Florence. When the temperature drops below 50, that chilling memory sets in.
Italian chianti empties faster closer to the source. Two bottles stand between me and my memories of the day. Night found me wandering the streets with my involuntary companions.
Alcohol is a vasodilator. It drives blood to the surface. The Italian night shears off that fuzzy warm heat like a barber looking for lice. Cold burrows into bones like zoster, happy to find a permanent home. I had to get indoors.
The trains shut down before we reached the station. The jackass who told me he knew the way gets a special room in hell when the morning star rises. I paid a driver $200 to get us back to Pisa at three in the morning. I carried that jackass back to the hotel, though I wanted to leave him on the street.
The hotel Orologica waited 700 years to kill me. The thin sheets, designed for Italian summers, offered no solace. I curled up, shivering. I paced when I could stand. I forced myself to drink water, but I ran out. I tried to sleep. When you’re that cold and that drunk you don’t really sleep. You wait. You beg your liver to process faster. You empty your stomach with a fire hose. Original wood truss ceilings, hand painted walls, period furniture, and I couldn’t take my eyes off the floor.
Years later, morning came. My hotel huddled four blocks from the Leaning Tower. My cab would take me to an airport in three hours. I had to see it. Drunk, sick, cold, it had to be done. At sixteen I declined an offer to climb the tower. They closed it shortly afterward, citing safety concerns. I thought I’d given up a chance of a lifetime. This was one last shot.
Knowing the tower leans didn’t prepare me for the vertigo. Stumbling up staircases sloped by billions of feet I often stumbled against the windowsill looking, not out, but down. There are no bars on the windows.
From the top, twenty two years later, I found closure.
As I write this, Canada descends on New York. I stay indoors with the heat on, a sweater, and the tea screaming on the stove. I’ll never be cold again, I shout.
But I am.