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National Editorials & Columns

Gold nuggets of wisdom

In the months that followed college graduation, I bought a one-way plane ticket, leaving behind a boyfriend and the looming question of whether it was time to move in together or move on from each other.

Hoofing around Europe was the perfect distraction from all the things I was too afraid to face: my future, my relationship, my career — myself. The months gave way to the illusion that I could escape them forever.

That’s when I met Giovanni.

Sicily is home to active volcanoes. Hardened black magma coats the coastline, acting as a constant reminder that we are never safe from what is boiling under the surface.

I first saw Giovanni when I stepped off the ferry into a rainy night on the Italian island. He was cheerfully busking, playing his violin. I averted eye contact and began my 2-mile trek through a torrential downpour toward my hostel. When I arrived in my room, there he was again — my new bunkmate.

Cold, tired, dripping wet and irritated to be sharing my room with a homeless man, I behaved decidedly aloof. But Giovanni was impossible to ignore.

A Persian Parisian, Giovanni moved from Iran to Paris when he was 10. A dozen years later, he moved to Texas to make his fortune and fell head over stirrups for a cowgirl. He loved her, married her, worshipped her, was cuckolded by her and divorced her. It was then, Giovanni admitted, that he went a little crazy.

“Now I’m a troubadour,” he said, showing me pages of stamps in his passport. “I go where the music takes me. I play my violin, and I make people smile.”

“But you’re homeless.”

“Earth is my home. When it’s warm, I listen to her crashing waves and fall asleep on her sands.”

“And when it’s cold?”

“I come inside and meet pleasant folks like you.” And he winked.

In no time, I was living in Giovanni-land. We danced in the salted sea mist. Forged through fog toward mountaintops. Broke in to a five-star hotel at midnight and played music in the courtyard as guards chased us around.

Days of laughter spilled into weeks. “You know what your problem is?” Giovanni asked one night while we were taking a moonlit walk, inspecting the burnt sands of the island. “You’re so focused on this,” he said as he picked up a volcanic rock and handed it to me, “you’re forgetting to show the world this.” Giovanni turned my hand over, exposing the bright red underbelly of the rock. “Don’t hide your colors, princess.”

I looked at him, awestruck. Speechless.

“Come. Let’s make some people smile.” And he winked.

It was the night before St. Nicholas Day. Giovanni and I spent the early hours before dawn spraying rocks with gold paint and leaving them on doorsteps for children to find in the morning. Sun was breaking as we completed our deliveries.

When I woke, Giovanni wasn’t in the bunk below mine. I went to our meeting spot and watched little children dancing with delight upon discovering their golden gifts.

Giovanni never showed up, and I kinda knew he wouldn’t. He was like the gold nuggets we had delivered. Everything that shone and glistened was just a thin coat hiding a black, hardened core. Giovanni was spontaneous and fun, but his every action was simply a reaction to a heart broken, to a soul lost. He, too, did not know what was coming next in his life. The only real difference between Giovanni and me was that I had a home waiting for me.

It was time to book my return flight.

Walking toward the Internet cafe, I flipped the rock Giovanni had given me in my hand as one would a two-sided coin, looking to it for guidance on whether I should risk my heart, take a chance and move in with my boyfriend (the man who has since become my husband and the father of my child). The rock flipped from red to black. From black to red. To red. Red. Red. Red. Red. Red.

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