The story I’m about to tell you is true. Please remember that when you get to the end. I say that because I’ve sometimes questioned if my recollection of the events that took place is accurate, or maybe the result of the trauma that I endured. Something in my soul tells me that everything happened just the way it was meant to though, and so I’ve settled into accepting the truth for what it is.
One bitterly cold night in November 2009, my friends and I finished dinner in my tiny two-bedroom apartment just outside of Rome and travelled into the city center for a night out with friends. I had moved there just months before at the age of 21 to fulfill a bucket list item of being a teacher in a foreign country. My friends were another young American girl who taught with me and an Italian guy who I instantly hit it off with and was convinced would introduce me to the Italian husband I was always destined to have.
We arrived at our destination, a very crowded and sophisticated mojito bar, and I have to say that after a quick scan of my surroundings, I remember being very disappointed that I didn’t immediately spot my future husband. We found our seats and the night began. After hopping around to several other spots and having one of the best nights I’d ever experienced to date, it was time for us to go home.
Fast forward through a series of negotiations and foolish thinking that left me finding myself behind the wheel of my friend’s vespa while she is the passenger of the one in front of me. I had driven a motorino in the past and thought I was comfortable, and like a fool I agreed to drive home. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Rome, or more importantly seen how they drive, but let’s just say that the movies are pretty accurate. Imagine passionate Italians zipping through lanes and swerving every which way to get to where they need to go, yelling and honking and giving you the bird, all the while a young and very foolish American girl is desperately trying to hang on to the sight of her friends on the vespa in front of her, and you may have a glimpse of my situation. Very soon after getting onto the vespa, my worst nightmare happened: my friend was gone. Somehow, in the midst of all of the chaos, we’d gotten separated. I looked ahead as far as I could see, but there, in the middle of dozens of cars and motorcycles, I was completely alone. What’s important to understand is that these were not the days of the iPhone and 123 navigation, at least not for me. These were the days of Vodaphone and pay-as-you-go usage, so it wasn’t like I could plug in my destination and be on my way. I was lost. Utterly and completely lost, on a vespa I barely knew how to keep upright let alone drive safely, and I had no idea what to do.
After hours of driving, through some miracle that I can’t explain, I managed to find the neighborhood just next to mine, and that’s when it happened. The event that would change my life and forever alter my path. I came upon a sharp curve in the road with a guardrail that separated a two-lane road. As I prepared to make my turn, just up ahead was a brick wall at least twenty feet high. I don’t know if I hit oil or if my wheel locked, but as I desperately tried to turn, my vespa continued to go straight and I slammed directly into the brick wall.
I woke up in the street. My vespa was completely mangled and laying yards away from me, I couldn’t move my legs, and my eyes were open but I couldn’t see out of them because they were both completely covered with the blood that continued to pour from a huge wound on my forehead. I remember laying there in the middle of the street completely paralyzed with fear and frozen to the bone on the ice cold pavement, suddenly realizing that there was warmth in my hand. As I began to come to, it became evident that someone was holding my hand. There were no other cars around, because by now I was far out of the city center and into the small village that I lived in, which was filled with native Italians. None, and I mean none of my neighbors spoke English. As I realized where I was and what had happened, I heard a man’s voice speaking to me in perfect English with an Italian accent. This man’s name was Michele, pronounced Michael in English, and he was with me, holding my hand and telling me that everything would be ok. I could close my eyes again and didn’t need to be afraid, because help was on the way and he wouldn’t leave me. I squeezed his hand a little tighter and passed out again filled with comfort and relief.
I woke up to paramedics tending to me. I was being put on a stretcher and loaded into the ambulance, Michele continuing to hold my hand. As they lifted the gurney into the back of the ambulance, my arm began to stretch more and more at my effort to hold onto Michele’s hand, and the force with which his hand was ripped out of mine was terrorizing. I can still feel the snap of our hands separating. I tried everything I could to grab for him again, but it was too late. They closed the doors and took me to the hospital.
The next day, I woke up in a catholic hospital with nuns tending to me, which was terrorizing in itself. After I had been awake for some period of time, a man walked into my room with my belongings. It turned out that he was one of the paramedics who had responded to my accident. After receiving my belongings, I asked him if he happened to get the contact information for Michele, because I was so grateful to him for what he had done for me by not leaving me alone and for comforting me until the ambulance got there. The paramedic looked at me confused and smiled. ‘There was no one in the accident with you. You hit the wall. No other vehicles were involved.” I told him that I knew that, but that there must have been a witness to the accident or a pedestrian who stopped. I didn’t know anything about him, but I knew he was there with me until the ambulance got there. “No, signora, you were alone when we arrived. There was nobody with you,” he said.
Are you confused? Because I certainly was for years after that. Turns out, I wasn’t meant to live the romantic Italian life I had in my head. The accident ended my stay in Italy, and prompted me to return home to receive the life I live now as a wife, a mother, and a nurse. I’ve reflected on this life changing event more times than I can count, and I’ve concluded this: there are some things that we can’t explain. I believe that sometimes our paths need to change. Sometimes we set out firmly on a course that just wasn’t meant for us. Sometimes we need a slight deviation in the road to change our direction, and sometimes we need a brick wall. No matter how firmly we believe we’re on the right road, we have a higher destiny that’s bound to be fulfilled, and the great force around us is molding our path. It’s Ok to not know the next right thing, or the direction you’re supposed to take. Don’t worry. Just buckle up. Help comes along the way.