Leaving Rome was hands-down one of the hardest goodbyes I’ve ever had to muster in my life. I had grown so attached, too attached, to the eternal city, that perhaps I became a part of it. I was its ear lobe, or perhaps a knuckle, a once clumsy appendage which had learned its place in the scheme of the whole body of Rome, a part whose purpose is not revealed without its relation to the whole.
I spent my last day, appropriately, clearing my apartment, mailing things, and touring. The images began to hit me as I ventured to mail my extraneous belongings at the post office. Everything had garnered a glistening beauty—each banality of the street life became completely mesmerizing, precious, and tender with a dewy shimmer. The cobbles, the pedestrians running their course of usual errands, those tattered street posters, the leaves on trees. They all began to seep into my very being. I began to relate to everything, and everything was imbued with an even more meaningful, even more melancholy significance; the sad old Dalmatian walking among the crowds with its tail between its legs, the school children playing with the water spilling out from the nasone, the flickering of cars in pursuit amidst the sunshine. I walked around with tears in my eyes the whole day, overwhelmed by the majesty of the streets and their fixtures, the buildings and their faces. How did I become so enveloped in this life? In this experience? Maybe I was just being silly, I thought. I probably just want to go home.
But then, I found myself taking pictures of the things I would miss. It was the way the sun came in on the windowsill in our kitchen, the particular tangle of sheets on my bed, a plant that I nourished even though it was bent on extinction. I conserved my walk home, the river, aperitivo tables. I tried to pack it all away with me, as best I could. I took long, contemplative sips from my cappuccino that morning. I didn’t tell the cashier that it was my last day. I gave my ‘buon giorno’ as usual. I teased the barista after he asked me whether my coffee today was better than yesterday’s. I left my normal tip. And just like that I exited.
By now, I recognized people on the street, and they recognized me. They had nicknames for me, they even confided in me the tiny details of their lives. I had heartfelt goodbye dinners with people I hardly knew just a few months before this day. They wrote silly autographs in my books. I gave several goodbye kisses. I had fostered a family. I was daresay even a bit eloquent in my facility with Italian. I knew the streets, I knew the life, I knew it all just enough for it to sting when I left.
Lastly, I listened. I listened to the street life, listened to the familiar swing of the elevator door as it brought me up to my apartment, the little harmonious buzz of the hinge serenading me down the hall. I mulled over the sounds of scooters frantically climbing the hill outside my house, wondering where these commuters were going, who they intended to see. I recognized the familiar staccato of Italian tongues on a short walk around the block, the rhythm of friendliness.
And like phantoms, they have followed me. They followed me to Paris and London, which are not good replacements for my Roma. I can taste the missing elements in my breakfast. My feet are unadjusted to the flat and straightforward pavement. I pick up on other native speakers, blended in with the sea of occidental and oriental languages. They fade in and out as I move about the alien streets just as I drift about, misplaced.
I’m hoping that one day the phantoms will be comfortable reminders of the wonderful things that went on. That these impressions will change me for the better. That they won’t always remain inklings of something that once was, but become the foundation for what is.
I don’t know when I will be back. I don’t know if it will be soon. But I learned more about myself and the world around me in the past six months than I have in a really long time. I don’t want to say goodbye. And I’m determined. This is not the end. Something tells me I won’t be able to keep away. So I won’t say goodbye just yet.