The morning is misty and calm and we are the only people on the trail. Omri and I idle a while taking pictures. We listen to music and stroll. Nowhere to be but here. The hike is pleasant and cool. I stop to put on an extra t-shirt I bought in Manarola with an illustration of a wine bottle and a fish on the front, a reminder of one of the best meals and evenings I have ever tasted. I wander like a child building chains made of little purple flowers, stringing them around my neck like I used to do on the playground in elementary school.
We come upon a sign that say “beach” with an arrow pointing down and we instinctively follow it down a muddy cliffside. We slip and slide grasping vines in our fists for support but after a while we give up, realizing we may never get back up the side of the mountain once we make it down. We climb back up laughing and covered in mud and scratches.
Soon enough we can see Varnazza, though it is different seeing it from this angle. On our last trip to Cinque Terre we started from Vernazza and hiked toward Monterosso. We pass another steel railing where lovers have attached locks with their initials carved into them. One even says “Jen” on it. I brush away the feelings stirring between my ribs and take a photo of the town below.
In Vernazza things are familiar but different. We check into a beautiful room for the night and drop our things. We sit on the rocks by the sea, eating fried calamari from paper cones. Monica goes to the room for a nap and I sit on the rocks and write a while. Omri finds wifi and confirms dinner plans with our teacher Chris for the evening. I buy a t-shirt in a little shop that says “just beachy” on the front in pink and green for M. I’m thinking about her on a beach somewhere on the other side of the world. Wondering what she is thinking and feeling and doing.
Back in the room Omri falls asleep and Charlie and I take turns showering. I wash my hiking clothes in the sink and hang everything from the clothes pins outside the window. We meet Chris outside at dinner time. She is cloaked in a yellow poncho. She has just made the hike from Monterosso to Vernazza. She greats us with a big smile and once again I am awed by her courageous spirit. She has come here alone. Eileen is staying in Florence for a reading. I’m a little disappointed but I understand. I was hoping to get a little extra time with her since I don’t have her as a teacher–she teaches the poetry students. I am thrilled that Chris decided to come regardless.
We settle in at a table at a restaurant outside overlooking the water and she removes her poncho and is neatly dressed underneath in a button down and sweater without a single wrinkle. I can’t help wondering how she managed this. We order a pizza, bruschetta, gnocchi. We gobble the meal and sip house wine and I hog Chris, asking every question I can think of. I feel like an eager kid hoping to impress an estranged parent who hasn’t witnessed my upbringing. I tell her that Mercer Street has decided to publish my essay “Repairer” on the life and art of Louise Bourgeois. I almost choke when Chris tells me she worked for the artist in New York when she was young. I feel insanely stupid. I have just wasted time telling her what little I know about a person I learned about on the internet, not realizing she knew her personally. Now the conversation shifts and I wish I had known this before I submitted the essay so that I could include first hand information on the sculptress. Chris apparently had the job of making deliveries for her, carrying works with her on her bike, transporting things from Louise’s crowded art-filled apartment in Chelsea to different galleries. I feel a little starstruck hearing about all of this, longing to be a part of the nerve that runs through New York City and connects all of these talented individuals. Chris is dainty in the way she describes these things, they roll out like nothing, just another day in her life. Tonight she is thrilled to be drinking house wine with us in Vernazza, watching the sun set on the water and hearing about our lives.
When the bill comes, she puts some bills into the check presenter and leaves as quickly as she appeared. She needs to make the train back to Monterosso. We say goodnight and stay a little while at the table, though it feels a little lonely now. It’s the four of us again. We head to a bar and order wine and sit a while and then wander out to the seaside and sit along the water. We spend most of the night there talking. About life. About family. About love. About loss. About marriage. Occasionally Charlie disappears and reappears with a fresh gin and tonic that we all share. We go back to our room and the four of sit on the bed and play two truths and a lie–a game where each person takes a turn telling two truths and one lie and everyone has to figure out which one is the lie. The game takes a sharp turn when we start using it as an outlet for our secret hurts, the things we want each other to know but could never expose in everyday conversation. It becomes a confession of sorts, the burdens that haunt us spewing from our mouths faster than we can catch and swallow them. We realize the indelible act we have committed and the secrets hang in the air like a fog. We stop the game. I’m sure it was me who took it all too far. I always do. But some things have to be released into the wild or they tear at your guts. None of us really know how to come back from the weight that has entered the room. We decide to go to bed, a little more understanding of one another, of the pregnant pauses we have all taken on the trail, but without words to make the other’s load lighter.
In the morning we eat at a cafe where we watch an argument between the owner and some customers who have ordered coffee and are eating bread they bought elsewhere. He is enraged by this. We can understand. We giggle and nod in his direction, aligning ourselves with his side of the argument. He apologizes for his behavior as he brushes crumbs from our table and moves to put the tables and chairs back into their original formation–the way they were before the eight tourists moved them together to sit and eat their enemy bread. They are still hovering nearby like unwanted birds wondering what they did wrong and talking to each other in a language we can’t understand. We stay a while but this morning there is no wifi and none of us are bothered by it. We relax.
We sit in a little cove for most of the day reading and watching the clouds. When we feel ready we embark on our final hike. A familiar hike. Today we will retrace the steps we took last weekend when we hiked from Vernazza to Monterosso and there seems to be a quiet sadness in the knowing that tonight our journey will end.