CHIAVARI, Italy – Aldo and Carla live in the same building as the Cleans (http://thisitalianlife.blogspot.it/2014/06/life-this-clean-italian-life.html) I know their names because Aldo used to be an active cyclist and on sunny Sunday mornings his cycling buddies would gather under his apartment building and call up to him to come down.
|Streets of Saronno|
“Hey Aldo,” they would yell. “Vieni giu.”
Aldo, who looked to be about 70 years old, would come out on his balcony, wave and yell back, “arrivo.” Then Carla would come out and as the guys shouted up “Ciao Carla,” she would wave back at them, ask them about their wives and kids, and basically kill time until Aldo got his stuff together and made an appearance in the small piazza in front of their building.
Aldo would be dressed in his cycling gear: protective helmet, Lycra shirt and knee length cycling shorts and sporty gloves, his spiked cycling shoes clicking on the pavement as he wheeled his bike out onto the street. Then they would all get on their bikes, say their final farewells to Carla and head off to who knows where for a morning Tour di Saronno, which is kind of like the Tour de France, but just slightly.
Then the unimaginable happened. Aldo had a massive stroke. The vital, vibrant man was gone. In his place was a feeble old person who couldn't walk and couldn't talk and in no way resembled the healthy, active Aldo of the past.
He didn’t leave the house anymore. Sometimes Carla would help him out to the balcony. His bathrobe had replaced his Lycra cycling gear, his feet now in slippers instead of spiked biking shoes. His buddies didn’t come by anymore, his world shrunk and possibly his spirit along with it.
A year passed and Aldo reappeared. A little shaky, his one good hand gripping the handle of a cane. Not in great shape, but at least he was no longer house bound. He and Carla started going out for an aperitivo in the late afternoons. She would hold on to his weak arm, keeping his steady. He would clump alongside her, setting his cane down with force as if to say, “I may be down but I’m not out.”
Neighbors greeted them on the street, smiling and happy to see him. Wives would discreetly inquire about his health while husbands would pat him on the back as if to say “Bravo Aldo, you’re doing good.”
He even started driving again. He didn’t go far and he was never gone long, but even that quick once around the block must have given him a tremendous sense of freedom. Even I, his invisible fan, was rooting for him.
It took about a week before I realized that Aldo hadn’t made an appearance for a while. I knew he wasn’t dead because here in Italy when someone dies the funeral parlors hang gray banners on the apartment building door with the name of the deceased on them. So if he wasn’t dead, where was he?
Then I noticed that there was another person in the apartment, a woman. She was there early in the morning, drinking coffee out on the balcony, and late at night having a smoke before going to bed. She was either a relative or someone Carla had brought in to help with Aldo.
Then one afternoon I saw her wheeling Aldo down the street in a wheelchair. He was yelling something at her and she was yelling back. To me that meant she wasn’t hired help and not a distant relative either. More likely she was their daughter. The woman would take him out in the wheelchair every couple of days, and every time she did they would argue.
It wasn’t until the day I saw her helping him into the apartment building that I noticed there was a large, soft cast on his bad leg. It seems the reason he hadn’t been out was because he had further disabled his already disabled leg. That also meant he could not drive. The other woman was doing all the driving. Bad news.
But then, that woman, whoever she was, wasn’t there anymore. Aldo started coming out by himself in the morning. He still had the cast on his leg but he was managing to open the door to the car and get in. He would start the motor and slowly back out of his parking place. Then Carla would come out on the balcony to watch him, often with her hand over her mouth and anxiety showing in her eyes.
Aldo would slowly pull away from the building and turned the corner, now out of sight. About 10 minutes later he would be back. He would park the car, get out and hobble into the building.
I was so happy to see him making that effort that I almost cried. All I could think of was bravo Aldo, don’t give up. I’ve moved away from Saronno since then so I don’t know what really happened to Aldo, but you know, I don’t think he did give up. I just don't think so.