So far, this story has been sad. I wrote it to remember him and how happy I was.
I didn't destroy the bougainvillea, the jasmine, or the honeysuckle, but with each flowering I collected the scented branches and placed them on the keyboard of his piano. Nature, the seasons, were there to remind me that in spite of everything life went on.
I never found the courage to break my last oath. I realized to kill myself would take more courage than I had. I already had some experience on the subject, so I didn't even try. Even letting oneself die of boredom or starvation, takes effort, and thought, and I couldn't even think.
Then, my mother, my friends, and especially Marco, forced me to react, together they supported me through the depression that had plagued me. Finally, I began to work again, to treat people and to cure some of them. Above all, this helped me to heal myself, although my life inevitably dragged on in a colorless way. Paoletto had always been its stimulus and catalyst. In the last twenty years of our life, it was him I thought about at all times and of course he thought about me. That was how we did it.
At Marco's insistence, I accepted a position at an American University and moved to Boston where I unexpectedly began to find pleasure and enjoyment in my work. Recognizing the good I could do for others, which came through trying to help and improve my own life. They remain years of exciting and exhausting work, but they were helpful in rebuilding my soul devastated by the loss of Paoletto. At first, I mourned him every night, every moment when I was alone, when I did not have a patient whose condition worried me. So, I always took on the most difficult cases and often solved them out of desperation. My colleagues thought I was exceptionally competent, for myself, I was merely trying to keep my personal suffering at bay.
I often talked to Paoletto and was sure he listened to me and even came to me with advice when I had doubts about how to proceed in a surgical operation, or with my life. I defended myself as best I could, and he was always generous with his advice. He told me to stop crying every night.
That was the true strength of autosuggestion. But there was no need to repeat it. I already knew it.
I had been in America for five years, Paoletto had left me six years before, and I still missed him like the first day.
One evening I returned from work and found Ines sitting at the kitchen table with her head in her hands. She was the woman who cleaned my house and with whom I had exchanged a few words in the last three years, since she had started working for me. We said goodbye to each other in the morning when she arrived at my house and I left for work, when I returned she had already run home to take care of her children.
From the few words we had exchanged over the years, I knew she was of Latin American origin, she was a single mother of twins, who were four years old. Leonard and Noah, whose father had left before they were born and had never acknowledged them.
Ines had almost always been alone in the world. Abandoned by her family when they discovered she was pregnant. As well as by the young man who did not want her to carry on with the pregnancy. She had left college and started work, looking after and managing among a thousand difficulties to love and raise the two children. She had just turned twenty-four.
That night she was distraught because she had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer. The disease was in an advanced stage. She was desperate, she knew I was a doctor and had waited for me to arrive home, to ask for advice. From the papers she showed me it was clear there was not much more medical science could do.
My choice to study medicine and then to specialize in cardiac surgery had certainly been motivated by the desire to follow in my father's footsteps. But more intimately it was linked to the fact that by dealing with hearts, I would never have to deal with cancer patients. Unfortunately, after my father, I had had to assist and live through Paoletto's illness. Now, while reading Ines' reports, I wondered if I was entering another nightmare.
That night I dreamt of Paoletto caressing my forehead and hair.
"The moment I was waiting for has arrived..." he said, with his harmonious voice. A voice I could hardly remember when I was awake. "You can do a good deed and this time don't make a mistake. Above all, try not to run away!”
He warned me with one raised finger before the dream finished and he returned to that place where he had promised to wait for me. A place I would reach when it was time, not before, because I had sworn I would not take any selfish action. It was how he had arranged everything, and he would remind me of it every time he came to me in my dreams.
"Remember what you swore." He generally concluded, it's not time. In this dream he had something else in store for me.
The next morning, I accompanied Ines as she underwent a new series of tests which served to confirm the previous diagnosis. She only had a few months. That same evening she returned to my house and this time she had her two children with her.
"I don't know who to leave them with!"
The two children were delightful. Little angels, four years old, a bit sleepy, with black hair and eyes that would have been very bright had they been open. As I contemplated them, abandoned to the sleep of tiredness, embracing each other as only twins can, I thought how nice it would be to watch them playing in the garden of my house, growing up in my city. In Italy they would certainly have felt at ease.
