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The pre-trip palaver of an American for Italy

“Ti ricordi? You remember? There is Positano.” The driver turned down the radio and smiled at Bridget expectantly as they rounded another bend on the winding Amalfi Coast. It didn’t seem possible, but she was finally in Italy. The last week of summer school had seemed to drag on endlessly, each day longer than the next. She’d tried to remain focused for her poor students, but reading-comprehension skills and English grammar were the last things on her mind. There was so much else to compulsively obsess about. Like, had she taken enough euros out? Should she get more or wait till she got to Italy? Where were her color copies of her passport and driver’s license? Did she have everyone’s addresses written in her day planner so she could send postcards?

It was probably the least important thing in the scheme of things, but the most worrisome and stressful for Bridget was the packing. Had she packed enough shoes? Yes, she had a whole duffle bag full of varying heights of heels, flats, sandals, flip-flops, and of course, her running shoes. Was it ludicrous to bring that many shoes? Absolutely not. This would be the lon- gest trip she’d ever taken, and if she got sick of her wardrobe, she’d end up using that as an excuse to buy more clothing. She, of all people, knew she didn’t need any more. Yes, she was going to try to exercise some restraint with the shopping in Italy.

51+wOUGoecL._SX384_BO1,204,203,200_Bridget had carefully scrutinized her wardrobe, packed, unpacked, and repacked several times over. Big Blue, as her gargantuan, trunk-sized suitcase had been so nicknamed by her family, was filled to its monstrous ca- pacity with shirts, jeans, shorts, Tee-shirts, and just about anything else that would fit. And she’d done it a whole three days before she was even leaving!

Yes, on the eve of her departure, Bridget had felt a sense of relief. For some unknown reason, she seemed to be on top of things. She’d lost twelve pounds since joining Weight Watchers in March and could fit back into her clothes (and of course, the new ones she’d bought to celebrate); she’d made enough money to cover her half of the apartment rent, and she’d still have money to eat; she had paid and mailed off a round of bills; and she was all packed and ready to go.

And then she’d gotten into bed and saw the cell phone blinking. How had she missed Kit calling from Italy? The message was harried and a tad cryptic. In short, everyone’s luggage had been lost so far (Natalie’s and the kids’ still hadn’t arrived!) and Bridget had better make sure she packed some changes of clothes in her carry-on. In her carry-on? Her carry-on had her hair dryer, flatiron, all her makeup and necessary toiletries, iPod, a few boxes of Weight Watchers Mint Cookie Bars, books to read, and her travel journal, plus a very expensive pair of black, sequined Miu Miu heels that she positively didn’t want to risk losing en route. There was no room, Bridget thought in a panic.

Bridget also could’ve sworn she’d heard Kit mention, before hanging up, some kind of weird drama about Carrie and then something about Johnny being in Italy. What? Johnny? She must’ve heard wrong. The whole thought of repacking the carry-on had completely thrown off her concentration and apparently, her hearing. Her anal-retentive timeliness had all been for nothing, and now she would have to pull things out and rearrange them to fit into her small wheelie.

She’d gotten it done, but she had gotten no sleep at all. By the time Bridget was satisfied with the foolproof repacking of Big Blue and the side- kick carry-on, it was almost dawn. She knew it probably wouldn’t make a difference at that point, but nonetheless, she hopped on the treadmill for a good hour and then showered. She’d even had time to hit Starbuck’s for her nonfat, extrafoamy latte (only two points on the Weight Watchers Flex Program). Bridget hoped the latte wouldn’t hinder the effects of the Ambien she was planning on downing as soon as she was airborne. As much as she loved traveling, long flights made her antsy, and if she thought about the miracle of flight too much, it really freaked her out. Oh, that reminded her. She’d better make sure she had her Rosary beads in one of her purse pockets. What? She positively needed them, especially for takeoffs and landings and any turbulence in between.

