Last night, I stood by the gate with my mother and took this picture in one direction. Then I turned around in the other and took this one:
Lest you think that with time and repetition, the beauty here at our house in Italy stops having an effect on me, let me assure you: It leaves me speechless every time. Every time.
And getting to see Hugo crawl through the grass, finding snails and dry leaves and little sticks and chamomile blossoms and beetles and fallen cherries to pull into his chubby, dimpled hands and hold aloft triumphantly, right here where I used to crawl myself, is better than words can say.
I suppose these days I'm at a loss for words in more ways than one.
When I was in high school, a classmate of mine named Rhonda looked at me coolly one day and told me she didn't like people who were always so damn happy (her words, not mine). It didn't come across as an insult, really. It was just a blunt observation. I remember looking back at her and wondering how to respond.
Years later, towards the end of my time in New York, when things in my life were going up in flames and I felt like I couldn't see even one foot in front of me for all the pain and confusion and sadness fogging my vision, I thought a lot about Rhonda and that comment she made that day. And about the girl she'd been talking to. I was so unhappy, had been so unhappy for so long, that I couldn't even remember what it felt like to be happy. How strange, I used to think, that someone used to see all that happiness in me.
Last night, after the baby was asleep and my mother had gone to the movies with her friends and my aunt was inside with the newspaper, I picked my way around the house at dusk, stopping to photograph every stunning sight I could see, like I have a million times before. The sun was very low in the sky and the churchbells up the hill were ringing. I could hear a tractor in the distance finishing its rounds and the grass pricked at the edges of my feet, but not unpleasantly. I thought about all the years I'd been coming here, since I was a baby Hugo's age. The house looked so different then, lying in ruins when my grandfather bought it, the land neglected completely. Over the years, my grandfather planted fruit and nut trees, rose bushes, creeping vines and jasmine, plate-sized dahlias and rosemary hedges. Our friends made a roof, my grandfather built a shed.
I was a child here and then an adolescent, a teenager who came home late under the speckled canopy of the Milky Way, a college graduate with little time to spare for this lovely place, and then, one day, a very sad young woman who was trying her darndest to figure out her life and how to be happy, and failing completely and miserably.
Now, my days are filled with things like meeting Hugo's needs - hunger, thirst, a diaper change, a cuddle, three cuddles, a bump to be soothed, more hunger, another cuddle - reading an entire book in stolen moments throughout the day, planning time for a sunset cocktail with my husband on the grass, sitting at the dinner table and talking with my mother and aunt long after dinner is finished, and there is so much goodness here, so much to feel blessed by and lucky to have, that sometimes I find myself literally screwing up my face with the effort of finding the right words to describe it all.
The funny thing is, it wasn't so hard finding words when I was in pain. In fact, it was all I could do some days. Despair was my midwife. But to capture in writing that warm, round feeling of everything being right, of being filled up with happiness, is much harder. Every phrase I choose seems overblown and clichéd and ridiculous. People will roll their eyes, I think. Also, it's bad luck.
So instead, I knock wood, I spit three times, I do what I must. But then I say to myself, hold tight when you feel your heart brimming over, when you can barely breathe for all the glory coursing through you as you look into that flaming sun and smell the wild mint underfoot and feel the microscopic hairs on a bee's wings as they touch the skin on your arm for just a moment. You are lucky, you are blessed, you are loved. You have everything you could ever want. Maybe one day in the future you will look back at these days and wonder how you were ever this happy. Maybe. Probably.
But for now, it is everything.