If You’re Willing to Take the Risk
***If you are related to me at all, STOP READING RIGHT NOW. The following story is not for you.
Please turn away. See you at Thanksgiving. ***
Before I studied abroad in London, I had a very weird track record with men I had seen or been in relationships with. I still have a weird track record today, don’t get me wrong, but back then it was different. What some would call as prude, I called self-respect and patience. I was 20 years old and still a virgin and in no rush to change that. It didn’t really phase me. Like I said before, I’m not a very sexual person, much to a lot of my friend’s surprise. I’ve been told once, by a guy who barely knew me, “You’re a VIRGIN? But you give off such a promiscuous air.” Nice.
Maybe that’s true, but it just never presented to be a big deal for me. I was still figuring out what I liked and the kind of people I liked, although I found there was a lot of people that I definitely disliked at the time. Maybe it’s because I was scared. Maybe I didn’t trust people. I had a very rocky end to a relationship just before I left for London. We had been going out for only about 3 months, but had been seeing each other, you could say, for about 8. But we had never had sex. It’s not that I wasn’t attracted to him in that way, but I just couldn’t see fully giving myself to him. He was a great guy, still is, but I was a little off-put by a lack of trust at the time. Maybe that was my first mistake going into a relationship. Maybe not. But I really didn’t trust him in that way, which I let him know, and he graciously understood.
When we broke up, I was very upset it had ended so poorly, but sort of glad I hadn’t given him my virginity. Otherwise, I would have felt like I had lost something bigger than me.
Just a month later I was off to study abroad in London, which is a whole ‘nother saga in itself, with stories I will definitely have to divulge in later.
By the END of my study abroad experience in the UK, I had spent many a night dancing and making out with many foreign men in pubs and night clubs across the Queen’s city. Irishmen, Germans, Brits, Frenchmen, Italians, it was like a slutty trip through Epcot. Everyone was doing it, being wild and getting cultured while sipping on far too expensive mixed drinks we paid for in a currency I still don’t understand.
Just two weeks before our imminent trip home was approaching, spirits were high, as was our Blood Alcohol Content. We had a few friends staying with us at the time, who were studying abroad in Florence and came for a trip to London. Kim and her roommate Madison stayed in my current roommate and best friend Laurie’s room. On their last night with us, I wanted to show them a good time. Laurie felt too sick to go out, as well as at that time all of our funds were extremely low. So it wasn’t the biggest group going out, just Kim, Madison, myself, as well as our friends Carolyn, Emma, and Laura.
I wanted to dance and be gay, as always, so we went to SoHo. My RA Gilmar had shown us the absolute best places to go in SoHo; posh gay bars and clubs, some more boujie than others. Gilmar was the absolute best and got us in for free at a lot of places because he knew practically everyone it seemed in the London gay club scene. SPECIAL NOTE: If you’re planning to or currently studying abroad: MAKE FRIENDS WITH YOUR RA, they’ll show you the best places, give you all the best tips, and shower you with free champagne like Gilmar did. If you’re lucky.
I went out into the brisk London weather with no coat, to avoid a check charge, as well as without my glasses. I hate wearing my glasses going out because they just get dirty or foggy. Also, I would always lose them dancing so feverishly in a crowded night club, as they once flew off my face and almost crashed into some French girl’s drink who was NOT having it. We first tried to get into the Shadow Lounge, a club I had been to a few times. A club where I once saw a stripper in nothing but a black speedo, sneakers and a painted on mime mask do contortion tricks with his body I had never seen outside of a Cirque du Soleil show.
Unfortunately I had too many girls with me, which apparently is a crime at any self-respecting gay club. I exclaimed to the bouncer in my most “trying to sound sober” voice possible, “SIR YOU KNOW ME, I’VE BEEN HERE”, expecting me to be more important and noticeable than any of the other gaggle of faggots this tall burly man had seen so many nights before. So we went right across the street to this far less fancy and far more sticky place called Escape. The floors practically stuck to my mahogany combat boots, glazed with the remnants of cranberry vodkas, gay boy’s tears and other bodily liquids. My friends and I started dancing, and ordering the cheap ass 99 pence shots. I had one too many of “Britney’s Tears” that night: a combination of Goldschlagger, more vodka, and something very strong I didn’t bother to question. We started goofing around and making new international friends. Cheap, weird places like this were great for meeting cheap, weird people from across the world. I once made two short Irish men I kept calling “leprechauns” that night do the Irish jig part in “C’est la vie” by B*Witched, as it boomed over the sound system, before I made out with one and told the other to buy me a drink. This was the place for that.
