July 22nd, 6:08 p.m. It all starts with an ambitious carry on suitcase. The kind that has a hard shell and therefore holds you indiscriminately accountable to pack a bag that will fit in an overhead bin. Mine is loaded with sarongs and bathing suits, two caftans and a tank dress. There are shorts and cotton poplin button-downs, a linen shirt, two tank tops, seven — yes, seven — pairs of shoes. I am going to Italy for one week. I will be staying on a boat. I have not been away from my daughters for longer than 48 hours since they have been born, since I have gotten pregnant, really, and, in a twisted turn of a sentence, I am excited.
I’ve been fantasizing about this trip since March. About the large hats I would wear, the crystal clear, bath-like sea water in which I would immerse my whole self, the Italian wine I would drink, the gigantic olives I would eat to accompany the wine. I have packed to embody the essence of La Dolce Vita. To live it. So live it I will.
July 23rd, 11:02 a.m. I wrote that before I left. Before I kissed my girls goodnight, while the day was still light but the sun was down and they were sleeping. Then I got in a car and went to the airport. I looked at Abie while we were driving. I was excited to spend a week with him. Just the two of us. Even though we’d be with three other couples. It was still just the two of us. We were connected now in a way that I craved desperately before we had progeny in common. Our flight was delayed four hours. I slept through it all. I like my kids a lot but I worry that I like myself more. Is that normal? See, it’s not that I am escaping life through this trip, I would have been adequately satisfied staying home, but I look forward to being away. I am indulging in this delay, basking in the still time enveloping me. Enjoying the sleep. Embracing the freedom to act like someone else’s liability, not the caretaker of my own.
July 23rd, 11:27 p.m. It is Monday. We landed in London two hours after our connecting flight was scheduled to take off. In order to get to Olbia (the small town that spits you out near Porto Cervo in Sardinia) we were rerouted through Milan. In Milan’s Linate airport, I ate the best gelato I have ever had. My palate is not very refined, but I think that gives me character. This feels like a vacation peak, I can predict it already! Nothing brings you so close together as a delay across three countries, four airports and the span of 18 hours.
Now it is 11 p.m. and we have reached our final destination. I have mentally written at least two stories. One is a letter to my daughters; this, I surmise, I will write every time I travel away from them. While I am writing I realize that this letter is actually to myself. As it turns out, all of my writing is. The other piece is a stream of consciousness detailing the delay and the sliding doors within an airport that enable the most robust people-watching experience. What a melting pot of manifold cultures! All the strangers performing the same art: coming and going, going and coming, staring up at a screen that demands their attendance at various gates to inform their next moves. Under a unified roof, we have travel in common, but quickly and inevitably, as those gates are displayed, we’re different again.
July 25th, 5:16 p.m. I am ashamed to write this, but if I don’t, I’ll be more ashamed: I almost forgot I have kids today. This morning, when I woke up for breakfast, I checked my emails before I did text messages to see what my mom, their gatekeeper this week, was reporting on their development. I didn’t FaceTime her at lunch today. I forgot to. Only now am I checking in. I don’t feel guilty — I am light like a feather. I feel giddy and young, silly and in love. With everything. And one.
July 25th, 5:42 p.m. Today I fell off a jet ski but refused to get back on, instead opting to swim to the nearest shore. The whole time I swam I wondered how I got here, why I deserved to be in this water, If this isn’t nice, what is? If this isn’t nice, what is! Eventually I got in an inner tube. Glee!
July 26th, 1:04 p.m. I’m so sick of all the clothes I brought. They’re not actually clothes as it turns out — just lightweight blankets and underpinnings that I have called beach cover ups and bathing suits. They’re all iterations of each other and say nothing for me. I can never predict who I will want to be before I get to a place. Now I wish I had full skirts and flimsy tank tops, voluminous pants and dainty blouses. Were you to see me wearing what I’ve brought, it would reveal absolutely nothing. Why do I find that so tragic? Maybe I should stop asking why — it requires that I use the past to resolve answers for the present. What about this is tragic? When is it most tragic? That feels better. But I don’t know the answers.
