Friends

ITALY: AN ESCAPE WITHIN AN ESCAPE

I stood at the top of the escalators and peered down. I had two suitcases, two holdalls, a handbag and a huge plastic bag full of wrapped Christmas presents.

How was I going to get down the escalators with all of this stuff?

I was shaking with nerves and apprehension. It was Christmas Eve 2011 and my life in Italy had just come crashing down and I was having to return to London with all of my belongings at once. Panic rushed over me as rooted through my holdall.

Great. I had just left my £600 SLR camera behind too.

I had no money, no working phone, nothing to come back home to and I had just lost my uninsured ridiculously expensive camera.
Could this get any worse?

The whole of 2011 had been an entire whirlwind. Its gonna take me a very long time to be able to write about all my experiences from that one incredible year. But eventually I will get there. I had just returned from travelling Indonesia and had a job lined up in Trento, Northern Italy. It was an au pair position, with English tutoring for a family of 4 children, all under the age of 10. It was a well-paid position with numerous perks of job shall we say. This family was offering me 100 Euro a week, all food expenses paid for and a fully furnished all bills paid for apartment in the middle of the city. Honestly, who would turn that down? The family were desperate to find an English girl to speak to their children and not someone who spoke English with a heavy accent. I had seen pictures of the children and had an awkward phone call with the mother, Anna. I was set to go.

As you may be aware by now, I like to make snap decisions. I don’t always think about things but I like to kid myself that I’ve thought everything through and it will all work out in the end. I thrive on making spontaneous choices, they don’t always work out but breaking free from my so called comfort zone is what I do best. I honestly thought this would be the best way to shock a few people yet again and embark on another adventure.

What I soon learnt was that this was just another attempt to run away from my life at home. It was just another attempt to go and find my “reality” elsewhere and forge a new life. Could I have a shot of happiness out in Italy? I thought I might as well give it ago. The struggles and misery that my home life gave me was just another push to go and seek more adventure. After all, I knew it would give me some sort of temporary happiness along the way that I could do something with.

I know I’ll never be truly happy. As heart-breaking as that may sound to some, I know I’ll never be totally satisfied with everything that I’ve managed to achieve or where I am in my life. Knowing that I’ll always want to do better brings me a slightly warped sense of comfort.

Okay, okay so back to the story.
I landed in Venice on the 2nd of September 2011. I collected my suitcase, took a deep breath and walked out in arrivals. Here I was going to meet Anna and two of the children. What a daunting prospect.
As soon as I walked out I immediately locked eyes with Anna. She ran over to me, gave me a slightly shall we say cold hug and introduced me to Luciana and Rosa. They looked at me with a pained expression and said Hello.I was bundled into their car and we set off. I was due to stay in Jesolo, Venice for two weeks with the family at their summer house. The family spent their entire summers out in Jesolo while the father stayed in Trento working.

I could tell Luciana was the chatty one. She asked me all sorts of questions on the journey and it was clear she had very good English and enjoyed talking to people. I immediately realised Rosa was in fact a little terror and within the first 15 minutes of meeting her she was causing all sorts of trouble.
We pulled up to these beautiful apartments. All glass fronted state of the art stuff. I sat quietly in the front seat; I had no idea what was going on. Anna jumped out and opened my door.

“This is your home”
WAIT. WHAT.

My summer home was a brand new million pound complex of apartments on the beach with two swimming pools. I nearly cried with excitement, I couldn’t have even cared less about the family or the job really. As I lugged my suitcase up the stairs I peered in. I had a huge lounge, two balconies, two bedrooms, state of the art shower and plasma on the wall. Man, this shit was fucking crazy.
That evening after I had settled in, I was picked up by Anna and walked down to their own apartment where they were staying. The beach was stunning and the sunset just breath-taking. I couldn’t believe I was here. I was greeted by the family. This included Elizabeth (10), Luciana (8), Rosa (6) and Alessandro (4) and Nonna (probably about 90, Italians don’t age). Nonna didn’t speak a word of English. She didn’t even try. The children looked at me pretty puzzled and came across and shy and tired. We ate the most delicious pasta discussing my life in broken English and me wondering exactly how I ended up here.

My first few days In Italy were a nightmare. I was told by Tiziana that I was required to work all day during the summer and English tutor, put them to bed etc. It was boiling hot and we spent every single day on the beach. Most adults will know that children can quite easily entertain themselves on the beach, and to be quite honest I felt under pressure and on edge. I didn’t really know what to do with myself. I t was quite obvious that the children weren’t really that keen on me, speaking English or learning English. Little did I know how much of a problem this would eventually become.