My friends kept egging me on to dance with a guy that night but I was not having it, it was girls night! I wanted to just dance on my own with the security of not having foreign hands thrust down my tight jeans at an uncomfortable ease and speed. Ultimately though, I locked eyes with a very charming looking Italian across the room. He was about my height, and was most clearly definitely an Italian, with his olive skin and short but curly brown hair gleaming under the neon spotlights from above the dance floor. He wore an optic white dress shirt and a gold crucifix chain dangled from his neck. Yep, definitely an Italian. My friend Kim screamed “Dance with that Italian guy!” She must’ve noticed me staring. I wasn’t opposed. I had never really been the type to hit on another guy, but I figured it was worth a shot, and if it would make my friends shut up, I’d do it. I walked over to him and asked him, “Do you wanna dance!?” to which he responded in a loud whisper in my ear, something very mumbled in a THICK Italian accent that I could only roughly translate as “I don’t speak English very well.” I laughed, gently touching his forearm and replied:
“You don’t need to speak English to dance.” (New title of my future foreign romantic dance film, don’t steal it)
And I walked away. Mere seconds later, the Italian grabbed me from the waist and ferociously started making out with me. Was this how Italians danced? I was learning other cultures after all, I guessed.
We made out for far too long, until I broke away to gasp for some air, the little that remained in this crowded club. I could inhale the London smog from here. My friends started cheering, laughing, taking pictures that I pray to God don’t still exist today. I tried to get us all to dance as a group, which the Italian wasn’t necessarily having. He kept trying to say things to me, maybe it was a combination of the loudness of the music and how drunk I was, but I couldn’t hear a thing. The next thing I know, the Italian grabbed my hand and led me through the club. Now this is the kind of place you’d find lewd acts of indecency happening around every corner, none of which a gentleman such as myself would partake in while in a public setting. ESPECIALLY at a place like Escape. But the Italian instead grabbed for his friend, Beatrice. Beatrice was very cute, curvy, and wearing too much red lipstick. She had a thick Italian accent as well but spoke very good English. He spoke something in Italian to her to which she said to me:
“He wants to know if you want to come over his place tonight.”
My heart sank into my gut, which came back up my throat. I didn’t know what to say. I wasn’t really that drunk at the time but this also was something I’d NEVER do. At least not in a country overseas with a man I barely knew. He was as foreign as a stranger could be. I took a moment to remember these were my last two weeks in London, and I was out to make memories. I had always been a risk taker and a lover of adventure. This wasn’t a huge adventure, but it was definitely a risk. Not very smart at all, and I definitely regret how I could have gone about it much safer, but once again I threw my comfort zone at the wind and said “Sure!”.
My friends gathered outside as I told them I was going home with this mysterious Italian man. Them being excitable white girls could not be more proud of me. The biggest mistake we all made though was that no one bothered to ask for his name, or his address, or a number they could reach us at should they need to. However, spoiler alert, he didn’t turn out to be a serial killer, so all was well. But still.
I said goodbye to my friends and went off into the night with my strange, new, short Italian man. Hand in hand, we walked towards Piccadilly Circus in order to hail a cab. I stopped short just moments after leaving my friends to ask him a very important question: what his name was. It was then that I learned two things about this man:
1. That he didn’t speak any English. When I mean no English, I mean No. English. I had never met someone before who couldn’t put together at least one full English sentence. I was raised in a very Italian family and town, but I didn’t know the language much beyond the menu at the local pizzeria or colorful words I heard my grandmother yell when she was drunk. This was going to be a long night.
2. That his name was ironic as hell. He first muttered out something that sounded like “Andrew”, to which I shit my pants. Andrew is a friend of mine that I was just being stupid and horny with in London, by this time while studying abroad we were just good friends of course, but I still was about to laugh out loud at the fact that I was about to hook up with an Italian Andrew. But his name was actually “Andrea” (Pronounced An-dre-uh), the name of one of my best friend’s at home whom we had discussed the nature of our virginity with at length. I said “Ya, I’m gonna call you Andre”. It was just easier.
We got in the cab and set out for his flat, which was in East Acton which actually was in EAST BUMFUCK OF NOWHERE. I turned to him during this long cab ride and tried to get to know him a little better. But the language barrier was far too much, I am not exaggerating here. I couldn’t understand a word he said most of the time, but I was very into it. I didn’t have to talk to him, he didn’t have to talk to me, bing bang boom, I’d be back in my dorm bed by sunrise. All we discussed in the cab was that I was Italian too, he had just recently moved to London from Milan to work, and that he liked Stanley Kubrick movies. It was enough.