July 26th, 4:51 p.m. I don’t want to post to social media again. Someone asked me where my kids are earlier — actually, she asked the commenters around us: “Are we just going to ignore that Leandra abandoned her kids to party in Europe with her husband?” How does she know they’re not here? They’re not here, they’re with my mom in Long Island, but how does she know that?
July 26th, 8:39 p.m. Earlier today everyone was talking over each other about this or that but no one would hear me, so I yelled at the top of my lungs. They looked at me like I’m crazy. I felt like an unhinged teenager. Abie said I need all the attention all the time. That wasn’t what triggered me at all. Sometimes he nails me, like really, really gets me but other times I feel like even though he is looking, he can’t see who I am. Why do I need to be seen anyway? I must not be seeing myself.
I am beginning to learn that when I feel like people don’t get me, but it’s because I don’t get me. People think I’m articulate and maybe I am, but mostly I’m working through fractures of thoughts that have not become whole. I’m like a hamster on a wheel, this roundabout tour, who keeps asking “who am I?” only to find once I get off that I’m out of breath, but I’ve gotten nowhere.
July 26th, 11:56 p.m. Rosie keeps asking me questions but, in response, I just look at her, upper lip tucked into my gums, hands brought together as if showing off a new manicure under my chin. I look like a forest animal. I think it’s funny, but am pretty sure I’m the only one. It used to scare me that even in spite of a rational mind — the ability to answer a simple question — I could not help but reply in silence, upper lip tucked in, hands together under my chin. Now I think it’s just me.
July 27th, 8:02 a.m. Why hasn’t my mom dropped new photos into the shared album? I haven’t seen a baby update since yesterday.
July 27th, 3:03 p.m. Why hasn’t my mom returned my call? My girls have been awake for 19 minutes.
July 27th, 4:01 p.m. We FaceTimed. They look very comfortable! I know they’re in good hands, what peace of mind.
July 27th, 4:10 p.m. But don’t they need me?
July 27th, 10 p.m. We took a tour of the island this afternoon by speedboat. It was glorious, but I was quiet. I feel grumpy without cause; I’m mad at everyone around me but they did nothing wrong. Snap out of it, Leandra! All is well. Better than well. Absurdly idyllic. You’re in Italy! Dinner’s in twenty minutes; stop victimizing, drink in the moment. Spry! Spry! Bubblier than champagne!
July 28th, 1:01 a.m. I almost forgot that I can’t feign contentment if I’m not there, but where then am I? I think I need to go home. How pathetic do I sound? I am embarrassed by the circumstance. This is la dolce vita, I am letting it pass me by.
July 28th, 8:16 a.m. I haven’t laughed in two and a half days. Not even when I peed through my bathing suit yesterday. Actually, you know, that was a high point. It reminded me of pregnancy. I wish I were still pregnant; there’s a sentence I wasn’t sure I’d ever want to say. But I mean it. Why am I so melancholy? Objectively speaking, nothing is wrong. Generally speaking, I am happier than I have been since the last time I kissed joy. Currently speaking, the sparkling sun overhead is still overwhelming and the sweet smell of European air has only grown more intoxicating. Why do I feel like a cinder block is being forced down my throat? Like a rain cloud is following me waiting to storm? It’s so gray, but so bright, which is just making it grayer.
July 28th, 9:20 a.m. We’re leaving. That’s it! Vacation is over. I hate routine, but love mine — the gorgeous tedium of it all. A 6:30 wake up call, a 7 a.m. coffee, 8 a.m. stillness and the relentless, obsessive staring down at my watch waiting for them to wake up, go to sleep, eat, play, back to sleep then break.
July 28th, 10 p.m. I need to see them, hold them, smell them right now. I need them so much more than they need me.
July 29th, 8 a.m. Home is the sweetest place on earth. Here it is — la dolce vita.