Looking into the deep, turquoise water, I could think only of how desperate I was to hold on to the moment. The warm air was running through my hair, and the diamond-like sparkles that danced on the waves assured me that every moment before this one would seem less magical, even if slightly so. I secretly wished to bottle the sea and print the experience, frame-by-gorgeous-frame. That, of course, was an impossibility, so I conceded to do what I had been taught to do during the nine days prior, which was to simply experience the moment and appreciate it for what it was: a gift, one that I had given myself.
My journey to Italy started out as a top-of-the-bucket-list dream that I was never quite sure I would cross off. I was set to live in Florence my junior year of college, but young love blinded me and I stayed in DC. When I met the man I was sure I would spend the rest of my life with, we decided it would be our honeymoon, and spent six years saving up 140,000 American Express points to make the trip an easier one.
We spoke of the trip often and talked about different things we would do, even thinking of running off and eloping in Ravello. But over time, the engagement ring lost its sparkle and was eventually tucked away into the jewelry box indefinitely. Our plan to spend "forever" together was aborted, and with it also went those involving snorkeling in the Amalfi Coast.
And so the points sat on the computer screen, taunting me every time I logged in to check the balance I was accruing as a newly single woman. Occasionally, I would mention Italy, and he would tell me to use the points and go. I had been the one to leave him and yet those words stung. In my mind, cashing them in meant the honeymoon was over. That was a thought I was not all that ready to deal with. Holding on to the points was holding on to a dream that my mind knew wasn't going to come true, but my heart wouldn't listen.
I was perfectly content in my discontent until all hell broke loose. Sometime in 2009, I logged on to a website called Future Me and confessed several wishes I had for myself in a personalized letter.
"Dear Brenda," I wrote me. "I hope by now that you have finally seen Italy and Spain and are not just talking about it. I also hope that you are in a better place with him or are single and happy." Well, I had not seen Italy nor Spain, and any bit of happiness I was feeling was punched out of my gut by that damn email. I started to panic. What was I doing? I had written this email two years ago after talking and dreaming for decades about the same damn thing. I ached to star in La Dolce Vita but was a bit player in Groundhog Day.
I decided to book my ticket then and there. I called him to share the news. "I am so happy for you," he said without an ounce of melancholy.
He was happy for me. I was, too. Kind of. "Will you watch the dog?" I asked. "Yes," he responded.
It was a done deal. I was going to Rome.
Wait, I was going to Rome!
Daydreams started to spin in my head, and I looked up at the photo of Positano that had sat at my desk for five years. I dialed Amex Travel.
"Are you ready, Ms. Della Casa?" asked the travel agent.
I was. I sat in a brilliant tornado of excitement, sadness, hope, terror, joy, and heartache as she booked my flight to a place I had never been -- without the person I was sure I would go with.
Several months later, I found myself on a plane with a new friend, off to Rome to meet future me. My plan was simple -- I would see everything, twirl decadent bites of pasta, possibly steal a kiss under an Italian moon, and never order a cappuccino after 11:00 a.m. And I did all of that.
I also stood before David, climbed 463 steps in Florence, wore my first pair of flats in the Colosseum, prayed before St. Peter, and bought the best bottle of wine I have ever tasted (for four euros). Now, before we go too far, I want to make it clear that this isn't Eat, Pray, Love, and the only eventful thing that happened under the Tuscan sun was being kicked out of business class after a man posing as a train operator took my bags, a tip, and the opportunity to sit me down in the wrong seat. Whoops.
The real movie-worthy moment came about as I stood upon a hilltop, thousands of feet above a cliff, and danced on a small ledge before walking down to the marina to catch the boat to Capri. You see, I have had a terrible fear of heights since I was a child, but here I was laughing in the face of vertigo. It occurred to me that I was not the least bit afraid, not of the ledge or of life. "Oh my God," I said to my friend. "I literally have no fear right now."
She simply laughed, not understanding me.
We walked down to the ferry, which took me to a small boat named "True Love" (seriously), and I spent two hours living out one of my greatest fantasies. It was a profound experience for a woman who had so much but had somehow convinced herself that she would always have not. I realized at that moment that I was the one who decided which dreams would and would not come true. I chose how much joy and Mediterranean saltwater I would taste.
The following day, I said goodbye to Italy and hello to the rest of my life.
For more by Brenda Della Casa, click here.
For more on becoming fearless, click here.