When It's Time To Go...
WHEN IT’S TIME TO GO...
I guess you could say by the time she was a young woman, barely out of her teens, she’d developed the fine art of walking away. She had walked away from many things...her family, school, a few violent boyfriends and then a monstrously abusive husband. But there came that fateful day when she knew walking would no longer serve her. She knew she needed to run...and far, far away.
“When my intuition tells me it’s time to go,” she told me as we sat together in my car near Parco dei Cedri in Bologna, “I don’t stick around. I don’t ask a lot of questions. I do try to keep my eyes open to make sure I’m not walking into another trap though. I’ve learned the hard way that it’s simply too painful to stay where I no longer belong or feel safe...longer than I am supposed to be there.”
I am going to tell you a little bit of Sonia’s story. She came to work for Diana and me in our office in January a few years back, shortly after the culmination of the incident of which I am about to tell you. We really didn’t have a job for her, but she really had no place to go nor any way to support herself. So, after we discussed it, Diana and I agreed we would find a way to make room for her at Nettuno Publications. It was the right thing to do.
Looking back, at first I honestly think Diana thought I’d lost my mind the day that I brought her home to Terra d’Amore to spend a little time getting her head together and living in the guest house...
“We know nothing about this woman, Jimmy!” she preached to me. “And how did you meet her? This does not feel right to me. I think she must go.”
“Just hear me out Diana,” I said. “Once you hear her story, I think you will change your mind.”
I had taken Meg with me into San Lazzaro that afternoon. I’d been designing our greenhouse and went into town to pick up a few drafting supplies at the cartolaria in via Kennedy. I left her in the car, and I went in to see signore Bugamelli who owned the shop.
“Giacomino,” he told me over the phone, “the order you placed two weeks ago? Well, it has arrived. Why don’t you come over?”
And that is exactly what I did. But when I got there, he didn’t have everything as he said he did on the phone...not even half of it. I was disappointed to say the least...a bit perturbed to be honest with you. But I said nothing. I simply smiled. Needless to say I wasn’t long in his shop.
“Next week Giacomino,” he assured me. “Next week everything will be here. Promesso!”
I thanked him for being honest and went back out to the car where Meg was waiting for me patiently and dutifully. I looked at my watch...
“We have a bit of time before we need to get back to the farm,” I said to her...as if she understood. “How about a walk in the park?” That, she understood!
The name of the park was Parco dei Cedri and it was on the Bologna side of the Torrente Savena.
I decided to park near the palestra on via Repubblica and cross over the footbridge from the San Lazzaro side. Then I decided...well it was actually Meg who decided, that we’d walk along the banks of the Savena River for a kilometer or so. The narrow river ran through the park and a walking path had been built right beside it. It was one of Meg’s favorite places.
Most things in Italy are rather small but they are given big names, the River Savena being one of them. They call it a river, but truth be told, if it was in America, it would barely qualify as a stream. When I was a boy, we would have called it a creek. But I digress.
Half-way down the path we heard a commotion and what sounded like arguing voices before we actually saw who or what was causing it. Meg came to a stop. The hair on her back and neck stood up straight. Her ears were pushed back, her mouth was half-open and her eyes were keenly focused on small grove of trees surrounded by holly bushes. She was tense and it made me feel the same way.
Then she bolted from me, pulling the leash out of my barely clasped hands. Into the bushes she ran barking and growling. I panicked, thinking a wild boar might be inside that thicket and once confronted, could tear even a big dog like Meg to pieces.
But the threat was not a wild boar. It was human...a human pig! He stepped out of the bushes, his hands tightly gripped around the upper arm of a young woman who had a look of desperation and utter terror on her face...
“Stai bene signorina?” I shouted, asking if she was ok.
She answered quickly...
“No!” she cried. “Mi aiuti per favore!”
She was asking me to help her.
Meg had already sensed the young woman was in danger and that the man who held on to her so tightly was causing it. She drew her body close to the ground for a few moments, snarling and growling. To be honest, I’d never seen her act like this.
Then without any warning at all, she lunged at the man, catching his right forearm in her jaws and violently whipping her head side to side. The man was shouting and cursing loudly, his shirt sleeve giving way to Meg’s teeth. He gripped the young woman’s arm even tighter.
What I was watching was so out of character for my sweet Golden Retriever. But Meg was acting completely on instinct at this point. She was convincing enough to make the man finally let go of the young woman’s arm. He had no choice if he was going to fend off my savage beast!
The young woman, once freed from the man’s grip, ran straight to me and stood behind me. The man managed to wrest himself loose from Meg’s bites. I shouted for her to come to my side, which she did. Meg, sensing the danger was over and that I was now protecting the woman, backed away from the man, returning to me and again assuming that menacing crouch.
I was nervous at this point. I was expecting a fight from the man and to be honest, at my age I admit I was scared of what was going to happen next. Maybe ten years ago I would have been at bit braver, but I am almost 70 years old now...my fighting days are long over.
Instead, the man turned and took off running down toward the riverbank, which surprised me. Meg took off chasing after him until I shouted again, loud enough for her to stop and come back. And again, she did exactly that.
The young woman was visibly shaken. The man had nearly torn off the sleeve of her blouse and I could see almost the entirety of her left arm. It was bruised and black and blue. Her right cheek was red and swollen and her lip was cracked open and bleeding.
“Who is this man?” I asked. “Do you know him? Did he do this to you?”
