The Prodigal Daughter

venice, Italy

If you asked it of me, I would swear by the moon, the stars, the Lord above, and anything else you asked that Venice is the most wonderful place on God’s green earth. Not that I’ve ever been myself, at least not in person, but I’ve read enough books and seen enough pictures to know this is true.

And how could it not be? I mean, at church every Sunday for as long as I can remember they’ve talked about water being purifying and in Venice the streets are flooded by the stuff. All clear and cold and churning gently, filling every sliver of space in the city. I heard it said once that in Venice the water keeps the city cool and clear of dust, so it’s never really dirty there. I bet no one ever drowns in Venice, because in a world lined by God’s own hydration and salvation rolled into one, sinking would be as probable as getting the corn field’s back home to stop growing.

Back where I’m from, the corn grows so high that if you stand in the fields you dissapear completely. It takes a lot of water to grow that much corn, but it’s not like the water in Venice. The water in Venice has been blessed because of the holy beauty of that city, and all the water does where I’m from is grow corn.

I’ve felt this way all my life. ever since I was a little girl. My dad had these huge prints on the guest bedroom wall of our house, all photos of the sights of Europe that my parents wanted to see but never got the chance to. My sister always liked Paris’ Eiffel Tower the best and my dad said that the London Eye print was his favourite. So I adopted Venice as my favourite, at first out of a sort of pity for it, until I fell in love. Until I sold my heart and soul to the city floating in the water.

Now my only ambition is to get out of the town where I grew up, shake off the clod hopping, country bumpkin farmer’s kid I’d been born as by mistake and become the Venetian I knew I was inside, the Venetian I could feel just underneath my skin.

I would become cultured. I would become poised. I would finally stop feeling like I was sinking in life, because in Venice no one ever drowns. The water’s too holy to do that to you.

Of course my family all thinks I’m crazy as a loon. Not for wanting to visit Venice, but for wanting to live there for the rest of my life. For knowing I belong there.

They don’t say it with their words. It’s in their eyes and faces. All as long and solemn as the miles and miles of corn outside my house. When I was little, they used to laugh at my smiles whenever I told them I was going to live in Venice, kiss my forehead, and say my dreams were ‘sweet as apple pie’. But now that I’m grown, I guess I’m not so sweet anymore because the kisses all dried up. I didn’t know kisses could dry up like water could. I hope Venice has an overflowing supply of those too.

My mom says she worries about how I’ll afford it. My dad says Venice is one of the fastest sinking cities on earth and will be underwater soon. My sister says my Italian is about as good as my Russian, which is to say nonexistent. They want me to stay. Stay here, hidden in the corn where it’s safe and stable and nothing ever changes. Stay with them here, where the streets never change and the only real source of water is the lake where old farmer Roy lets his prize-winning cow bathe in every second Tuesday.

Some days. a part of me wants to listen to them. A part of me gets scared and feels unsure. This part of me usually ends up in a fist fight with the rest of me, until I’ve got a migraine the size of Texas. But Like I said it’s only a part. Only one stalk of corn in hundreds upon hundreds and that’s only some days, and that’s only when my family’s tried to talk me out of it. If I can just get to that city, I’ll never have to doubt again because they won’t be there to make my head spin.

On the worst day and the biggest fight we ever had, my mom asked me why I can’t just compromise.

“Make your own Venice here,” she said.

I asked her how I might go about that. Should I reclaim Main Street from its waterless limbo, bleed the field’s dry to flood my town, carve canals in the concrete and maybe float a tractor down one for our Preacher to give a sermon on top of on Sundays? The fact is there is only one Venice. There is no other city I can see myself in, let alone a knock-off, hill-billy rendition. I told her those exact words, and that her and dad real fired up. They said they’d had enough of me trying to be something I’m not and leave behind my roots, and them with it. They said I was a farm kid, born and raised, and that’s all I could ever conceivably be.

That’s why I want to get to Venice so bad, so I can use that holy water to scrub the farm kid off my until there’s nothing left. Until my second skin, my Venetian self, sits proudly at the surface where it should have been all along.

Right about the time I started to fall in love with Venice, I heard a story at church called ‘The Prodigal Son’. The story goes this boy goes off to see the world like he always wanted, but instead finds himself coming crawling back home. I always liked the story but hated the ending. My sister says its a sign I’m a prodigal son in the making.

But she’s got it all wrong. Because unlike that boy, I am the prodigal daughter and where venice_02_bigI’m going, the water only flows in one direction so there’s no way to ever turn around and come crawling back home.

If I can just make it out of the corn and into the water on my own, the city will carry me downstream, until the ill-seeded doubt planted by others is nothing but a pebble on a beach all the way across the ocean. And the prodigal daughter, though they’ll never talk about her in church, will have found her ambitions met, and with it her one way ticket home. Out of the dusty, bone-dry place I grew up and into the water to be baptized into both the new self I’ve always wanted, and the self I’ve always known myself to be.


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