Nancy and I came from very similar backgrounds, though her family had emigrated to the States from Germany in the late 19th century and were far more American. When they were teenagers, our mothers had spent a summer together in Hamburg, and from what I gather they were a high-spirited, rowdy pair, prone to mischief and drama. So it wasn’t surprising that Nancy and I, who spent three summers together, carried on the same tradition. It was the combination of our personalities that got us in trouble. Nancy questioned everything, and was bold and defiant, a risk-taker. I was more subdued, but manipulative, a bit of a schemer, and very good at rationalizing bad or ill-advised behavior. The two of us enjoyed engaging other people in conversation and debate about their belief systems and what made them tick. Talk, talk, talk. We were always talking, analyzing, trying to figure things out. This wasn’t necessarily a good tactic with men, particularly Italian men.
But somehow we managed to get out of the scrapes we created — conversations gone bad in cafes, flirtations that would have had disastrous consequences had we not wriggled out of them. And then one afternoon we went to the local swimming pool, Nancy and I and several other girls from the pensione. We laid out towels, oiled our bodies, and looked around. I was deep in a book when Nancy nudged me and said, “That guy over there’s staring at you.” It took me awhile to figure out who she meant. He was pale, skinny and kind of nerdy with light brown hair that stuck up in cowlicks. The minute I returned his gaze, he trotted over and sat down with us. He was British (Welsh, actually), a painter currently living in The Hague, which was where my sister lived in her new marriage. His name was Jonathan. Instantly we started grilling him. He was here on holiday, twenty-seven years old. He’d grown up in Llandudno, spoke no Italian, had gone to Liverpool College of Art (along with John Lennon, but that’s another story). His last name was Hague, like the city he lived in. From the start he made it clear that he liked me and wanted to continue talking. When we left the piscina to go back to the pensione, he accompanied us. We went out to dinner that night and every night thereafter. With Nancy’s encouragement, it was no time before I had a full-on crush and could think of nothing and no one but Jonathan.
Nancy in the meanwhile had become involved with a witty young man from Dallas who was on the same student program I was. He was crisp, clean-cut, and extremely curious about things and people — just like Nancy. His name coincidentally was John and we quickly became a foursome. No longer did I want to leave Perugia. Hanging over us was the Vietnam war and the danger of being drafted it posed on all American males our age. With a sense of dread in the air, we were becoming pretty good at living in the moment. But the day I had to leave for Rome to meet my father was coming closer and closer.
We decided, very reasonably we thought, that the four of us should take the train to Rome and spend the night. I’d go have dinner with my father on my own to explain that there’d been a change of plans and I wouldn’t be accompanying him to Pakistan. Looking back now, I realize how utterly inconsiderate and thoughtless my behavior was. At the time, however, I was too self-involved to know. I think most kids in that age bracket are. You just don’t care about anyone but yourself and your friends, certainly not your parents who can’t possibly have as much going on in their lives as you do.
My poor father. He’d flown to Rome especially to meet me. We were supposed to leave for Karachi in the morning. Flights had been booked, hotel reservations made, dinners organized with Mr. Shanavas and his various wives. And there was I, absolutely obdurate about remaining in Perugia to complete my studies, which had suddenly become very important to me. If it had been one of my kids, I’d have killed them. But my sweet father gave up and let me go.
And so the four of us returned to Perugia where we went on living in the moment for a few weeks. But the summer was just about over. Nancy had to return to the States, and Jonathan to the Hague. And I, who’d not been to class in two months, had to buckle down and study for exams. Suddenly Perugia was a very dark, lonely place.
To be continued…