After finally arriving to his flat, we tiptoed to his bedroom, which was very open but cluttered, with strong evidence that no one had been here very long. Two huge suitcases still open and unpacked. Strange Italian hair products littered the extra bed that was next to his, which was draped with a “Rolling Stones” blanket. Why were there two beds in here? How had he not unpacked yet? Did he even knows who the Rolling Stones were? These were questions I didn’t bother to ask, mostly because Andre couldn’t answer them.
Andre went to the bathroom and I checked my phone. It was about 2:30 a.m., which is a time I just made up, because I can’t remember how late it was. I had about a dozen missed calls, texts, and angry tweets from Laurie: “WHERE ARE YOU,” “If you are dead tomorrow I’m going to fucking kill you,” and the like. I’d later find out that Kim gave Laurie, upon her return, huge misinformation about Andre. That he was bald and had several tattoos and an earring, painting him to be some badass version of Mr. Clean. This was not true, but then again Kim was drunk, she did her best.
It was then that my phone died. I figured they’d find out eventually that I was still alive, but that wasn’t so safe of me either. Andre came out of the bathroom in just his tight black Armani boxers, looking even more Italian. I could tell he was very built, as he gently rubbed his strong arms and muscular chest that sprouted thick but smooth black chest hair. He started to touch his lower abs, looking in pain and complaining about how he hurt himself working out earlier. I didn’t know if that was a line or what, but next thing you know, he climbed on top of the bed and took off my pale red button-down, a very strange alternative to my usual all-black club attire. I don’t need to go into the details of how suave and attempting to be romantic Andre was because he was just being an Italian. This is where the accent and lack of English came in handy. We fooled around up until the point Andre pulled out a condom and said something in Italian that I for sure as hell couldn’t translate but definitely understood.
I thought about how hesitant towards sex I was before I came here. How I was the type of person who used to shiver at the slightest touch. How one time I told a guy to stop because I was “too ticklish”, which is actually very true. And how, in this moment, I really didn’t give a shit anymore.
I only knew one word in Italian that would be useful at the time:
I’ll spare the details of course, but I lost my virginity that night to a man who spoke no English, in a country overseas, thousands of miles away from all the previous mostly awful men who couldn’t get it if they tried. And it became a pretty awesome story to tell. Like, right?
After that, we had pillow talk, or lack thereof BECAUSE HE DIDN’T SPEAK ENGLISH, but I tried to reenact a scene from one of my favorite chick flick’s “Under the Tuscan Sun”, as I grazed over his body, asking him what the Italian word for “dick” is. I can’t remember.
The next morning I woke in a haze, I looked like a mess and as good as it all was, I was trying to get the hell out of there. I forgot that Andre the night before was hardcore trying to hang out again, as he kept exclaiming “Domani, domani”, which means “tomorrow”. But as beautiful as he was, I was not about to get lost in translation. I scrambled out of bed, but Andre kept saying he’d show me the way to the bus stop, that he had to go to work that day too. I kept explaining that it wasn’t necessary, but he didn’t get it, of course. THEN Andre tells me he needs to actually move that day to another flat, as this was just temporary. So he starts to pack up all of his belongings, and I watched him for 20 minutes struggling to fold up his Rolling Stones blanket in a way that would provide easy travel, to which he finally cried out, in the first full English sentence I had ever heard him say: “Please help me.”
And so I did. Together we hobbled down the stairs with all of his bags and suitcases. I held one suitcase and his Rolling Stones blanket. I was helping the Italian move! Never one to pass up a good story, I went through with it. We opened the door into the fresh London morning daylight, the cold air hitting me like a wall of pure ice. I was still not wearing a coat, and no glasses to see the strange non-city London neighborhood that laid before me. Andre and I walked the three blocks or so to the local bus stop. When we got there, he noticed I was shivering and gave me his far out-of-date denim jacket, which I happily obliged. Suave as he was, he was an idiot. He couldn’t find his metro card, even though I told him several times it was in the suitcase he was carrying. He couldn’t understand though and asked me to please watch his stuff before he rushed back the three blocks to the old flat.
So there I was standing in the middle of nowhere, in a country I did not belong to, wearing some Italian man’s denim jacket, holding his Rolling Stones blanket, and helping him move the morning after I lost my virginity. I looked up at the clear, blue sky, which in London it often was not, and surely thought this must be God’s punishment or at the very least some funny joke about gay sex. God hates fags? No, God loves fags. God loves to see the stupid shit they do and laughs in hysterics watching me wait at a bus stop at seven in the morning, wanting to slowly die. Very funny.
