The afternoon I called to tell him about the great airfare I found, I got his voicemail. Breathless, I gave him all the details. Italy. Two weeks. August. $500.00 roundtrip. When he called me back, the sun had sunk behind Cabrini Green, and I had to duck into a church doorway to keep the falling snow from sticking to my phone.
“Did you get my message?” I asked, watching my breath evaporate while I waited for his answer.
His voice was flatter than week-old Coca-Cola, and the tension in his voice filled me with a dread that made my spine ache. “I thought you’d be excited,” I said, my voice trailing off.
He broadcasted plenty of emotion that night– mostly rage. He didn’t care that my firm had given me an advance that I planned to use for a trip after the Bar exam. That advance was more money that I’d ever had at one time. Everyone was taking a Bar trip. Of course I wanted to take my boyfriend to Italy. I couldn’t see the problem.
He was seething with something bitter and rotten.
I’d later learn that he thought I was controlling. He was livid that I’d bought the tickets without discussing it first. The subtext of his logic horrified me: I got to make the decisions because I was the one with the money. Every few weeks I would sputter out justifications for why I’d jumped on the tickets. It was a limited-time offer; I had to act fast or they would be gone. When I got tired of playing the role of asshole girlfriend who wanted to take her boyfriend to Italy, I reminded him that we had talked about it. He insisted we’d only discussed it “abstractly.” I insisted that my impulse purchase was motivated by a hope that our relationship was one of the good ones– one where you could act spontaneously after an “abstract” discussion and end up in Italy having sex and eating gelato at the end of the summer.
I struggled to see it from his perspective.
The trip loomed out on the horizon like a nuclear cloud, and I could feel the resentments rumbling under the surface of the relationship. The trip struck at the center of our fault lines– power, control, resources, commitment– and I held my breath wondering which one of us would break off and sink into the ocean.
Two weeks before our flights, he called me after his weekly therapy appointment. “I’ll go but only for one week.”
“Great!” I exclaimed, dizzy with relief that I’d get my Bar trip with my boyfriend. Sure, I’d have a week by myself in Italy, but then he’d join me and all the unspoken resentments would dissolve in the shadow of the Duomo. I ignored the rumblings I felt along the fault lines as I spent hours on hold with the airlines changing his ticket.
I spent my week alone wandering through the ancient Italian streets, pretending I was a cosmopolitan woman at home eating three-course meals solo by the Vatican. It wasn’t until he arrived, a full itinerary of things he would do “on his own” while we were there, that I knew the fault lines were too deep to be fixed with a scoop of gelato and the lingerie I’d bought in Rome.
When I scroll through my reel of memories from that trip, I remember the homemade gnocchi, the way the heat rose from the asphalt on the road from Florence to Siena, and the kind hotel staff who helped me find the grocery store. None of my memories include him, because all the good stuff happened before he got there.