The airport that morning was not as crowded as she remembered, when she was used to take the plane in summer. Maybe because it was Monday, and normally the busiest days are during the weekend. Or maybe because the last time she had taken the plane, was so long time ago that she could not even remember. Right at that moment her gate was opening and she could see the people arriving, running anxiously. Slightly smiling, she recalled when she was used to do the same. She was constantly late, and she had to run like a fool hoping that the plane would have waited for her. She always arrived at the gate sweating like I had run a marathon.With a bit of melancholy, she huffed an “Alas,such a long time ago” …
A nostalgic sentence, with a bitter taste, pronounced by someone whose life has changed completely and in a short time. She knew that what she has been, It was part of a past full of joys but also of tortuous paths, where she had to walk to become what she was now.
When it was her turn she could see the line of people opening to make her pass. Not because she was a VIP, but because she was disabled, a part of herself which she could still hardly deal with.
So many times, when the people was looking at her coming, she had to hold back the anger she had inside. She avoided to talk, evading from any question about why or how she had become like that.
She had been accompanied on the plane, to her “special” seat, when the memory rushed in .
She perfectly remembered that day, after two years that her physical and psychological health were breaking down for the acute and chronic pain. No doctor was able to explain why her muscles had become so weak that she could not even walk alone and without any support.
There was no apparent reason, no blood exam or MRI showed any medical cause. And after months and months of pain, the only possibility left was the department for the most severe psychological diseases, for the hopeless, unsolvable cases, where it could be found out that a fibromyalgia could have been a simple psychosomatic reaction. Often, the diseases of her generation came more likely from a psychological origin than a physical one. And that’s how, after neurological test they told her: “We are sorry but we have to tell you that your problem has a physical cause. You are hypermobile. You can get to know if it’s about what we think only undergoing a DNA exam in the genetic department. She didn’t even know that such a division existed. She listened carefully when they explained her that this department is addressed to people with rare genetic diseases, which cannot be detected by any other normal exam. She was asking herself what was the meaning of being hypermobile. She had heard it since she was a child but she had never thought that this could be associated to a disease. Remembering the day which changed her life forever, the plane had already landed on that mysterious island which had caught her soul many years before, giving her back as gift the best memories of her youth and the best friendships, some of which were still part of her “other” life. As she always said, there was an “Arty of before” and an “Arty of after”. And now, she arrived again to that land, for the first time since she had become the “Arty of after”.
She looked outside the bus, the same bus she took, many times years before, trying to glimpse something familiar. She was anxious and a bit scared to not recognize that beloved, red and yellow land. And beside this, she was worried about the reaction of some people when they would have seen her, so different from the Artemide who everyone was used to know. Arty the fearless, the warrior, the one who was never afraid of anything and anyone, the one who could jump from the highest cliff into the sea, not concerning about the danger of injuring herself, the one who stood up wholeheartedly for justice, without worrying about the troubles she could have faced on her way. If now one of those people of the past had worn her shoes, he would have noticed that even the one they considered a warrior was actually frightened! And her fear was called Ehlers-Danlos, her syndrome. That one was a name that had seldom been heard, as it is a syndrome affecting less than the 14% of the world population. An extremely rare illness. The day she started her rehabilitation in one of the few specialized centres for her “unusual new mate” , she had been told: “If you expect that we’ll heal you from the EDS (this is how also the syndrome is called in a medical field) or that your chronic pain will disappear forever, then you are in the wrong place”.
At that irreversible sentence, she answered sarcastically: “If I had thought so, I would have gone to Lourdes, not here! I am not a little naïve girl anymore. I got well informed about my new special friend, enough to be aware that I have to work hard with you to be able to do even only one third of what I could do before. And I completely understand that now all my plans are being changed.
Every night in her dreams she came back to the “before”, to which she was still bound and that could not let her go. She could not get over it. Why her? She just turned 30, and she already had to fight against infections and diseases which made her different since she was at the elementary school. And this time, in one moment, with a single verdict, unchangeable like her defective genes, which no one would have been able to fix, she saw everything she had fought for like a tiger, flying away. Her independence, her art which permitted her to survive, the solitude that she often liked to savour, the adventures she has been following since she was a teenager. If it wasn’t a wiggly path, full of obstacles, she wouldn’t have taken it.
But this timeshe could not explain to herself why she, the queen of “I have no fear”, was so hesitant to take that tortuous path, which she was sure would have had a different end than the one she aimed at. And what if that new unknown destination had been wonderful anyway? And what if in the end she had been amazed, as the Arty of before was able to do? She decided to take that journey, to return to the seas that saw her healthy of brave person as everybody remembered, thanks to one of her closest friends, Andrea, who had always seen her aura, which once was bright and pure, able to dazzle anyone who tried to bring negativity around her. And now, gradually, she was falling victim of that darkness she always fought. So, after several “maybe”, “later”, “I must plan the trip according to my conditions”, “you know, it’s not an easy decision”, finally she managed to be convinced, hopeful that she would have felt once more alive, as she always felt when she visited her beloved Sicilia. Once, she couldn’t come back there, when one of her guides left the Earth to become one of her protector angels, as she always thought of her grandmother since she left her. She could not be present at the farewell ceremony of that creature with noble soul who taught her everything. Artemide never forgave herself for this! But this time she could finally come back to tell her goodbye, in her own way. As soon as she arrived at the comfortable bed & breakfast, chosen by Andrea based on her needs, she quickly changed her clothes. By now she knew how to do it, gradually she had got used to the new routine. She went like a robot towards her favourite beach, but her wheelchair could not reach the point she loved because of the rough ground.
