It wasn’t my intention to find myself yakking out the window of a taxi and screaming, “Sto bene! Sto bene!” while being taken through the back roads of Rome. “Sto bene” is the English equivalent of saying “I’m fine.” I guess I thought if I shouted it loud enough, it might come true. But clearly, I wasn’t fine. After rocking back and forth on a bus and spitting at random like a cow from the foul taste of whatever shot I last downed at some embarrassingly American bar in the Rione IX Pigna area, I was summarily escorted off of the vehicle when the bus driver physically stopped it to make sure I hadn’t thrown up on the public mode of transportation he had been entrusted with. That’s what everyone seemed quite concerned about: me throwing up. No one wanted to get into the details of the emotional state that had led me to reach the point of verging (and eventually acting) on vomiting.
The night started out pleasantly enough. I had been invited to see a band play by an old friend named Oliver who had, like myself, long ago had the good sense to flee California. He knew the guy responsible for playing the mandolin (it was Italy, after all) and could therefore get us in for free. Since my arrival in Rome as part of a graduate study abroad program, I had engaged very little with other americani. Thus, it was strange to see them all wrangled together in this pub geared toward collecting any English speakers with its Irish theme. I had forgotten all the reasons Americans were so distinct. But it wasn’t their personality, necessarily, that made them that way, so much as the things that attracted them to a place–in this case, sports, early 00s music and overpriced beer.
Oliver spoke no Italian, and was elated to be surrounded by a demographic he could let his language flow freely among. His motives for coming to Rome were far less scholarly than mine; he simply wanted to travel until he found a city that “spoke to” him. So far, it seemed like Rome was doing just that. He had even brought along his latest girlfriend, Isadora, an Italian woman in her mid-20s who was annoyingly effortless in her beauty. I was always amazed at Oliver’s–or any man’s–ability to finagle a woman’s affections in spite of the fact that he really had nothing going on for him other than an affable disposition. And yet, there I was, bilingual, pursuing my graduate degree in art history, relatively thin, but still, I had trouble even securing friendships, let alone a romance.
I sipped a six euro Nastro Azzurro and squeezed through the crowd to get to the front of the stage where Oliver and Isadora were perched. As I approached, I could see that they were fondling one another in that way that couples do when they think they’re in love but are actually just overcompensating for how lonely they feel, even in a relationship. I didn’t want to interrupt their burst of passion, so I stayed put in my position and sipped overzealously from my glass in an attempt to look like I wasn’t the most awkward person ever birthed.
Apparently, this technique worked well enough to incite the interest of Francesco, a 24-year-old who sidled up to me and said, “Come ti chiami?” I guess Italian guys didn’t have that much originality either, but at least they had the gumption to talk to you. I generally didn’t enjoy answering this question, the response to which was incomprehensible even to most Americans. Regardless, I replied honestly, “Jonquil.”
“Che detto?” he asked in confusion.
I then proceeded to tell him that my parents were horticulturists and named me after a fucking species of daffodil. He didn’t listen to me after I said the word “narciso,” instead ramming his tongue down my throat to get to the point. It was at this moment that Oliver passed by and nodded in approval, offering, “You guys want another drink?”
And so it went on like that throughout the night: me taking drinks and tongues simply because they were there. Around the second to last song at 1 a.m., Oliver and Isadora said goodbye to me, assuming I would go home with Francesco, who probably lived with his mother. But when he slipped away to the bathroom, I suddenly felt an overpowering need to get away from that place, those people. I had made a mistake in trying to have a good time. I should have been focusing on what I had to do the next morning, which was take an exam that required me to write a ten-page essay on all the works of Caravaggio present in the Vatican Museum. Now, I would just be hungover and void of any pertinent information other than Francesco’s age and favorite food (spaghetti all’amatriciana).
It was unfortunate that I didn’t become aware of how trashed I was until I got onto the bus, filled at that hour solely with illegals from Africa. For all I know, one of them could have penetrated me in my in and out state of consciousness. But, unless I get pregnant, I’ll never know for sure. Not that I’m flattering myself in thinking that just because I was “out of it,” to say the least, that someone would want to take advantage of me, but, inevitably, a free-for-all orifice is a free-for-all orifice. Or maybe the bus driver gave me the boot before such a thing could happen.
Standing on the desolate road, somehow I managed to work the internet on my phone to be able to look up the number for a taxi. When the driver pulled up about forty-five minutes later near the corner of Via Corinto and Via Efeso, I was so far gone that the expression on his face indicated I was the last person he wanted to lend his services to. After practically getting me to sign in blood that I wouldn’t throw up in his cab–lest I be charged an extra 100 euros in cleaning fees for the ride–I got into the car and projectile vomited on contact with the seat. He cursed to himself, my very existence affirming all of the negative stereotypes about Americans and their lack of refinement.
I continued to release everything inside of me for about another half kilometer while insisting, “Sto bene! Sto bene!” Not that he had even asked–I was saying it more for myself. When I got to the apartment my university had furnished me with, I paid the driver his money and then some, dipping into the monthly allotment I wasn’t supposed to go over if I wanted to survive. The next morning I wrote quite possibly the worst assessment of Caravaggio’s art in recorded history, and later failed out of the program as this essay was worth half of my grade. But honestly, “Sto bene, sto bene.”