Some things are irrevocably lost. The time I spent in Perugia—when I was just another young college student in the crowd—feels that way. I had been there for only a little over a month before tragedy struck. I couldn’t say that I knew even my own roommates deeply. There is only so much you can know about a new place or person in so brief a time.
And then, for circumstances to turn on their head… It’s difficult to reconcile Perugia, the paradise, with Perugia, the prison, especially when the duration and intensity of prison dwarfed my experience of paradise. For that reason alone, looking back on my memories of blossoming friendships, cultural discovery, and delicious food feels painful. It’s as if wrongful accusation not only physically removed me from Perugia, but by redefining me as something I was not, it also stole from me who I had actually been in Perugia, and everything I had actually done.
Long ago I gave up dreaming that any piece of Perugia, the paradise, would ever be restored to me. Because that’s life.
A few days ago, my partner, Chris, and I attended our regular Lindy Hop lesson at the Century Ballroom, but instead of heading home afterwards to make dinner and watch Doctor Who, we stayed to eat in the adjacent cocktail lounge with our parents. It had been my birthday in the past week, and we planned to swing dance into the night with family members and friends. While we chatted over a bottle of wine, a young woman and her date were seated at an adjacent table. The young woman and I held each other’s gaze for a moment. Nothing more would have come of it had we not run into each other in the bathroom.
She recognized me first. As I leaned over the sink to wash my hands, she asked, “Amanda? From Perugia?”
I turned to her, scanned her face, and felt an undefined, but unmistakable recognition.
“It’s Ada. From Kazakhstan.”
Ada! From Kazakhstan! It almost hurt how fully I was flooded with memories, not just those long past, but memories given up as lost. Ada had been my classmate at the Università per Stranieri in Perugia. Both of us were new and relatively on our own, so we gravitated towards each other. She would come by my house after class and I taught her how to play “Hey Ya” on guitar. I remembered thinking about her from my prison cell, wondering what had ever happened to her, if she had completed her semester in Perugia, if she remembered me for who I really was, or if her memories of me had been twisted and tainted after my arrest, like what had happened with my Italian roommates. I never thought that I would ever see her again.
“I can’t believe it!” Ada said. “I talked to the police about you. I was so worried for you. I’m so glad you’re home and free!”
We hugged, exchanged numbers, caught up on some history, and I introduced her to Chris and our parents. We hugged again before she departed with her date, and later texted about meeting for coffee and catching up over the weekend. The rest of the night, the rest of the week, I felt rattled. Not in a bad way, but certainly as if my world had turned on its head again.
The calm after the storm never feels quite the same as the calm before. After a dense decade, Ada and I will be getting to know each other all over again. Even so, coming back into contact with Ada from Kazakhstan, Ada my classmate, Ada my friend in Perugia, feels like reconciliation of who I am and who I actually was. I’m no longer alone in remembering. I’m no longer lost. And I’m so grateful.
Published by the West Seattle Herald 07/18/2016.