All through the four years of my relationship with Angelo in France, I had been able to keep my secret. From him, from my mother, from Edoardo.
They all had different ideas of what had caused my resistance to leave right after New Year's Eve and join university in Vice City for the Spring semester. Angelo was guessing I wanted to spend one last birthday in France -- but I couldn't care less about my birthdays. Or, like him, about France. My mother thought I was full of fear of leaving for the US, understanding it was much more Angelo's will than mine. And Edoardo -- I don't know what thoughts crossed his mind, but at least once he was thankful to me, for the extra time with his son.
But none of them would know my real reason to stay. None of them could ever guess.
None of them would understand. Angelo would kill me, if he knew what was keeping us away from the US. My mother would be disappointed with my weakening sentimentality. Edoardo would despise me for being even more foolish than he thought.
I wanted to see her blossom one last time -- not just to say goodbye.
I wanted to feel the miracle of her colorful presence one last time, feel her perfumed embrace.
My most constant friend for all those years, my only confident -- I wanted to request guidance one last time, before leaving her forever.
A cool evening, when everybody in the house was busy with their own affairs, I left for a walk. It was known that I needed time on my own, and that I enjoyed the nights to wander. Nobody asked where I was going, maybe nobody saw me leaving. Nobody cared, actually.
I had been watching the cherry tree, and I knew it would soon blossom to its fullest.
As I walked up the slope, the vision of a dark pink cloud towering the hill told me my dear friend would present herself in full glory before me.
I, instead, decided to undress, and present myself before her in my humblest, purest nudity.
Leaving my clothes in a bundle at the bottom of the hill, I walked guided by the light of the full moon. The shinny, moist grass breaking under my bare feet was the only audible sound, and that of a faraway bird.
Like I had done all over the years, I carried a question in my heart. Slowly approaching the tree with reverence, I reached out my hand. Opening my palm, I let the question fly in that cloud of subtle perfume, like a bird or a butterfly I was freeing.
I had learned to be patient. I had understood the tree had its own time, and it could be days before she'd murmur an answer.
But not that evening.
Will I ever see my father again?, I had asked the first Spring. Her silence, her stillness had only indicated I had would have to wait, patiently. Not for another answer -- that never came --, but to again meet him.
Is Angelo the right man? A bird bursting into singing, remaining invisible among the higher branches was the answer. Or was the answer the moment he had fled, flying away from the other side of the tree, where I could not devise it, leaving just waving flowers and falling petals as a sign of his vanishing. Exactly like Angelo would, later in my life.
Should I go to the US?, had been the question, last Spring. A sudden gust of wind, blowing a rain of petals in my direction, had been the answer -- that I had understood as a flamboyant yes, followed as it was by a cloud of fireflies encircling me.
Am I doing the right thing with my life?, was my question that year.
I was ready to come back night after night, or as many afternoons as it took, to receive my answer.
I was aware it was the broadest question I had asked thus far.
It was also the quickest answer I ever got.
After perhaps twenty minutes -- or less -- of having stayed under the tree in perfect stillness, concentrating on my breathing like I had been taught by my father in Punaouilo, when he had shared brief meditation lessons with me, and repeating the question in my heart as a solemn mantra, the answer came.
Before my eyes, the prettiest cherry flower slowly descended from the tree. Its petals shone under the moonlight, resembling an iridescent bug in its brief flight. I swear I did not move my hand an inch -- yet, it landed perfectly on my open palm.
The answer seemed clearer than ever before. I must be doing the right thing going with Angelo to the US.
Even if later it proved that the only right thing was going to the US, where I'd begin my life anew, and a career -- and not Angelo. But he was my motivation to go. And even when he left me, I did not cogitate going back to France. It was like taking the wrong car to get to the right place.
In that delicate flower resting on my palm, I could not foresee how my relationship with my boyfriend would end. I'm now glad for my own limitations in understanding the message from the cherry tree. If it told me I would part from Angelo in the US, I might have chosen not to go, and hold him in France.
The evening breeze agitated the flower in my palm. So light its petals of translucent pink were, they fluttered like the wings of a butterfly. And my heart with it. Pacified. Appeased.
But the doubt would return, a few nights after my visit to the cherry tree.
I was awoken by Angelo's shouts from the heavy sleep that would hit me after having sex. At first, I thought he was dreaming. But as I opened my eyes, I realized he was indeed jumping before the windows of our room, pointing to the darkness outside.
"It's snowing, Laurent! It's snowing!" He laughed boisterously, clapping his hands, and while dancing, dragged me out of our room.
"We can't go out like that!" I exclaimed, as we headed downstairs.
"Do you want to put on your polar gear, Laurent?" Angelo laughed, in the best of moods. "We'll check the snow only. We are not going to the North Pole."
"Still." I said, releasing myself from Angelo's grasp. "It must be below zero to be snowing!"
Angelo agreed to put on the t-shirt I grabbed for him, while I went downstairs using a warm pullover -- and our rather skimpy underwear.
