Life, loss, and living in Italy.

Living in Italy. To the outsider looking in it seems like a perfect life. Happy faces on facebook and instagram, butterflies and beautiful men; a blissful life with pastas and Pietros. People think that living abroad comes with no pain or loss. However, what people fail to consider is that life happens whether you are in New Jersey or New Guinea. “You are living in Italy, what kind of problems could you possibly have?” This statement has to be one of the dumbest phrases I have ever heard in my life. As if a place negates your past problems or present losses. As if in that one cappuccino or Spritz or Fendi bag holds all of the answers to your problems and anxieties. This is definitely not the case. I am living proof of that.

Dad and I on one of my first trips to Italy. I was about 7 or 8 in this picture.

Let’s go back, way back to 2005. It was one of those beautiful Spring days in New Jersey. The sun was shining, leaves swaying in the breeze, and to outsiders life seemed peaceful and quaint. It was April 18 or 19th, I don’t recall the exact date. I do remember that it was my last year of high school. I got off of the school bus, and I saw my mother at the door. She was never home at this time. I open the door and see her standing idle near the kitchen table. She turned to me and said, her eyes filled with sadness, no tears, she just seemed...different, “We have to go to the hospital, your father is in hospice.” Hospice? I didn’t know what that was, and I thought, ok, let’s go see dad. I thought he would be out in the evening. They were just taking a necessary precaution, all would be well. I had no idea what this actually meant. We go up to his hospital room, and I see him there in the bed. I don’t remember the details. I cannot tell you a single color or shape in that room. I don’t remember what anyone said to me or the questions they asked. I don’t remember every single person there, only a few outlines of faces. I remember recognizing the man in the hospital bed; he was my beloved father. He was just so bloated and writhed with disease that he didn’t LOOK like my father. He was a theater teacher. All of his exuberance and vitality was sucked out of him. There he lay breathing heavily, just a shell of a person. I saw all of his former students in the hospital, paying homage to a man they all respected and loved. I sat with them until I was called to the room. Dad was gone. It was over. He died right at curtain time, opening night to be exact, on April 20th at 8 pm. I just didn’t believe it. He couldn’t be gone. This had to be a dream. The day was too beautiful this morning, things were calm today, and now this? How could this happen? From that day forward I never forgot what hospice meant. Hospice–goodbye forever.

My family and I in front of a jewelry store in Florence, Italy. Ah, the good old days.

After his death I was lost. I am so much like him. I found many common threads with my father. We were two peas in a pod. His name was Vincent Borelli. A proud Italian-American from Hoboken, New Jersey. We would often go to Hoboken for the Madonna dei Martiri street festival held predominantly by the Molfetesi who emigrated to the area. My family and I would eat at our favorite joint Leo’s; I remember them having the best mussels in town. We would sing show tunes in the car and groove to Frank Sinatra. I know all of the American songbook by heart because I would sing them with my two favorite guys, Dad and ‘ol blue eyes.

I am 35 years old, and as I write this my eyes fill with tears. I can’t really see the screen, it’s all a blur; kind of like the day he died. The memory takes hold of me and my fingers just do the work as the ideas fly out of my head and into my hands. How did I get here? In Bari, living this life. A life that was only supposed to be a dream, surreal. Kind of like my father’s death. Loss. Life. Living in Italy.

After this tragic time in my life the pull for Italy was ever so strong. Not only because of the dream man I wanted to find, but I also wanted to escape from the memory of the father I lost. I wanted to be a different person. Even before his death I always wanted to change something about myself, especially my hair. I was obsessed with blonde hair. I thought that men would like me better, especially in Italy. I wanted to be as Italian as possible and yet I wanted to look as American as possible. If I had been a famous piece of art, what would you art historians say? Ah yes, what a juxtaposition. What a contrasting effect. That is the story of my life. I wanted to have different interests, be a different person. I thought going to Italy would make me whole again. I thought the big extended family would be the bandaid I needed to fill the void, not only from this loss, but from the deep void within myself.

Void. The definition by Miriam-Webster’s online dictionary reads: void space-containing nothing, not occupied, vacant. These words expressed my existence after his death. Italy was the way I was going to fill that void for the next eleven years. I think every Expat has a reason why he or she left their native country to come to Italy. We all have a different story and different reasons. For me, as you well know, it was finding that dream man, trying to “be” Italian (which I will go into in another blog), and to escape the deep pain of my father’s death. Let me let you in on a little secret. It doesn’t change anything. The different culture and scenery are all exterior things. If you don’t feel whole on the inside a different place is not going to fix it. It may be a nice distraction. The new culture and surroundings might take you away for a while but at night alone with your thoughts it won’t change a damn thing.

Dad and I at one of his acting competitions. I was never too far behind. I am the little girl on the left.

So my dear readers, it’s been an interesting eleven years. Even in Italy, even in these beautiful surroundings with it’s fairy-tale quality, loss still happens, because LIFE happens. We just can’t escape it. I have lived through the loss of my grandmother (I will talk about my dear Benedetta in another blog), Zia Maria (who was like a second grandmother to me), the loss of a relationship, friendships, and most recently a dear friend who was an extremely talented musician. A friend who was from my grandmother’s hometown Corato, Bari, il maestro Antonio Molinini. One of the few Italian males I have met who appreciated my exuberant personality and talent. Grazie maestro per la sua musica. (Thank you maestro for your music). So you see, as my dear Uncle and master educator stated many a time, “you can’t run away from yourself.”

Sometimes I ask myself this question. Is that all there is? Is that all there is? Is that all there is? If that’s all there is my friends then let’s keep dancing. Break out the booze and have a ball– if that’s all there is. (Is that all There Is?–song made famous by the great Peggy Lee). As my father would say in every holiday video, and what he would probably have asked me had he been alive today, is that all there is to living in Italy? Dad, I don’t know the answer. Maybe someday you could give me a sign, but until then let’s keep dancing.

My father. The one and ONLY Vincent J. Borelli. You are forever in our hearts.

  1. The first link is a link to the famous restaurant in Hoboken, Leo's. If anyone is in that area check it out.

  2. This is the link to the article about my dear friend Antonio Molinini, in Italian.

  3. This link is the Saturday Night Live sketch that brilliantly describes what I am talking about. It is hilarious. (I do NOT own the rights to this content).

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