My friend Kerry told me to look for ladybugs while I was in Italy.
He was referring to the part of the movie, Under the Tuscan Sun, when the sexy, older ex-pat from London tells Frances, a recently divorced American reinventing herself in Italy, that looking for love is like looking for ladybugs. That when she was a child, she would spend hours looking for them, eventually tiring and falling asleep in the grass. And when she awoke she would find herself covered in them.
I wasn’t sure I was looking for love in Italy. Or even a romance – although I assured him and others that my heart was open to the possibility. However, as the days to my departure date grew more near, I was more than certain I was here to do something.
I saw my first ladybug when I arrived in Umbria, 24 hours after arriving in Rome.
After I nearly took the wrong bus from Arezzo to Cita de Castello – twice – and a young man named Leonardo approached me, offering help in English. After we spoke for nearly 45 minutes – talking about writing and language and being “black sheep” – and friending one another on Facebook.
After Giulia and Elide – my contacts for the AltroCioccolato, the “other” chocolate festival I came to volunteer for – picked me up at the bus station. And after bringing me to Roberto’s house – one of the festival’s founders – where I sat in the sun while he plied me with buffalo mozzarella, tomatoes – shiny with olive oil, and espresso.
It was a few hours later, driving to pick up groceries at a biological food co-op. A large ladybug graced a sign announcing that our destination, The Happy Worm, lay ahead.
The next day, I saw three more. One embellished a pizza parlor sign. Another, actually a mess of them, covered a car steering wheel.
The final one landed on another of the volunteers – Duncan, the youngest of the group and the only other American. He asked me if I wanted it, knowing nothing of Kerry and our conversation. I told him I did. He put his arm next the mine and the ladybug crawled over to me without any prodding. And refused to leave.
That night, I found myself in the city’s hospital. What had merely been a health nuisance while I was in the states had escalated enough for me to make contact with healthcare professionals back home at .99 a minute.
I was fairly certain I would have difficulty getting a live voice at Northwestern Hospital, so I called my physical therapist to ask her advice. She told me to call my doctor. That she wasn’t comfortable giving advice on this matter. When I told her I didn’t have an internet connection, she looked up the number for me.
Several holds, disconnects and phone calls later, I was advised by a medical assistant to seek attention.
I knocked on Giulia’s door and told her I needed to go to the hospital. As she dressed, my roommate Ingrid, from the UK, offered to join us for moral support. In the piazza at midnight in this sleepy village Giulia – a native of Italy – asked around for a cab. A stranger offered to drive us, dropping us off at the hospital and wishing us buona fortuna — good luck in Italian.
Ninety minutes later I was warmly assured by a doctor that I was in fact, ok. I received a bill for 25 euros which I was instructed to pay the next day. And Elide – whom Giulia had called – drove us home.
Earlier that evening, in the hospital, I broke down in tears. Overwhelmed. Afraid. And aware that my ex-husband, a doctor – was no longer “my person.” That I was “alone.” Giulia responded, wrapping her arms around me and saying, “We are your family.”
And I realized that ladybugs weren’t just on signs and steering wheels and the arms of volunteers. That ladybugs – that love – followed me everywhere. All the way to Italy. To Umbria. Just south of the Tuscan sun.