36. Reminders All Around

Tuesday is usually my evening with Giulia, and after what felt like an interminable absence, I returned to her.

I nearly missed my window. Still heavily sedated from medications prescribed during my recent hospital stay, I had passed out cold shortly before 5 o’clock. When I awoke, twilight was gathering, and the reminder on my phone calendar was flashing an alarm for a benefit I had decided to attend months ago, start time: 6:30 p.m. With all the excitement surrounding my hospitalization, I had completely forgotten about it.

With no time or energy to get glittered up and mingle, I ran a brush through my hair, wiped the mascara from my eyes, and threw on a coat. The center where Giulia resides is just four blocks from me, and as I passed through the doors, I felt myself transported back to the cancer hospital. Trying to push the hospital smells and sensations from my mind, I made my way to the second floor to find the group activity in full swing. As I was saying my hellos, I noticed an acquaintance sitting in the corner of the room, a girl of my age who had recently experienced a devastating loss.

The group leader, Lana, came forward to welcome me back, and told me under her breath that her mother had passed away since we last spoke. As one well acquainted with loss, I tried to comfort her, but recognized right away the signs of delayed grief. It had taken me nearly six months to come to terms with my father’s sudden death seven years ago, and I knew the dangers of putting it off, but people handle things the way the way they want to handle them, and there is little to be done to convince them otherwise.

I studied Lana and my acquaintance while I waited for the elevator, turning over the emotions surrounding grief, and how they bind and unbind us all at once.

Giulia was in a cheerful mood when I stepped into her room, and her cousin Giuseppe was relaxed into the chair opposite her. To my relief, she remembered me – or, more accurately, she remembered my hat. I suppose beret-wearing 25-year-olds are infrequent visitors at the nursing home.

I had developed a fondness for Guiseppe on my last visit, as he helped drive our conversations along by tossing out fascinating morsels from Giulia’s career. He didn’t disappoint this time.

The muted television was flashing away overhead, and as Jake Gyllenhaal’s face filled the screen, Giuseppe asked Giulia if she knew the name of the actor. She shook her head no after glancing disinterestedly at the screen, and Giuseppe forcefully proclaimed that Jake had asked her for cooking lessons for his sister. She shook her head slowly, clearly sifting through her memory, and I jumped in to tell her how most of the girls I knew would envy her this proximity to Jake.

Ah, too many students to remember, she told us.

Guiseppe and I raised our eyebrows at one another, and we digressed to kitchen sizes – specifically, how even Giulia had made do with a Manhattan-sized kitchen. For lessons, Guiseppe informed me, she had used Marisa Tomei’s mother’s kitchen.

Laughing at the beauty of her lack of concern for celebrity, I bid them arrivederci and promised to return Friday. Giulia waved me out, calling me a darling, and I was once again filled with warmth from my association with her.

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