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Chapter Nine – First Pangs of Pain
Tony is the typical Italian man boy. He is prettier than I could ever dream of being with his curly dark locks, matching goatee, and emerald green eyes. At over six-feet tall, he is an entire foot taller than I am. On that fateful night at Pirozzi when we first met and he teased about getting engaged, I was convinced he was nothing more than an Italian charmer. I had met so many of them already over the years, and they were all talk. No one was interested in a serious relationship, especially with an American girl on vacation in Ischia. Funny, with his puns and sarcasm, he had us all laughing, and seemed genuinely interested in my work and me.
At the end of the meal, he convinced me to share a baba’ with strawberries and whipped cream. Although I never cared for the rum-soaked pastry, I devoured it with pleasure. The strawberries and cream made all the difference. Or maybe it was sharing with Tony that did me in.
After dinner, we headed to the nightclub Valentino, where Tony and Roberto worked together. We danced, and Tony was certain to stay close enough to me to rub my shoulder with his. There was definitely a spark of something. Within minutes, however, Lisa grabbed me and said, “Dobbiamo andare – ORA!” (“We must leave – NOW!”) Apparently, she was freaked out because Roberto had said hello to two women with whom he had attended school. She was fuming like Vesuvio, and it like an overreaction to me. Still, Roberto agreed to take her home, and he brought me back to his house. Although Lisa thought he was going home, too, he returned to Valentino, Tony, and some of their other friends without ever speaking a word of it to Lisa. He told me to keep his secret, too.
There was little time to reflect on my attraction to Tony or the lies and jealousy between Roberto and Lisa. Two days later I was interviewing some people from Ischia who had family ties to San Pedro, California. I was writing a story for San Pedro’s local paper about all the immigrants from Ischia Ponte who had lived between the two sister cities. While photographing my source outside of the hotel where Tony worked, I somehow fell. And I could barely walk. There was an electric pain that ran throughout my left leg but began in my knee. The man I was interviewing and his boss at the hair salon where he worked helped me onto the curb and gave me some ice. I feigned being all right and headed toward the bar where I was to meet my grandparents.
Hardly able to stand, I hobbled as best I could. My face was as red as a San Marzano tomato. When I saw my grandparents, I began sobbing uncontrollably. It was as if the insides of my knee had exploded and caused a fire throughout the rest of my leg. I even called my mom, who was asleep in the United States, where it was about 4 in the morning, because, well, I wanted my mommy.
My grandparents insisted that I go to the hospital, and I agreed. We hailed a cab and headed to Lacco Ameno, home to the only hospital on the island. I saw a very handsome, young doctor, who could have been a hair model and wore a silver ring on his thumb. He told me that it was probably just a bad bruise, and I should take a couple aspirin and rest it for a couple of days.
That was enough for my grandfather to suggest we follow our plan, which was to go out to lunch at the Riva Destra, a row of restaurants and pubs in Ischia Porto, which sit right on the water, where everyone goes to see and be seen. Chowing down on linguine con vongole, I was fine. When I tried to stand up when we were ready to leave, I plopped right back down in my seat. My knee was swelling up like a balloon, and I didn’t know how I was going to manage to even get to the bus stop, let alone get home to Gabriele and Franca’s house.
Taking turns, my grandparents held me up by my arm while I limped along. It began raining. My grandfather insisted we take the bus to Maronti and that it would bring us to the piazza in Barano, which is where Gabriele and Franca live. But my grandmother and I knew he was wrong. He’s more stubborn than the mules that take you up to Ischia’s highest point, Epomeo. So, we all got onto the bus. When the bus turned toward Maronti without stopping in Barano, we jumped off. Unable to walk, I was making my grandfather nervous, so he suggested a shortcut. The only problem? The shortcut was up a mountain, which was full of mud as the rain was coming down. I held my knee together, which was continuing to swell and now felt as though it was in two parts, as I practically crawled uphill. When we got to the top, we met a friend who could drive us that one extra block. I hid behind my grandparents as we walked into the house because Gabriele is a notorious worrier, and I didn’t want to upset him. After all, it was probably just a bad bruise as the doctor told me.
Shortly after we arrived, a friend of the family, who is a professor, came by to say hello. And he would not leave. I began sweating profusely as my knee swelled so much that my jeans now felt like a tight rubber band around my leg. Three hours later, my cousin the doctor arrived, and saved me. The professor finally went home. At the hospital, Dr. Hair had wrapped my “bruise,” and I quickly ripped off the bandages only to discover that my knee was now the size of a cantaloupe. This was more than a bruise.
Within a couple of hours my cousin had called another “medical professional,” who I now refer to as the witch doctor. Just as they arrived at Gabriele and Franca’s house so did Tony. He showed up to see me. The witch doctor had him and Roberto place me on the bed, stomach down. Then, the witch doctor yanked on my leg to try and put my kneecap in place. I screamed so hard that my cousin, who lives next door, came running to see if I was being raped. Tony and Roberto asked the doctor to leave me alone. At that point, they carried me into the living room. Surrounded by Tony the charmer, Roberto, my grandparents, my cousin the doctor, my cousin next door, Gabriele and Franca, I sat on the couch as the witch doctor gave me three shots of God knows what directly into my knee. This “vacation” was turning out to be hardly a vacation at all.
I prayed that the next morning my knee would be better and that I’d get to know why Tony wanted to see me…
Some names and identifying characteristics of the real people involved have been changed.
Tune into this Web site, Two Worlds, every Monday for the latest installment in my blog about my experiences in Ischia, and every other Monday to ItaliansRus.com for the latest Our Paesani column about all things Italian. Di Meglio is also the Guide to Newlyweds for About.com.