I Went to Venice, and All I Got Was This Story…
I've recanted this story enough that I decided it was finally time to write it down.
If it was necessary to categorize myself so people knew what to expect when in my presence, it’s safe to say I’d be defined as clumsy. I like to think the more I get on in years, I mature into my body and glide with grace from room to room unnoticed like a loveable family pet. However, the fact that I have some semblance of grace now speaks less to my elegance as a grown woman, and more to the volume of which my unavoidable lack of physical skill was in my younger years.
I hit puberty a little later than most I knew, and grew until I was 18, topping out at a statuesque six feet. I blame this late-game-body stretching for my unbelievable skill at being a clumsy asshole. Most kids spend middle school and some of high school meandering around, crashing into the middle pole of doorways, and knocking over three music stands as they’re sneaking into band. I maintained my childlike nimbleness and parade horse-like coordination until the age of 17, which unfortunately gave me the false belief that I was, in fact, graceful. Much like discovering I wasn’t patient, the harshness of accepting I was going to go through life in a permanent three-legged race with myself was a tough one to choke down.
It was somewhere in the midst of college applications and not having a date to prom when my brain disconnected the phone lines from the neck down — Sarah Palin should have called my body if she really wanted to know how to go rogue. Fast forwarding through a slap-stick comedy reel labeled as “My College Years,” I graduated with scars I didn’t have four years earlier and collected my diploma wearing what I lovingly named, ‘the scoot-boot’ because I had broken my toe two weeks prior.
On my obligatory, “I have no responsibilities and a ton of debt, so what’s a little more debt” trip, I went on a whirlwind European backpacking adventure with my two brothers. Now a college graduate, I took pride in being cautious and tried to own that I went through life like a colt on an ice rink. Every day I didn’t lean on a door with a broken lock and crash into the next room, or fall down crossing the street, I was proud of my grown up self.
Thus, on my international venture, I was eager to cotillion my controlled body all over places that previously would have been littered with danger for a professional klutz. Enter Venice, Italy. Every street ends with a canal. Why people are so enchanted by this city, I’ll never understand. The novelty saturated streets mock the idea of authenticity as a breeze carries the faintest breath of a basement toilet used just enough that no one ever remembers to clean it.
Wandering down a street, we saw an alley that ended in, you guessed it, a canal. I’ll blame the fact that we hadn’t had much sleep and could think of nothing better for why we sauntered down the simple alleyway. Our prize was the end, which had four steps leading to the putrid brown tears of Italy’s sinking city. Being the mature and physically conscious college graduate I had become, I noted the bottom two steps were caked in mud and proudly acknowledged I shouldn’t step there. However, for reasons that can only be explained as, ‘curiosity suited for a cat that received infinite lives from a genie,’ I decided I wanted to look around the corner. What I thought I’d find instead of another lack luster water alley brimming with tourists getting ripped off in their pointy canoes, I don’t know. But I carefully set one foot on the top stair, prepared to take a peek.
There are moments in life, singular moments you’ll remember forever, not because they are defining, but because they were entirely unplanned. Based on the title of this piece, we all know that I did not delicately peer around the corner and discover a canal more beautiful and exciting than any other canal. What I did see was a bridge filled with Asian tourists gasping, as the photo they were taking to hang in their basement bathroom was interrupted by a six-foot tall girl catapulting into the middle of the water like a drunk starfish.
You see, the steps were the kind of slippery Pam cooking spray could only aspire to mimic. A slippery that ancestored the slip-in-slide, bars of soap with greasy hands, and the free style glide of a killer whale breaching the stage at Sea World. All I did was set my foot down, and before I could say ‘gondola,’ was sent, banana peel style, to my back, and rode the four steps like a slide into a kiddie pool of filth. As I was thrust into the aquatic hug of Venice, I had only a few thoughts: the first, “camera. My camera is in my bag, which is across my body, which is submerged in water.” I immediately prioritized my camera’s survival above my own, hoisting it above my head like people do with goats in the tsunami photos for National Geographic; the second, “It’s surprisingly warm in here, wait, it’s warm, oh gross, why is it warm?!” And last, “you’re ok, no big deal, just climb back up the stairs. Easy.”
I padded up to the slide-stairs, (henceforth named slairs) threw my bag, and attempted to hoist myself out. Unfortunately, the slairs were so encased in slime that not even the talon-like grip of a desperate water-logged genie cat could overcome it. My hands butter-wiping the slairs, paired with my realization that the softness caressing my body was underwater wall moss which had no doubt been growing since Shakespeare spit on it, was enough to double the size of my pupils. My brother Kyrion, an EMT, ninja, and over all problem-solver was quick to come to my aid. Braced by his anchored hand and the knowledge that I would never be graceful, I belly crawled up the mud-decorated slairs and onto dry land.
There are moments in life, singular moments you’ll you remember forever, not just because they were unplanned, but because they were shared. My brother’s and I sat in silence for a moment, shocked at the champion display of unavoidable clumsiness. I was covered in mud from the neck down, had no idea if my camera survived it’s bath, and was faced with walking back soaking wet through a city surrounded by water, which allows every person you encounter to surmise what you’ve been up to lately. As a puddle formed around me, a snicker escaped. And then another. It was a laugh that starts in your eyes and fights its way down to the grip of your soul. The kind of laughter that forces you to double over, clutch your sides and cry for mercy because you might just shatter into mirror-lit happiness. It’s the kind of laughter you spend the rest of your life hoping to share with someone again. The three of us laughed until we cried tears into the canal, strewn about the steps, delirious in the light of absurdity.
Eventually, we walked back to our hostel, accepting the sideways glances from all the café clad espresso sippers, giggling because every step sounded like a seal trying to tiptoe on a marble floor. I walked with my head held high and my brothers on either side of me, all of us secretly proud; because, better than any souvenir we could have returned with, it was a story we’d remember forever.