanksgiving meal with them, with the wine and sherry flowing freely; she had to stagger up to her apartment, as her efforts to block her glass from being refilled proved fruitless. Throughout the evening, the husband spoke fondly of an olive farm back in Spain that his ancestors had acquired and that was to pass to him.

The couple had one child, a son. When the boy reached the age of 21 and had graduated college and started on his career, his father bought him a condo. By then, the father was in his 60s. He had spent his working life as a welder, earning good union wages. Satisfied that his son was set, he decided to retire and return to Spain for good.

His wife was devastated at the thought of leaving her son and living so far away. But, being a traditional, old-fashioned Spanish wife, she helped pack up their belongings, and when the house sold, she left the U.S. with her husband.

How many couples throughout the world have talked about whether or not to change locales for one reason or another? How many are talking about it right now, staying up all night as they weigh the pros and cons? I suspect that the Spanish couple’s conversation was mostly one-sided – I wonder what the long-term consequences of that have been.

I have lived in the U.S. for nearly 20 years. I had not planned on it, just as I could not have foreseen meeting the American woman who would become my wife. We have led a quiet life, punctuated by travel to different states and different countries. We own our own home and now have a comfortable retirement.

But I have always missed my Italy. I suppose it’s inevitable: I was well into adulthood when I simply did not return so that I could take up life as a married man. The first few years were hard, so much did I miss my family, friends, language, and culture. My wife was still working and would not hear of moving to Italy with me.

Now with this pandemic, being mostly stuck at home with no end in sight because of this country’s failure to implement the proven, effective measures – I feel so trapped I want to yell at the top of my lungs. And I can’t even fly to Italy because U.S. residents are blocked from going there.

So I have tried to have a serious conversation with my wife. I told her that, once the pandemic fades and travel restrictions lift, I’d like us to sell everything we have here and move to Italy.

She shuts me down every time I bring up the subject.

“I came to the U.S. as a child from another country,” she always says. “I don’t want to immigrate yet again.” Then she goes on about feeling no attachment to Italy, wondering how she would spend her time there, ranting about how she is not a fluent speaker of Italian, blah-blah-blah. The best she can offer is to spend a few months a year there.

It’s infuriating. During our entire marriage, I have felt little attachment to the U.S., spent my time feeling isolated, endured scorn for not speaking English too well, etc., etc. In Italy, I can visit friends and family, walk up and down the boulevard and chat with the people I meet, get invited to a game of cards (we use Neapolitan cards), listen to bands and see a bit of folk dancing during the many festivals – in short, have an actual life with social connections. And don’t get me started about the food.

I have no intention of separating from my wife, not after taking so long to find her. But I really detest this limbo in which I find myself. Why couldn’t she be an obedient little wife like her Spanish landlady?

I know, I know.

Señoritas de Palma – Mallorca, Spain courtesy of “Anton”

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