Eat. Pray. Love. Roman Holiday Part Due

This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.
Stephanie D. Barnes

Last year, I came to Rome three days after my husband of 21 years had dumped me for the second time. Nobody knew that but me. I set off 5,000 miles away from home by myself to face heartbreak alone. I was doing well the first two days after he dumped me (To be fair, he was quite kind, but I use artistic license because however eloquently delivered, it translates to “I don’t want you” and that is being dumped). I was actually happy that he had verbalized what I figured out after our second counseling session. I had made peace with the fact that our marriage had laid down to die and was just waiting for it to take its last breath. I felt like I was living the lyrics of Neither One of Us Wants to Say Goodbye[1]. I clung to our marriage like I clung to the hope that I would be the one to break the cycle of marital dysfunction and we’d be the ones to make it. But all good shows come to an end and he had the courage to say what needed to be said. We kissed and said goodbye just like the Manhattans[2] and the Taylor version of the Huxtables came to an end. I didn’t even cry. I was truly relieved. The burden of killing a dead horse had become too much to bear. I was looking forward to going to Rome to contemplate on life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

But I did not fly off happily into the sunset. Three hours before leaving for the airport, he decided he needed to talk. He just wanted me to know that he was 100% sure that he had made the right decision. Really?? Did I ask you that? Did you really think I was wondering that? I could tell that he needed to get peace with his decision and needed to talk through why he made it, but I was not the one to give it to him. Dude, you dumped me. I cannot be the one to console you about your breakup. Despite the turmoil of our marriage, we were really good friends. We had grown up together pretty much. We married at 22 & 23 and had spent half of our adult lives together. Who else would he talk to? But this was the one thing I could not talk to him about. He had dumped me six months before and we had gotten back together. I am a strong woman, but getting dumped is devastating and crushing to the ego. I can’t console the one who dumped me twice. And so the freedom began to weigh me down and my joy faded to desolation once again. As I dramatized Jesus giving up the ghost, I told him that just like Jesus on the cross, “It is done.” There is no more to be said. I am no longer your person to talk to. You must find someone else.

And instead of leaving for Rome in victory, I left in tears. I cried the entire flight to Chicago. I cried at the gate in London. Mercifully, I slept the entire flight to Rome. And I arrived feeling hopeful. I decided that I would visit seven churches to cleanse me of my heart break. I plotted out my route and the next day, I set off. I was feeling good until he texted me to say he was 100% sure that we were meant to be together. Wait? How does one go from I’m 100% sure that I don’t want you to I’m 100% sure that we were meant to be together? This was three days later. Is our marriage Jesus? Have we come back from the dead? So instead of spending my trip in Rome healing and giving up the ghost of our marriage, I spent it on the phone and texting him about whether or not we would get back together. It was agonizing. Part of me wanted to say, F**k It! It’s over and it should stay over. Part of me wanted to fix it, because I so desperately wanted my family to stay together. The boys didn’t know. I didn’t want to break their hearts a second time. But you cannot fix what is not broken. Some things fall apart because they no longer go together. And there is nothing to do but leave them be.

The night that I left Rome, I visited my friend Tamara at her wonderful home! We had wine, commiserated on love lost and being badasses in spite of the bullsh*t that love has thrown our way. I took a picture with the original, Turandot[3], in celebration of Vincero[4]! After I left her home, I walked around the neighborhood and took in the sights one last time. I had a late dinner at a little café and enjoyed a final glass of wine. I walked to the top of the Spanish Steps and looked out over the cityscape. It felt magnificent and full of possibility. I released my fate to the stars and celebrated the renaissance that was on the horizon. I prayed that God would allow me to return to Rome to write. I wanted to come for three months, but I would take a week. My story of redemption began in Rome, so it was only fitting that I would return to write about it.

I returned home thinking that maybe I was going to stay married, maybe not. We had a lovely reunion only for him to touch me in the morning, then just walk away[5]. I wasn’t sure if that was goodbye or not. It was. While I was driving to my brother’s wedding, he called me to tell me that we should remain separated and proceed with the divorce. I always thought that was a face to face conversation, but maybe I’m just crazy. So I sat through my brother’s wedding mourning the end of my marriage and realizing that I had been dumped a third time. Wow! Who get’s dumped three times by the same man in one summer? Me! It makes for great character building. I believe that life is a great lesson and wrote about my Eat. Pray. Love. A Roman Holiday for One experience.

Fast forward. I had a great opportunity to speak at an event in London for business. And since I was across the pond, why not go to Rome? Made sense to me! London was an awesome adventure. My last night in London was the best—full of the unexpected! My return to Rome was like Caesar crossing the Rubicon. There is no turning back. There is only moving forward. As I entered Rome, I felt the weight of the past year lift from me. It was truly magical.

