Chapter 1 – Italy

I’ve always believed in moments, moments change everything and everything changes in a moment.

When I met Colin, I didn’t know that it was a moment, I didn’t know that everything was going to change after that; I barely even knew I liked him.

When I was seventeen my life changed and for the five years that followed life was a miraculous mess but it all started with that moment, the moment when I met him and I felt the sting of a first love.

Let’s start at the beginning…

I was seventeen and my high school art class and I were boarding the bus at 6AM that would take us to Toronto where we would board the flight to Rome, it was a long trip but I’d only ever been to Mexico and Vancouver on holiday and Italy reeked of sex and glamour and everything that a seventeen year old girl from a small town dreams about.

The flight was a blur, we flew from Toronto to Amsterdam and Amsterdam to Rome; I remember feeling like a contestant on The Amazing Race, but the flights themselves are a blur of exhaustion and excitement.

When we landed in Rome it was to board another bus this one would take us to Florence where we would spend the next three days soaking in the art, the food and the magic that is an Italian vacation.

Florence

Our hotel room was a dream. My two best friends, Lea and Mandy, and I had a room together it overlooked a terrace and was everything we had pictured Italy to be. Lea laughed as we all realized that the light switch required us to put the key in it for it to work, “It’s rustic.” She squealed amidst our chorus of girlish giggles. We took turns showering quickly before departing for our first meal in the most beautiful city any of us small town girls had ever laid eyes on.

An hour later we met with our classmates to dine under the Italian stars, the meal was lovely but it was the dessert that treated us to a moment that none of us will ever forget. After dinner we went in search of gelato, which isn’t actually hard to find in Italy, sticky treats in hand we went walking around the sparkling ancient city. Minutes into our stroll we stumbled upon a giant working carousel in the heart of Florence; eating gelato on a carousel in one of the most beautiful cities in the world is a memory I still hold in my heart, it is one of the memories that I hope to keep with me until the day I die. When I close my eyes I can still picture the twinkling lights, I can still smell the city and taste the pistachio gelato on my tongue it feels like only yesterday, but it was the beginning of a series of events that changed my life and made me into the woman I am today.

A day went by in the city of art and romance and there are pictures of Lea, Mandy and I standing on the Ponte Vecchio, on top of the Duomo and gallivanting around an ancient city whose beauty we probably didn’t quite appreciate at our age. But that evening things changed we were joined by another school from a small Northern Ontario town none of us had ever heard of. They fumbled into our sweet hotel drunk, rowdy and generally acting like teenagers who were not at all into art but wanted to travel somewhere anywhere before they graduated and went off to university to be poor and eat Ramen noodles out of the bag. We were different, our small town was bigger and we were there to embrace art and culture – we were snobs.  This group of hicks from the North didn’t belong in our worldly group of art lovers, they were going to ruin our trip and the loud tall one with the sea blue eyes; he was the worst of them all.

At 17 my ideal boy was tall and muscular with deep blue eyes that reminded me of Wesley from The Princess Bride. Colin was my kryptonite and I was in trouble the minute he looked at me although like all good love stories at first I hated him; he was cocky, arrogant and far too charming for his own good. Colin was the boy that every Irish Catholic mother fears her daughter will find, a sexual, charming, intelligent and fascinating so-bad-he’s-good type; he was why my mum secretly hoped I’d become a nun and join a convent.

But as I said at first I hated him, I mocked his drunkenness, I wondered why he had come to Italy if all he wanted to do was get laid and shop. His charm wasn’t going to work on me, if I found a boy in Italy it would be a devastatingly handsome Italian boy, someone with a thick accent who found my foreigness enchanting. I wanted to return to Kingston with a story and I almost always got what I wanted; although I forgot that the getting what we want doesn’t always come in the package that we dreamed up in our heads.

Rome

After Florence we returned to Rome, for a day and that was where it happened, he got me in Rome. The day had been spent climbing the Spanish Steps, making wishes in the Trevi and eating as much gelato as our teenage stomachs could take, which incidentally is much more than they can now.

After dinner we were walking back to the hotel in the Italian moonlight, but instead of talking to my friends I was caught up in his glowing presence, his deep blue eyes that reminded me of the ocean in Mexico, his slight Northern lilt; but most of all it was his passion for life, people and cooking. He spoke to me and I suddenly I was the only girl in the world, nothing else mattered.

I went back to my room with Lea, with promises to meet him later that evening, and I said to her, “He’s actually a pretty nice guy. Cute too.” “Yeah,” she said, “But don’t sleep with him.”

I’d lost my virginity the previous August to a man that was at the time and is now completely inconsequential; he has never meant anything to me. His name was Kurt and I met him in a bar that I didn’t belong in; but there was a Jazz band playing and they didn’t card there, which was the key factor for a 16 year old girl. Kurt wasn’t particularly cute or interesting but I had just lost my baby fat and it was the first time in my life that boys were really paying attention to me. He was 21 and I was 16 going on 17, he thought I was 18 going on 19. The details of our tryst are  mostly irrelevant. It was one night in a parked car a couple of thrusts that I don’t remember with a man I haven’t seen since but after that sex stopped feeling like a big deal. I’d done it once and I could do it again. I was a woman. After Kurt and before Colin there were two others, which for me seemed like a lot. I felt worldly. I felt experienced. I was wrong.

“I won’t Lemon; crickies, we’re just going to hang out.” Less than thirty minutes later I was in Colin’s hotel room.

He invited me in and offered me a trade, “If you give me a massage, I’ll give you one.” Which seemed innocent enough, but doesn’t it always?