I spent my days on the beach tanning, sitting in silence with Nonna and the children barely speaking to me. We had a few moments playing games which they enjoyed greatly and I felt a connection, like the connection I usually have with children. Difference is, I was used to teaching and looking after underprivileged children and not spoilt brats.

I had weekends and evenings off, in which I spent the entire time by myself. It was a lonely existence, enough to make you go pretty mad and it echoed the lonely times I had spent in Honduras, unable to speak the language and not knowing my surroundings. I tried to venture out. I walked to the shops. I actually got lost for five hours on my first walk, I couldn’t understand the mental bus system, with no one to help me and I ended up cutting my foot and in floods of tears. Jesolo actually has the longest outdoor shopping district in Europe but it just wasn’t the same by myself. It’s famous for being a top Italian tourist destination, so there were pretty much no English speakers there. Perhaps I should have ventured in to Venice more to find travellers. In all honesty, I felt a little out of my depth here. I knew this was just summer. What was waiting for me in Trento? Maybe that was where my real Italian adventure would begin.

It was nearing the end of my two week stint. I was in the car with Tiziana, Nonna and the two youngest children. It was time to head to my new home. We pulled up to a small stone house. I peered out unimpressed after the summer’s CRIBS episode. I jumped out unaware that this was in fact Nonna’s house and we were stopping for lasagne.

Cut a long story short, my apartment was suited in a large square on the third floor right in the centre of the city. The family lived opposite and owned the whole top level of the block. It was a comfortable place, with a huge cosy bed and sofa area. I could see the mountains from my window in the morning and I could walk to the historical Piazza Duomo town square in 5 minutes. Maybe after all I could find some peace here?
I spent my days struggling with the children. I’d pick the two youngest up from school, attempt to walk them home and then spend hours being ignored by them. If they had homework they never wanted to speak to me and if they wanted to play a game it was always intentionally in Italian so I couldn’t understand and I’d lose. I started to notice serious aggression in all four of the children. They would intentionally hurt one another, physically and try to hurt me too. Once Rosa threw a wooden brick so hard in my face and laughed her head off. They used to pull my hair and try and slam doors in my face. It was a horrendous experience. I tried everything I possibly could to make fun activities for them, in English. They spoke fluently so it shouldn’t have been a problem, but I noticed they were sick of being forced to learn extra English when their friends didn’t. They would whisper behind my back genuinely be so mean. God, children really can be so cruel. I never blamed them once for their behaviour; I knew it was all down to their useless parents. Anna didn’t even work, she used to go off for lunch or to get her nails done and leave me with the children screaming and desperate for her attention. Sometimes Anna used to leave and I had to physically hold Alessandro down with him screaming and punching me because he was desperate to go with her. He blamed me, and at four he didn’t know any different. It took a good 2 hours to calm him down sometimes, after he’d smashed up his entire bedroom. He was then forced to take comfort with me, because Anna didn’t return until late and Emilio, his father was never there. The children were all so frustrated and had serious behavioural issues. They ran wild and took their aggression out on me. Sometimes Anna would have friends round, none of them would speak English and they spent their entire time bitching about me, I knew exactly what was going on. The children pretty much hated me through no fault of my own which was so hard to deal with. I thought I was failing.
I’d pick the children up from school and they would run away and hide from me. Alessandro would run in the road, in front of cars and locals would look at me like I was mad. I would be screaming in the streets desperate for the children not to get hurt or lost. They literally had no discipline whatsoever and the parents didn’t seem to care.

I soon learnt that children run the household in Italian families. Children are very treasured and are often put on a pedestal, which gives them the freedom to run completely wild. Dinner times consisted of all the children throwing their food around the table and everyone including the adults eating with their mouths wide open and me watching on in disgust. There was bad vibes all round. Hygiene was also particularly bad; the children refused to ever wash their hands and barely ever washed. Their hair and clothes stank. I will never understand how this was deemed acceptable. The children would argue with me telling me they never needed to wash their hair, and then cried when they were forced too, so Tiziana just gave up.
Once Anna told me I must be firmer with them. I must “shout” at them when they misbehaved. This is when I knew this woman had no idea how to be a mother. She really didn’t have a clue. I couldn’t understand how she didn’t notice the erratic behaviour in her children, and how Luciana beating Rosa with a wooden spoon so hard she screamed in pain was not acceptable behaviour.

