That same evening, many boys and girls came to the house, the girls accompanied by their “boy friends”, as they would say.

They were my cousin’s friends and they had agreed to meet at our house so that they could all go out together. That’s what was said about couples, “they’re going out together”.

I had problems understanding the meaning of the phrase: “Going out together.” Without the permission of the parents, there was no way for something like this to happen; it was a phrase that was completely alien to our vocabulary. Even when one was a young girl and had a secret boyfriend, you could only meet with him with the help of your most trusted friend. You would meet him behind the church, behind the old tower or behind the cemetery. These were places that we considered out of the way places, far from indiscrete eyes. Instead, our mothers knew them all since they had also met “their spouses” secretly in the same places. “The trusted friend” went to the meeting with the girl who was to meet her boyfriend. Then, while the two lovebirds would talk, the trusted friend would stand to one side and check if anyone was coming near. When she would see that someone was coming, she would cough. That was the signal for the two to separate from each other. If there was no other escape route, the boy would jump the bushes or the wall to not be discovered. The two girls would stay behind and continue talking, as if nothing happened. They weren’t always able to hide the true reason why they were found in those spots where secret “dates” were held. As I said before, many mothers knew very well where to come look for us when we were nowhere to be found. When they found us, they would threaten to not let us go out ever again and to “tell your father when he gets home.” Sad and torturous days would follow. Even the “trusted friend” was punished for having been an accomplice.

Finally, after many days cooped up inside, the mothers would give in. Us girls would then go back to making the same mistakes.

There were four couples that were “going out together” tonight. The boys were very handsome, dressed in khaki pants, which were in style at the time. Over the pants, they wore a t-shirt or a dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up. All neat and clean. I found the rolled up sleeves strangely attractive. The girls had undergone an incredible transformation from this afternoon, when only a few hours before I had seen them in town with their hair in rollers. The change was complete. The girls were very beautiful, with wavy blond hair that ended in curls. On their faces, a trace of makeup and lipstick. They wore pretty dresses with flowers on them, and their camisoles were tight and had plunging necklines, which accentuated their beautiful figures. They had white, well-groomed hands. They were carefree and confident. You could see that they didn’t do much work at home. They were students. I came to learn that high school was mandatory in America, and it ended at 18. I felt a pinch of jealousy to see them so happy and carefree. I looked at my hands and to avoid having them seen, I crossed my arms and hid them. The boys would put their arms around their girlfriends’ shoulders and they weren’t even officially “engaged.” This world that was so different, so strange, so free, fascinated me and scared me at the same time. All the rules, all the manners fitting a serious and decent girl that my mother had taught me were being put in doubt. All the teachings of the nuns: modesty, humility, fear of God, even this seemed to have no value for these American girls.

I wanted to convince myself at all costs that it was better to be the way I was, that I behaved like a decent girl. But I couldn’t help asking myself:

“but what’s so bad about how these girls behave?” They talk, they have fun, they go out together, they’re nice. It didn’t seem to me that they committed any misdeeds.

But as soon as these thoughts would enter my mind, I would expel them with such fury, out of fear of succumbing to the glamour of such a degree of personal liberty. The more I tried to expel them, the more they would return to torment me. I would have loved to cross the cultural abyss that separated us to find myself on the side of the American girls without feeling guilty, without offending anyone and with the approval of my parents. This thought seemed so wonderful to me, so believable that my face lit up and a feeble smile spread across my lips.

One of the boys, a cute young man who was tall and thin, with blue eyes, noticed and replied with a big bright smile. But he was elbowed by the girl that was with him. I wasn’t upset that I had been noticed. In the meantime, I prepared the coffee. I set the table…I offered coffee to anyone who wanted some. The boy with the blue eyes also took some.

After he finished, he smiled at me and said: “grassi” I understood that he meant to say “grazie”, or “thank you” because I had already heard the word used. It was very difficult for Americans to pronounce the word “grazie.” The letter “z” was often pronounced like a double “s”. Then they eliminate the “e” that, according to them is silent” and out comes “grassi”. I replied with “iu volcam”; this is how I knew how to say “you’re welcome”. They began to laugh and they said “bravo”. Very good!

They began to get up and prepared to leave. They were talking about going to the movies, then going to get a pizza and then for a drive in the car. I calculated that they wouldn’t have been able to return home before midnight. I didn’t stop to think much, it was inconceivable to me that a girl would stay out that late.

After they left and after we cleared the table, just my aunt and I were left in the kitchen.

Everything was quiet, we were alone. My father and my uncle had gone to the club for the usual Saturday night get together. We sat down at the table. My aunt asked for another coffe. I was mulling over the events of the day: the visit to the town, the giving in to the low and comfortable shoes. I was amazed by the girls that walked around with rollers in their hair. Then I had seen them again at night, with their boyfriends and they were beautiful, well dressed and elegant.

Who knew if perhaps one day I would also go around at night with a boy. I took a deep breath and held it. I sighed angrily and said: “Auntie, do you think that I might be able to go out with a boy too, like they do here?” Sipping her coffee, she answered:

“of course, behave and then we’ll see.” I was speechless, with my mouth hanging open. I hadn’t expected an affirmative response. I limited myself to saying “oh!” Full of hope and dreaming of the day in which this promise would be fulfilled, I went into the living room to watch the Saturday night Variety Show on TV. 

Delia Socci Skidmore