The Italy Fund. That’s what my mother used to call it, the extra money she would sock away -- twenty dollars here, fifty there, another hundred under there. It began, I think, in my late elementary school years, the idea that our family would somehow financially be able to swing a four-person trip to the country our family fled at the turn of the century. We’d never been to Europe so we might as well start with Italy. Go out to dinner? Italy Fund. New sweater? Italy Fund. But time flies and before we knew it my older sister Maria went to college. Two years later I too went to an overpriced academic institution my hard-working parents helped pay for (and I’m still paying for). With two kids in college and life being what it is, The Italy Fund was put on hold.
Someday, maybe, we’d say.
Maybe we’ll go. Someday.
Two years ago, in 2014, Ennio Morricone, the Italian composer famous for movie scores from "Cinema Paradiso," "Once Upon a Time in the West" and "The Mission" (and now, for his Oscar-winning score from Tarantino’s 2015 Western "The Hateful Eight") was scheduled to play at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Maria spotted it first, and, both of us living in New York, we decided to buy tickets for what would be a surprise birthday gift for our father. We’d always been Morricone fans, but it was our dad who loved him most. The concert felt like a special thing we could do together. We’d been through a lot, the three of us, since our mother died seven years earlier. We were still working out how to make new memories and be happy.
It really is amazing how quickly life can happen to you. You can plan all you want, start your Italy Fund and dream of someday, but you can get into a car accident and die just as easily, it seems, as putting on your pants in the morning.
Just like that, Mom was gone, and someday went right out the window along with everything else we thought we knew about whatever this mad spinning world is we call life.
Two weeks before the concert Morricone cancelled. Health reasons. His back. He’s in his eighties, so who can blame him? (I sort of did). To make matters worse, in a statement to the press Morricone announced he would never, ever do another concert in America.
That, it would seem, was that.
“We’re going to see this guy someday,” Maria said, defiantly. “I don’t care what it takes. We’re doing it.”
In the two years since Morricone cancelled on us and America, our father got engaged. The wedding is planned for this coming fall. It’s been almost a decade since our mother died, and remarriage was probable. Inevitable, even. And yet. And yet even as it was here, just like her death, I still couldn’t quite believe it. Growing up, my life consisted of the four of us — Dad, Mom, Maria and me -- and over the last nine years it’s been an adjustment getting used to the empty chair at the kitchen table. Every time I would go home it was a kind of silent assault, the only placemat sitting there mutinously without a plate. As years passed, however, the feeling someone was missing wasn’t as pervasive, as gut-wrenchingly obvious. I can’t remember exactly when it happened, but just like the moment your eyes finally adjust to the light, one day our family that once was four became three. And it was okay. Normal, even.
The Three Musketeers, we’d call ourselves.
I’d gotten used to it. Finally.
Morricone. Rome. May 2016. Maria and I were sitting in a bar in April when she saw it on her phone. “He’s playing a concert there on the twenty-second. Do we do it? A seventieth birthday gift?” she asked. May was a month away. It seemed absurd, insane really, to contemplate booking a trip to Europe at that point. And yes, our father was turning 70 in June, but was a trip to Europe really necessary? Surely we could just send a nice card? But I knew what Maria knew, that everything was about to change. That this nine-year run as The Three Musketeers was ticking down like a time bomb, and after the explosion the landscape was going to look dramatically different. Dad had a new house to move into, a new life to start. And who could blame him? We certainly didn’t. But we also weren’t quite ready to let go.
And so it happened. Together over wine we decided that someday, finally, had arrived.
“Let’s do it,” I said.
We booked the concert tickets first, three clocking it at more than one month’s rent (I got an alert from my credit card company: YOU MAY HAVE BEEN COMPROMISED. I have, I thought, by pure psychosis). The trip would be nine days. Dad’s first visit to Europe, our first trip to Italy.
Carpe freaking diem.
We are contacting you to inform you that Ennio Morricone at Auditorium Parco della Musica — Sala Santa Cecilia in Rome has been cancelled.
Another cancellation. Health reasons. His back. Again. By this point it was starting to feel like we were cursed. Or this trip was cursed. Or this guy was definitely on death’s door, in which case maybe he should stop scheduling concerts and getting people’s hopes up. You know, people who book very expensive trips from other countries just to see these concerts.
“It says he’s still playing his Paris dates at the end of that week,” Maria said, and I knew what was coming next.
We’d come this far.
