Germany would have been the safer choice, but safety didn't worry me. I was preoccupied by independence. I trusted my sense of responsibility, even if I sometimes made emotional choices instead of logical ones -- and sometimes they were wrong.
If I really wanted to become a translator, Spanish or French would have been a more practical choice than Italian. But everyone took Spanish, and I didn't feel connected to French. My fas-cination with Italian culture went back to middle school, when I studied Latin and learned about Roman and Italian history. I loved Italy even more when I was fourteen and saw it close up, on a two-week trip with my mom and her family. My Oma, aunts, uncles, stepdad, Deanna, and I piled into two minivans and drove through Germany and Austria to visit relatives and celebrate Oktoberfest in Munich before heading south into Italy, to see Pisa, Rome, Naples, Pompeii, and the Amalfi Coast. The history I'd studied became real when we visited the Coliseum and the ruins of Pompeii. I remember pointing out things to my family and babbling about factoids I'd stored away, so much so that they nicknamed me "the tour guide." I was charmed by the narrow, cobblestone streets and the buildings rooted into the earth that were so different from what I was used to in Seattle. It was a month and a half after 9/11, and all the Italians we met were warm and sympathetic. I came away thinking Italy was a welcoming, culturally and historically rich country.
As a sophomore in college, I signed up for Italian 101. Then, when I found out that the University of Washington hosted a summer creative writing program in Rome, taught in Italian, it felt like kismet. It combined everything I was looking for. Step one was to master Italian and immerse myself in the culture for nine months in tiny Perugia. Then I'd be ready to take on Rome in June.
Now I had to convince my dad. He's a linear thinker who works in finance. He's into numbers and planning. As practical and organized as he is, he'd have a lot of questions. So I approached him armed preemptively with the answers.
I also had another mission when I'd set up the two-parent lunch. I wanted to show my dad that I loved him and my mom equally. While I was asking him to trust me in Perugia, I was also asking to be forgiven.
During my first two years in college, I'd gotten better at seeing things from other people's perspectives. I started mentally cataloguing the times I'd been selfish. A big one was how I'd treated Dad when I was a teenager.
Growing up, I officially spent every other weekend with him. Dad wasn't a micro-parent; he left all the day-to-day details to my mom. When I had a decision to make I turned to her. She would lay out the options and encourage me to make the choice myself. Dad wasn't part of the process.
The house he shared with his second wife, Cassandra, was theirs, not mine. When my half sisters, Ashley and Delaney, were born, Deanna and I were relocated from our shared bedroom in that house to pullout couches in the playroom. My real home was the one with my room, my sister, my mom, and her second husband, Chris. That's where I felt most myself. Mom let us wear whatever we wanted and build forts in the backyard. On rainy days, it was Deanna's and my job to redirect the lost slugs that pilgrimaged into the dining room beneath the back-door. Dad required us to use drink coasters, arrange the movie cassettes and CDs in alphabetical order, and wear matching outfits.