And then, suddenly, amidst the flurry of hotel shuttles, swerving taxis, and whistle-blowing traffic police, Annie pulled up and double-parked the Chevy Tahoe at SFO’s international terminal. She dragged Bridget’s lug- gage out of the trunk and up onto the curb and said sarcastically, “Wow, I don’t think you packed enough.”

Bridget smirked. “You have all my flight info?”

“Yes, yes. Have fun, and make sure you come back, okay?” Annie hugged her quickly and added, “Better say bye to Mom before they start whistling at us to get moving.”

Mrs. Moretti had insisted on coming to the airport and sat forlornly looking out the window at the two sisters.

“You’d think you were leaving for Iraq or something,” Annie muttered as Bridget walked over to the passenger side of the Tahoe and opened the door.

“Okay, bye, Mom. Love you,” Bridget reached in, put her arms around her mom, and kissed her on the cheek.

Glassy-eyed, her mom clung to her and whispered, “Bye, honey. I love you too.”

Bridget thought about her mom being alone for the next six weeks. Annie would be over every morning to get on the treadmill and to drive her to dialysis during the week, but aside from that, she’d virtually be alone. While this was Bridget’s longest trip by far, it was clearly going to be an even longer one for her mother.

Bridget couldn’t help it, but she immediately thought of what state the house would be in when she returned. Her mother wasn’t too big on housekeeping these days. If Bridget didn’t clean regularly, the house would end up looking like something on one of those Oprah specials.

And Bridget could only imagine what remnants of taboo snacks she’d find hidden in her mother’s chair when she got back. She suddenly felt doubtful and apprehensive about leaving her mother. Six weeks was a long time, wasn’t it? Bridget didn’t want to leave her mom; yet, she wanted to leave so desperately. But for Pete’s sake, her mother was nearly sixty years old and was just going to have to be responsible for herself again. One day, Bridget would move out (God, she hoped), and her mother would have to cope.

Besides, Annie would keep a watchful eye on her. Annie would probably even be able to get their mom up and exercising a little, too, a mini-boot- camp! Sure, her mother would be okay, right? Bridget stopped herself from thinking about it any longer. If she didn’t, she’d never get on that plane.

“Mom, you need to let Bridget go. She has to check her bags, and the traffic cop is coming back around,” Annie said as she glanced in her sideview mirror.

“Okay.” Their mother sniffed. She touched Bridget’s cheek and said, “Be careful, now—and remember to call me.”

“Okay, Mom.” Bridget was déjà vu-ing to the first time she had gone away to camp.

Annie rolled her eyes as Mrs. Moretti continued. “And you and Kit stay together. You girls be safe!”

Safe, in Positano? Well, she would certainly be safe. Of course, that depended upon your definition of safe.

“Yes, Mom.” Bridget smiled and sighed. She was too old for this.

51+wOUGoecL._SX384_BO1,204,203,200_Bridget waved and started wheeling her suitcases toward the automatic sliding-glass doors. As the Tahoe pulled away from the curb, she heard her mother call out faintly, but loud enough for anyone in close proximity to hear, “And try not to drink too much! Love you!”

Good Lord, as if drinking was the one and only reason Bridget was going to Italy! She cringed slightly, hoping no one within earshot knew the remark had been directed at her. That did it. Bridget wouldn’t allow herself to feel bad about Italy anymore. She needed this trip, and she couldn’t get there soon enough.

The flight had been outstanding; in fact, it was the best transatlantic flight she’d ever been on. Of course, Bridget knew her sleep deprivation, combined with the Ambien, had something to do with that. She didn’t care, though. She’d been knocked out for eight hours straight. Not only did Bridget sleep soundly, but she’d been saved from having to make polite conversation with Ron, her seatmate from Fresno, from listening to the screaming two-year-old across the aisle, and from the obnoxious trio of teenagers who kept kicking the back of her seat and calling over her to their friends in the row ahead of her.

