GOING OUT TOGETHER
The closer it got to going out, the more anxious I was. As happy as I was to go out with the other couples, I was now assaulted by doubt and apprehension. I doubted whether I would be able to feel at ease with the others. They were good people, but much freer and self confident than those of us who had just arrived.
I was also shy and reserved. I asked my aunt and she said that I knew perfectly well how to behave in public and that I should just be myself.
She said that it was the afternoon heat, the humid and sticky heat that was troubling me. I wasn’t used to that humidity. There wasn’t even the slightest breeze. The sky was covered over and heavy. Beads of sweat would form on my hot skin. I looked outside and not even a leaf stirred.
I ran some cold water over my hands to cool me off and I got something cold to drink.
I started remembering the sweet summer nights in my mountain village. The wind would blow softly down from the mountains like a light wave and it would softly caress your face and your hair. It was normal to lift your face to fully gather in that sweet light breeze that brought with it the perfume of wild flowers. The breeze cooled the evenings to the point that you had to wear a light sweater on your shoulders.
Neither the cold drink nor the water on my hands had the effect I had hoped for; my anxiety continued.
My aunt had even told my father about my going out with the other kids.
She told him that there was nothing to worry about because my cousin was coming with us. The fact that I didn’t have to talk to my father about these things calmed me a bit. He was a very severe man, rigid in his ways; it would have been quite a difficult feat to handle this on my own with him.
The day had been full of activity. The ride around the city, the visit to the big Bloomingdales store, the new pink dress and the new white shoes: I should have felt “on top of the world.” But I didn’t, in fact, I was even a bit sad. I started doubting myself. I asked myself if I would truly feel comfortable with all those friends and if they would really like me to join their “group.” My cousin arrived, he smiled at me and he said “Are you ready for tonight?” I only understood the word “tonight” and replied “but yes!”; I didn’t tell him about my fears.
It would be better to get ready before Lenny, I thought. And so I did. My aunt helped me with styling my hair. She brushed it with care. It was wavy and was able to easily assume any style.
I refused the makeup she offered, I only put on a hint of lipstick and a bit of mascara. The dress with the full slip accentuated my waist and the new shoes completed the look. I almost liked me. Maybe I wasn’t as ugly as I thought I was. The anxiety I was feeling before started to dissipate and even the unease began to lessen, but then only for a bit and it would return. I would alternate between anxiety and anticipation of the big night. And then I heard them coming up the stairs, all happy and carefree. They came in….the girls said I looked “nice” and John gave me his hand and even he said something. Then my father stepped forward, looked at everyone, then at me, and nodded. He didn’t say anything, but he made his indisputable fatherly presence felt.
Now we were all ready to go out. John put his hand on my shoulder and we started downstairs, but first my aunt turned to me and said “don’t be late.” But everyone understood that she was actually speaking to John. We were four couples and two cars, so there were two couples together in each car. Right away, we headed for a pizzeria that had an Italian name. It was a small place that was very nice and it was where a lot of young couples went.
While we were seated, waiting for the pizza to arrive, they asked me many questions. How did people “go out together” in Italy, what did we do at school, at home. I would answer, telling them how different the life of a young woman in Italy was.
They brought the pizza. It was completely soaked in sauce and mozzarella. It was so different from ours, made in a wood burning stove, on which olive oil, fresh tomatoes, and basil were spread. While we ate, they asked me if it was like the Italian pizza.
It wasn’t. It was too greasy. We drank Coca-Cola, but I would have preferred half a glass of my Grandmother Rosa’s red wine. John was careful and gentle, as were the other boys towards their girls.
We remained at the pizzeria talking for a long time; then someone suggested we go. All together, we got into the cars for our “ride.” While we were in the car, we listened to songs. Everyone sang, laughed and had a good time. I envied their carefree nature and their happiness a bit. We drove around the city, then outside the city towards a dark and solitary street. It was a tree lined street without lights, traced into the woods. Apprehension and anxiety returned, but I tried to ignore it. The couple that was seated in the back was silent, I didn’t hear them talking or singing anymore. We got to a park full of trees with paths running through it. Here and there, there were parked cars in the shadows with young couples inside. John parked the car far from the others under a tree and we got out…I already thought about taking a walk, the four of us together on the wooded path. Maybe John would offer me his arm while we walked. Perhaps he would have picked a flower and given it to me. The active imagination of a young girl that dreamed about a romantic life, like the one she had read about in the monthly magazines such as Sogno and Luna Park….
I had lost sight of the other car that had been following us. The other couple had set out towards the paths hand in hand. Every once in a while, the boy would bend over and kiss the girl’s hair. I thought it was a very tender thing to do.
John took my hand and took me into the car again but didn’t start the engine.
We sat down, he took my hand and smiled at me. I wasn’t sure what to do. My first instinct was to take my hand back. But I didn’t do it. He continued to smile at me. What should I do?
Should I smile too? Should I take my hand back? Should I let him hold it? And then what? Were we only friends? Or was something more beginning? Was I perhaps obligated to do something that I didn’t want to? While these thoughts turned over and over again in my head, I realized how unprepared we girls from small villages were in sustaining a relationship of friendship. In my town, if a boy was interested, he would send letters and messages to a girl through her best friend. You, if you were interested, would reply to the messages. Your friend would also be your advisor. If she liked the boy and she thought he was honest, she would try to convince her friend to meet with him. A long-distance courtship would be born. Before the first “date” we would have already exchanged messages with tender words and we would both be anxious to meet each other. But here it was different. John and I had only exchanged a few words and those few words had been a mix of dialect and Italian, and certainly none of those words had been romantic. I looked out the window to avoid his eyes, he got closer to me, I pulled back. Then I looked at him and met his eyes that were so blue, I felt as if I was looking into the sea itself. I was not unaffected by that gaze. John got even closer and he put his hand on my shoulder, his face so close to mine that we almost touched. I jumped and remembered my mother’s advice: “never give yourself on the first date.” But it was too late, for John had already placed his lips on mine. I blushed and pulled back. My heart was beating quickly and I panicked. I felt like a prisoner inside the car. John understood and now it was he who looked out the window, off into the distance. He seemed so sad.
We remained in silence, listening to the music and the songs, both of us looking off into the darkness of the night.
I hadn’t imagined “going out together” would be like this. I would have wanted to take a walk, under the stars, perhaps we would have sat on a low wall in the twilight and talked about us. I would have wanted to smell the sweet fragrance of the forest flowers. Or hear the sea waves that broke on the rocks. I would have liked to have felt the wind gently blowing and caressing my hair. I would have liked to feel a shiver of cold and only then would I allow the boy to put his arm on my shoulders to shelter me from the wind.
I would have….I would have wanted…but this was a whole different world. John started the engine, he told me that it was getting late, it would be better if we went home. I breathed a sigh of relief. I didn’t know where the other couples were, but they were obviously in agreement; they could stay out late, I couldn’t. We returned home. My aunt was waiting for me. I told her everything about the night, or mostly everything. I left out one detail of the evening, one that I would never reveal –the kiss.
John went back to going out with the girl he had been dating before. We remained good friends, but we never went out together again. Years later, I found out that John had married another girl.
Delia Socci Skidmore