Monday, December 15, 2014

The Big Three O

A friend of mine recently celebrated a milestone birthday and took the opportunity to recollect all the defining events of her past decade. Having recently turned thirty myself, it got me thinking. Where was I ten years ago? What did I do with my twenties? A lot happened to me; maybe more so than for my teens.

Ten years ago this fall I was returning to college--skinny, muscular, and tan, and with not a few internal parasites, I'm sure. I had spent part of the summer in Banica, Dominican Republic, where a sister-parish of the Catholic Diocese of Arlington hosted me and several other students. It was supposedly a "mission trip," and while we were eager workers, we were but skill-less college students. The experience certainly benefited ourselves more than any Dominicans, unless the general spreading of goodwill counts for something.  We lived with local families, learned Spanish, built horribly rickety church pews, and poured cement for a widower's new home. We developed dysentery and a taste for goat meat.  I am almost certain I have never had as much fun as I did in the D.R.

Deacon Joseph: one badass carpenter. At least somebody knew what he was doing.

wash day in the Rio Artibonito

also in the river . . .

the local wildlife kept even nighttime outhouse trips . . . exciting

with my host family, Arturo and Maria

The power was out again in Banica.
Hitch hiking to Las Matas for cold beer and ice cream.
Stopping at our driver's goat farm. 

In the dorms that year I was a resident assistant--a pretty bad one. My intentions were good, but you know you've got a problem when you earn a reputation for being the strictest dress code enforcer on campus (in the most conservative Catholic college in all the land no less.) Hemline Gestapo I was, though personally I found the dress code too severe. Forgive me, girls. I was young, stupid, and really wanted to make things fair. It didn't seem right that some should get away with breaking the rules while others were making hard effort to comply. Call me Javert.

Anyway, there are about four things in life that I regret to the point of pain. Being that kind of R.A. is one of them.

Over Christmas break I spent time with my sisters and our good friends, the Kane sisters. Ryan spent New Year's Eve with us at a family party. I couldn't quite figure out why he stuck around. I was pretty sure he was out of my league, and surely someone as cool as he would have more exciting places to ring in the new year? While on preciously short leave, no less. In retrospect, I can only liken it to Elizabeth's bewilderment when Mr. Darcy keeps calling on her and Charlotte while she stays with the Collinses. (Sorry. I just finished reading Pride & Prejudice.)

We split paths early 2005. Ryan was deployed to Iraq.  I joined about twenty classmates in Rome for a semester abroad. It was rich, rich, rich. I had been to Rome twice before as part of a youth group, but never for more than a week or so. Having three months to live in the city was simply unparalleled.

Somewhere along the Appian Way, I think

Some of the best parts of the city are underground

Ancient latrines in . . . Ostia Antica?

I can't remember who this commemorated woman was,
but she was cradling a baby, riding horseback, and firing a pistol. What a badass.

Joannie demonstrates the proper way to launder in a bidet

St Peter's in Chains.
I'm skeptical whenever I hear of relics from the Old Testament (it's the thought that counts, right?)
but they say there are remains of the Maccabee brothers here.

It's Hanukkah time. Read that book. Those fellas were hardcore m*f*'ers.

Big sis came to visit me and we made day trips to Perugia and Siena
Twilight in Perugia

Joan was one of the best roommates ever

Trip to Florence. Stayed in a convent school. View from our window.

Cara goes for the magnum canned beer

There is a tradition of saying mass in forty of the oldest Roman churches for every day of lent. We spent many cold, dark mornings following Dr. Flippen to all the ancient station churches for early mass before returning to our boarding house for lectures. I swear there is a church on every block in Rome. Quite a few are desolate. Many are baroque ad nauseam. Others are just absolute treasures, whether in quaintness, age, or majesty. And more numerous than the churches are the saints' relics. There are graves, tombs, bodies, limbs, and severed digits everywhere. I don't want to be anywhere near the place for the Second Coming. Anyhow, it was a great way to learn the city little by little, especially the places away from the usual tourist traps.

Was this when we went to Montecassino? It was frigid.


Spent the week before Easter in Assisi

This little alleyway had its own street name! Love that town.
We were gifted in a particular way by being in Rome for the last days of John Paul II. I spent Easter morning in Saint Peter's Square wearing a lime green windbreaker jacket and red rubber flip flops (it was pouring rain and I didn't want to soak my shoes), and, in high Christian fashion, fighting for elbow room. That rain simply had to go somewhere, and people were packed in more closely than the expansion of their umbrellas. Everyone was jostling to avoid being in someone else's watershed.

My best friends and I visited Paris later that week. As frail as JP2 had looked for Easter mass, we were still shocked to learn of his death the following Saturday. Rome had become home for us, but there we were in France, watching television, and seeing all these other kids keep vigil outside his window in Saint Peter's Square.

Sacré-Cœur basilica in Montmatre: There is such a tangible presence here

behind Notre Dame

Picnic and the best white wine I've ever tasted

We had a wonderful stay in Paris. Despite all the hyped-animosity between the Americans and the French at that time ("They're freedom fries, dammit!"), the Parisians were lovely and gracious to us.  It was also really nice to see young families again. Rome is full of old people.

Back in Rome, we were lucky enough to see John Paul II in state, attend his funeral, and witness the coronation mass of Benedict XVI. Then it was time to go home.

Line to get in St. Peters while JPII was lying in state

To make it inside the square for the funeral, got to the street the afternoon prior

Looks like a Chik-Fil-A was opening . . .

I graduated that spring and--recognising that an undergraduate degree in philosophy wouldn't pay the bills--immediately began working on prerequisites to nursing school. I moved home to Florida and cleaned kennels for my dad in between classes. Ryan came home. I was in love with him. I knew he felt for me. It was awkward and thrilling.

The next year we started dating, if you could call it that ; ) I began an intense, accelerated bachelor's program for nursing. He was deployed again to Iraq. My dad helped me keep a little apartment in downtown Mobile. I studied and sweated for nursing school (literally, I didn't run the a.c.), survived on daily mass and caffeine, and lived for Ryan's precious phone calls from his firm base in Ramadi. I can't begin to describe the frustration I felt when I missed one of his calls. Once I was actually out of clinicals, in my apartment, and within fifteen feet of my cell phone. But the windows were open, somebody was mowing the lawn, and I didn't hear the ringer. It was awful. I was furious.

In 2007 we got him back again, and I finished nursing school . . .

{Bubba is waking up from his nap. I'm going to pause this and come later.}


  1. Love this! I also love the way you turn a phrase: "We developed dysentery and a taste for goat meat. "

  2. Those pictures from Banica and Rome/Europe are amazing! Looking forward to part 2!


  3. So lovely reading this. Si much of it feels so recent. I have so many memories of listening to your post travel stories or visiting you in that lovely little apartment.

  4. As I'm reading this, I'm realizing we were in St. Peter's square for all of this wonderful and sad events at the same time, from Easter to Benedict. How crazy that would have been if we had run into each other. My friend and I were actually The last people in line to see JPII's resting place before they closed for Conclave.

  5. Ok. Humor me. I was 30 years old when I moved to Pensacola in 1987. You were three, going on four when I got there - and insisted you were 8.
    Enjoy your 30's.

  6. I can't believe I'm just finding this. My heart aches from these memories. We were so stinkin' lucky.
    To be that young, that carefree (and that tan and skinny - what was I doing in Rome?! Oh yeah, walking outside all the time).
    Oh, and the lady on the horse is Anna Garibaldi. And I still think of you when I see her.