“Hey, can I ask you something?”
“Yeah, what’s up?”
It was an overcast afternoon. The laying pair were both in their underwear; fresh sheets were rolled up by the foot of the bed. A sheer curtain over the sole window filtered in a soft, grey light.
The woman rolled onto her side to face him, “Do you ever miss being together?”
“I mean,” the man said, looking at his phone, “We were so different back then.”
“Yeah,” she stared at his bare, pink chest. “But don’t you ever miss coming home to someone? Or having that comfort knowing you could confide in someone?”
He shrugged. “I don’t put as much emphasis on it as you do. I have friends. I have my work… I’m pretty busy figuring out myself that I don’t really have time for anyone else.”
“Oh,” she said.
She watched him idly scroll through his phone. The screen created a bright glow. Her eyes searched his passive face for a while. She rolled onto her back again, lost in thought. Every few minutes the low hum of a passing car interrupted the otherwise quiet room.
“I miss it,” she said looking at the ceiling.
“I know you do. But you’re young. You should be focusing on yourself and your growth.”
“I don’t understand why those two have to be mutually exclusive.”
“I guess they don’t.”
“Then why can’t we make them work?”
“I’m just not ready for it.”
She continued to look at the ceiling.
“Hey,” he said. “Check out this out.”
He moved closer to her to show his phone. There was an image on the screen.
“That’s funny,” she said.
He laughed aloud. The room was quiet again.
“Hey, I’ve got to go.”
“Ok,” he said.
The girl collected her clothes from the floor and put them on. Her hair was matted, so she tied it into a bun.
“Have a good day.”
She walked out of the room and down the wooden stairs to the front door. She closed the door, leaving it unlocked. It was drizzling lightly outside. The air was sharp. She walked to her car and drove off.
The entrance to my destination was a small door that blended in with the rest of the building. It was easily missed if you weren’t seeking it, as I had done my first time arriving. I pushed the tarnished white button and waited for the buzzer to go off so that I could enter. The mercato across the street was humming with tourists and locals as I waited. The door buzzed and unlocked. I went inside. The corridor was dim, as evening was approaching. I decided to take the stairs instead of the elevator this time.
The stone stairs were slightly polished in the center from years of use. Grey light filtered through the windows along the staircase that covered me in a soft glow, then shadow, then soft glow again as I went up them. One, two, three, four flights. To the left was a door and inside a small waiting room. I went to the receptionist.
“Buonasera, signora. Sono qui per Dottora A—.”
The receptionist didn’t speak much, but had a friendly face. I took a seat in one of the six chairs in the narrow hall space. The lady across from me had vibrant blue purse that matched the color of the chairs. A few minutes later a jolly man opened a door to call her in. I peaked into his office; it looked like he was a chiropractor or a masseuse.
There were no windows in the room so I looked at the floor. The receptionist to the right of me read a magazine. The only noise in the room was a subtle hum from the light fixture above me. Eventually, the door to my room opened, and a patient stepped out. I smiled politely. Doctor A—appeared after her, and told me to come in.
I went inside, closed the door behind me, and took a seat. The window to her small office was open and I could hear chattering from the market below. Her desk was very simple, with a notepad, some tissues, and a small lamp that emitted a warm glow as decoration.
“So! How are you today?”
“I’m well, thanks.”
She was a pretty woman, with cropped, black hair. Her accent wasn’t Italian but I couldn’t place where she was from. Perhaps somewhere in Eastern Europe. I fancied her, but I also think there are rules against patient and therapist relations. Besides, homosexuality was still rather taboo in Italy.
“How is your PGAD?”
“It’s getting a little better, but it’s still persistent.”
“And have you been keeping a documentation of the thoughts that occur before and during the episodes?”
During my first visit with Dr. A— she suggested a cognitive behavioral approach. Her goal was to have me identify all of my thoughts that occurred prior to each episode, in an attempt to redirect them and avoid the intensity of each episode. So far, I noticed two reoccurring details: temperature and how irritable I was. I told her my observations.
“And what do you do when these intense feelings of arousal occur?”
“I usually take deep breaths and try to relax any tension in my lower body. I also try to focus my attention to anything other than the sensation. Like speaking to someone or being asked a question.”
She wrote this in her notebook. Her bracelets jingled.
“Is there a time of day it occurs most?”
“I haven’t been able to draw any connections really, but I have noticed it happening more than once during my classes.”
“Have you heard of Stendhal Syndrome?” she asked, still writing in her notebook.
She looked up, “It’s a phenomenon where an individual experiences rapid heartbeat, dizziness, sometimes fainting, when they are exposed to artistic masterpieces. Perhaps the visual stimulation of Florence is attributing to your condition.”
I thought that was an interesting phenomenon. It made sense. I was brought to tears when I saw David in the Accademia. His enormous size; the way his gaze penetrated the horizon, defiant and analytical as he was assessing his odds of defeating Goliath; his perfectly smooth physique and toned muscles; the fact that Michelangelo carved this handsome giant by hand. I could see how all of this stimuli could be arousing. Not because I was looking at a nude statue, but because of all of the detail, history, and atmosphere surrounding the sculpture.
Except when I was viewing the gorgeous creation, I was not aroused at all. And while I was in a quiet monastery, with very modest decor, I was too stimulated to even walk. Perhaps there was irony in that.
“I find that phenomenon compelling Dottora A–, however my PGAD has been ongoing for about a year and a half now,” I said. “It was getting much better until just this past month. Now it seems to have come back full-force.”
“Sometimes stress plays a large role too; like the stress of you moving here.”
“I don’t feel stressed at all though.”
“It can be subconscious.”
I doubted that. I was the happiest I had been in a long time. It seemed like I didn’t have anything to worry about here in this perfect town.
“Does sex help with the arousal?” she asked.
“I’ve only had sex once during an episode, and it didn’t really do much to alleviate the intense feeling. It did help take my mind off of it for a bit though.”
“Does climaxing help?”
She looked at me in disbelief, “Really? That’s incredible!”
“Tell me about it.”
We spent the rest of the visit discussing possible provocations and solutions to my persistent arousal. She prescribed me a topical numbing medication for temporary relief. Later on she would email me saying, “Italy had now deemed the drug … a poison!”. I had a good laugh.
We scheduled another appointment for next week. I stood up, pushed in my chair, and thanked her for the visit. In the waiting room the receptionist was still reading her magazine. I said a soft “ciao” as I left the second room. Now there was only a very faint light illuminating the stairs. I walked down the four flights plus the smaller set after the mezzanine. I opened the heavy entrance door to the cool evening. The market in front of the building was closing up, and only a few people were passing by on the streets. As I was leaving I noticed a bronze boar fountain in front of the market, with a shiny golden snout from all the tourists rubbing it. I told myself I would rub it for luck on my next visit. I never did.