I was driving to volunteer at “my” high school for the last time this afternoon and, as I turned a corner, the original version of “Forever Young” (by Alphaville) came on my local radio station. I was taken back to a wonderful part of the world—being with Elia and Gianni and singing with them—and all the pressure on my mind and heart just floated out of the windows.
It must have been mid-November by the time Jay-Z and Mr. Hudson’s version of “Forever Young” reached Sovana, Italy. Elia had it on a mixed CD with a new version of “Over the Rainbow” that I had never heard before, either. While doing remontage and pigeage or any of the various cleaning, Elia would creep over to the CD player (to hide from Gianni—one of the hundreds of jokes they played on each other) and startle the two of us by violently turning the volume knob and assaulting our eardrums. Gianni would sprint over and turn the music down and then yell (though his laughter) at Elia. Gianni rolled his eyes at Jay Z’s parts of the song but maybe the chorus reminded him of a song he had heard many years ago.
He would loudly, but vaguely, sing the chorus—forever young, I want to be forever young…—throwing imaginary confetti out into the world and swaying back and forth. Those two sang with such an incredible amount of joy. One day we were even able to translate it so that we were all clear on the message of the song: “per siempre giovane” or “giovane per l’eternita”.
Elia was my go-to guy when I had to tell Gianni something because Elia has a spectacular gift for charades or maybe it was the looks he gave me or maybe it was just the tone in his voice. Regardless, I learned “basta!” (stop!) and “piano!” (slow!) and “vai!” (go!) very quickly. (they also say that Italians are very expressive with their hands which was an invaluable conversation tool for the American girl in a room of Italians)
The day that I asked Elia if he had any siblings (in Italiano) was the day that I decided that I was cool. I decided I was even cooler when I understood that he had a younger brother and that he had asked me if I had any siblings. After I answered that I had a beautiful sister (and included my brother-in-law and fabulous baby nephew in my response) I could have just died.
There were many other songs belted out (in Italian) during the season. One that was especially popular was about getting drunk, to the point of passing out, by a camp fire with a peculiar mention of a spider (or was it a cricket?) that Gianni LITERALLY played six times in a row one afternoon (I had to start counting after he ran to replay it for the third time). I realized today that “Forever Young” now has a special place in my heart, though. The drunk spider song probably won’t be on the radio any time soon, either.
Each day their voices would drench the tufo stone, reverberate against the high metal roof and float out into the forest and all I could do was turn away from them. Why, you ask? Well I was hiding a feeling that was something between what I think it felt like to play peek-a-boo when I was a year old and something I would imagine I would feel if I was able to get all of my best friends into one room and play some joyful tunes. Mostly, I was hiding a smile from my soul.
Today I not only felt like I was twenty three again (too soon?) but also that I was eighteen. In the last few months I’ve been pulling out my old yearbooks, wondering whatever happened to so-and-so, and the day just seemed to pull together so well. Not only was “Forever Young” stuck in my mind, but I was thinking of Italy and then I was seeing all of the students who were going through the whole I’ll-never-be-here-again thing. One girl in particular caught my ear—she and her friend had stopped by the door and she said (literally) “wow. we’ll never be here again”. I wanted to run up to her and tell her that if she had that thought she would be back.
Being a teenager and leaving high school is hard. Being a twenty- or thirty- something and leaving college is hard. Being twenty three and leaving Elia and Gianni was hard but I’ll be back. I couldn’t tell that student that she’d be back (even though I would bet on it) because she’s got to figure that part out on her own. That’s the biggest part of the journey.
I miss Pitigliano with every little ounce of my being. I wonder every day where I would be if I was still there—does that make sense? All I can say is that I felt good today, driving to “my” school (seeing students I’ve grown close to and educators that appreciate me) and singing along to that song, thinking that those folks might get a little reminder of me every once in awhile, too. For now, I’ll drink some wine that sadly isn’t from Italy and listen to music that also isn’t from Italy but that reminds me of all of those amazing people, just the same.