I spent my evenings in tears. What was I doing here? I didn’t know what to do with myself. I had nothing here and felt as if I had nothing at home. I couldn’t do my job properly and I just sat in misery. I knew I was never going to give up though. Why would I? I’d been stubborn for 19 years; I wasn’t going to change anytime soon.

I took to the internet and scoured blogs, forums and Facebook. Holy shit internet really can save your life. I found a girl, Cristina from Spain who posted on a forum that she had just moved to Trento as an Au pair. We exchanged numbers and met the next week. Cristina was bubbly and full of life, exactly what I needed. It was amazing what abit of comfort could do for the soul.

Within the next few weeks, we make connections with a few more Au pairs in the area and created a Facebook group to connect us all together. Once you met one au pair I found that the group was ever expanding. Tiziana’s next door neighbour had also employed an English girl too who would be doing much of the same stuff as I, so we spent a lot of the time playing with the children together and taking them to the park. Life improved dramatically. We had a whole group of au pairs; Cristina, Sarah, Sara, Alex, Lucy, Charlotte and Erika and we took weekend trips to Verona, Bolzano and Austria. We stood on Juliet’s balcony, visited the Ice Man and knocked back jaegers and danced with a ton of Austrians in a Christmas hut. We had great times. These weekends were almost like an escape within an escape. This where the real adventure began, and this I knew was the reason why I was doing this in the first place.

Weekends were spent visiting all the local bars and strange clubs in the city, which were full of Italian students that paid us no interest whatsoever. Honestly I have never visited anywhere less welcoming. No one ever wanted to speak English and always looked down on us. Every weekend we got disgustingly drunk, drinking ourselves overboard on 2 Euro cartons of wine. I’m not quite sure if I could have been anymore obviously drowning my sorrows. I spent Sundays throwing up and feeling sorry for myself. One weekend it was a holiday so we had 4 days off. I got so drunk I ended up having a huge fight in the Cantinota club after an old man had groped me and I ended up throwing up for 2 days straight with severe alcohol poisoning.

By the time November came I returned to London for two weeks after the love of my life, my Grandma passed away. My Dad had called me and asked if I wanted to return as they knew it was the end. As the closest person to her there was no decision to be made. I was straight home and at my Grandma’s bedside. She had been completely unconscious until I arrived and managed to get through to her. She woke when I arrived, completely stimulated by my voice and turned around and said “you look beautiful darling”. My Grandma was completely and entirely unconscious for about a week and the only person that could get through was me. I spoke to her and cried for hours asking what would I do without her and I know she could hear me because she squeezed my hand, struggled to move and seemed noticeably distressed. I stayed at her bedside until she passed away in which I cried uncontrollably and disrupted much of the ward. I was completely and utterly devastated. I removed her wedding ring from her finger and put it on mine. It’s been there ever since.

After the funeral I made the entirely wrong decision to go back to Italy. I was deeply depressed and in a horrendous place. The last thing I should have done was to go back to being by myself. But I was too stubborn and I returned.

Life in Italy spiraled out of control to say the least. When I returned, if I wasn’t sleeping I was crying uncontrollably and if I wasn’t working I was drinking. My Au pair friends helped me out a lot. I relied on them as my only form of comfort. I never once saw anyone else form my building and I’m glad I didn’t, because they must of thought I was mad screaming and crying myself to sleep every night. It was an awful, awful time.
The children hated me even more, and Anna asked me why I hadn’t contacted the children when I was away in London. I asked her why she thought I would be asking about her children when I was watching my Grandma die and she looked at me in disgust. This woman was nothing.

She knew I was unhappy. I was unhappy. But I was too stubborn to leave.

It was a week and a half before Christmas. Anna called me into the kitchen. She confronted me as to what was wrong. She told me the children didn’t like me. This made me angry. I had tried so hard with her nightmare bunch of children and all they wanted was their parent’s attention. I told her exactly that. I also told her that they were badly behaved. She looked like she was going to kill me. She told me to be firmer with them and I told her I wanted to stay. I have no idea why.

Parents at the school stared at me. They whispered and gave me filthy looks. I have no idea what was being said about me.

