When I was 19, I lost my mom and my brother to cancer — my mom passed away first in January of 2010 and then my 23-year-old brother Antony died three months later in April. I wish I could start off by telling you how I felt when it happened, the fucked up sad shit, how much my heart hurt, but I don’t remember any of it. Sometimes I get flashbacks — being sent to the doctor and given a Costco quantity of anxiety, depression and sleep medication and the way people who knew looked at me, but for the most part, I don’t remember. What I do know is the moment I stepped off the plane a few months later in Florence, my l
ong, painful, too-much-whiskey drinking xanax taking journey of Tuscan healing began.
I was sitting on the terra cotta floor of my tiny apartment in San Lorenzo, drinking espresso and trying my best to understand Maria De Filippi, the Oprah of Italian television. I didn’t have air con back then and, because I was a Florentine amateur, nobody told me that you’re suppose to close your shutters during the summer months to keep in the cool morning air. Kiwi, my tiny barboncino, was sitting beside me; she had just turned 5 months old. I got her a month after losing my brother and brought her to Florence with me but before I go any further, I need to be honest and admit that this was my second time moving to Florence.
My first time leaving home for Italy was right after finding out both my mom and my brother were sick with cancer. I was 19. I was so young and didn’t know what was actually happening, so I decided to pretend my problems didn’t exist (a classic move) and leave my Canadian hometown of Montreal while two of the people I loved most went through chemotherapy and radiation. It’s a decision that I regret, beat myself up for and drink myself to sleep about sometimes, but I’m trying to forgive myself for it. I didn’t know how to deal with my life turning to shit, you know how that goes.
During that first move to Florence, nothing particularly life-changing happened — touristy visits to the Duomo, Palazzo Pitti, and a bit of study abroad clubbing (or if you’re Italian, CLEBBING). It was the perfect distraction from my life back home.
After a semester of studying graphic design abroad (lol) and not learning any Italian, I moved back to Montreal. My dad picked me up from the airport a few days before Christmas. He said the doctors told him they would be shocked if Mom made it to Easter. My brother Antony was still in treatment. He seemed to be doing well, but obviously nothing good happened and within a few months, I had attended both of their funerals and was trying to wrap my head around losing my family. It was shit. Instead of going to therapy and dealing with the trauma, I decided to be a millennial, get a dog and study abroad for the second time. Classic.
It was the first summer back in Florence after saying goodbye to Mom and Antony. I was crying (a lot) and always on that stupid terra cotta floor. I had no idea what I was doing in a city where I barely knew the language and was so embarrassingly foreign and self-conscious. I felt weird, people at school acted like I was weird which made me feel even more weird but to be fair, I was pretty fucking weird.
Then something happened. I started to explore the city without a map. I ordered cappuccinos and food in broken Italian. I was okay. Not great, not happy, not carefree and ready to explore a new European city every other weekend like all the cool study abroad girls on Instagram, but I was okay. Nobody in Florence gave a fuuuuuuuck about my sad story. It felt so.damn.good.
After a few months of awkward encounters, I found my wolf pack. I made friends. I started drinking wine. Sure, I was damaged, but I started to see Florence as one of the most beautiful cities I had every seen. I FELL IN LOVE WITH ALL OF IT. This is where I get dramatic, but every sunset felt like a warm hug from my mom and every loud scooter or young Italian boy laughing sounded like my brother Antony.
How could a tiny town with way too many tourists, not enough air conditioning and lukewarm espresso on every corner start to feel like home to a Canadian?
Fast forward to 9 years later and there is nowhere else I’d rather be. I mean, sometimes when it’s 40 degrees in the summer, I’d rather be in Canada, but for the most part, I like it here. In the past three years, I managed to get my Italian citizenship (a painful one and a half year experience), bought a house (another painful two year experience involving a death, a secret wedding and a secret daughter – NEW POST ABOUT IT SOON) and got a job working as an editor (don’t judge this blog based on my job title though cause I’m taking it real easy) at a fashion school. It’s not perfect and sometimes I get frustrated and make a pros and cons list about leaving, but damn Florence, I’m so obsessed with you girl.