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“As I stood there waiting to become a wife, I decided to tell them my own secret, a story I hadn’t yet shared with anyone–not even Anthony.”

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Will You Marry Me?

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Currently, I am sitting in my hotel room in Rome, Italy (I always make a point to specify the country because in college, I read a novel in which the main character ends up going all the way to Rome, Italy, to meet some friends only to discover that her friends meant Rome, Georgia, as in “Georgia peaches”). If you’ve been following along, you might be saying to yourself, “Geez, you guys spend half your lives in Rome, might as well just live there why don’t you?” You might be onto something–we do spend quite a lot of time in Italy: we were just here in April for my birthday (sort of–the hotels were too expensive to book a holiday during my actual birthday, so we came here the week before). We were also here last December, right before Christmas, but it rained almost every day, Anthony got Covid, and I had a terrible allergic reaction to a glass of delicious red wine and ended up passing out in the shower because I was too embarrassed to faint in front of Anthony (who was, by that time, suffering through Covid). We are back now for a wedding, one that happened to fall just one day after the conclusion of some work that brought me to Cannes, France (practically a hop-skip-and-a-jump away from Rome).

And we may end up living here one day–this morning, while taking a stroll down one of the many cobbled streets of the city, we paused at the window of a tiny realtor. Someone had taped printouts of homes for sale, ranging from 345.000 to 2.500.000. “Oh look, it’s your favorite! Maybe you can find our house in Italy!” I said to Anthony, referring to one of the many open-ended discussions he’s started about buying a second home in the country in which his father was born. He lingers at the window for a moment, before mumbling, “I need more pictures.”

We resume our walk towards the shafts of morning light spilling out from the piazza below us. As I lace my fingers through his, he asks, “If you had to choose right now, where in Italy would you want to buy a second home?” Anthony doesn’t ask lots of questions. He’s much better at answering all of mine. I once asked him why he didn’t ask me questions, and he answered, “Because I know everything I need to know about you,” to which I rolled my eyes and said, “God. You’re so arrogant.” This kicked off one of the many “robust” conversations we had early on in our relationship about “conversational etiquette,” a subject that I have very specific opinions about, which are, not surprisingly, heavily influenced by East-Asian tenets of hospitality.

But I digress.

Suffice it to say, I always relish the opportunity to share something of me about which Anthony has expressed a genuine curiosity, even if it’s a small thing–like where our imaginary home in Italy might be. A slideshow of photos from our time in Sardegna clicks through in rapid succession–the Jolly Rancher blue water when the sun is hot, compared to the hoary blue-grey that blankets the sea when the clouds roll through the craggy tips of ancient mountains. “Let’s see… right now? Uhmm….” I stall. More polaroids: bone white buildings with clusters of violet bougainvillea dripping from the eaves, slivers of sparkling blue sapphire between their ivory faces cascading past me like an old fashioned motion picture show as I get my morning run in before breakfast, an old man with hair as white as sea foam and swarthy fingers tucking into a plate of rubied tomatoes and unleavened carasau.

Sardegna was seductive with its slowness. Even the water, lilting softly between long fingers of hewn rocks and sun-drenched bluffs seemed to understand that life was more enjoyable when we took the time to drink it in. There, no one will judge you for showing up to the beach wearing the same slightly-too-small two piece bathing suit you’ve had since college with the birkenstocks that know the shape of your feet better than you do. And no one will give you side-eye for toting your morning groceries in a bag you got for free from the bookstore you used to frequent when you lived in Boystown, Chicago. If you try to brag about the home you’re building in West Hollywood or the tinted windows of your new Tesla, they’ll stare at you as if you’re certifiable until you realize that here, you have permission to bow out of this race you can’t even remember signing up for. I’ve often day-dreamt out loud to Anthony that I’d be happy to leave behind the hustle and bustle of the States and permanently relocate along the island’s glittering shores, to write cookbooks and vignettes while sinking my teeth into tomatoes and fleshy green olives.

But I surprise even myself by answering,

“Here. In Rome. And right next to the Korean market.”

Here, I will depart from the maxims of “good writing” and inject an aphorism, one as hackneyed and overused as a dilapidated buggy on an Amish farm:

“Home is where the heart is.”

I’m too cynical or stupid (don’t know which) to derive any definitive opinions on whether the above is true, but perhaps it helps to explain why the answer to Anthony’s rare question is “Rome,” a city that is decidedly dirtier, unhealthier, expensiver, and unsafer than Sardegna. Moreover, unlike the quiet island of our honeymoon, Rome is bursting with all the trappings of the conspicuously consumptive Rat Race, with Chanel and Prada stores nearly as prevalent as a Starbucks in Manhattan, where Ferraris are as likely to thread the needle-like streets of Trastevere as a Vespa held together by duct tape. So why Rome?

We were married here. Nearly five years ago. In a small, deconsecrated church housing furniture upholstered in wine red silk, arranged in unimaginative rows over a thin, worn rug of the same color and an elegantly decapitated statue that hid behind a stand of a very large plant bearing a visible layer of dust on its plastic-looking leaves. I know. It sounds glamorous, doesn’t it? Of course, I’d wanted to get married in a towering cathedral with stained glass windows and updated upholstery, but the laws are very strict in the capital city of the Catholic church–I was a divorcee, and as such, I was permanently disqualified from getting married in a Roman church. Thus, we’d settled for Caracalla–a still stately if painfully outdated municipal building that performed ceremonies with the same efficiency as a Quik-Elope Chapel on the Strip.

It was July and though Rome is infamously hot and humid during that time of year, God blessed us with a little rain earlier in the day. I’d been worried the storm would last into the evening and completely derail our outdoor reception, but God was, indeed, Good that day and cast the skies only as long as was needed to cool the city off. By the time I met my betrothed inside the ex-church, the clouds had evaporated and all that was left of the rain was a slight dampness clinging to the stones around us.

Because we were not inside an actual church, the ceremony was much like what you might expect inside a City Hall. There was no pastor or priest or person of worship. Rather, we were married by a city official, one I’d never met prior to showing up in my wedding dress. I’d asked my brother, Jaesun, to stand as my “Man of Honor” and Anthony anointed his own younger brother, David, as his “Best Man,” but in actuality, they served as “witnesses” to our nuptials, signing the official wedding documents in their capacity before our guests. Anthony’s cousin Flaviana served as the official “translator,” and another cousin, Ludovica, and her then boyfriend, Jon, played an arrangement of Bach’s Aria from the Goldberg Variations on the violin and cello, respectively. Though it was totally unnecessary, we tagged on the exchange of rings at the end only because it felt weird not to say our vows with the rings we’d picked out earlier that spring at a jewelry store recommended to us by Anthony’s cousin, Daniela.

I suppose most brides are laser beam focused on their grooms, or remembering their vows, or not passing out after the 6-week “starvation plan that will guarantee you fit into your dress,” but perhaps because the ceremony was in a language that I couldn’t understand well, I found my mind drifting quite a lot before I said “I do.” I counted the stones stacked together like rows and rows of broken teeth that encased us inside a cavernous mouth, wondering how many secrets they could tell if one decided to crack them open. How many loves and not-quite-loves had they witnessed? How often had they correctly predicted the outcome of the unions cemented inside a building that had truly tested the definition of “forever”? As I stood there waiting to become a wife, I decided to tell them my own secret, a story I hadn’t yet shared with anyone–not even Anthony…

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