August 13th, 2002

In Her Own Mind's Eye

title or description

It occurred to me this morning that virtually everything about Vittoria now must be reassessed, looked at in an entirely new light. It will take a while before it all sinks in.

I recalled my trip to Ponza, to the Spiaggia di Chiaia di Luna, and the dark rock in the bay, where Vittoria’s parents had their first kiss. I remembered standing in a Roman ruin atop a promontory, looking down at that craggy little island, and feeling a tingling of a mystical aura. This was, after all, my Vittoria’s origin.

Not so. The tingling was merely the product of my own overworked, romantic imagination. It’s difficult not to feel foolish.

* * *

I try to keep busy with correspondence, clearing out the accumulated junk in my filing cabinet, and getting the bookshelves in order, so as not to worry about where Vittoria is and when she will finally come back.

I know she won’t call. It’ll be instead an e-mail with a lowercase “hi” in the subject field, her trademark. Which is why I keep the computer’s speaker volume turned up all the way so I won’t miss any of those cheerful “You’ve Got Mail!” announcements.

In this discombobulated state my thoughts race. What would I be feeling were I in her shoes? How would I react if I learned that mom and dad were not my biological parents? Would the news change my perception of them? Or in some way alter good memories?

No, that’s utterly impossible. Nothing will ever change what passed between them and me.

I think of a sunny day ten years ago.

Jack was doing a summer session at Harvard, dad’s school. I had just graduated from mom’s alma mater, Columbia. Dad came down and we wandered around Manhattan. At Park Avenue and 52nd street, near the entrance of the Seagram Building, we got hot dogs and soda from a street vendor. We ate, side by side, on the steps of that big granite-paved plaza.

Dad squinted. “Mmmmm,” he said, “Isn’t this great? Look at how that vendor’s cart shines in the sun. That big red and white umbrella. Smell the sauerkraut.”

Then, he turned. “And this.” He gestured toward the entrance of the building. “Bronze mullions and bronze spandrels and amber-tinted glass. Mies van der Rohe’s masterpiece. Beyond any doubt the finest piece of architecture in all of Manhattan.”

I loved his boyish enthusiasm. His eagerness and excitement telling me about their upcoming sailing adventure. An around the world cruise. Dad as captain, mom as first mate. Something they’d been planning and practicing for five or six years.

And then a month later I punched the button of my answering machine. I heard his echoing voice on the yacht’s sattelite phone, barely audible over a loud rushing sound. Huge storm, Cape of Good Hope, he said. It looks really bad, Jimmy. We’re taking on a lot of water. Just want you to know we love you and Jack. Then he gave the phone to mom. I love you, my darling boy, she said. Please tell Jack.

* * *

All this is dissonant, out of whack, alien. The echoing voices on my answering machine were not real, just a recording. The mystical aura at the Ponza rock was only imaginary. And Vittoria has suddenly become an illusion in her own mind’s eye.