A remote desert area of New Mexico…a decidedly unconventional family leads a secluded, self-sufficient existence. Without the use of money, their life is simple and real, but not trouble free. The restless and incredibly intelligent, 11 year old girl can’t wait to escape spending her time between real life coyote encounters and sending out complaints to multinational companies in order to receive free boxes of Nabisco cookies and brand name sneakers. Her mother, a free spirit, provides for the family by tending to her vegetable garden…often in the nude. Her father, a once fascinating and energetic man is facing a battle with depression. He hasn’t yet learned to live with his inner demons…
Our next destination to Nowhere?
however, as I watched this film with an emotional acuteness too intense to describe even to myself, as I sat breathlessly in front of a computer screen and the words, the images, each and every scene jumped right out in front of me reproducing themselves into vividly blurred visions of a not so hypothetical reality…
I recognized her, him, the girl and all their rawness, I recognized all that emotion and life, all that magnetism and mysticism, all that innate strength – the type of strength that can be acquired only when one is surrounded by nothing and everything. I saw it all as though it were me, him, our daughters, us… in a former life, in a distant future, perhaps merely as a result of a recent memory of my man’s dreams…
You can outdistance that which is running after you, but not what is running inside of you. (Rwandan proverb)
because sometimes as I listen to Andrea, when I hear exactly the same monologue over and over again, when I am no longer able to pay attention to his argument, when he has stopped speaking, but his fierce words continue to replicate themselves in my head, I try to envision what life would be like if I were to actually give in to his occasional outbursts of frustration, his frequent restlessness, his natural instinct to abandon everything – people, money, the System – and just runaway. I wonder what our life would be like, who we would become, if we actually were to go completely OFF THE MAP.
On August 7, 1995 I met a young man with the wildly free spirit of an uncontaminated boy. He approached me, I offered him a taste of my ice cream cone, we walked on the beach. I was captured by all that shiny hair, the muscles, the tattoos, a European accent and most of all his insanely intense eyes. After a week I was on a plane returning home to reality: job searching, a promising career, perhaps even a proposal. The small aircraft had not yet left the runway of Princess Juliana International Airport when I turned to my best friend, Karina, and said:
‘If I never ever see him again this guy has changed my life, altered my perspective forever’…
‘Got a crazy feeling this is not ending here,’ she responded with a raised eyebrow and a grin.
This girl was smart, Russian, and had some crazy superstitions about paper towel, spare change and love. She was one of the true ones and I trusted her. Her support was essential to my future… Essential for a New York gal who had hardly ever left the big city before… because this exotic creature – as gentle and real as a baby giraffe taking his first steps, tripping over his long, lean legs one minute, taking giant leaps the next, and at the same time as uninhibited and full of ferocious energy as a full grown tiger seeking his prey – this exotic creature, was something unimaginable and rare.
August 21, 1995, NYC
I walked into the church for my brother’s wedding rehearsal. Only two weeks had passed, but I had lived it as if it were a year. I walked towards her. My stepmom hugged me, then pulled suddenly back looking me over in an inquisitive way. ‘You look different’, was all that she said with a smile. She knew what I knew. She knew that this guy had changed my life… even if I were never to see him again… like nothing he shifted everything.
If you’re going to love someone or something then don’t be a slow leaking faucet—-be a hurricane. (Shannon L. Alder)
Our story had all the parts of a modern fairytale. It screamed out radiant color and everything else was mere black and white in comparison. The Caribbean sea, the endless beaches, the devastation of a hurricane and the primitiveness that followed, the passion of youth. An Italian boy. An All American girl. A language gap. A scooter. We were the most improbable match. It was love at first sight. Through the years our love story has shown us its impermanence and more than a few challenges. We spent the first months listening to Boyz II Men and Babyface and Randy Crawford’s ‘Mad Over You’, and the music helped us to beat the odds when nobody thought it would last, especially our own parents. Even now, when doubts unveil themselves, we are as malleable as our love. We change form, color and texture to adapt to our changing needs and desires. We have learned to move to our own beat.
