“Oh my God… I can’t believe it!” I exclaimed, staring at my phone in shock.
Frankie didn’t bother to look up from the surgical knots she was tying on the TV remote.
“You HAVE to read this.” I insisted, shoving my phone under her nose.
“I’m concentrating.” she responded, moving her head to the side and continuing to tie the complicated knots with her piece of cotton.
“OK, I’ll read it to you then.”
“Of course you will.” Frankie stifled a smile. I cleared my throat dramatically and launched into my fake TV presenter voice. “Italy urgently needs civil unions, rules top European Court. The European Court of Human Rights ruled on Tuesday that Italy’s same-sex marriage ban is a violation of human rights…”
Frankie snatched the phone from me and started reading. “Italy wants to have civil union laws in place by the end of the year...” she said, handing my phone back to me, shaking her head in disbelief.
I bounced up and down on the sofa, gesturing wildly. “WE’RE GETTING MARRIED IN ITALY!”
Frankie laughed and hugged me tight. “We are,” she whispered.
It was beautiful to see Frankie smile. She seemed free for the first time in months. After a year spent agonising about where she was going and what she wanted to do, she had accepted a job as a surgeon/researcher in her native Italy and we were moving there with our puppy, Hugo, as soon as her contract came through.
To prepare for the move and the new job, Frankie had become an observing resident at a major cancer hospital and had tasked me with culling my over-sized wardrobe. So I had started throwing out my old items as instructed and was gradually replacing them with more Italy-appropriate attire. As we packed for a weekend away, Frankie tripped over a pair of my boots.
“What are these?” she asked, picking one boot up and looking at it suspiciously.
“Ugg Boots.” I casually replied.
“New ugg boots?” she asked, staring at me sternly.
“New ugg snow boots.” I admitted, averting my gaze and continuing folding my clothes. “They’re waterproof and will keep my toes warm in freezing cold Italy.”
“We’re not moving to the North Pole.” Frankie teased, clearly amused by my weather anxiety.
“I’m taking them to Daylesford tomorrow. With these.” I announced, holding up a pair of thermal long johns. “It’s going to be six degrees and eight degrees and we may die of hypothermia.”
“We’ll have central heating and a wood fire. We’ll survive.” Frankie responded, smiling as she snatched the long johns from my hands. “Mmm, sexy. Put them on.”
I shrieked with laughter as Frankie chased me down the hallway to the lounge room. She threw me on the sofa, tugging at my jeans. “I’m putting them on you.” She declared as I squealed hysterically.
The next day we drove to the cute little cottage we’d hired for the weekend with our close friends Caterina and Stela and their Pomeranian, Lola. I sang along loudly to the radio as Frankie stared at the road in silence, a pained expression on her face. As I launched into a particularly emotional rendition of Jessie J’s “Flashlight”, Frankie flicked the radio off and continued driving in silence.
I resumed singing, attacking the chorus operatic style.
“I feel bad.” She announced once my singing had subsided.
“You always turn the radio off when I’m singing...”
“I haven’t told Cat that we’re moving to Italy. I feel like I’m lying to her.” She replied sadly.
Caterina was a beautiful, delicate Italian lady with long black hair and a voice like melted chocolate. She and Frankie had met in Italy many years ago and had been inseparable ever since Frankie moved here. Stela was a tall, athletic woman with a seemingly endless supply of androgynously cool clothing and footwear and a taste for fine food and wine.
“Aren’t we unnecessarily upsetting people, telling them before you have a contract?” I asked.
“I don’t know... I wish I could talk to her about it...”
I understood how Frankie felt. I wanted to share our news with Granny but couldn’t bring myself to tell her that I was leaving. Not until we had a solid plan.
When we arrived at the cottage, Caterina was unpacking groceries in the kitchen, Stela was stoking the blazing fire and Lola was sleeping peacefully. Hugo bounced through the door, spotted Lola and threw himself on top of her, humping enthusiastically.
Frankie pulled Hugo away as Stela scooped Lola up and stood in front of the fire, cradling her in her arms and rocking her soothingly. Hugo ran over to me and started furiously humping my brand new ugg boots.
“Oh my God he’s a mess.” Caterina laughed as she hugged Frankie warmly. She waited until Hugo lost interest in my feet before embracing me. “Hi Bella, we’ll make gnocchi for dinner. I’ll teach you.”