What seemed impossible, what seemed like a reverie, and that had never happened before in that part of Southern France -- not that I knew, or had heard of -- was actually happening.
It was snowing. Lightly, timidly. Enough just to cover the ground with a thin layer of shining blue white. When it stopped, after less than half an hour, under the trees' canopies the grass had remained untouched.
Angelo and I danced and screamed and ran, trying to make snowballs to throw at one another -- but there was not that much snow. Enough just to excite and marvel us.
There were no witnesses to our frenzy -- or the snow.
Catherine was away, teaching in Belgium. Edoardo never left his room, never appeared on the balcony to check our mess. In my mother's absence, lately Edoardo would lock himself in their bedroom, and drink himself heavily into oblivion.
I used to think, back then, that he was trying to forget his son's impending departure, and not to have to lay eyes on our shameless romance, as he reputed it.
Now I tend to think he had learned already about being seriously ill, but had not communicated it to my mother yet. That left him to bear all alone with his own impending departure -- death. Because when he did tell my mother, she immediately resigned from her position at the university. She had told me she was tired of travelling to Belgium and teaching, but later I found her real reason for quitting was to stay 24 hours by Eduardo's side, and dedicate herself completely to him only. So strong and desperate was their love.
But at the time, as we were about to leave to the US, I couldn't care less about Edoardo, and I was glad he remained locked in his room, probably sleeping the heavy sleep of drunkards.
After Angelo and I grew tired of running around, we collapsed onto the wet floor. The snow would rapidly melt under our hot, sweating bodies -- and despite the dirty mess, we were enchanted. Specially me, the boy from the tropics, who had never seen snow before.
"This is the sign, Laurent." Angelo said. "This is the sign that it is time to leave France. This is the USA calling us, beckoning us."
"But didn't you tell Catherine it never snows in Vice City?" I retorted, confused.
"Of course it doesn't, Laurent." He slapped my ass. "Don't be silly. I'm just saying this snow represents the USA, calling us. Can't you see it?"
I was about to tell Angelo it snowed in other parts of France, so I couldn't see why the snow should represent the US to us -- but we engaged in a passionate kiss that left me breathless and unwillingly to say anything that would taint that magic moment.
But as we kissed, a saddening thought did cross my mind, and partially disengaged me from what should have been an unforgettable moment -- though my body continued to respond to Angelo's caresses, and we almost made love right there on the cold ground.
I thought of the cherry tree. And how the snow should have killed it's flowers. I could picture the petals freezing, and falling to the ground. The tree would certainly survive the low temperature of that single cold evening, but be left bare. The flowers must be all dead, already -- I remember thinking, as Angelo kissed and caressed me.
I never went back to check on the cherry tree, see whether any flowers had survived. I understood that, like Angelo said, the snow was indeed a calling to go to the US, having killed the cherry flowers.
It was time to leave.
And it was time to go back to bed.
As the last log collapsed into charcoal, and I heard the faint chirping of birds grow louder and stronger, the light dawned on my uncle Armand's island. And then I recalled he was the only reason why I had come this far -- and not to recollect about Angelo, or Edoardo, or our little family that had never been anything but a bitter impossibility.
The snow, I reconsidered, had been a clear indication of how things between Angelo and I would grow cold and wither away. But I did not know it then.
What saddened me the most, as I returned to bed after having peed, was not so much the hideous years of fighting Edoardo, that had shaped my early adulthood, and my disposition to fight back all forms of bullying.
It saddened me that, in a single sleepless night in Sweden, the most precious memories of my teenager years had exploded in my memory like fireworks, brilliant, noisy and buoyant with love and hope, to next fade and vanish in the dark smoke of the lies and deception that had followed. The only light that remained in my heart, the constant bonfire that had consumed me through the years, was the grudge I held against the Vivaces. Edoardo, already deceased -- and yet I could not bring myself to think of him with the least tenderness -- and his son, my ex-boyfriend Angelo -- whom I hated.
Four precious years of my life, when I had found my first love, my first boyfriend, when I had first kissed and had sex for the first time, when I had come out to my mother to be embraced by her, only to have to fight against my boyfriend's father irrational prejudice in my own house.
During those four years I had let myself be guided and then convinced to follow Angelo into the dream of his life of living abroad, I had experienced the fear of losing him to death, and found the courage to drag him out of his desperation and catapult us into a new life -- all that, the pain, the pleasure, the joy, the sadness, the doubts, the struggles, the discoveries, all would be revived in very few hours, abridged in one sleepless night. It seemed too melancholic how life, even as it progressed and the years mounted, could be contained in the space of scarce hours, memories brought back to life and left behind to die during a single night. For in the tragedy of surviving the days, weeks, months, years, there were but a few memorable moments that would last and be remembered.
Hoping I would not again dream of the sunken Île du Blanchomme, the nightmare that had first woken me up, I finally slept -- knowing I would need all the rest and strength to have a probably emotional conversation with my uncle Armand in the day that had already started outside my historic cottage.
But nothing would prepare me for the next blow.