I have spent the last 20 years loving and respecting him, getting to know him over and over again, becoming one through patience and acceptance, following the ebb and flow of his excitement, disappointment, joy and rage. Some days easier than others, but I always choose to pursue the ups and downs, the ins and the outs, falling apart and then falling back together again and again and again. I have spent the past 20 years surviving the man who stole more than my heart – he hypnotized every cell in my body… Every single day I work on myself, on us, in order to make it last, in order to survive….
I could have predicted it from the beginning. Strength and stubbornness can only get stronger and more stubborn with time. I tried to convince him to call for help. He refused. Didn’t want to hear of it. He could move our new, industrial sized freezer down those narrow, curvy steps and deliver it safely in our low ceiling, basement warehouse all by his Italian self. Even then, I knew better than to insist. So I watched as he struggled with the size and massiveness of the box, grunts and sweat lashing out of him. I allowed him to do it his way. He visibly showed me all his unsteadiness as he swaggered right and then left, back and then forth, until… he, along with our ‘soon-to-be-ruined’ freezer, crashed straight into the cement siding. He was cool and unaffected. I laughed. I was 25. He was 26. I already knew; too much in love to worry about all the grunting and sweating and crashing our future would hold.
From the very beginning he amazed me with his sensitivity, saving worms from a busy street, bees drowning in a pool, never killing even a single ant… with his humility – I remember how on his first trip to Brooklyn, he offered to help a worker at a gas station move a car as we walked by. And I thought:
Who is this guy?
From the start he startled me with his enthusiasm– not even let down when he realized that Ocean Avenue did in fact lead to the ocean as he had imagined when he first saw my address in writing, but that coming fresh from his tropical paradise it left little to desire (especially in the middle of winter and one of the worst snowstorms those Brooklyn streets had seen in years). He challenged me with his fearless approach to life, a challenge that has more than once seemed too unbearable to bear.
Andrea has always been so sure, so spontaneously passionate about change, doesn’t matter if the idea is good or bad. He has always had these crazy, super big thoughts popping up … little, huge fantasies of greatness and freedom in his mind… at first, it made me nervous. He was a bird in constant flight. Through the years I have learned; in the end once I open the gates he has nowhere he has to go… so he stayed, we stayed, we learned to fly together from that tiny, Sheepshead Bay apartment and dirty streets to places across foreign oceans and seas. We travelled before kids. We travel during kids.
We travel even when we are still.
If you talk to a man in a language he understands, it goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart. (Nelson Mandela)
I watch him from across the room while I am cooking or organizing something and I can see his mind racing like the fast forwarding of a movie. I can feel it. It overwhelms me from the distance and it leaves me with this uneasy, dizzy-like feeling. I don’t know how he is able to keep it up all the time. I often feel the confusion and wish that I could organize his thoughts, clear some out, add spaciousness like I do when sorting the scraps of papers he leaves around. When I was little I used to love to flip through the pages of comic books so that they would magically come alive like when seeing them on the big screen. I was in control of how fast or how slow the images would move and pass me by. With Andrea this type of control is impossible, not even for him. There is no pause button, no slow motion… We start talking about our life in Costa Rica and he is already fantasizing about a trip to India in a RV. We are visiting the Canary Islands and he is looking for stores to rent in the Bahamas. We have just moved to Alto Adige near the border of Austria and he Is searching the web for houses in Sicily. This is his language.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep. But I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep. (Robert Frost)
Nowadays, he thinks too much and sleeps too little as worries about responsibility, the future, the thought of total disaster and long emergencies* disturbing his dreams… in the pitch black of the night he scribbles them all down, along with his to do lists – between the phone calls he needs to make and his reminders to stay calm – he writes his plans: A, B and C.