She immediately felt again her limitation. It was so hard to accept it! But she could not even imagine how that trip would have changed her, even if she was hoping for that since the day of her departure. The beginning of that change came two nights after, when Andrea and his girlfriend convinced her to join them and to go to the bar where once they were used to make endless challenges of “tequila, salt and lemon” till dawn. She asked to be helped to dress in fancier clothes than the ones which she was used to wear lately: handy sport clothes.
She had never imagined that exactly that night, at their old bar, an old friend would have arrived, with whom, during the period of university, she had many philosophical debates, always till late at night. When she saw him, she was petrified, she didn’t know what to say, she didn’t know how to tell him about the new “her” that she became. But he knew her very well and with his charming smile, that the age hadn’t stolen from his face, he looked at her and he said: “Don’t worry, I know already everything”. She, astonished, was just speechless. Sudden thoughts were running through her brain. He knows everything? And how is it possible? How come that he never wrote this to her in the letters they often exchanged during all those years? He was usually the one who always dared to ask even the most inconvenient questions. Why not this time? During that night, recalling the past, that past that sometimes she dreamt to return to, he explained her that during all those years, he had never asked her about her “rare-to-find friend”, because he could perceive her sensitive, romantic and withdrawn soul. He knew that these characteristics never abandoned her during the growth, becoming adult. And that’s why he knew that if she never talked or wrote about her conditions, this meant that it was a taboo, a topic difficult to approach.
That sentence managed to wipe a smile off her face, turned red with embarrassment.
When it was the moment to go back home, he offered to give her a lift to her accommodation, he had the car and he was driving anyway from that side of the city, he didn’t have any limitation or engagement for that night. Once in the car he asked her if she wanted to go to the seaside. Was he joking? She loved the beach by night, but she could only say: “Yes, but…”. He challenged her: “But…what?”. She continued embarrassed: “How do we do with my legs? The chair cannot get to the beach, it gets stuck, I already tried it”. She said, giving up. He smiled kindly: “Come on, I’ll be there, the chair can stay in the car. Tonight, I will carry you like a real princess!”. She, the tomboy that she used to be, the one who had never accepted favouritisms or advantages for the only reason of being a female… now she was hearing that sentence, and for the first time, instead of reacting rudely as she would have done in the past, she remained silent. That night he opened a door that she had closed long time earlier: the one of the emotions, of the “everything is possible because I want it”, the one making the last ditch effort. That night, she didn’t only sit on the beach without her chair, but she could also feel again the sand under her body and the effect that it created in her hands. He carried her also on the cliffs that she loved so much, sometimes risking a fall. But instead of being afraid what might happen, she let herself be transported by sensations. And by him. She felt protected, invincible like many years before, when she had been for the first time to that side of the island, with her own feet. That night they bathed in the sea like two teenagers at the mercy of their desires, of their “here and now”, when there’s no certainty of the future. When he left her at her room he told her to be prepared the morning after. He would pick her up at 10 o’clock. She spoke to him: “Thank you, it has been wonderful tonight, I haven’t felt so alive in a long time. But you know that I am not the same as in the past!”. He surprised her with a deep sentence: “Sometimes it can be hard to stand up and take a position or fight for our own rights, sometimes it might hurt, sometimes it doesn’t give back the results we wanted or wished. Sometimes we fall, we injure ourselves, and sometimes the reality is different from the one we would like. But not taking a stand and not fighting for ourselves and for what we love and we believe in…this make us lose ourselves!”. And with these words, he left, leaving her stunned. She twisted and turned in the bed the whole night thinking at those words, which once could have come out from her mouth. The day after they went sailing. That day she overcame the fear’ of falling in the water and not being able to swim like before. At the beginning she shouted, terrified of drowning, and she called her friend: “Jo! Please! I cannot swim, not like before!”. But he egged her on, stubborn, calling her with the nickname he always used when they were children: “Xander, believe in yourself! The key resides in believing in yourself! Only you can save yourself and reach the shore safe and sound!”.
With the words he pronounced the night before still echoing in her mind, she gathered all her energies and she tried. She was swimming. With an enormous effort but with unspeakable happiness in the heart, she reached the shore by herself. Later, in the afternoon, she went to visit the grave of her adored guide. He left her alone with her intimacy because he knew that after such a day, so full of great emotions, she would have talked to her, as if she would have been there to listen, like she always used to do when she was still alive, even if only by phone.
If Arty was calling her guide, she was always there! And he knew that now that was what she needed. That one was a month marked by adventure, as she was used to live. A month in which she tried to overcome her personal limits and boundaries, but above all, to defeat the “she” that she had become and her fear which was dragging her down, and keeping her captive since long time! That was a pity for a person like her. That holiday and that special friend of her youth taught her things that she had forgotten, and other ones that she hadn’t thought about, yet. But especially, they helped her to rediscover the “she” that she had lost after that verdict with irreversible result. She would keep forever, that journey, deep in her heart, that journey in which Artemide found the other Artemide, the real one, and her strength that she had never lost but only repressed somewhere inside herself.
But now her armour, her shield and her sword had come out again and she was read to take them up as she loved to do, with the same bravery that made her change many things in her past and that would have made her change many things in her future.
A tattoo on her wrist, a red and yellow Trinacria, is now the indelible memory, impressed on the skin, to remind that triumphant fight that she won, and that lost peace that she found again.