By Kristi Belcamino
When Nico and I first looked at apartments in Barcelona, we didn’t have strong ideas about what we wanted other than it be located in the Gothic Quarter. The quarter was central to everything. It was near the beach, near the main thoroughfare of the city, Las Ramblas, and was overflowing with character. Below our balcony, the narrow street was filled with small mom-and-pop shops that had everything we could possibly desire—cheese, wine, bread. You know, the basic necessities.
But when we walked into this apartment, besides its gorgeous architecture, what I fell in love with was the alcove that was specifically designated as an ofrenda—a home altar for those you loved who had died. Even though I was Italian and it was a Mexican tradition, it spoke to me on the deepest level of my soul.
Although some people only had ofrendas set up around Dia de los Muertos, mine was in place all year long.
Now, as I wheeled my gunmetal gray suitcase over to the front door, I glanced at the altar. I would miss it the most. I wasn’t sure when I was going to get back to Barcelona. If ever.
The ofrenda was set in a deep oval alcove in the wall that contained photos, candles, and mementos from those I’d loved the most in this life: my parents; Bobby—my first true love; and Nico—my last true love.
Even though Nico wasn’t dead, his picture was there along with all the other people I’d loved and lost in my life.
Was that sacrilegious? Fuck if I knew?
But the truth was the Nico I’d known and loved was dead.
Alzheimer’s had taken him from me. He didn’t know me anymore. Now, I was some girl he groped when I showed up. At first it had broken my heart. But once I had decided that the Nico I’d known and loved was no longer there, in some ways it’d been easier to let go.
I stared at the photos. The photo of my parents was one of them smiling on a boat, their hair windblown. My mother holding a glass of wine. My father with his arm around her.
I missed my parents so much. I’d been robbed of them before I was barely old enough to drink. They had been my whole world.
The photo of Bobby was a snapshot I’d taken of him in Italy. He’d been standing on our balcony looking out at the sea. He was so damn handsome. That was the day I’d finally told him I loved him. He’d be dead within 24 hours. The son of my parent’s killer took him away.
A tear slipped down my cheek looking at the photo of Nico.
He looked like a sophisticated movie star. A powerful leader. Which is what he had been. My greatest love. The man I intended to spend the rest of my life with. That man had loved me more than any woman could dream of being loved, but who had been taken away from me slowly and cruelly by Alzheimer’s.
When I realized that Nico was gone, I decided to never allow myself to fall in love again.
It hurt too much. Why would I fucking torture myself like that again? Who in their right mind would do that? Um…nobody.
I was fucking done.
There is an old Italian saying that we only truly love three people in our lives.
I’ve loved my three.
Bobby. Nico. James.
Dear, sweet James, who thank God, was still alive and thriving in San Francisco. That man had stolen my heart, but then broken it into a million pieces. It was because I was a killer and he was a cop. Our relationship never stood a chance.
I reached into my bag and took out my worn metal Zippo lighter and lit the candles on my ofrenda one last time.
I lit four candles. Along with the photos and candles, I’d placed mementos that reminded me of them or items that they had loved in life.
My phone vibrated in my bag, startling me out of my memories.
I rummaged around and found it right when the call ended. Dante.
I called him back. “Yo.”
“I’ve been buzzing. I’m downstairs.”
“Oh, fuck. The ringer is still broken. I’ll buzz you in.”
I hit the button and headed back to the bedroom to finish packing the second suitcase.
Soon Dante was at my side.
“Have you decided where you’re going?” he said as he walked in.
I didn’t look up, just continued throwing expensive silk lingerie into my smaller suitcase. Dante had made me buy it during our last shopping spree in Paris. I would’ve never spent $250 on underwear otherwise, but I had to admit it made my ass look spectacular.
“Sounds fabulous,” Dante said, stepping into my closet. “Why there?”
“I have no memories there.”
“What? That hurts. Me. You. St. Tropez?” he started humming some song about St. Tropez and dancing around.
“I’m not going there.”
“Where to, then?”
