The most important person in my life is called Gaetano. Gaetano is the man who helped me up when I fell down when I was 3 years old because of my dog on a leash. That’s how we met. At first I didn’t like him very much. I was suspicious. My mother was very beautiful and attracted many men. And I was afraid of being forgotten as easily as my father had already done. And yet this man seemed different. One day he brought me a rag doll wrapped in a bright yellow dress, and for years that was the most beautiful piece of my toy collection, or so I thought. There came a time when we all moved in together. Every morning I’d get on that old Alfa that tasted like cigars and we’d go to school, but we didn’t forget to stop for the Genoese pizzetta with green olives on it. In summer Gaetano also made bruschettas with tomatoes, a fantastic recipe where the liquids from the tomatoes were not lost in the process. I felt protected. When they resumed classes he would come to my room to call me, sometimes I would have tantrums and he would massage my feet and calves to wake me up. And so we would rush up to the station for the 7:12 a.m. and 12:00 a.m. train in a hurry; we would rush through the dawn mist because of my tardiness, with his retries and the threat – which never came true – that sooner or later I would take the bus.
The summer before my high school graduation year we took a trip to Norway. It was the last time we all travelled together. Gaetano always went to the bathroom. Back in Italy he said he had bladder polyps, but I didn’t believe him. I found the medical records: high-grade uroterial carninoma. I wrote on Doctors Online. It to ask what it was. They answered, bladder cancer. We didn’t say that word for months, although my mom – who I had read about it – told him we knew what it was. There were three operations in a year. She didn’t have the belly of all those saltimbocca alla romana, those carbonare and eggplant parmigiana, which she prepared perfectly on Sundays at home. At the last operation, I was there next to him, silent of words, if I opened my mouth I would have started to cry and so I did on the 8 towards the station of Trastevere. Alone. My mom was on a business trip and my sister was too psychologically weak to be there.
However, Gaetano recovered, and everything seemed to start all over again for the best within the walls of that house by the sea where our unusual family had built their story. Until my mother, on a December day, decided to leave. She loved someone else, she said. We’re going to live in the North, she said. We can rent you a house in Venice and you can study there, can you imagine how nice that is? He said he was happy. I seriously believe that in all my life (albeit briefly: I am 25 years old) I have never been more sure of a choice made. I stayed with Gaetano. In truth I didn’t even choose, it was something I didn’t even think about one afternoon, it was so obvious that I would stay there. There were also Lucky and Mira with us, our dogs. I was at the university all day long and in the evening I couldn’t wait to see together what was happening on TV. We especially liked Sunday night reports. Gaetano was always cooking and I was clearing the table. A lady helped us with the rest of the cleaning, since the house was big for two people. Just before exams, I was always very anxious and he used to make me find printed sheets of paper with encouragement writing on the table, signed “by the tired cook”.
Two years ago I started living abroad. First in the USA, then in London and finally in Utrecht, Holland. I missed him very much at times, but every time I came home, all our magic was rebuilt and he was so happy with my successes, while I urged him to use the charm of our dogs to meet a new woman. Sossy, but I’m old now, he’d tell me and we’d laugh together.
Last October a new cancer arrived. More aggressive, in the colon. We know about the operation a few days before. I finish a paper at 2 a.m., at 3 a.m. with my bike and a camping backpack I go to Utrecht station on my way to Amsterdam. At 7:50 I’m at Fiumicino, then at Fate Bene Fratelli. Nine hours of operation. I’ll see you when he comes out of surgery. He’s crying. Sossy, you don’t know how much pain. You don’t know how bad. She’s in pain. I tell him it’s me next to him, it’s us. My sister and his sister are there too.
Now Gaetano lives with his sister. He has a bag to change every 5-6 hours and a therapy to continue until June every two weeks. He can’t wait to take the bag off, which is temporary, I just hope he survives, but I keep it for myself. He ate very little at Christmas. He’s very thin, his voice is weak, he walks slow. And yet he’s never asked me anything. He complains, but then he tries to go…