I had this thought while looking at a picture of Paoletto, one of the many I kept in the house. He was smiling and content, because before I took it I promised him I would do something he cared about very much. I do not recall what.
"Ines, I'm going to make you a proposal, but know, whatever you decide, I'm going to help you anyway!"
That evening we outlined our future. That of Ines which we knew would unfortunately be short and mine which I hoped would be long enough to take care of her children. Some law firms in the United States specialize in everything and it wasn't difficult to get one to assist me in the complicated mission of securing a future for Leonard and Noah. A future I hoped would be happy.
My mother and her partner had been happily married for a long time and they were both recently retired. They arrived a couple of weeks later. In time to attend my wedding with Ines and to help me arrange my new life as a father, husband, and once again as a nurse. Marco also showed up for the wedding and was my best man, as I had been for his wedding many years before.
"It's odd, but you deserve some happiness, and these two children will certainly be able to give it to you!" Declared my mother when I told her she would be a grandmother.
Marco was genuinely happy for me. For the initiative I was taking and the idea of enjoying two nephews too.
The adoption procedure for Leonard and Noah fortunately went through without too many problems. Ines' illness gave her the certainty of leaving her kids in the loving arms of two happy grandparents. In the arms of a playful uncle and in the trembling hands of an inexperienced but motivated father.
As was my habit, I asked myself what Paoletto would have done in my place.
"Close your eyes and try to love them as only you can! There was always so much love in you." I listened to his advice and I did just that.
For me, meanwhile, the time had come to decide whether to return to Italy or stay in Boston. The decision now involved my children and I paid it due attention. Not even Paoletto in my dreams could give me directions. He kept repeating that the sun and the sky of our city were unique. The house was big enough and needed joy and liveliness after so much sadness. But he never decided to say what I wanted to hear him say.
Marco thought about it and convinced me.
In due time he had married, as everyone had expected him to. His marriage had never been happy, and he had no children. On the threshold of fifty years of age, his wife had decided that it was time to change something in her life and had asked Marco to give back her freedom. Marco had immediately agreed and then jumped on the first plane to Boston.
I found him outside the door one morning. The little devils immediately jumped on him wrapping their arms around his neck. Every time he met them, Uncle Marco won them over with his friendliness and his ability to play as if he were five years old. When he managed to free himself, but only because the two children had to go to school, he explained to me why he had come all the way to America to look for me.
"I know it's a bit late, Roby. I also know that your heart will always be Paoletto's, but if you would let me, I would be a little help with the kids. Do you want me in your life?"
"Would you come to live in Boston?" I asked incredulously.
"No, are you crazy? But you can return to Italy!"
"I am in!" I said, without even thinking about it and hugged him tightly.
That night Paoletto confirmed to me I was doing the right thing and repeated that the sky and the sun of Italy were unique.
Now I am getting ready to go to the Town Hall. I will appear in front of the Civil Status Officer who will celebrate our wedding. In Italy, the law that allows the union between people of the same sex has just been approved. It has a different name, but in essence it is a marriage. We waited for our boys to turn eighteen so as adults they could be our best men.
In this hall of ceremonies, everyone was moved.
Marco, with whom I have been living for all these years and who, together with me, has been the father of the boys. My mother and her partner who are the happiest grandparents in the world. And then Uncle Giulio who tries to smile at me amid tears of happiness and nostalgia. They also try not to cry, Leonard and Noah, who now speak our dialect better than if they were born here and are honored to be the best men and the first witnesses of this ceremony.
As I hug my boys and Marco happily, I feel a tender caress on my cheek. It is Paoletto confirming I finally did the right thing!
Translated from the original Italian by Lenny Bruce, revised by Talo Segura.
Thanks to Talo Segura for all his efforts. The story was there, he made it usable even for those who didn't understand Italian. Or that might have smiled at my rudimentary and unintentionally humorous English translation.
And thanks to those who have had the patience to follow this journey.