I tried to blame it on the fact that I was in Italy and, therefore, suffering from a heightened sensitivity to romance. I tried to blame it on him being Italian, because loving the ladies is what they do. I tried to blame it on the string quartet playing near the Ponte Vecchio when he kissed me for the first time. I tried to blame it on being in love with love.
But when it comes to love come and gone, why try to place blame? I fell in love with him because I did.
I never thought I would. When he came up to me at the restaurant, I thought he was kind of a goof. He pulled out a photo from his wallet and in broken English told me that the young boy in it was his nephew. After dinner, he wanted my girlfriend and I to join him and his ten army mates on a walk. We declined, but I gave him my phone number. I wasn’t particularly attracted to him, but he was charming and I was intrigued.
We went on our first date a week later and I had to admit to myself that he was a lot of fun to be with. I felt comfortable with him, and safe. He gave me a goodnight kiss on the cheek, and I ran upstairs to tell my roommates about the evening.
In just a short time, I knew that I had grown deep feelings for this man. Never had I felt like this before. For the first time, I felt like a woman. Yet, I never allowed myself to think I was in love. I had to keep my guard up. After all, he was Italian and they have only one thing on their minds. It wasn’t until the end of the affair, after never having given him what all Italian men have on their minds, that I began to let my guard down. I realized that he really loved me and wanted nothing in return, but just to hold me and be with me. Nothing more.
I wondered if this could be it. Could he be the one? But we both knew I wouldn’t stay. The semester was coming to an end, and I would be heading back to New York.
“Why did you want to get involved with me knowing I’d be leaving soon?” I asked.
I don’t remember exactly what he said because it was in Italian and usually I grasped only the gist of whatever he was saying, but it was something like, “If we go our whole lives protecting ourselves from heartache, we might miss out on what could be a beautiful love.”
Indeed it was a beautiful love, fleeting, but beautiful.
I saw him again two years later. He looked more sophisticated, but everything else was the same. It felt like not a day had gone by. We reveled in our still strong love for a couple of days, but, again, I left him knowing that our love was not the kind meant to last until our hair turns gray.
I found that kind of love many years later and married him - the man who will take my wrinkled hand in his and walk with me the last years of our lives.
As happy as we are, neither of us will forget out first loves. I still treasure the memory of how Antonio loved me. No one else will ever call me “piccola” and ask for “more kisses” with a funny accent - and that’s the way it should be.