"It's not at all what happened," she explained through tears, hardly touching her cappuccino. "I would never say such a thing."
I knew she wouldn't. I hadn't known her for a lifetime, but long enough. Being part of a minority in a foreign country has a way of making friendships develop quickly. I knew she was a woman who could be trusted, and she had been dealt a low blow.
It's easy to forget that human frailties exist even in a place as wonderful as Florence, Italy. It's easy to think that loss, heartache and deceit can't exist simultaneously with Michelangelo's sculptures or Brunelleschi's dome.
But, human nature is the same the world over. Difficult lessons are endured even under the magnificent light of a Florentine sunset.
When the initial indignation is over, and you have been wrongly hung out to dry in the Italian sunshine (or anywhere else, for that matter), what do you do about it?
That was her question, and I have to admit, it took me from my cappuccino to wanting a caffe corretto, as the Italians call a coffee with a shot of grappa. It's a tough one.
I have spent a lot of time thinking about deceit and betrayal lately, and just what it is that you are supposed to do when it happens. I offer an answer that may seem cowardly to some. But it's the only answer that makes sense to me.
I think you just take it.
You may want to tell a small circle of people (and I am talking less than you can count on one hand) your version of the story, and then, I think, you say nothing.
You simply allow your life do the talking.
Yes, it's painful. Yes, you want to climb up the Campanile and shout out to the world (or at least those within range of the Duomo) that it's all a big, fat lie. But to what end?
"Thou doth protest too much," rings in most people's ears.
Once it became clear her cappuccino was cold, and not likely to be consumed, I suggested we take a walk. The Arno River does have some magical healing powers, perhaps due to the spectacular light reflected from the sky.
I imagined, as we walked, the thousands upon thousands who had gazed down at the reflections in the river below us. How many of them had walked this path in an effort to alleviate some personal heartache? Had human existence always held the same type of painful experiences?
"There could be worse views," I pointed out, in my best Pollyanna impression. We looked toward the familiar outline of Ponte Vecchio, and over to the Uffizi Gallery.
Betrayal and loss are painful no matter where you live.
There is no magical place where the grief evaporates instantly, even Italy! The saying, "Wherever you go, there you are," is stunningly clear when you are in pain.
How you heal is as individual as you are.
Some people heal by talking with a trusted friend or counselor, by sharing. Some people, like me, heal best with time alone.
Italy was where I came to do my healing. Twice.
I arrived alone both times and trusted that the ancient city of Florence would gently hold me in her arms until I found my mojo again. She did just that.
I have chased out demons by running up the hundreds of stairs to San Miniato, and collapsing on a prayer bench. I've walked through the Medici Chapels choking back tears, and gazed at the exquisite beauty of Michelangelo's Dawn and Dusk. I've sat in the Accademia for hours just to look at The David, undisturbed and unrushed. And, ultimately, I found a way to breathe again.
But first, I had to know myself, and how I heal. For me, it had to be time alone.
Grief needs to be processed to be released, and the timetable is one's own.
How to advance to the next step is own's own journey, and not subject to someone else's schedule. Emotions that are stuffed down, ignored or put on the back burner for a more convenient time, tend to rear their ugly head again. Best to process them completely, taking however long is necessary.
Elizabeth Kubler-Ross outlined the five stages of grief in 1969, in her revolutionary and widely praised thesis. The phases: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance , are universal. The time we spend on each one, and even the order can vary. Each situation of grief is as individual as the person experiencing it.
We met for dinner tonight at a favorite trattoria. My friend, fresh from the wounds of betrayal, and four others, gathered around steaming plates of pasta, carafes of red wine, and rounds of feminine laughter. The healing had begun.