I didn’t answer.
“Oh. My. God. You’re going to Cannes?”
I hid my smile.
“What will you wear?”
“I’m going to sunbathe and read and listen to music and maybe find some hot boy to fuck.”
Dante stopped dancing.
I could feel his disapproval without looking at him.
He didn’t answer.
I wasn’t married. Not really.
How could I be? Nico didn’t know who I was. Hadn’t known for months.
“At least let me dress you.”
“I’m bringing every bikini I own,” I said. “That’s really all I plan on needing.”
“Darling, if you are going to be in Cannes during the Cannes Film Festival—first, how the holy hell did you find a place to stay there right now? Oh never mind, you’re Gia. But please, please tell me you’ll let me dress you for the festival.”
I shrug and toss another bikini I found shoved in the back of a drawer into the suitcase on the bed.
“I wasn’t planning on going to the festival.”
“I’m going to get you tickets.”
I shrug. I do like film. Watching some movies could fit into my hedonistic plans. “Sure. Whatever.”
“Then it’s a deal. Someone has to stop you from wearing your beat-up leather pants and Fuck Authority T-shirt.”
“Rosie took that shirt from me years ago.”
Rosie was Nico’s daughter. The closest thing I had to a child. She was off somewhere killing someone. Because apparently, that’s what the women in my family did. We couldn’t help it. But they were always evil fuckers.
“Will you let me?” Dante said, in seventh heaven. Shopping and dressing me was his favorite thing ever. Or at least that’s how it seemed.
“Yeah. I’ll go watch some movies.”
“I mean dress you.”
Dante was chattering on and on about how he knew the perfect dress for me and that he might have to order it and have it sent to me in Cannes. But that I would also need three other ones and … blah blah blah. I let him ramble. It made him happy so I tolerated it. And the simple fact was I looked like shit when I dressed myself.
Attending the Cannes Film Festival probably was a legit reason to dress up.
“Let’s go! There is one place in town—one place in all of Barcelona—that might possibly have a dress that will do in a pinch if I can’t get the dresses I have in mind ordered in time.”
I couldn’t help but laugh. God love Dante.
I grabbed my bag and followed him out the door, giving one last glance at the candles burning on the altar. I usually was very careful about blowing candles out before I left the apartment but I was feeling careless, reckless, and a small part of me thought that burning the place down would be apropos—leaving the charred remains of my life behind. But then I remembered other people lived in the building and leaned over to blow them out.
Then I steered myself for some hard-core shopping. I wish I had some marijuana but would have to shop stone-cold sober.
But if I were being honest with myself, I was happy to spend another few hours with Dante.
He had flown into Barcelona from San Diego when he heard I was taking off for a few months…or forever.
Nico was in good hands. I paid a small fortune every month for the memory care center to treat him like a king. It took about six months of him not recognizing me for me to realize my daily, doting presence there was no longer for him, only for me. And that it hurt like hell to be around him.
I was a coward.
I was going to leave him. Maybe forever.
If I thought there was the slightest, smallest part of him that remembered me, I would stay. But there wasn’t.
My heart was shattered.
Every morning I woke and lay in bed waiting for the dark shadows to recede from my nightmares only to realize that it wasn’t a bad dream. It was my life.
Finally, I realized I had to leave Barcelona. At first I wanted to buy a house in the mountains somewhere and live like a recluse. In fact, I still might. But right now, all my body craved was sunshine.
I’d spent the past few years as a caregiver, taking care of Nico, trying to glimpse fragments of who he used to be before he became angry and confused.
I rarely stepped outside unless it was to take him out to the garden for a walk. But now he refused to do even that. He was much older than me and now those years were an unsurpassable divide that Alzheimer’s had turned into an insurmountable canyon.
I needed to lay in the sun and do things that weren’t good for me so I didn’t have to feel or think anymore.
Cannes would be the backdrop to my debauchery.
And I was happy to play it out there with all the other privileged fuckers who had everything that money could buy and yet still were hollow inside.
Because that’s exactly how I felt.