He has always had a rare curiosity for all that is new and different. A couple of years ago he met a guy who went barefoot everywhere. He approached him and after a 10 minute conversation he just had to try it for himself. So now, he walks the Earth feeling absolutely everything under his feet, his soles as worn as his overly sensitive heart, this too feels absolutely everything. This is who he is. A feeler, a sufferer, a wanderer… and still a dreamer. This comes natural to him. For me, it is more complicated. It is work and this is why keeping up with him seems sometimes like labor… full time, overtime, weekends and holidays, once in a while I am even called on to do a nightshift.
Keeping up with this intelligent, perceptive, never stopping mind isn’t an easy chore for a live-the-moment, peaceful sleeping single-tasker like me. But, as Karen Maezen Miller says in her book Hand Wash Cold, some items require extra care and if you want to ever have the chance of wearing them (or your life) again you are going to have to do the job. So I handle him delicately, test the waters, avoid abrasive detergents, and when I am calm and balanced, I know just the right words, exactly what to do, how to react. The sun shines on us and our problems can be hung out to dry.
When I am not, all the wrong stuff always seems to find its way in like a mistaken splash of bleach; it seems to ooze out like the damaging color of a brand new, red sock hiding in a mistaken load. Our life together is stained and no longer decent enough to be seen in public. The blacks are faded, the whites disappear and the colors are washed away with the Tide forever… or at least until some courageous person is willing to put on a rose colored shirt.
10,000 flowers in Spring. The moon in Autumn. A cool breeze in Summer. Snow in Winter. If your mind isn’t clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life. (Wu Men)
Most of the time I feel like I am still in paradise, I still see the colors screaming all around us… and then there are the other times… when I feel as if this paradise has dried up and left a heavy load of sand lying on my shoulders. My body tries to tell my mind when enough is enough and my mind pleads for a bit of sanity, sensibility and relief; my body however, is not always able to answer.
When I see him I still feel that feeling… when you just know that you are walking alongside greatness. Early on, I jumped in perfect hair, manicured nails, Prada shoes and all. After all these years the greatness is still there, but then there is also this great big mess that comes along with it. The perfection is less physically visible under the colossal pile of confusion. I no longer jump in like before, yet up the spiraling staircase I continue to climb. Whenever in doubt always go upward, I once read.
We haven’t gone off the map, but our life has taken quite a few unlikely detours… he has guided us towards an existence less followed – full of freedom, adventure, spirituality, pleasant surprises, wonderful people and also a fair share of chaos… our life is simple and real, but not trouble free.
Does he really want to keep going? Lead us straight off the map? Most may think that this is extreme, however with all the problems in this world it is actually extremely correct. Learning to live with even less, off the land. Learning to survive with our own hands, on our own feet, off the grid with a sense of respect and gratitude difficult to find whenever money is involved…
Who was it that said that it is impossible to find everything until nothing is standing in your way?…
an existence where our days and nights are embraced by nature, the taste of the need for real survival and the biological rhythm of life how it was meant to be. I think about the potential for peace and silence, the type I only experienced once in my life when immersed by the Costa Rican jungle. It is tempting and yet…
it just doesn’t feel right for me, for my daughters, right now. Not today anyhow. Tomorrow is another day. I suppose that for the moment it simply isn’t part of my dreams or, maybe… maybe, I am just too scared. While Andrea’s words lead me to believe that it is very much a part of his dreams, his dreams seem to come and go like the clouds; they so much depend on the direction and temperament of the wind… so, for the moment, why should I feel selfish? Why should I despair?
For a family man, with the burning soul of a primitive being scrapping by on lost traditions and ideals in an age where nothing makes sense, in a moment of time when we all could use some extra special care, it is impossible to know which direction to take. However, better to be stuck in this mist, those transparent clouds of tiny droplets suspended in the atmosphere and limiting the visibility than stuck in freezing, hard ice which precludes your mobility completely.
When you live as lightly as the mist, when you know how to ‘trans-surf’ through life without too many needs or attachments to things, when you know how to pick up and go with hope and determination there is the possibility to question and adapt…there is more possibility to survive. (Andrea Bizzocchi)
For a father of two young girls who feels more comfortable among a party of wolves than at a dinner party, who struggles to feel whole among plastic and smartphones and automobiles – who loves his family above all else – determining whether to lead your family out of the woods or straight back in is a monumental task.
