Matt Izzi: Volare

The American wing had high white walls like an asylum, and my best friend Mark said anyone who’d voluntarily stare at paintings had to be a nut job, drawing a threatening look from Mr. Bradford—as threatening as you could expect from a ceramics teacher—who was too busy corralling twenty-odd high school freshmen into the next gallery to notice me hold Mark behind, because right then another student group entered, a half-dozen girls flocking toward a Hopper and speaking, I was certain, Italian. Mark spotted them through the half nelson he’d locked me into—Italians! he whispered, though neither of us knew the language—and they were beautiful, with fine bronzed Mediterranean arms that passed so close I could see little bumps raised there from the A/C, bumps I longed to trace with my thumb across the well-defended border of their tan lines, but instead resigned myself to concealing with my free hand one of the four thousand unrequited hard-ons of my fifteenth year. Then Mark released me with a shove—the girls, bound in an impenetrable knot, swept toward the exit and we gave chase: past Modern Sculpture, down a corridor with porcelain figurines behind glass, into a great arching courtyard where the sun poured down its almost-summer heat and, blinded, we lost them for a very long second … There! Mark shouted, and we caught them at the wide marble staircase where they had paused, on the bottom step, to read a handwritten sign on an upturned janitor’s bucket (“Duchamp, 1998”) and, aware they’d by now observed the two sweaty American boys tailing them, we had to say something, anything, but for once in his life Mark was tongue-tied, so I let fly the first phrase I could unearth from the catacombs of my father’s CD collection—Volare, whoa-oh!—and the girls stopped chattering to gape at me, Mark too, everyone shining with embarrassment, but as I saw it there were two ways forward: 1) run away cursing my useless year of introductory Latin or 2) get down on one knee and sing the rest of the “Mob Hits” compilation, which I did, straight through Angelina/Zooma Zooma, and Oh, Marie!—I swear they were laughing in a good way, their olive faces glowing for me alone; I felt that if I rose from my knee I’d keep on rising, like a balloon released over midtown Manhattan—until one of them leaned over and said, in English, I like you better than all the paintings, and kissed me on the cheek, obliterating my shyness forever, and I was planning to kiss her back, on the lips, or maybe a nibble on her earlobe that beckoned like a sliced peach, when a hand yanked my collar and there was Mr. Bradford, fired up like a kiln and yelling hot breath in my ear, while Mark, loyal to the end, had vanished. When we returned home from New York City, I spent the last week of school in detention, daydreaming about that kiss, and sophomore year I dropped Latin for Italian, and from then on I was mad for language and lusted after words equally as I did girls—words so that I could talk to girls; girls so that I could listen—until they became the same bird flying in a blue and boundless sky, swooping within my reach.

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