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           Columbus Day weekend. The quintessential fall getaway here in New England. Last year, I went to western Massachusetts to see the foliage. I went with...well, I shouldn’t use her real name. I could refer to her as “The Woman who changed my life”, as I have elsewhere on this website. But that moniker would get cumbersome after a while.  
           I used to call her “principessa”, which is Italian for “princess”. She actually turned me onto the word. She had gone to Italy when she was in college and picked it up there. I loved how the word sounded, and it fit her. She didn’t act like a princess. But she looked like one. Beautiful, with a casual elegance, and an earthy yet chic fashion sense that a modern princess might possess (not ever having met a “real” princess, I can only speculate on this). Think Princess Caroline of Monaco meets artsy, hip, urban yoga instructor .
           Whenever the word principessa left my lips, it vaporized like a mist, and made it’s way towards her. The mist then embraced her, like an aura, and she would wear that glow. That’s what I saw when I called her that.
           Sometimes she would say “I’m so not a princess”, wanting me to acknowledge that she wasn’t a prima donna. I knew that. What she didn’t know was how often I wanted to respond “You’re a princess to me”. But like so much of what I felt back then, those words got stuck in me and coagulated. Like I had swallowed a wad of glue. The toxic buildup of unexpressed emotions and words would just stay trapped inside and reek havoc. Trouble breathing. Trouble sleeping. Trouble being. I was choking on my own feelings.
           But that weekend was one of the best of my life. We drove out along scenic Route 2 and got lost. We always got lost when principessa had anything to do with directions. She was, by her own admission, “extremely directionally challenged”. The funniest part was that, when she gave directions, she always sounded like she knew what she was talking about. She would say “I’m sure we take a left here”, and there would be plenty of conviction behind it. So I would take the left, even after we had been together for a while, knowing that she was probably wrong. I wanted to believe, so I did. It was a rare case of a couple being in functional denial.
           I found this idiosyncrasy of hers absolutely fucking adorable. She knew that. I never got mad at her for not just saying “Look, I don’t know what the hell I’m talking about here.” She would apply her false bravado not just to directions, but to virtually everything that she had no idea about. As if admitting she was clueless about something was a crime. That part of her fascinated and intrigued me, and I always wanted to know more about it and where it came from.
           Anyway, after we got back on leaf peeping track, we went hiking, walking, talking, and soaking in one of those beautiful, picturesque, "Norman Rockwell painting" type autumn days. We stopped at the Red Lion Inn, in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, where old Norm lived. We had a drink on the porch. Actually a few drinks. Probably shouldn’t have driven. That one’s on me.
           We stayed at a bed and breakfast owned by a couple of gay guys from New York city who quit the rat race and decided to open up a B&B in South Barrington, Massachusetts, another absolutely gorgeous little town. Talk about a culture shock. But they seemed like they were adjusting fine and they were great hosts.
           There’s something else about that weekend that I will never forget. Saturday night, I dropped principessa off at a restaurant and went to park the car. On the walk back to the restaurant, I encountered a handicapped woman walking, with a metal walker, towards her apartment. She moved very slowly, each step requiring gargantuan effort. It was going to take her fifteen minutes just to get from the street to the elevator inside. I asked her if she needed any help, and she just shook her head. I stood there for but a moment and looked at her. The words “There but for the grace of god go I” flashed inside my mind. As soon as I heard those words, I started walking again. Because I had started to cry, and I didn’t want anybody to see me crying.
           When I got to the restaurant, I couldn’t hide the tears from my principessa. She could tell I was upset. She held my hands from across the table and we talked about what I had just experienced. Her gentle gaze, soft touch, and caring ways always comforted me. Gratitude filled me from deep within as I sat there with this beautiful woman, in a beautiful town, at the end of a beautiful day. I felt guilty that I had it so good.
           I can’t say that when I’m in my shit, I always think of that moment and it shifts me. But I am thinking about that moment right now. And I’m grateful. Grateful that I feel so much these days. Because for so long I could not.
           But that weekend, I did feel. Contentment. Happiness. Joy. Sadness. Love.
           I miss principessa.

    © 2008 Clint Piatelli. All Rights (and Wrongs) Reserved

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