Two days later I arrived at the flat and there was a horrendous atmosphere. Anna ordered the children to go upstairs and took me to one side. She started screaming at me. She told me that she wanted to know what was wrong with me and she had found my Facebook. I was so puzzled. Anna told me that she had seen a comment I had posted to a friend saying that the children were “an absolute nightmare, and that I couldn’t cope with these bastards” or something along those lines. I had no idea my Facebook was even public nor how she even noticed this. To me in 2011 this was a pretty regular sort of comment and to be pretty danm honest they were bastards. Anna started crying. I’m not sure whether she was confused as to what the comment was about or what really. Her English was terrible and it was just so awkward. She asked to me, quote “to remove all of these horrible things I had written about her family”. Genuinely I thought this was slightly overboard, considering it was just a comment on my Facebook and no one she knew would ever see it.

I gathered that was my queue to leave. I gave the children a quick hug, wished them luck and Anna waited by the door and pushed me out. The children actually seemed pretty distraught to see me go. I guess they spend their lives waiting for the next Au pair to come along and have to get used to someone knew. The children once confided in me how they didn’t want a new Au pair. Anna told me I was to leave ASAP and return the keys to her.

It was over.

Well, it wasn’t quite over because I had the next issue of getting the entire contents of my flat into my bags and getting myself to the airport. I couldn’t physically carry anything I had. It was a disaster. I ended up managing to grab a lift from my American friend, Alex and her host family.

So there I was, on Christmas Eve 2011

Standing at the top pf the escalators and peering down. I had two suitcases, two holdalls, a handbag and a huge plastic bag full of wrapped Christmas presents.

How was I going to get down the escalators with all of this stuff?

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OUT OF THE SHOWROOM AND INTO THE AMBULANCE

It was 2010. April 2010.

Today was the day I was going to pick up my new car. This wasn’t any old car. This was a new Mini Cooper. I’d was just about to fork out £12,000 on this shiny sexy number. Having £12,000 aged 18 is a whole other story, but we’ll leave that one for next time. That really is one you’ll want to read. Believe me.

So the day arrives. I wake up at the crack of dawn on my weekend off with a smile plastered over my face. I’d just been in a whirlwind few months sacking off college and being deeply unmotivated with life and I’d passed my driving test a few months earlier after 5 FAILED ATTEMPTS. I REPEAT 5 FAILED ATTEMPTS.

I’d spotted Maisy the Mini on the Mini Cooper website and oh my she looked so very beautiful. I couldn’t believe I was actually going to be able to drive this car right out the very showroom and she would be called my own. I was actually very confused. I didn’t really know why I chose this car. I knew it was a too higher litre for me and cost a fortune in petrol. Not to mention, THE INSURANCE. Oh my sweet baby Jesus, mother of mary, this car was costing £4,000 per year to insure. WAS I COMPLETELY INSANE?

Answer: Yes. Yes I was. I think life caught me up in a hot air balloon and wouldn’t let me down. I don’t think I was let down until I’d learnt all my lessons. Very, very harsh lessons and my balloon was burst and down, down, down I fell. To the very bottom.

Here I am, 18 years old skipping into Mini Cooper and singing the documents with my immature signature. I handed over my card and made the payment. She passed me the keys. I walked over to my new vehicle and smelt the leather. She was stunning. I was caught up in my balloon desperate to show off my new toy. I wasn’t even thinking. I couldn’t think straight. I look back and wonder why no one helped me. I was an entire mess. Actually, this is yet again a whole other story which you really will want to read. I’ll give you that soon.

I was terrified. I had no idea how to handle this car and had virtually no experience driving minus my failed attempts at life (sorry, I mean driving tests). My Dad jumped in next to me. I knew he was terrified. Like any Dad, he wanted me to have a cheap, clapped out old banger to drive around in, in case anything happened (famous last words). But I also knew deep down that he was slightly impressed with this flashy pimped out vehicle.

I was off. I took to the road. It went a lot faster than any other car I had driven before and I hit the road revving and unable to maintain much control. My nerves had got the better of me this time. After half hour tuition I hit the road again and felt much more confident. I put in my freshly burned CD and wound down the windows. It was a super hot day and my Dad was impressed on how well I was doing. A smile grew across my face and my red hair blew in the wind. For the next hour I felt so so happy. Chasing that temporary happiness always was my forte.

I arrived back to my house. The sun gleamed off the freshly waxed car. I jumped out banged on the front door, desperate to show the rest of my family. I couldn’t leave my new baby alone; I just wanted to keep on driving. The day was getting hotter and hotter by the minute. I opened the double sunroof and called my best friend, telling her the news. I was off to go pick her up and seize the day.