Andre ran back because it turns out the metro card was in his suitcase THE WHOLE TIME, LIKE I HAD SAID. The bus pulls up about 30 minutes later, to which we took our seats, clutching onto everything that Andre had owned. It was strangely beautiful for me to be holding in my hands essentially Andre’s life, while he was far from home in a city he was unfamiliar to but was gaining so much from: money for his family, security, new friends, a new life. And I barely knew the guy.
I held something of his (even if it was a Rolling Stones blanket), and he, of course, now held something of mine.
Andre turns to me and asks for my phone number. The poetic moment had passed and now all I wanted to do was escape, (funny how that was the name of the club we met at, right? No? OK). I gave him a fake number, just switching a few of the numbers of mine, thinking he’d be too stupid to notice. But he pulls out his little “go phone” right there, to call me, and it doesn’t work, so I pretend to correct him, and he now has access to my life. Awesome.
We got off the bus at the same metro stop, as his work, an ice cream shop, is just a block away. I plan to never see Andre again, but as I hand him his blanket and his denim jacket he kisses me on the lips and says “Ciao, Bella”.
I’ve seen the Lizzie McGuire Movie too many times to not think this is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard, so I melt.
I make my way home on the Tube, no coat to protect me from the cold London air once more. I look at the other people next to me on the subway and wonder if they know what I did last night, based on my lack of coat alone, as I feel their eyes staring at me with shame and disgust.
As I finally make my way back through Regent’s Park to my college, it’s so early in the morning only the loons and egrets in the pond are there to judge me. But it was then that I realized this was no walk of shame, it was a walk of triumph. A stride of pride. The way it happened, I never felt shame or regret, in fact I didn’t feel like I truly “lost” anything,” except for fear of something I could never previously allow myself to do. Instead I gained confidence, independence. And with an Italian in London at that.
Over the next few days, Andre texted me, a lot. Except it was all in Italian so I had to Google translate our conversations and reply back in his native tongue. It was so funny and weird, but slightly thrilling, so I was enticed to see him again. We hung out a few times after that in my last weeks there. I hung out with him and his Italian friends one night, going to a blues bar. His other friends spoke English well, but most of the night was spent listening to them chat in Italian and laugh at jokes I wasn’t in on. For the first time in my life, I felt what it was like to be an outsider by a language barrier and how complicated it was. Had I known what this felt like in high school, I would have hung out with the Brazilian girls a lot more and let them know I loved their hair.
One night, with just days left in London to go, Andre and I met up. His combination charming smirk and goofy smile, the thing that attracted me the most, approached me from out of the crowd at a Tube stop we planned to meet at. He kissed me on both cheeks to greet me, yet another Italian cultural norm I had always strangely longed for. After a night of dancing and drinking with his friends once more, we left the pub only before Andre whispered something in Beatrice’s ear in Italian again, which she translated for me:
“He doesn’t want you to go. He’s going to miss you very much.”
I had never heard something like that before. From anyone. And it felt as good as it was sad.
We made our way back to his new flat on a late night double decker bus. As I fell asleep on his shoulder on the top deck, I oddly felt connected to this man I could barely understand. But I didn’t care. We went back into his flat, into his bedroom. He went into the bathroom to change as he had the nights before, and came out in a bright yellow pair of BART SIMPSON UNDERWEAR.
The fantasy was now over. And I had woken up.
Later than night, after tussling in the sheets, Andre asked me if I was ready to “splash,” a strange, I’m assuming only Italian, slang term for something I’m going to let you figure out for yourself.
I was now even more done.
I left the next morning, telling Andre I had to go. This would be the last time I would see my foreign plaything, because I could barely call him a lover. He was under the impression we’d go out again “domain,” but I couldn’t bring myself to break it to him, so I kissed him goodbye and said the only thing I could say,
And I left. Back to America a few days later, and that was that.
It took me forever to get back to my dorm, two buses and three subway exchanges. I guess I really was living in a fantasy world, because it was sure as hell hard to get home.
It wasn’t the fact that it was a good story to tell, or how I gained new independence, or how I met someone who wasn’t like anything I had experienced before that made me enjoy this sweet, funny, and crazy memory. But it was how I didn’t worry. I wasn’t scared. And I finally trusted someone. Even when it was someone I couldn’t even share more than three words with. It was the fearlessness and the freedom that I still cherish.
I talk to Andre every now and then, still using Google translate. The time difference isn’t great so it’s not often. And I don’t have any plans to pursue much else with him. He still works at the ice cream shop, but now has dreams of being an architect, which I hope he’ll be one someday. I like to think of this as a memory that could have gone so many different ways, but I’ll keep it for what it was. And maybe the next time I travel to Europe (which I fully plan to), if I’m still single, maybe I’ll ask another charming foreign man to dance. It might just be worth the risk.
When in Rome, right?