He took off his shirt and I climbed onto his back. As I put my hands on his strong, muscular back, I honestly felt like the luckiest girl in the world. I had never been the pretty girl and when 16 hit and I was suddenly desirable I didn’t know how to deal with it; so when this incredible man wanted  me, when he let me put my hands on him, I didn’t know how to deal, I barely knew what to do. We were interrupted by his roommate entering and nothing much more than talking and hands on skin happened that evening.

The next day we left Rome and it seemed like our chance had passed.

Capri & Sorrento

We travelled from Rome to Capri. Once we got to the beautiful island our teachers informed us that we were lucky, we would be able to visit the Blue Grotto, a magical cave under the island where even in the darkness the water glows like a blue gem.

Of the many magical moments that Colin and I shared together that is perhaps the most potent; on a boat under an Italian island we saw magic.

We explored Capri after that before travelling to Sorrento, and finally settling in to our hotel for the evening.

Sorrento

While in Sorrento I collected a couple of cans of beer to enjoy in the hotel room that night, as did most of my classmates. So when we got back to the hotel I joined my friends Jake and Chris on the balcony in their room. We felt young and rebellious, like we could do anything. When Colin joined us the flirting began, emboldened by beer that I probably shouldn’t have had I did little to hide my infatuation.

Jake who I’d been on a few, mostly boring, dates with was put off by the attention I was giving Colin; after enough pints to leave me tipsy Colin suggested I go up to his room with him, to see the view from there.

I never did see the view. The minute we entered the room his arms wrapped around me and he lifted my tiny five foot two frame on to his bed. His kisses were immediate, hungry and full of the kind of passion that made me feel like I was living out a romance novel.

He peeled off my shirt and my pretty floral bra was on the floor. His kisses trailed from my lips down to my neck and onto my breasts; foreplay was new to me, the boys and men that I had been with were all about the main act and had little time or interest in the coming attractions. With Colin the kisses were just the beginning.

I’m not sure how we lost all of our clothes I just know that at some point they were in a heap by the bed and we were tangled up in each other, sweating, panting,  groaning and begging each other not to stop.

He took a break; I thought he was close and needed to think about baseball and subways but in that moment he picked me up and carried me into the bathroom, closed the door and put me up on the sink. One hand on the faucet and one hand wrapped around him as he thrust inside me in ways that I didn’t know my petite body could handle I came for what felt like the first time. He didn’t stop, we didn’t stop, suddenly we were in the shower with the hot water pouring down over our young naked bodies and he was inside me and he was biting into my neck. Both of us close, me for the second time, we found ourselves on the floor; the cold linoleum a stark contrast to the heat from the shower he came and finally collapsed on top of me, sweaty and satisfied.

I’m not sure how I got back to my hotel room, the sex fog left my brain feeling like an anti-drug commercial; this is your brain, this is your brain on sex.

The next morning we were travelling to Pompeii to see the wreckage that the volcano had left behind, but before we left I had the chance to look at my neck; which as it turned out looked like a map of where Colin’s mouth had been the night before. Since we were on a high school trip with our catholic school this felt like a problem; I tried to cover it up using every technique CosmoGIRL and Seventeen had ever written about, but since those magazines are as trashy now as they were then I still looked like the victim of some kind of suction cup monster. Sporting the highest collar I could find in my suitcase I prepared myself for the inevitable looks and comments.

While Lea and Mandy were the perfect friends I could hear the whispers and giggles behind my back as we walked through the lost city of Pompeii; it should have bothered me but as Colin held my hand I felt like my hickies were less sinful and more a badge of honour, I had bagged the hottest guy I’d ever laid eyes on and it wasn’t just for a night – he was still mine at least for the remaining 36 hours we had before we would all board planes back to Canada.

Rome

The last night we spent in Italy was once again in Rome, knowing that we had to be at the airport at 5AM we had all decided to just stay up that night.

Colin and I parted from the group and once again retired to his bedroom, where we had another marathon sack session. But this time it was sweeter, gentler and more intimate. It should have felt like goodbye but to me even before I knew that I would ever see him again it still felt like, see you soon.

After getting dressed and returning to our friends in the hotel corridor we traded email addresses, MSN was still popular and we promised to add each other as soon as we got back home. He raved about his hometown and his mama and how desperately he wanted a Caesar salad, potatoes and steak when he got home – Italian food wasn’t doing it for him and he wanted his mama’s home cooking more than he wanted anything in the world. Seated in the hallway talking about everything and nothing, Mandy snapped a picture, I guess she knew better than I did that Colin would forever be a part of my life.

The Airport

We took the bus to the airport that morning, it was early and we were exhausted, Colin and I were huddled side by side like we were the only people in the world. Our silent kisses and whispered promises may have bothered some but I would never have known. There wrapped in his arms I was safe and loved and this was definitely not the end.

When we finally arrived at the airport, I thought we would walk away from each other to our separate planes, I didn’t expect him to have the time or the energy to say goodbye but then again maybe I did. Still when he walked over to me, pulled me into his arms and kissed me goodbye it was the best kiss of my young life, it’s still number one on my list, if I’m honest. There is something about airport kisses, they are magical.

Moments after I sat down on the plane that would take me back to my boring small town life I looked down at my hand and my claddagh, the Irish ring that symbolizes love, friendship and loyalty and realized that I wanted to turn it around. The ring lets others know if your heart is taken and in that moment mine felt as though it would never belong to another.  I cried most of the way home, knowing that it would be a long while before we were reunited. But what did I know?

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