‘You are whatever a moon has always meant, and whatever a sun will always sing’
- E.E. Cummings
As the scorching sun slowly rose over Verona, there was a feeling in the air that signalled the last days of summer, and as I looked out over the shimmering morning river I thought of all the love I’d witnessed over the passing months.
I thought of the couples scattered along the Prague river-banks as they gratefully watched the sunrise, and of the teenagers sharing their final kiss as it set in the Swiss Alps; I thought of the love locks as they glistened in the morning sun along the Hohenzollern Bridge, and of the five-thousand strong crowd singing I Will Always Love You as they welcomed the twilight hours in Frankfurt; and I thought of the love messages beautifully crafted on my hotel room wall in Rome, and of the love and warmth I felt from two of my oldest friends in Vienna.
But most of all I thought of my best friend, and how we bobbed up and down in the warmth of the Mediterranean, laughing in the face of homelessness and joblessness, as we planned this very trip. We’d agreed to let the city inspire us with its picturesque winding streets; we’d promised to visit Juliet’s house, to grab her boob for luck, and to write her romantic letters; and we’d vowed to go to the opera to take in all the emotions and to let the music fill our hearts.
It was the perfect plan but somewhere along the lines life got in the way and I wound up here on my own- it was like going on the honeymoon alone after being left at the alter, it didn’t feel right, and there wasn’t a moment spent where I didn’t think of her.
So when I came to write my letter to Juliet, I knew exactly what I wanted to say. I’d seen enough love this summer to last me a life-time, and so instead I penned a letter on my friend’s behalf. I began by scribbling down quotes from her favourite poems, books, and love songs, and then implored Juliet to take care of her, like she had taken care of me.
Before long I had a double-sided three page letter but still it wasn’t finished. I had so much more to say, to ask, to give. I thought of the long list of boys I’d kissed in the past year, and wished them all a lifetime of love and happiness, too. The German who taught me to love the world; the Italian who stood me up; the American who stripped me in a church; the English boy who thought I had AIDS; every boy I’d had a crush on; every boy who I’d looked up and down in the street; and every boy who’d made my heart thump wildly in my chest.
And when the letter was finally finished, I waited until the masses of tourists had scattered, clutched the letter tightly in my hands, closed my eyes, believed as I pushed it into Juliet’s letter box, and left for the opera.
I reached out for my best friend’s hand as I stepped out into the amphitheatre and took in the spectacular view of a thousand flickering candles wrapped in the shroud of the starry night sky. I sat down on the stone steps and watched the show with awe, the magnificent costumes, the heartfelt arias, the striking music, it was all so beautiful, even the bats that circled the orchestra looked dazzling as they glid through the spotlights before vanishing into the waking darkness.
I felt my friend clutch my hand as the protagonist discovered her dying lover and let out the song of a thousand years of heartbreak. My lungs swelled until my stomach burst, my mind opened, and my heart soared free, and as the fat lady sang and leapt to her death, with her, she took a small part of me. The elderly couple to my left clung to each other as they relived their own heartbreaks, and the teenage couple to my right dried their tears as they imagined what it would be like to lose one another. There were no words to describe what I felt, and as the crowd burst into rapturous applause and rose to their feet to deliver their standing ovation, I stayed frozen in my seat, wordless, speechless, breathless.
I stepped out into the bustling square, sucked in the late summer air and let everything concrete itself in my memory whilst thinking of my friend- she’d been with me every step of the way, and without her none of this would have been possible. And so when a beautiful Italian boy pushed through the crowd towards me and invited me to come for a drink, I politely refused, telling him that I was enjoying spending the evening alone.
Except I wasn’t on my own, my friend had always been right there beside me, tightly clutching my hand.