“Perfect,” I replied, unpacking the crostata I made for dessert and placing it in the already full fridge.
That night we opened a bottle of Italian red and the four of us busied ourselves in the kitchen, with Caterina issuing instructions as her sous chefs managed to get flour from one end of the kitchen to the other. Frankie looked content as she chopped the vegetables. This was her perfect night - simple Italian food and the company of close friends.
After dinner, we sat in front of the fire, laughing at the rhythmic pitterpatter of tiny paws on the floor boards as Hugo chased Lola around the room.
“What’s happening with the medical exam? How’s the study going?” Caterina asked Frankie. She was talking about the exam to register as a Doctor in Australia, which Frankie had decided not to do.
Frankie stared at her glass, not sure what to say. I grabbed her knee and squeezed it tight. She took a sip of her wine and then talked about her frustration at the registration process in Australia, her trip to Italy and, finally, the dream job offer she’d received while there.
Caterina stared at Frankie, her eyes filling with tears.
“I took the job, Cat.” Frankie said gently.
Caterina’s tears fell silently as she shook her head, trying to comprehend the news.
“Please don’t cry…” Frankie pleaded, wiping the tears that had started running down her own face.
“Congratulations! Fantastic news! Let’s celebrate!” Stela declared, determined to lift the mood. She jumped up, walked to the fridge and grabbed a bottle of prosecco. “To this brilliant opportunity and to your new life together!”
Frankie and Caterina took the dogs outside and talked. When they came back in Caterina hugged me tight. “I’m really happy for you both.” she said, fighting the tears welling in her eyes.
When Frankie and I finally went to bed, the full impact of the evening hit us. We’d been in our little bubble, excited about the plans we were making with each other. But moving forward together meant leaving the people we loved behind.
“It’s the end of an era.” Frankie said sadly as she held me tight. “This is going to be so hard…”
I couldn’t sleep that night. Partly because my electric blanket wasn’t working and my feet were frozen. Partly because Hugo was snoring loudly in his bed next to me, but mostly because I was dreading telling Granny that I was moving to the other side of the world.
A few days later we were back in Melbourne and Granny called me for our weekly catch-up.
“I’ve got my birth certificate for you dear,” she said. “Why do you need it?”
I didn’t want to lie so I took a deep breath and told her the truth. I could feel the sadness radiating through the phone as Granny composed herself before responding. “Can I speak to Francesca please dear?”
I nervously handed Frankie the phone and waited while they talked. Granny congratulated her on her new job and told her how much she admired her. Then she asked Frankie if she was going to take care of me while we were away.
“Yes, I am,” Frankie answered reassuringly before handing the phone back to me.
“She has a lovely voice. Such a kind person. When is she going to marry you?” Granny enquired.
“We’re working on it.” I answered, smiling broadly.
“You’re going to be a Doctor’s wife,” Granny said proudly, making me wonder if Frankie was now her favourite grandchild.
“So, are you okay with this?” I asked after a short pause.
When Granny spoke her voice was full of sadness. “I feel like all of my family is leaving me. Everyone is going off and having their adventures and I’m stuck here.”
“You can visit,” I said. “You can stay as long as you like.”
“We’ll see… I’m an old woman now dear.”
I hung up the phone and then it hit me. Granny was 96. She wouldn’t be coming to Italy to visit.
Suddenly overwhelmed with emotion, I thought about all the ways Granny had shaped who I am today. Her acceptance helped me learn to accept myself. Her love helped me survive the crushing rejection by the rest of my family. Her support helped me be brave enough to walk into the lesbian group where I met Frankie.
Granny had been more important to me than anyone else I’d ever known.
Realising that I needed to tell her how I felt, I picked up the phone. But instead of dialling her number, I just stood there and cried. I remembered how Granny and I used to write long letters to each other when I first moved to Melbourne. So I sat at the kitchen table and contemplated what I wanted to say. I thought about how the people we love help shape who we are. They become a part of us and we are forever changed by them. In a way, they live inside of us and we carry them with us wherever we go.
“What are you thinking about?” Frankie asked as she wandered into the kitchen with a pair of surgical scissors and some thread.
“The people we’re taking with us when we leave.”
First published on www.lotl.com