I tooted my horn. I could not have been more excited. These rough few months felt temporarily paused and I was living again. As stupid as it may sound, my freedom and independence meant so much to me, I knew I could never look back.

We were off. I hit the road, unaware where I was heading. I just kept on driving. I didn’t know these roads, especially not the bloody M25 and I was feeling brave, like nothing could stop me. I was driving so far that we ended up pulling into a random ASDA car park to stop for a break and work out exactly where we were.

I knew I didn’t really feel in control of that car. I knew it.

We discovered we were over near Orpington away. It was a fair drive from home but neither of us had any plans. I pulled off down the road. We hit traffic. I turned up the music. Blu Cantrell, Breathe was playing, one of old favourites. I turned to laugh and chat with my best friend. My moved forward at about 20 miles an hour and gazed ahead of me.

Then out of nowhere, a huge almighty BANG startled me. Before I knew it there was a cloud of smoke and the car was out of control. I grabbed so tightly to the wheel, screaming. I locked eyes with my friend sensing the look of fear and terror in her eyes. We both remained intensely looking at each other desperate for some comfort. I knew the car was being thrown over the other side of the road. I knew it was heading towards a fence. I just screamed and pain and shock just fell over me. I jolted forward at serious speed and the airbags burst out attacking me hard in the face. My seatbelt locked hard on my right arm and the window shattered.
We had stopped. I looked up to see if my friend was alright. The first thing that came into my head was the overcoming sense of guilt and panic that I just caused this to my friend. I was terrified she was hurt. I couldn’t even care less what had happened to me.

I immediately started shouting “my arm, my arm” before realising that the car was smoking. All I could think of was the entire car going up in flames, like you see on the movies. That would be a little dramatic I thought. My door was bent in towards me and I couldn’t open it. I was screaming to get out of the car. I threw myself across the front seat to the passenger seat and we were out. I find myself on the other side of the road to where I had been before, with the traffic all stopped and staring. One woman ran over and turned off my music. It was apparently very loud still and playing even though the car was in literal tatters.

The next hour was a complete blur. I went into shock, which I later discovered was very serious and started to pace up and down the road. I was running and crying and my heart pounded on my chest. I was cradling my right arm like a baby. The next thing I remember was sitting on the grass bank outside someone’s house with a man asking me multiple questions. He told me he was a paramedic and I had to listen to him otherwise I could be in serious danger.

I have never really understood what really happened during that shock period, but I tell you what, I never, ever want to feel like that again. So out of control and out an out of body experience.
I started uncontrollably crying, and within an hour I was screaming down the phone at my Dad and the insurance company. I literally had no idea what to do. This was my first car, my first day driving a car by myself and my first insurance contract. It was a whirlwind of panic.

An ambulance arrived. It parked up next to my crumpled Maisy. The paramedics jumped out and pulled me into the van for tests and questions. “Was I drinking?” (No, but i bloody wish i was…) It was all pretty simple. I was lucky to not have been anymore seriously hurt but I had severe whiplash and scarring from the airbags and seatbelt.

My Dad arrived. I saw him pull up and he looked devastated. The look of panic made me uncontrollably cry and scream. I have no idea how or why that crash scared me so much. I like to be in control. It’s something I’ve always had trouble with. If I’m not in control I feel terrified and panicked. I wasn’t in control of that car.
As I arrived home, I fell into a deep, deep depression. My arm was in pieces and didn’t stop crying every day for two weeks straight. Something I have unfortunately experienced many times before. It brought a whole sea of emotions flooding up. I was humiliated that I had crashed my first car, within HOURS of driving it out of the showroom and felt horrendous guilt for putting my friend in danger. I had flashbacks of being out of control and after working so hard to get to this point I had just lost my independence once again within a few short moments.

I never got back Maisy. She was entirely written off. I had hit an island in the middle of the road, popped a tyre and the car had been flung out of control. I could not believe it. It wasn’t just a little damage; I’d managed to write the ENTIRE vehicle off and it had to be scrapped. That gives you a little perspective on exactly how bad it was.

It took me a long time to drive again. I’d lost all my confidence. I’m sure this is something a lot of people can relate to. But now, I turn back and laugh.

And think “Hell yeah, lots more shit to write for my blog.
And one day, my book.”