When she awoke, everyone around her was either still sleeping or just groggily waking up as the breakfast cart was being wheeled down the aisle. Only an hour or so remained before landing. Bridget discreetly wove her Rosary beads around her fingers and hoped for a safe landing as well as the good fortune of being reunited with her luggage upon Neapolitan soil.

Well, now, who’d have ever thought her bags would literally be the first ones to slide down the ramp onto the baggage-claim carousel? As long as she’d been traveling, Bridget guaranteed that had never happened. Her luggage was usually the very last to show up, if it hadn’t taken some random detour along the way. It had all been too easy, she thought.

Surely, now there’d be some mix-up with the driver Tino was sending to pick her up. Bridget would probably be forced to camp out at the airport because the driver was stuck in crazy traffic or had been unable to spot her (she did blend in with the locals) and had taken off without her.

But no. Bridget had gingerly wheeled her luggage out, trying to keep from running into or over stray travelers, all of whom seemed none too concerned whether they bumped into her and knocked her purse off her shoulder as they jostled their way by. As she looked out into the sea of olive-tan faces waiting behind the waist-high metal gates, Bridget hardly knew who or what to look for. But as she scanned the crowd, she noticed a grandfatherly looking gentleman standing off a bit. In fact, he quite re- minded Bridget of her own grandfather. It seemed it would be a good omen if he were to be her driver.

He had a thick and wavy head of silver hair, and he was not too tall. Yet, even so, he was very dignified-looking, lightly tanned, his navy-blue polo shirt tucked into his Gucci-belted seersucker slacks. Bridget actually wanted this stranger to be her driver. He looked so kind and peaceful. And when she looked at him, she knew he just had to be her driver. That, and he was a holding a huge posterboard sign that read “Breeeget Moretti.”

This was a good sign. Bridget approached him and smiled. Just as she was about to introduce herself using some of her sparse Italian, he spoke first and said, “Hello, Bridget! Tino sent me. I thought I would be driving a ninety-year-old, but Tino tell me to look for a beautiful girl! He was right!”

He laughed and grasped her hand in both of his. He patted her gently on the back and then took Big Blue’s handle from Bridget. A girl? And beau- tiful? Oh, no question about it, she knew she would like him.

And when he wasn’t maniacally cutting off drivers and incessantly tailgating, Bruno was every bit the pleasant driving companion Bridget had thought he’d be. They spent the first half of the drive practicing their English and Italian on each other and singing along to his CD of Dean Martin Italian songs. After they’d finished a hearty rendition of “Volare,” Bruno stated proudly, “I knew Dean Martin. I drove him many times. He stayed in Positano, in Zefferelli’s Villa!”

51+wOUGoecL._SX384_BO1,204,203,200_Before Bridget could ask to hear more, he added, “Now, I take you for the best half-sandwich you ever had—better than McDonald’s! By the time you done, you be ready for a cappuccino!”

Suddenly famished, Bridget couldn’t argue with that, but she nervously wondered, How many Weight Watchers points would a panini be? Oh, to hell with it. She had to eat eventually.

When they had finished, Bruno helped her back into the sleek, black Mercedes E 320, and they hastened back onto the road. Despite the cap- puccino, Bridget felt a bit drowsy after eating and laid her head back against the seat. Bruno, seemingly sensing her inevitable weariness, put on a less raucous song. A melodramatic chorus of mandolins played the intro to “Come Back to Sorrento.” Bridget stared out the window at the dark-blue water, her eyelids heavy, as she tried translating the words inside her head:

Guarda il mare com’e bello! Spira tanto sentimento. Come il tuo soave accento, che me desto fa sognar.

Something about “the beautiful sea” and “feeling sentimental” was about as much as Bridget could comprehend. Her mind drifted off. Yet, even lost in her near-REM-like thoughts, she kept coming back to how smoothly everything had gone thus far.

Extract from Catie Costa’s new book, Love on the Rocks.

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