Have you ever felt uncomfortable in the presence of someone else? No doubt we have all felt that way a few times in our lives. The sensation is particularly unpleasant when you realize that you have walked into the middle of a marital battle.
Once, my wife visited some friends, a husband and wife. This being in the U.S., she had telephoned ahead of time (Americans do not like spontaneous drop-ins – so unlike people in Italy), so her visit was expected.
My wife arrived at her friends’ home and she duly greeted them. Immediately, she felt something was off. Her hosts did not speak with each other.
As my wife sat on their sofa, she felt the room grow cold, so cold she shivered. She realized that the couple had been fighting and that they had not yet arrived at a resolution, or even a truce. My wife was so uneasy, she thought about making up an excuse and escaping that ice palace. Instead, the husband left on the pretext of an errand. The room temperature returned to normal!
Some years ago when I still lived in Italy, my cousin persuaded me to visit him at Lake Como. My cousin was (he is now deceased) one of seven or eight of us in the family with the same first and last names, which is a source of several inside family jokes. This cousin at Lake Como was in law enforcement, married, and about seven years older than me.
Not wanting to show up empty-handed, I went to a popular pastry shop in my area and bought a big, beautifully gift-wrapped box of assorted goodies. It didn’t take long to find out how hard it was to carry that box, along with my small suitcase, on the train from Naples to Rome and then change to a train going north to Milan. This was way before today’s express train service.
Anyway, my cousin Anton picked me up in Milan and drove back to his home. Don’t think that his house was anything like George Clooney’s sprawling lakefront mansion. The backstreet homes provided for carabinieri were very modest and compact. Anton’s place had two bedrooms, one for him and his wife Sofia and the other for their three children. I guessed that I was supposed to sleep on the sofa; I wondered how much my back would hurt after three or four nights of that. But I should not have worried.
When we arrived at Anton’s house, he carried my suitcase while I carried the box of pastries. We entered the house and I saw Sofia’s face. Uh-oh, I thought.
It wasn’t that she directed her displeasure at me; it was more that the animosity she beamed at her husband cascaded down on me as well. Yes, this couple had been fighting, and I didn’t know if it was because of me or something else. Why in the world did I make this trip, I berated myself. I was still standing with that box in hand, so I put it down on the table in the cramped parlor/dining room.
It was supper time and I had not eaten anything since my morning coffee and slice of bread. Sofia announced that she was taking the kids to visit her mother. Anton did not say a word. After getting the kids in their coats and gloves, Sofia marched them out of the house, into the car, and away to who knows where.
My stomach growled, but my cousin did not seem to hear it. We chatted a while, as if nothing was wrong. Anton offered me an espresso and one of the pastries I had brought. I declined. After a couple of hours, Sofia returned with the children and put them to bed. The few words she said to me were pleasant, but I could hear her argue with Anton even through their closed bedroom door.
I went hungry that night and barely slept. When morning came, I made Anton drive me back to the train station in Milan.