The train to Pompeii takes us through Naples, where the men stare at me without blinking, and I wish I’d put my long blonde hair up in a bun before leaving the hotel. You wouldn’t have cared if I got stared at (add that to our list of problems). On the metro, my brother steps in front of me to shield their view.
At the ruins, we get taken in by a tourism hustler and wind up buying a useless guidebook, complete with useless map. I trudge through dust and stone, book tucked under an arm, and pout for a solid hour. Last night, I dreamt of you and your wife. I woke up and thought, Even here.
Near the Garden of the Fugitives, where thirteen victims are forever preserved in casts of volcanic debris, I overhear a guide telling some girls that the villagers had warnings there would be an eruption. “There were earthquakes,” he says. “But of course, they didn’t know these were coming from the mountain.”
What we do not know, I think, and I press my face into the glass that separates me from the bodies. As we walk on, I fall into a rhythm of peeking into every gap and crevice, just to see what I might find on the other side. More than once, I’m startled by grassy fields and red flowers, popping up among the ruins.
This place is not what I expected, but then again, what is? Researchers are experimenting with regrowing vineyards in the same places the ancient Pompeiians did, using the same varieties of grapes. It’s unnerving to stumble upon these, as though life has carried on all this time.
On the way back to Naples, the sun is in my face, and I shut my eyes and so can’t see if anyone is gaping. I think, One day, I won’t wonder if you would’ve let me come here. If I would’ve wanted to. And why. One day, something else will erupt, and you’ll slip beneath the ashfall of fresher memories.