It is probably certifiable what we did, hands shaking, hearts pounding due to the sheer expense of it all (another month’s rent?! Two?!), booking three more flights, this time from Rome to Paris, a hotel in Montparnasse, and three tickets to see Morricone at the Palais des Congrès. It wasn’t about money at that point (though, I mean, it sort of was), it was that sickening, powerless feeling of not being able to control your own destiny that neither Maria nor I wanted to succumb to. Not again. With death happening to us the way it did, ruthlessly fast behind our backs, it was our turn to try to reclaim something. To take something back. On our terms. For us. So we decided Morricone was happening. Not later, not someday, now. A shot in the dark to be sure, but our shot to take. It was admittedly a cobbled together, last-ditch effort to hold onto something. Crazy? Maybe. But in that moment — stacked up against the entire timeline of our lives and all that had happened — doing this mattered more than anything in the world.
A week before we were scheduled to leave:
We are contacting you to inform you that the time for Ennio Morricone at Palais des Congres, Paris has changed. The event will now take place on September 24, 2016.
I wish I were kidding.
I am not.
So there we were, The Three Musketeers on a plane from JFK to Fiumicino that would end in Paris with no one seeing Ennio Morricone. But the powerful play goes on, now set against a European backdrop. There was nothing left to do but go. When we arrived we managed in our best guidebook Italian to order cappuccino and ask directions. For lunch our second day we poured prosecco into plastic cups and ate panino on the steps of an old church. I was proud of the three of us for being so cool, for finally doing the thing we’d always talked about. Proud too of Dad for going along with this madcap adventure his daughters basically forced him on.
Over the years we’d come to trust each other in a way we hadn’t before. As close a family as we’d been when my mother was alive, over the last nine years, through the ups and downs of grief, of one or all of us losing it at one point or another as we grappled with learning how to be in the world together without her, I’d come to feel like I couldn’t function without them. Who are we without each other, these only people in the world who knew who we were as a family before?
In Paris our hotel turned out to be a shithole (oops), and there was a moment when Maria was on her laptop frantically searching for new hotels, I was yelling at the front desk manager, and Dad was sitting on the closed lid of the toilet because it was the only clean spot in the place. So, okay, yes, we had our low points. But we bounced back.
We are The Three Musketeers, after all.
We found a new hotel, and at the Arc de Triomphe Dad stood in awe, the World War II buff in him picturing German troops and horse-drawn artillery advancing down the Champs-Élysées in 1940. And now to be here? Standing in that very place? He had the same expression he did the day we were at the Colosseum and he looked about the place in near disbelief.
“I never thought I’d be here,” he said. Maria and I looked at each other. For us, that was enough.
In fact, it was everything.
Morricone, that old maestro with major back issues. We chased him all the way to Europe to get away from a reality that felt like it was closing in on us back home. We had no idea what we were doing, Maria and I, but we knew we needed to give our family a memory before it became a different family entirely. One last hurrah as The Three Musketeers. Our Airbnb in Rome had a patio out back, and after dinner we’d open another bottle of amazing yet affordable wine, and while Dad and I smoked a cigar, Maria played Morricone full blast on her laptop.
It wasn’t the Auditorium Parco della Musica, but I’ll be damned if we weren’t having the time of our lives.
As for Maria and me, it felt like the last phase of growing up and figuring out that grand old tradition of leaving home, the past and all it used to be but isn't anymore. Over a bottle of champagne (two?) in our hotel room our last night in Paris (Dad was tucked away on another floor), we let the tears fall freely. That night felt like the end of something, an intermission before next act. The act in which our father remarries and the house that’s ours isn’t ours anymore. After Italy, after Paris, we knew we had to go back home and decipher from a lifetime of memories what we wanted to keep, and throw away what didn’t fit in our lives anymore.
It would be another part of the necessary letting go.
This trip, for all its last-minute insanity, for all its Run Lola Run, was, I think, just our inability to relinquish the past without a fight. We couldn’t say goodbye and fade into the night as though all of those years before she died didn’t matter. As though all of those years without her weren’t just as important.
You can travel the world ten times over and everything you left behind will still be waiting on your doorstep when you come home. The facts, regardless of the miles logged or wine downed, remain the same. In life there simply are some things you cannot fix. After all, nothing lasts forever (even the Colosseum will have its day). People die. People move. People move on. Houses are sold. New ones are bought. Hearts are broken and resuscitated to love again. We don't forget but we move forward. We keep living and choosing and loving and making new memories and getting on planes and chasing Morricone and experiences and things that make our hearts beat faster because we can.
Because we have to. Because we are here.
And Morricone is still out there. We’re rescheduled to see him in Paris in September and by God we’ll be there, come hell or high water.
Only this time, it will be four of us.