People often see me as the victim, the follower, the little wifey… but I choose. I choose to stay with him for all the extraordinary things he does, for how much he loves us, and not back away for the moments of distress that he causes me. It is my decision to love this incredible human being and, it is my decision to question right alongside him:
Should we stay or should we go?
Journal Entry, July 15, 2015, Ecovillage at Ithaca, Frog Mat Room
I sit and I pray for answers. Another tiring day of decisions… none of which were actually made. I remind myself that in nothing there is everything…
I remind myself this every time our family is tense, tired and troubled. I remind myself this every time my daughters ask for a house, a bedroom with curtains, a dog… and when I too long for a fixed address, a bookshelf, the sound of something delicious frying in a favorite pan, the scent of homemade bread escaping from my open window, a luminous kitchen overlooking a lake or mountain view, freshly cut flowers placed on a table, neighbors. I remind myself that in our nothing there is everything else… the security of friends around the globe, the strength of adaptability… life experience that continues to teach us through sheer necessity the value of communication, honesty, love and utter respect…
I remember to remind myself this in between my bouts of muddled up grievance:
‘If the grass isn’t always greener then why does it seem so dry and demanding on this side when I have consistently and faithfully been watering mine?
Why is my body rebelling against me these days: back, neck and through every pore… through the need to sleep 18 hours straight?
and my reflections about our relentless faith:
We fight, he roars, the girls plead, I weep… and even when it seems so impossible to go on we always find a way to find our way back; even on the worst of days I continue to want to listen, to learn, to love and to survive.
So, I sit here and I try to pray as the tune of a Taylor Swift song that my daughters listen to a zillion times over races through my mind:
Are we out of the woods yet?
Are we out of the woods yet?
Are we out of the woods yet?
Are we out of the woods?
Are we in the clear yet?
Are we in the clear yet?
Are we in the clear yet?
In the clear yet, good.
Once I thought happiness was the sizzle in the pan. But it’s not. Happiness is the spice, that fragile speck, beholden to the heat, always and forever tempered by our environment. (Sasha Martin, LIFE FROM SCRATCH)
Life isn’t about getting over with one challenge and on to the next. It shouldn’t be about survival. If we want to enjoy our lives no matter where we live or how, no matter if we share a bed or a home with someone or not, whether we have others depending on us or we just have ourselves, life is about all the delicious details between each difficulty. It is about noticing the wonderfulness of it all along the way. There are no woods to get out of… no clearing to hope for (although there does always seems to be a pleasant one just around the bend). There is as much a perfect person for each of us as there is a perfect life. Relationships, like all aspects of life, take work.
Andrea has a loud voice, little patience and every once in a while a huge, scary fury…. we fight. No… we struggle, but in the end we communicate about everything. This is one of the most valuable things that he has taught me. I know many couples who don’t fight at all. They are calm and collected and agreeable. Picture perfect from the outside. Underneath the charade everything is a shamble. They lack honesty. They lack connection… and then one day all their stuff suddenly unravels all over the place. Desperation leads them to cut the cord. I aspire to eliminate the loudness and ugly words in our life together, but better to fight and then make up than never to fight at all.
There aren’t two people perfect for one another. There are only two people who have the desire to make it work and therefore work for it every single day. (Danni)
This, and only this is why each and every second we continue to fight each other and love each other, inquire internally and make changes externally and this is why 20 years later, I am still able to survive him and he is still able to survive me right back. For some this may be nothing, but for me this is love, this is survival, this is nothing less than EVERYTHING.
And to everyone else, thanks for making it to the end of this post and sharing this special day with us!
with joy and love,
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*’The Long Emergency’ is the name of a book written by James Howard Kunstler. After spending a weekend with the author at his home in Upstate New York in 2007, Andrea published a book entitled Back to The Past (original title: Ritorno al Passato) which was a result of their conversation together. From then on there was no going back.)