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Gap year - leaving homeThis takes me back.
We are leaving for Italy tomorrow. Today I’m washing, packing, tidying the house and farming out the dog to family. The cats (yes both – the other one eventually came home a week back, looking no worse for her adventure. She isn’t saying where she’s been.) like all felines refuse to be parted from their home, so a neighbour has offered to feed them.

Sixteen years ago, Rome had been the start of an interesting time in my life; or to be more accurate, Rome airport. I don’t know how I’m going to feel going back there. Excited, yes – I adored Italy and made some wonderful friends.
There are butterflies in my stomach today. I know I won’t see him there, but for me the ghost of that meeting will always linger in the departure lounge.

I found a few old picture of him and spent twenty minutes sitting on the bed staring at the face of the only man to have broken my heart. I didn’t know I was crying until a tear slid off my chin and landed on my hand that was holding one of the photos. It was of us at the temple of the golden Buddha, an American tourist had taken on my camera three days before I went looking for him and found heart-break.


I’d expected some parent type resistance when I announced one Sunday after church in early June, as we sat down to lunch in the garden that I wanted to take a year out and travel the world before going to university. But both my parents smiled, nodded and said almost in unison, “That’s a good idea, dear,” as if they’d been pre-warned, and had been practicing the correct response.

“When do you want to leave?” asked my mother, gently stirring the Greek salad with a wooden ladle.
“After the exams,” I replied.
“How soon after,” she continued, with what seemed indecent haste.
“Err…sometime between July and August, I suppose,” I answered vaguely.
My father nodded his assent, as if he’d just agreed to buy a second-hand car from a deaf mute.

I felt a little cheated. I’d pre-prepared my reasons for when they shook their heads and came out with objections and arguments about why I shouldn’t postpone taking up my place at university. This easy capitulation knocked me sideways.

Planning was my mother’s forte; “Got to have a plan to decorate the house.”; “Got to have a plan for this year, or it will be gone before we know it, and we will have done nothing.”
Needless to say all her children were planned well in advance, and delivered on time with the minimum of fuss.

Almost before the plates had been cleared away, she’d got out the atlas and was tracing a path across the globe. Paris; Barcelona; Rome; Milan; Bangkok; Vietnam; Bali; Melbourne…… “And on the way back you can visit your aunt in California,” she said, stabbing the page with her finger-nail. “We haven’t met her new husband yet. She was always one for the men. This is her third, you know. But then they do things a little differently in America. They don’t believe in ‘for better for worse’ the way we do. If it’s not better all the time then you just get a divorce and find a new one.”

That was the other thing about my mother, she had an opinion on everything and wasn’t afraid to voice it. Even if it was about the Priest, who, she held, had too much money and was addicted to fine wines and rent boys. That didn’t stop her smiling at him every Sunday and mouthing on about how fine a service it had been.

Once he’d finished stacking the dish-washer my father wondered in, looked over mother’s shoulder, as she compiled a list of all the things that had to be done, nodded and then retreated to his study. His after lunch nap was an accepted and never to be interrupted tradition. When I was younger there had been a different Sunday afternoon tradition; I’d often be sent out to play with Anna and Patricia, while they disappeared into their bedroom together. They never knew about the one time I went back into the house to fetch something I’d forgotten– mother it turned out was a screamer and a blasphemer.

By early July everything had been arranged; flights booked, currency and travellers-cheques obtained; rucksack packed; itinerary planned down to the last detail.

They both came to the airport for the early morning flight on the twenty-ninth, seeing me safely checked in, and waving me off as I walked through passport control and temporarily out of their lives.

First stop Paris….