There was a moment of hesitation…is that really him? But as he walked toward me, suitcase in tow, his face broke into a smile. Mario was here.
Then, there was the first awkward moment. How were we supposed to greet each other? A handshake seemed ludicrous, but I wasn’t sure about the going in for the “baci” – the Italian tradition of kissing on each cheek. As he got closer, Mario opened his arms and enveloped me in a brief, warm hug, and then we were off to my car, Mario telling me the story of what happened in custom. Apparently not completely satisfied after taking with me, the custom officials kept sending him to different officers to be questioned. However, since they didn’t have a single person that spoke Italian, it just spiraled into one big mess of confusion and frustration until they finally just sent him on his way.
We made our way through the airport and out to my car, Mario feeling surreal that he was in America, me feeling surreal that he was actually walking beside me. I was so flustered and nervous I literally couldn’t even find my way out of the parking lot until Mario told me to relax. Finally, I made it through the gates and we were on the freeway.
We had 30 minutes in the car, both of us still reeling a bit from the fact that we were actually doing this. As we worked to break the ice and feel comfortable with each other, the conversation was continuously interrupted by “are you really here?” moments. I was in the middle of one of these moments, reaching out to literally touch him in order to believe that I wasn’t dreaming, when Mario grabbed my hand and didn’t let go.
I nearly swerved off the road.
My heart started pounding and I had to take a deep breath. This was really happening. Though I had to eventually take my hand back (since my car was a stick shift and I needed it in order to drive), the mood had been set.
As we drove towards my home in Arlington, I asked Mario if he wanted to go out and see something his first night or, since it was almost 11:30 and Mario had been up for almost 24 hours, he just wanted to go straight to bed. Originally Mario said he wanted to go to the house but as we exited the freeway, he declared that he wanted to go out after all. I pulled a quick U-turn and headed across the bridge into DC. In our months of conversation Mario had mentioned that the most important thing he wanted to see while in town was the White House, and though I had signed us up for a tour later in his trip as a surprise, I figured that it was the best place to start.
Being August, it was a warm, muggy evening. After parking on a nearby street, Mario wrapped his arm around my waist, and we headed towards the gates. Sadly, the lights of the White House had already been turned off, but we leisurely made our way around the whole building. The whole evening still had a very surreal experience, but a calm, natural feeling began to take over as we walked, hand in hand, continuing all the conversations that we’ve been having for months over computer.
As we chatted, I started to get nervous about whether or not he would try to kiss me – and I wasn’t sure if I was ready. Luckily, Mario seemed to feel the same hesitation – the feeling that nothing needed to be rushed. We now had luxury of time to figure out what we was happening between the two of us.
Just after 1am, we finally made it back to my house. Poor Mario was exhausted, but neither of us wanted the night to end. I quietly showed him the main points of the house and we ended up in my room, where he pretty much collapsed. As we lay there, cuddling on my bed, talking quietly, I could feel him start to relax. As our conversation drifted away, I knew sleep was threatening to overtake him. Just as I was about to rouse him and lead him to his own room, he put his hand on my face, lifting my chin so that he could look into my eyes. Then, ever so slowly, he gently leaned in and kissed me.
It was the perfect conclusion to the night.