Photo by tedeytan on Foter.com / CC BY-SA
I squealed with delight as I admired my brand new Italian leather handbag. "Thank you sweetheart. I love it!” I yelled excitedly as I threw my hands around my girlfriend and squeezed her tight.
"Hang on, there's more!" Frankie exclaimed, clearly enjoying giving me my sorry you-couldn't-come-to-Italy-with-me presents as much as I was enjoying receiving them.
She pulled three more presents from her open suitcase and handed them to me one at a time. I ripped each present open with the grace and poise of an overexcited toddler at a lolly shop.
"Did you buy yourself something?" I asked, suddenly concerned that my girlfriend had spent all of her money compensating for holidaying without me.
"Yep. I bought the same bag, same jeans, different top." She answered happily.
"So we've officially morphed into one lesbian then?" I teased. "Two souls with but a single thought." I continued, quoting Keats.
Frankie smiled and answered nonchalantly. "Very romantic, but the bag is a different colour and we both know I'll never wear it."
She pulled me in for a long, passionate kiss. "I love you baby," she whispered as she held me close.
"I love my perfect presents AND I love you." I responded giddily.
Frankie's homecoming had been a smashing success. She loved the red roses I bought her and the Italian dinner I lovingly prepared. I loved that I managed to stay calm while discussing moving our lives to Italy. A calm I credit to my intake of prosecco and my present-induced euphoria.
Frankie spoke about how cathartic her trip to Italy had been and how unexpectedly right it had felt to be there. She never expected to be offered her dream job as a surgeon, never thought she'd consider moving back, but here it was. A career defining, can't turn it down, once in a lifetime opportunity.
"So. Will you move to Italy with me?" Frankie asked, sounding oddly formal. "I can't do this without you and I don't want to. I love you." Frankie was holding my hand and gazing expectantly into my eyes.
"Yes I will." I replied, the words catching in my throat as tears welled in my eyes. "I'm so proud of you, sweetheart."
Frankie grabbed her iPhone and crafted an email, formally accepting the job offer. "Ready?" She asked.
"Ready" I answered. I placed my hand on hers and we hit the send button together.
"I migliori anni della nostra vita," Frankie toasted.
"To the best years of our lives." I agreed tipsily.
Overcome by emotions, we stood and held each other close. "I love you, angel." I whispered, looking deep into Frankie's eyes. "I always will. That's why... with all of my heart... I would like to... I am wondering if... Will you marry me?"
Frankie stared into my eyes, her face transfixed, her expression frozen in shock.
"Say something.” I pleaded, staring back at her, aghast.
Frankie giggled hysterically, bending over like I'd punched her in the stomach. She continued to guffaw, her smooth, olive skin turning a deep beetroot red.
I stood, mortified, and waited for my girlfriend to regain her composure.
"You weren't serious, were you?" she asked incredulously once the cackling, guffawing and convulsing slowly subsided.
"Okay, don't worry about it.” I retorted, fleeing to the fridge for another bottle of prosecco.
"I'm sorry. You WANT to get married?" She asked, grabbing me from behind and wrapping her arms around me.
"Not anymore. All good." I snapped, trying to salvage my dignity.
Frankie was trying desperately to salvage the rest of the evening. "I've got a proposal for you," she whispered lustily, sliding her hand down my leg and gently kissing my neck.
The next morning I awoke to the smell of freshly ground coffee and the sound of Frankie talking loudly on her mobile. "Ciao. Ciao. Ci vediamo a dopo. Ciao."
Seeing me awake, she jumped up and handed me a steaming mug of espresso.
"Here baby. I made this for you." After an awkward pause she continued sheepishly. "Look, I'm sorry about last night. It was all too much for me...the job...moving...it’s too much."
I had to agree with her. It was a lot. "I know, it's huge." I concurred.
"Okay, I gotta run." Frankie blurted abruptly. "I'm meeting my friend from the Italian embassy to talk about your visa." With that she jumped in the shower and ran out the door.
I made myself another espresso and decided to begin preparing for the move by smashing through some modules on my Duolingo app. An hour later, I was feeling triumphant. In perfectly fluent Italian, I could now say: we buy a bag; the cats are ours; and the bee is in the sugar. "Not long and I'll be speaking like a native," I thought happily to myself.
When Frankie arrived home I proudly showed off my linguistic skills.
"L'ape e' nello zucchero," I recited confidently.
