May 1997 I was a college co-ed who decided to go on a six week “study” abroad program in Italy. I was enrolled in a small college in Brooklyn, and my Italian professor knew of a university in Washington State that ran this study abroad program, and he managed to get me a spot in it, and I will be forever grateful to him for that, because without him I wouldn’t have even known that such an opportunity exited.
By some great miracle, my mother (who is the helicopter parent of ALL helicopter parents) said I could go, and my grandfather ponied up the money. I had a passport, I had more luggage than Diana Ross has when she goes on a world tour (and I had no intention of carrying that luggage myself) and, most importantly, I HAD NEVER TRAVELED ANY GODDAMN WHERE BY MYSELF. Oh yeah, and I was a heavy drinker, I was terrified of people, and I was generally batshit insane. Only I didn’t admit to being batshit insane.
The rest of the group of students on this study abroad program were from places like Spokane, Washington, and Eugene, Oregon. I was the only one from the east coast, and I’m a Brooklyn-Italian. I drank black coffee and chainsmoked. I had all that luggage and each of them just had a backpack.
Going around the first two weeks, we looked at stuff…we saw Il Foro Romano, we saw The Ruins of Pompeii. Everywhere we went, the U2 song Lemon was blaring…I shit you not, that album must have come out that year, because it was playing loud as fuck at the Pompeii ruins, at the Colosseum, at the Catacombs.
The thing we did during those first two weeks that I’m MOST PROUD of myself for is we hiked up Mt. Vesuvius. Yeah, the volcano. Now, the people from Washington State and Oregon had sneakers and hiking gear and bottled water, they’d hiked before. I wore Grecian sandals…I had zero hiking gear (what do I know from hiking?) and a gigantic wine bottle was poking out of my purse. Those fuckers laughed and said I wouldn’t make it up that mountain. Well, every square inch of me from the neck down was scratched and/or bruised, and goddamn if it didn’t take all day (and the whole bottle of wine), but I did get to the top, and the view was gorgeous, even if I DID have to be held up by two burly strangers because by then I was just gone.
After two weeks of going ’round looking at things, we settled into a boarding house in Florence. And I did what any functional alcoholic does. Classes Monday through Thursday…get shitfaced on everything from red wine to grappa Thursday night to Sunday night. My room mates, lovely girls from Spokane, would put a chair near the door of the pitch black room on nights I was likely to come home drunk, so I’d collide with the chair in my stupor, curse, and/or pass out on the floor. They also had a habit of inviting the guys from the group into the room while I was passed out, and I’d half open one bloodshot eye to find Lucas staring at something AND THEN REALIZE I was sprawled out on top of the covers with no pants on.
On that trip, I slept with a 27 year old Florentine named Sylvester…or Salvatore maybe (picked him up at a bar, of course) and told him he was my first (he was actually my fifth, but he believed me, or at least I think he did). I also had my first and only threesome, a Devil’s Threesome with Jon and Enrique, two of the Spokane contingency, one very drunk night (and the morning after I didn’t remember everything, but they were good enough to tell me what all happened)
But I did well in the courses I took during those six weeks…because at 19, I could still drink like an Irish dock worker and function (I wasn’t ladylike, I didn’t have friends, my tit was out sometimes when I didn’t mean for it to be, but when I had to pull my shit together, I somehow managed to), I came home to Brooklyn with a bottle of wine for my grandfather, gifts for my parents and sisters, pictures of historical buildings in Rome and Florence, a story about how I hiked up the side of the volcano (I left OUT the part about how I did so with a bottle poking out my purse), I absolutely did NOT mention any of the sex I had over there to anyone, and my mother was happy I came home alive. Me, I’m surprised I remember as much of it as I do…those were the “good times”, the “I’m not an alcoholic, I don’t have blackouts, I don’t ‘lose time’, I’m fine” days, and at nineteen, you don’t think those days will ever come to an end.