Franco and Gigi
We were sitting around the table talking of the events that had filled our separate lives for the past 25 years. Four people--two couples serenely surveying the building blocks of their current circumstances from a forty-year perspective.
The oldest in the small gathering was a recent survivor of heart failure and had that haunted look about him that spoke of horror. He had come close to something he was not yet ready for. Perhaps this was the reason that he had tracked us down.
With his letter to us he had included two old postcards--one from 1959 and the other from 1961. They represented big moments in the life of my husband (and of course, in mine).
In 1959, Franco wrote to his friend a request on the back of this first postcard. He asked Luigi (Gigi) to meet the USS Constitution as it docked in New York. (Remember that this was before jet engines and frequent flyer miles. The big old liners were the way to go back then.)
Unlike his friend, Franco spoke nothing but his native Italian and understandably looked to Gigi, who had preceded him in America, for assistance in this new and challenging place.
Gigi, also a physician, was happy to help and glad to be able to do so. Both doctors would have a hard time ahead in this country so profoundly different from that which had nurtured them thus far.
Franco was in for the worst of it because of his lack of language. This would be somewhat balanced out by the nature of his personality, which was very adaptive and improvisational. Gigi, on the other hand, would suffer more from the constrictions of his perfectionistic make-up.
Claire and Giulietta
The second postcard was signed by both of us and it was from our honeymoon. Gigi had been designated our best man.
Four years after our marriage, Gigi took the plunge, but by then we had all drifted apart as we built our lives in different parts of the country. You know how it is.
Giulietta is the woman Gigi married. She is from Florence and had the chutzpah to follow him to this country. I had chutzpah too, I suppose, as I undertook a life a million light-years away from that designed by my parents.
My name is Claire.
Reunion
And so the wives too, liked each other. The talk went on for hours. It went from Tripoli in North Africa where the two men had first met, through the war, and on and on. There was a certain sense of history and paths intersecting to all this which seemed to illustrate the principle that one must live life going forward but to understand it truly, one must look back.
At one point, our silly little dog bounced into the room, and this eventually inspired the following true story:
Jessie
Christmas Eve fifteen years ago. Gigi was called to the hospital, as was often the case in his speciality of anesthesia. A wee puppy approached him in the driveway as he prepared to back out. No particular lover of dogs--he was not however able to roar by such a compelling countenance. He got out of the car and tried to shoo it away. He managed finally to escape the pleading eyes and soft whine to the less threatening atmosphere of the ER.
He was called out a number of times that Christmas Eve; this is not necessarily a happy season for a lot of people, and the activity in the emergency room reflected that reality. Gigi was always a hard worker and was glad to be so; he had his wife and three beautiful children; he was a lucky man.
Every time that night that Gigi went to get in his car, the puppy was waiting unfazed by the sounds and grimaces of harsh rejection purposely put forth by our good man. At one point, this very same good man attempted to gently kick it aside, as if on some level, he understood the ramifications of this driveway duel of destiny.
He had, in fact, understood quite correctly, and in one last desperate attempt to protect the sanctity of his animal-free home, he tried to interest his ER colleagues in surprising their kids the next morning with this cute ball of canine... He really tried.
Jessie made it into the garage that night--it was cold.
Jessie was all the way in the house by the following day, and for the next 15 years consolidated his hold on those within the adoring abode. The most particular bond was, however, with Giulietta, who thought she had gotten used to the isolation associated with assimilation into a new culture, and the built-in necessity of her husband being often called away. The three children were consolation, but not company. Jessie became a profound companion and a consolation that allowed something from within her to flower.
It was at about this time that she started leafing through the Bible she had gotten the children. From there her need and curiosity took her into many aspects, which she later came to recognize as a need to investigate herself and the mysteries in and around her. She became more expressive and Gigi blamed it on women's liberation. Probably, she was just growing.
The family thrived and Gigi continued to work hard. Giulietta continued to ponder the invisible, taking care to retain the traditional role. This, in itself, was not problematic as Giulietta truly identified with domesticity. Gigi, though, was ambivalent. As a conservative Italian male, he was, at times, disconcerted by his wife's outspokenness and the implementation of her social consciousness. Ultimately he concluded that she was doing nothing wrong after all, and her household was running beautifully, so he tried to hold his tongue.
Her persistent interest in religion worried him, though. She had tremendous curiosity for things theological and philosophical which, as far as he was concerned, had nothing to do with real life. To an "Italian-Italian" religion means the Catholic church and that is that! One is born--baptized--and goes through life with the church marking every significant event via its sacraments; from "womb to tomb," everything was covered. What more was there to it?
And life continued to go on and treat them well.
Then Gigi got very sick with his heart. Now HE was the patient in the ER and then 5 days in ICU.
He was helpless, near death, and afraid. For all his willing it, he could not order all as he would have it.
Then Jessie got so old he could no longer see or hear and he began to suffer a number of profound ailments. Decrepit, demented, and dear to them all, it seemed clear that he had done his time.
Giulietta was torn but she knew what she had to do. Gigi helped her.
They were both with Jessie when he died.
the fox
The next day, Giulietta looked out her window and saw a fox in the back yard. She did not know if she should believe her eyes, as a fox in the suburbs is not a common sight. Her daughter joined her at the window, and they watched the fox come close to where they were standing.
Marissa called out to Gigi to bring his camera quickly! Gigi was a dedicated photographer and had chronicled their life with his studied shots over the years. "Take a picture of the fox," she implored. He took two shots of the fox serenely sitting there looking at them. Gigi, as he always did, compulsively checked the numbers of the exposures--24 and 25. He was predictably precise about these things.
Was it really a surprise then, that when they got the film back from developing, there were no pictures corresponding to those two numbers? Before and after shots appeared as you would expect, but nothing for the two fox-shots. Had anyone but Gigi taken the pictures, the method might be suspect, but as I have already told you, Gigi is a perfectionist. If he takes a picture--he takes a picture.
We all sit quietly around the table, as that kind of story ending requires reflection on the part of the listener. Each of us has to fill in the blanks ourselves. We exchange looks with raised eyebrows and shrugged shoulders.
Giulietta finally breaks the silence by adding that Jessie was the dog's nickname. Because he came to them on Xmas Eve, he was called Jesu.
Gigi, raises his hands--palms up--and admits the absence of an explanation. He also admits, perhaps for the first time in his life, the need for one.


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