Luckily, I made it out of Florence alive. I was not abducted by aliens nor the group of Italians who tried to form a prostitution ring with me as their culprit. I decided to take the train to Milan where I’d spend the next few days touring before meeting up with my brother. I had a journal full of travel entries and another one full of my new book. The trip so far has been just what my creative soul needed.
I arrived at the train station and did not expect the wave of people crowding the ticketing station. I had been train hopping throughout Italy for weeks and was able to navigate the scene without many obstacles. But there was something about this day that hit me with a wave of anxiety. As people rushed to catch the train, every corridor poured passengers out at a rapid rate. Tourists, businessmen, and residents hurried to fill the train’s cabin. An elderly couple strode hand in hand and surprisingly kept with the crowd’s hurried pace.
I clutched my hand bag tight and pulled it close to my chest, inhaling deep breaths and tried to calm my racing heart. Ok, I’m about to have a panic attack, I told myself.
“Ciao signora,” a middle-aged man said. He smiled and reached his hand out to take my handbag.
My grip on my bag was so tight, my knuckles turned white. My eyes, now golf ball size, darted towards the exit sign where I hoped a security guard stood.
“I am here to escort you on the train. You’re going to Milan, si?” His left arm rested on my forearm, where my strap was wrapped.
“How did you know I’m going to Milan?!” I squealed.
“Your ticket says Milan. Don’t worry, I’m just going to show you to your seat,” He reached for my bag again and it took every fiber in my being to not swing a right hook to his face.
“Excusi,” a male voice from behind me interrupted.
“Miss, is everything ok?” He had chestnut colored hair and light brown eyes.
“I don’t know, I’m a little overwhelmed and-” I took two tissues from my purse and placed each one under my armpit, to blot out my nerves.
While the men talked, in Italian, I took a seat right on the curb of the station.
Mr. Chestnut model sat down next to me and handed me a Kind bar. “Are you hungry?”
“I’m Mario,” he offered his hand.
“I’m Jehan and I’m about to have a meltdown.”
“Do you need help getting on the train?”
“No, I don’t know why but I’m having a lot of anxiety being in the station. And that guy was just doing his job but it freaked me out. I almost got kidnapped earlier today and sold into a sex ring-”
“What?” Mario’s voice went up an octave.
Sounds like your head and your heart are disconnected.
“I’m being a little dramatic but I got propositioned earlier today by a guy who offered to be my tour guide and that crashed and burned,” I said while unwrapping the Kind bar.
“So that explains why you almost hyperventilated when the nice worker was just doing his job.”
“Yeah,” I let out a sigh and slouched forward.
“There’s one more train after this to Milan. I’ll ride with you. Tell me, what brings you to Italy?”
“I’m visiting my brother but primarily I’m trying to have my own ‘eat, pray, love’ trip and so far, all I’ve done is, eat,” in true synchronicity I took the last bite of the kind bar.
“Are you escaping or searching for love?” Mario asked.
“I don’t know. Maybe both. I really need to focus on career first, though. I got laid off and I feel like that takes precedence over any knight in shining armor.”
“Sounds like your head and your heart are disconnected.”
“This feels like a therapy session,” I said.
“I am studying psychology at University,” Mario smiled and the simplicity of his kindness made our conversation feel, natural and comfortable.
“Ok, so you have gone through a huge change with work and you’re in another country trying to do what? Discover yourself?”
“I don’t need to discover myself. Well, one, I need a break from L.A. and two, I want to regroup and figure out what I am going to do with my life.”
The station was not as crowded and there was a breeze coming through the main door to the right of the entryway. Janitor’s started their rounds, cleaning the debris from the last rush. I turned to look at Mario as he spoke, taking the time to survey him. His flawless skin glowed with youth and his straight edge nose gave him an academic look. He was focused on his annunciation and often stuttered.
“Why are you embarking on an ‘eat, pray, love’ trip if you’re not looking for love?” Mario asked.
“I don’t feel it’s responsible for me to be chasing love when I am not stable. I don’t have a job. I got laid off from my dream career.”
“And how is that related to love? Surely your partner isn’t going to care if you’re employed or not.” Mario seemed confused with how Capricorn women operate, clearly.
“What’s important is how I feel. And I do not feel empowered because I am not working. I met a great guy a few weeks ago and we had such a fun time in Istanbul before I arrived to Italy. But-”
“That’s wonderful! So you did find love during this turbulent time?”
“Well, I wouldn’t call it love. It’s too early for that. Emil’s great but … there’s something that I’m not so sure about, yet. Our timing is off. I wish I met him at a different time in my life.”
The only block to you living how you want, is yourself.
“Time is irrelevant,” Mario said while waiving his hand in dismissal.
“Don’t let something like “time” stop you from love. If this guy is so great and he’s interested, why are you pushing him away?”
“I’m not pushing him away. I just don’t think it’s the right time to be cultivating a relationship, right now.” I began to get defensive.
“It sounds like the only obstacle you’re really facing is, yourself.”
“I’m changing the conversation now because I’m getting irritated.”
“Truth is hard to hear sometimes. Take this time, away from home, to really think about what it is you want. Doesn’t have to be a five-year plan. Think about your immediate needs. I don’t know you, I’m just a stranger that saw you in distress and stepped in to help. You can write me off as a jerk and not take anything I say seriously or you can humor me for a minute. Your current situation is just that, current. You can decide how your story ends. The only block to you living how you want, is yourself.”
Dr. Phil, also known as Mario, words stung. Partially because he hit me with unexpected wisdom and secondly, he was right. I was my only obstacle. I had been yearning for a relationship, different from the ones I’ve failed at over the years, and Emil was right in front of me this entire time. He has emailed me consecutively since I left Istanbul and I didn’t reply to any of them. I was annoyed he was essentially doing what I’ve wanted a man to do all along, show interest. This is the part in the movies, where I reach for my phone to call Emil and confess my growing love for him. But that’s not what happened. I continued getting to know my new friend, Mario on the train ride to Milan. When I was at my hotel, I sent an email to Emil and apologized for being unkind. The email ended with, “I thoroughly enjoyed the limited time we spent and I will hold the memories of Istanbul in my heart. I am not deserving of you and it’s unfair for you to be on the receiving end. I wish you well and I can’t thank you enough for being you.”
Within 10 minutes Emil replied, “Where in Milan are you? I can stop by Milan on my way back to the States. Our story is not done, yet. –E”