My taxi driver, Mario, was a true gift. He was a 10th generation Roman and wanted me to enjoy his city. He said he would show me the city on my way to my friend’s house. I plead the blood of Jesus that he was not some human trafficking lynchpin and off we went. On that note, I must mention that the guardian angel assigned to me deserves all of her props. I always say that God protects fools, children, and me. If you ever doubt his existence, remember that he protects me from my choices and adventurous nature. Anyway…Mario took me around the city and our first stop was atop the Aventine Keyhole on the Aventine Hill, where you could look through the keyhole of a gate and see the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica. It was magnificent in the moonlight! We drove by the Bocca della Verità, the Mouth of Truth, which legend says that if a liar puts their hand inside its mouth, they will lose it. Then he said he had a surprise me for me and to trust him and I was certain I would end up on the Italian 6:00 news. But to my delight, he took me to the Trevi Fountain! It was as magical as I remembered it on my first night in Rome the year before. He told me that if I drank from the drinking fountain and made a wish, it would be just as good as throwing a coin in the fountain. So I did!

After the Trevi Fountain, he took me on to Tamara’s home and we had a lovely time reconnecting over wine on her terrace. Her home is a truly magical place. I felt so peaceful in her presence. She is one of those people who just exudes one with the universe and you can’t help but fall in sync. She is an expat from Texas who escaped to Rome many years ago. She is the inspiration for my plot for my own escape! I sat up for a little bit after she went to bed and marveled at the fact that I was really here! God is a mighty redeemer and provider. I am grateful that He made a way for me to return.

I came to Rome to write and that’s what I did. The words just seem to flow from me like water. I was able to write without straining. My muse loves Rome. She comes to me freely! I love Rome. I feel free when I am there. It has come to represent a spirit of courage. I have learned to embrace the spirits. I feel the spirit move in me and I follow it. I connect with the spirits in others. I have learned to keep on going when I detect a funky spirit. Some folks just exude funkiness. I don’t try to fix the funk anymore. That is not my responsibility. I have entered a season of connection with sweet spirits. If your spirit ain’t sweet, I ain’t got nothing for you. You gon’ be alright when Jesus comes.

My return to Rome was my personal sequel to Eat Pray Love! As before I enjoyed the culinary delicacies of Italian food. Every day I ate my favorite pastas and had gelato for dinner. I ran 5 miles every day so that I would not bust out of my clothes. I made a goal to run the Spanish steps 10 times. I did this one day. It was grueling but I did it! I incorporated the stairs into my run and had a wonderful route from the Piazza di Spagna to the Piazza del Popolo! On the last day, I switched up my route and ran past the Pantheon and Trevi Fountain in between the Piazzas. It was so cool to run through the streets of Rome!

I didn’t visit as many churches this time. I got to the ones I missed during my last pilgrimage—the two churches in the Piazza del Popolo and the holy grail of my quest, the Basilica of San Clemente al Laterano. I had been trying to make it to this church for the past three years! I got lost the first year I came to Rome and when I got there it was closed. Last year, I got there too late before it closed for lunch. I never could make it back during that trip. I almost didn't make it this time, but I persevered! Making it to that church was so symbolic of many things in my life, that I cried like a baby when I got there. As before, I prayed in each church. I allowed tears of joy to fall this time and not tears of sorrow.

And then there is Love. Oh love! At Basilica of San Clemente al Laterano I prayed for love—love lost and love to be found. Despite all that has happened, I still believe in love. But I also know exactly what it looks like. How it feels. How it shouldn’t. Love is simple in all of its complexities. Life is short, but life is also long. We should not spend it trying to force love to be what it is not. The greatest lesson that I’ve learned about love is this:

If it don't fit, don't force it

just relax and let it go

Just because that's how you want it

doesn't mean it will be so[6]

You can love someone and your relationship does not work. You can be good people, but not good for each other. Sometimes love fades and sometimes it transforms. But in the end, love never fails. If you are open for love, it will find you. And you’ll know it when you see it. You’ll know it when you feel it. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

[1] Neither One of Us Wants to Say Goodbye, Gladys Knight and the Pips (1973).

[2] Kiss and Say Goodbye, The Manhattans (1976)

[3] A painting by Elena Tomasi Ferroni from her collection, In Nero, Fairy Tales and Histories Reimagined and Retold.

[4] Vincerò is the concluding cry of the aria "Nessun dorma" from Puccini's opera Turando celebrating Prince Calaf’s pending victory in the morning. It means, “I will win!”

[5] Touch Me in the Morning, Diana Ross (1973)

[6] If It Don’t Fit, Kelly Patterson (1977)