Within 15 minutes, Brady turns to me and says, “You want to get out of here?”
“Yes,” I say. “Yes, I do.”
We are in Rome but have, somehow, ended up in a German bar with students from both our programs. Though he will go on to be an entrepreneur, he is with the University of Colorado architecture program, and I am on the UW poetry program. I will go on to be me.
Walking back through the Campo di Fiori, we wind through the other pairs of dark-eyed lovers filling the square. They kiss casually, unabashedly, leaning against the statue of hooded Bruno, in the center. Bruno was burned at the stake in the 16th century. Brady and I are burning in another way. I look at the lounging lovers and feel the flush of recognition I’ve felt so often this summer.
We climb the endless stairs to his apartment, climb the short ladder to his upper-bunk bed, and lie together, side by side, holding hands. The balcony doors are open, and the sounds of the Campo float in on the warm air, like ashes off a fire. Brady has the first iPod I’ve ever seen, and he scrolls through with a touch now familiar to my body. “Here,” he says, holding out one of the earbuds,” this is a really good song.”
In one year, my friend Solange will frown, listening to her voice mail. “What’s up?” I will ask. She’ll turn. “Did you know I saved your voicemail from New Year’s Eve?” I freeze. “Why did you do that?” “Because I knew that you would want to forgive him, and I wanted to make sure that you would have some way of remembering that you never, never have to forgive him.”
I meet Brady in Naples, sharing a tour bus and a Belgian tour guide with whom we will drink grappa. The UW poets shame the CU architects by answering all the questions he asks about the city planning as we walk the Herculaneum. When we all stop for gelato, it is so hot the whole group simply stands there silently, the melting sweetness dripping unheeded onto volcanic soil. “I want to marry that guy because of his tee shirt,” says Becca, coolly gesturing with her head to the left. Brady wears a teal Huey Lewis and the News tee shirt, and his hair is shaggy and the most beautiful true red against the green. He looks miserable. I find him stunning and move towards him; the heat reduces us to basic impulses, always. “My friend wants to marry you because of your tee shirt,” I tell him, bold even in this heat. “Oh, where is she? We ought to get that going.” He barely blinks, licks his popsicle, and only then looks at me.
We both like Yo La Tengo, both like Bottlerocket, both miss nachos here. When we return to Rome, get off the bus, I ask him if he wants to go have Chinese with us. At first, he says he’ll meet us later, after he takes a shower. But he then catches up to us before we turn the first corner. Later, in bed, he’ll tell me, he wanted to go home, recover from the heat, “but then I thought, ‘If I don’t go right now, I’ll never see that girl again.” He pushes my hair off of my face, behind my ear. That girl is me.
Solange hands the phone to me, and I hear sobbing. The sobbing is me. “I am so stupid, so stupid, Solo. I brought this on myself. This was the worst, worst thing I’ve ever done.”
We spend every day together. We give each other assignments to combine our programs: “Write a poem as a triptych with a pediment.” “Design a seating area that poses a problem and a solution, like a sonnet.” We ride scooters in deadly traffic, nearly dying on a turn near the Janiculum. We walk daily to San Crispino to get gelato and once watch a man propose while standing in the Trevi Fountain. We cheer with the crowd as she steps in as well, boo when the carabinieri walk down to fine him. The lover doesn’t care and pays them on the spot. Every lover watching cheers again, and fifty couples begin to make out in solidarity. The rose vender insistently taps our knees with roses, but we are laughing as we’re kissing. We are here for this moment, and nothing could be more lovely. We are here, and we are kissing.
I visit Denver and Brady for the first time only two weeks after we return. When we show up at happy hour with the other architecture students, they are delighted. “What are you doing here?” crows Matt, hugging me. “Why would I be anywhere but with Brady?” I say.
I adore him. He is brilliant. We are brilliant together. Each visit, there are more assignments; we like solving problems together. We build our own Hadrian’s Villa in his backyard with all the broken door and window frames he’s found. We make our own sushi. We go to Casa Bonita, the obscenely pink Mexican restaurant that rises from a strip mall on Colfax. It seats a 1000 people, has cliff divers, a Wild West shoot-out, terrible food. “I want to get married here,” says Brady, wrapping his arm around my waist. “Me, too,” I sigh. His best friend Paul looks over, cocks his head, says nothing, notes that neither of us said to whom.
“Most people think I’m kind of an asshole,” Brady tells me, as we wait to hear the INXS cover band on the Tiber. Yesterday, he showed me the video he and Paul made for the band Of Montreal: still shots of pictures from a children’s book corresponding cleverly with the lyrics. Today, for class, he designed a bridge based on dancing couples. He shows me how the supports will twist, as if they’re arms intertwined. The computer program shows the blueprint, then superimposes the dancers on top. I tear up. It’s beautiful. It can be hard to be creative, to not have others understand you.
In three years, I am living in a Missouri farmhouse when I get the seventh text. It’s been two years since I’ve seen him. “I’m sorry I wasn’t good to you. I’m different now. I can’t imagine not knowing you.” I try to write the email that will show I take the blame—that I cannot forgive him because I cannot forgive myself. That I was the one who wouldn’t see when it was over, that I know changing my ticket to be with him on New Year’s Eve was an act of desperation. That, despite all this, it was still humiliating to find he had a date, to spend the day crying until he drives me to the airport. “I may have over-reacted,” he says, looking miserable. I see him as he was in Naples on that first day: uncomfortable, detached. At midnight, I look out across the tarmac as the fireworks go off over Las Vegas. I start crying and laughing at the same time, and no one taps my knee to offer me a rose. I send the email, hoping I have been kind but firm, honest about my pain while owning my part in creating it. He doesn’t like it. “To not forgive is to live in hate. I’m sorry for you, and I’m blocking you from now on.”
It’s a puzzling response, but this has to end. “Why can’t you forgive me? Just because I didn’t love you? I always want to know you,” he writes the month before. But that’s just it: it is just because of that. Because you didn’t love me enough to save me from myself.
But it is Rome, and the air is thick with spells, the sounds of lovers loving. Brady puts one headphone in my ear, the other in his own. “Listen to this song,” he says. “It’s a really good song.” There’s a sound like an ocean rushing, and my breath catches. “You call me after midnight / It must have been three years since / we last spoke.” Kings of Convenience—I have not heard of them. I had not heard of Of Montreal, which will become my permanent favorite band, who I will love for so long that I will forget who introduced me to them. I had not known such kissing underneath a bridge, my heart beating with that of a city. Later, I will not know such deep humiliation nor understand what kind of friendship can exist after such a mess. But I do not know it now, and this song is a really good song, this moment one of the best, I know, I will ever have in my life, even if I knew what would be coming. The song advances and retreats: “You changed into somebody / for whom I wouldn’t mind to /put the kettle on / Still I don’t know what I can save you from.” And still, I hear no warning in the words themselves, will only ever know, when I listen still years later, that I am lucky to remember what I do: the air, the dark, perfection in one moment, the pressure of his hand.