“I know you’d rather I was dead. I’m hardly alive...”
Just like that. Out of the blue. The email she’s been waiting three years for. There’s no “Dear Rebecca” to prepare her, to soften the blow. Catapulted like that, her heart falters before beginning its slow hammering descent as she reads on.
Rebecca thought that running to the very bottom of the earth, New Zealand, would help her forget and move on. But three years of voluntary exile from her family in America and friends in Italy have been nothing more than one long silent prayer for this email. This veiled apology from the love of her life, Elio. The one who, at this very moment in the shadowy half of the globe, is probably succumbing to the fitful sleep of the guilty.
But was Elio alone to blame for the collapse of their seemingly indestructible love? Could their environment have played a part – the crumbling Neapolitan ghetto they called home? The Camorra-infested Spanish Quarter had been her drug of choice, far more enticing than the Moroccan stuff her fellow university friends smoked. She used to roam that labyrinth without the inherited fear of the locals, ferreting out all the cryptic customs and underground passageways with the same thirst she had for linguistics. It took meeting Elio, a geology major from the provinces, to understand that she didn’t really belong in Naples – not so much when he pointed out to everyone at that rooftop table that they were living next to one of Earth’s most dangerous volcanoes, but rather when his gaze met hers and splintered through every vein in her body. From then onward, where she belonged was with Elio. But until graduation could unmoor them from that mad port city, love was their only defence against its crashing ceilings, tremors, and washing machines thrown festively over New Years’ balconies.
Or was Elio’s elderly mother to blame? With that disapproving stare she fired from under her kerchief, even the chickens ran behind the farmhouse in a panic. Still, her threats to take away Elio’s inheritance – the land – seemed as much hot air as the Saharan scirocco. Should Rebecca instead pin it all on his spontaneously collapsed lung? It truly broke him, made him cling to her like a drowning man. Yet he still wouldn’t give up cigarettes. Could she blame, then, those Marlboro Lights he held so thoughtfully, like a pen, between his lips? Should she blame herself, for loving him too much?
“Dear Elio…” Rebecca writes back, triggering not only the narrative of their past but also a new heartfelt correspondence. Before long, their emails develop into something more than a mere search for answers. A brief reunion in Naples makes Rebecca understand they are indeed being handed a second chance. But should she take it and risk going back to everything she’s been running from?
While telling a true story of love and loss – in part through authentic emails translated from Italian – my memoir Lost in the Spanish Quarter paints a very real and intriguing portrait of an Italy much of the world is unaware of.
Originally from Washington D.C., I spent ten years growing up in Naples, where I earned an honors degree in languages and literature. I now live in Auckland, teaching English to polytechnic students and Italian to my toddler.
Please find enclosed a self-addressed stamped envelope for your prompt rejection. (Unless, that is, my kind blog readers can first provide me with some valuable feedback to make this query letter totally rock!)
I truly appreciate your time in considering my query.
Heddi Rebecca Goodrich