"The bee is in the sugar? Seriously?" she shot back angrily.
"What's wrong?" I asked, worried about the sudden mood swing. "What happened?"
Frankie slowly read an email on her phone before answering me. "They think they'll have my position ready in September, so that gives us three months to find you an Italian school over there."
I stood and stared at her, confused, not knowing whether to be insulted or angry.
"Turns out our relationship isn't recognised in Italy so the only way you can live there is on a study visa. You can't work. We'll be living on one income until we sort something else out," Frankie continued matter-of-factly.
"Sort what out?" I asked, feeling my panic rising.
"Maybe a civil union." Frankie replied unemotionally. "Italy is trying to push civil unions through Parliament. It's a big deal since the Ireland vote. They're hoping to have them through in a few months."
Frankie was scrolling through her emails as she spoke, her detached demeanour making my head explode.
"I'm sorry. You don't want to marry me but now you want a civil union..? Why? Can you put your phone down while we're talking?" I snapped.
"I didn't say I don't want to marry you!" Frankie retorted, slamming her phone down in frustration. "I haven't thought about marriage... We CAN'T get married! Why do you suddenly want to marry me..? What's the point?"
"What’s the point?" I asked incredulously. "What's the point of a civil union? So I can work? So I don't use your precious money?" I thundered.
"Fucking seriously!" Frankie screamed. "They've just emailed me about my contract," she yelled, picking her phone up and waving it at me. "There isn't a lot of money in Italy now. We won’t have ANY money!”
"Don't start freaking out about money," I snapped before resuming my interrogation. "Do. You. Want. To. Marry. Me?"
"Why do you want to get married? Because you're scared? Because of your trust issues?" Frankie shot back.
"Answer the fucking question!" I bellowed.
Frankie just stood and stared at me before stuttering evasively. "I don't know... I haven't thought about it... This is all too much for me..." she mumbled.
"How can we move to Italy together if we can't even talk about marriage?" I pondered quietly, feeling my grief rising. "We can't." I concluded sadly.
"Do you even want a baby?" I blurted, blind-siding her with the question.
Frankie's temper exploded. "E che cazzo. Ma vai vai!" she fumed. "And now a baby?" She stormed around the room looking for her keys before turning to me, her face angrier than I had ever seen it before, her voice cold and controlled. "I just got a job offer. This is a huge moment for me and you want to ruin it with your bullshit? I asked you to come to Italy with me. That's not enough commitment for you? I'm not doing this. It's too much for me."
With that Frankie spun around, grabbed her wallet off the hall table and stormed out the door.
I listened to the screech of the car tyres as she sped off. "What have you done?" I cried to myself, my head spinning from anxiety. "Why can't you be normal?"
I knew the answer to that question. Having been abandoned by my own family, I was too scared to jump into this new adventure with Frankie. Haunted by the pain of the past, I would do anything to save myself from re-experiencing that fate.
Frankie was right. My trust issues were ruining this.
I tried calling her mobile but she didn't pick up the phone.
My friend Erin messaged me from New York. "Check Facebook xxx". I scrolled through my news feed, reading Erin's posts about the US Supreme Court's decision to make same sex marriage a reality across the USA. Tears of joy spilled down my cheeks as I the read the coverage of this momentous occasion.
Two hours later, Frankie texted me. "Read your email. Did you see the Supreme Court ruling?"
I opened the email from Frankie and started to read. It was a love letter and she was writing it because she could express herself better than in person.
She was sorry she laughed at my marriage proposal, she was overwhelmed by the reality of moving her little family to Italy, but she knew without a doubt that she couldn't go without me. For I was it for her. The one.
And yes, one day she would like us to have a baby. A fat little Italian baby. She wrote about what our lives in Italy would look like. We might not have much money, but we would have each other and our puppy, Hugo.
She concluded by quoting the Supreme Court majority decision. "If 'no union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice and family' then yes baby, I want to marry you."
I stared at the phone, tears streaming down my face. "I'm speechless." I texted her.
"I'm Italian," she replied smugly. "We know how to do romance."
Frankie came home with a huge tub of our favourite Nutella and hazelnut gelato. We sat and ate our ice cream while viewing President Obama's speech. Realising that we were witnessing history, we wanted to savour it all. Overwhelmed by the joy and hopefulness of the moment, we were surprised by just how much it meant.
"Now." Said Frankie earnestly. "Let's talk about my ring."
First published on www.lotl.com