“Si signore,” she answered. “He did this to me. I live in the apartments on the other side of the park. He found me and was forcing me to go with him. I am very grateful to you and your brave dog.”
She knew him. As it turned out, he was her ex-husband and for the last several weeks he’d been trying to convince her to come back to him. She repeatedly refused. He’d beaten and abused her almost every day of their two-year marriage. She was not going back.
“It is why I left him,” she told me. “It is why I ran away into the dark of the night. I came here to Bologna, thinking he could not find me. But when he did, he resorted to violence again. And perhaps it would have worked had you and your dog not been here to intercede. He is violent and dangerous.”
She told me her name was Sonia. She was twenty-two years old and from Reggio-Emilia. Her ex-husband, a Calabrese man more than twice her age, had found out to where she’d run away. Somehow he located the apartment in which she was living and had been menacing her for the last week.
“Whenever I’ve followed my sense of intuition in the past,” she said, “I have not been disappointed. But I waited too long this time. I let him cast his spell on me again and now look at me.”
The year before, and what finally made her decide to leave him for good, he'd beaten her so badly that he broke her jaw. They were arguing over something she’d made for dinner...
“It really had nothing to do with what I made,” she confessed. “He just needed to keep me afraid of him. One time we argued over who won San Remo! Like I could have done anything about that!”
That was when he beat her so badly, she ended up in the emergency room for two days, her jaw wired closed. He’d raped her violently and before she left the hospital a week later, she’d undergone a complete hysterectomy...
“The doctor told me he’d kicked me so hard one of my ovaries exploded!” she said. “Can you believe that?”
No. I couldn’t. I could not fathom what she was telling me. Where I come from men don’t beat women. Men are gentlemen and they treasure the women they say they love. But this guy was different. This guy was a monster.
“I can’t go back to my apartment,” she said, nearly in tears. “I know he will come back for me.”
“Can’t you call the police?” I asked. “Surely they’ll arrest this guy.”
“The police are useless men,” she said. “I cannot even tell you how many times I have called them. They show up. He denies it or blames me for him losing his temper. The police tell us to work out our problems...quietly. Then they leave.”
“I want you to come home with me,” I offered. “I know you don’t know me, but I am one of the good guys. We have a small guest house. You will have your privacy and you can stay there until you figure out what you are going to do. OK?”
“I’ve made my decision this time,” she said. “It’s time to go. I don’t need to be beaten again to know this. All the signs are there. My intuition is not just whispering to me it is time to get out, it is screaming to me..., “Get out Sonia, by whatever means available, just go.” My ship is sinking, and there is nothing I can do to stop it unless I run...far, far away.”
“Will you take me up on my offer?” I asked.
“I need a place to hide until he gets tired of looking for me,” she says. “He will go back to Catanzaro. Maybe in a week or so.”
“Then it’s decided,” I said. “You will come and stay with us on Terra d’Amore. We are only a few kilometers away. We can come back to your apartment later tonight, after dark, so you can get a few things. Diana and I will bring you back.”
Sonia ended up staying with us for almost a month. She lived in the guest house and helped out around the farm, doing chores and working with Diana in the garden and the greenhouse.
In those few short weeks, we both saw life and hope flow back into Sonia’s eyes. Yes...Diana got accustomed to her being there. The two of them got along quite well as a matter of fact.
While she was with us, Sonia took the time to read my fourth novel...the one titled Tra Natura e Animali...Between Nature and The Animals. She was particularly fascinated by the story I told of Rosario Ficarra...the young Sicilian man who’d actually lived on our farm more than a century before.
He’d left the farm after a terrible argument and fist fight with his brother Santo. He fled on foot and walked from Croara all the way back to his native Sicily. Before he died, he actually ended up writing a book about his epic journey. That is where I got all the details to write about it and include it in my own book.
“I am going to trace Rosario’s footsteps,” Sonia announced at dinner one night. “I have a little money saved and I have a lot of time on my hands. I am going to set off and see Italy through Rosario’s eyes. Maybe I will be able to discover what my purpose is in this world, as did he.”
She thanked us for everything we’d done for her and the kindness we’d shown to a perfect stranger. It was on a Saturday morning in May that she packed her backpack and set off for points unknown. We wished her well. Meg even walked with her out to our gate at Via Montecalvo. She sat down in the middle of our lane and watched as Sonia kept walking.
Neither Diana nor I believed we’d ever see or hear from her again so needless to say we were quite surprised when she showed up a few weeks before Christmas of that year. She rang the campanello, the Italian word for doorbell, out at the gate and after Diana checked the monitor to see who it was, it was no more than a few minutes later that Sonia was sitting in our soggiorno, warming herself in front of our fire and telling us of her great, great journey. And what she told us was most remarkable.
But what was even more remarkable was the transformation she’d undergone. She was a different person now...stronger, healthier, more confident, afraid of very little any longer.
I don’t know how it came about but Sonia eventually came to work with us. She wanted to learn to speak English better and someday visit America. She was interested in starting her own business...a hiking and touring business. So, we gave her lessons in English and exposed her to how a business is operated. She was not the most dependable of people but slowly she learned. She got much better.
Sonia is one of those rare people who found the courage to run away from the life she’d created for herself, long enough so she could find herself again and start over. Diana and I are immensely proud of having been able to walk alongside her on her life’s journey...even for such short while.
We know that if and when she gets on her feet and her business is up and running, we did our part to be good and kind and caring people.
To quote Gandhi...
Be the change you wish to see in the world!