I haven’t seen Ben in years, possibly as many as 10 or 12. As best as I can recall, the last time I saw him was near my home in Massachusetts…one of your typical Cape Cod beach scenes, with two friends lying in the sun and chatting. At the time, he was engaged, and I was already living with my Stefano, who wasn’t with me on that particular trip, though.
Even though we live in different countries, we’ve kept in touch over the years. First, with handwritten letters (hey, remember those? 😉 ), now with email.
Well, Ben is now in Italy with his family–his wife and two young sons. They’re not staying with us in Florence because they are going to one of those humongous family reunions, with relatives flying here from different parts of the U.S. to spend a few days all together in a rented villa in the Tuscan countryside…with a swimming pool. Tomorrow we’ve tentatively planned a get-together…of the “bring your own bathing suit” type.
Ben and I go a long way back. We have been friends (ONLY friends, and yes that is possible!, in spite of what Billy Crystal aka “Harry Burns” declares in “When Harry met Sally,” that is, that men and women cannot be friends…bah, hogwash!) ever since we both went on a solidarity trip to Nicaragua not long after the Sandinistas took power. We were part of a group of U.S. citizens staying in the city of Estelì, in the northern part of the country. Estelì and its surrounding countryside were frequent targets of the U.S.-sponsored “contras,” who were mostly former members of the cruel, corrupt and brutal National Guard (under the former dictator Somoza). At any rate, to cut a long story short, we hoped that the presence of a bunch of U.S. citizens inside the city would in some way protect the inhabitants of Estelì from the vicious (and illegal) “contra” terrorist attacks. I think it did.
At any rate, that’s how Ben and I first met. In Nicaragua. In a war zone. 25 years ago…or thereabouts.
Since then we’ve seen each other a handful of times in the States and here in Italy. But it’s been quite a while now, as I mentioned, so I’m really looking forward to seeing him again and meeting his wife and kids (Ben’s never met Stefano, either).
Yesterday he called me from Rome, where they began their summer 2012 Italian holiday. After trying to figure out when and how we could hook up this weekend without melting in the horrendous heat wave, he asked me pointblank:
“So, are you healthy?”
I’ve been asked this question before, but it always manages to send a slight shiver through my spine.
Am I healthy? I mean, really healthy? What should I answer? I mean, I FEEL healthy. I LOOK healthy. And, in spite of my itsy bitsy immune system, I haven’t been sick in ages…no flus, no fevers, no coughs, nada. Most importantly, all my counts are stable…and I have no CRAB symptoms. Does all that signify that I’m healthy? Or healthy enough?
After a slight pause, I decided to let my infallible gut reply:
“Yes, I am.”