Everyone knew. Though I hadn’t told anyone, I could tell by the way they treated me. The sympathetic looks, the “you go, girl!” smiles, the affirming grips on the forearm all told me they understood why I was going to Venice alone, and they wholeheartedly approved. Not that I needed anyone’s approval, and damned if I didn’t want everyone at the church knowing my private business. Women have a sixth sense about break-ups, though, especially when the relationship in question goes as far as a scheduled wedding date and a pre-booked honeymoon to Italy. Gossip and speculation, especially in a concentrated pool of church women, are inevitable.
My mother encouraged me to cancel the trip, get my money back. “Honey, if you just explain the situation, I’m sure the agency will refund the full amount!” she pleaded. “You can’t go alone!”
I nodded and told her I’d try, but the truth is, I didn’t really try. No, scratch that – I didn’t try at all.
The first night here, I stood on the Rialto Bridge, staring at the lovers in the gondolas and thinking “What the fuck am I doing here?” I didn’t cry, but I was angrier than I’d been since it happened. It felt good. I got piss-drunk on table wine that night, and stumbled back to my honeymoon suite feeling vindicated.
“I don’t need him,” I slurred to the hotel receptionist, who nodded and said, “Buonanotte, signorina!” so cheerfully I snorted laughter before tripping and nearly knocking over the vase on the table in the center of the lobby.
When I awoke the next morning, my head was pounding and my mouth felt like it had grown a fur pelt. After a long, hot shower and about twelve little bathroom cups full of water, I dressed and went out in search of hot coffee and pastries.
Sipping my espresso and nibbling cautiously on cornetti, I sat at a little cafe overlooking the Grand Canal and tried to make sense of anything. The tension that I thought I’d left behind on the bridge last night had returned full force, with the depression hand in hand. I had failed. I was a failure. I failed Rick, I failed my family, I had failed my marriage before it even began.
As I took another bite of the pastry, I found I couldn’t swallow it because a lump had formed in my throat before the tears welled up. What kind of loser can’t even get her man to the altar? What had I done so horribly wrong that he never wanted to see me again? He threw it all away – and for what?
I dabbed my eyes with the paper napkin, left a couple of euros on the table and wove my way back through the restaurant to the street. The worst part about the whole thing was everyone knowing the whole story, but saying nothing to me. Just the empty sympathy in their eyes, their inability to smile at me with anything but pity. The way they still patted him on the back on Sundays, welcomed him with a hearty handshake, while I looked on from the back row in tears. It was too much.
So now, here I am, sitting on a bench in the Doge’s Palace, surrounded by statues and portraits. I don’t even remember how I got here, like I just wandered here in a heartbreak blackout. I look around the room as if I haven’t been sitting here for the past twenty minutes, and take in the solemn religious figures. The Virgin Mary is heavily represented, in varying degrees of beauty and solemnity.
One of the pale versions of her appears to look directly at me. I have a stare-down with Mary. I’m gradually starting to feet that she gets it. She knows about heartbreak. She isn’t about to offer me false sympathy or platitudes.
Maybe that’s why I’m here. So that a random sculpture four thousand miles away can make me feel less alone than the roomful of people at home who know everything.