The next few weeks passed in a blur of letters, Skype visits and preparations. Mario had never crossed the Atlantic before, and wasn’t quite sure where to begin in the process of buying plane tickets, getting the necessary visas, and planning a vacation that seemed to get a little longer everyday. As we worked through the process together, the level of our communication grew deeper and deeper. I found that I spent a lot of my waking time (and a lot of my dreaming time) thinking of Mario, going over the details of his old letters and fantasizing about how things would go when he arrived in the States. But it wasn’t until that fateful Saturday that I knew I was in trouble.
You see, throughout it all, I kept trying to convince myself that it wasn’t possible to feel emotions for a man who I was getting to know long distance. Sure, we had shared many things through our letters. Sure, things had escalated once we were able to start talking face to face. Sure, I couldn’t stop thinking about him. But that didn’t really mean anything, right? I was just following the rational path of getting to know him as much as possible. Surely I wouldn’t be able to know if any actual feelings were feasible until we were physically in each other’s presence.
Then, one Saturday afternoon, Mario called. As was normal, we started chatting about everything. And chatted. And chatted. Every once in a while I would glance at the clock, a little amazed that so much time had passed. But as the conversation continued to flow, I had no desire to end the call. So we chatted. And chatted. And chatted.
Six hours passed.
Six hours of pure conversation. No activities, no distractions, just one on one talking. And the only reason we finally ended was because, for Mario, it was the middle of the night and he desperately needed to get some sleep.
This wasn’t normal.
Apparently, Mario didn’t think so either. A couple of days later, I received a delivery at my work. Mario had figured out how to send me flowers. They were stunning. A beautiful, colorful bouquet of fragrant flowers. I was stunned. Amazed. Delighted.
Not possible. It just couldn’t be possible.
That night, as I called Mario on Skype, I held the bouquet in front of my face so that it would be the first things he saw. He was so proud of himself, that it had actually worked, and that he had been able to keep it a secret. As we talked late into the night (or for him, into the morning), something shifted. Though I tried to pass it off as nothing, Mario was not so quick to dismiss the change in mood.
Ti voglio bene.
Now, in English there are really only two expressions to express affection. “I like you” and the ever so scary “I love you.” In Italian, there are three. In between “like” and “love” are these three words: ti voglio bene. Literally translated as “I want good for you,” ti voglio bene is reserved for the special people in your life:
And significant others.
I was flabbergasted. Even though Mario and I had been clear that we were both interested in exploring the possibilities of this relationship, we both knew that the nature of our situation was somewhat bizarre. No promises and no commitments had been made – and no expressions of affection beyond the pleasure of being able to talk with each other every day.
I just sat there, my jaw agape.
And then my questions started flowing. How could he say those words? How was it possible to “voglio bene” to anyone in this kind of situation? Didn’t he realize that we wouldn’t be able to really what kind of emotion was possible between us until we saw each other again?
Mario just shrugged off my concerns. This is how he felt. He had no interest in denying or repressing it. He just wanted to tell me. So he did.
The next day, when I woke up, I had a new letter from Mario. His plane ticket was finally purchased.