On the Loose

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After my sophomore year at university, I took the $500 I had saved teaching swimming at the local playground and went to Europe, leaving behind the man I then thought I would marry. Michael had just graduated and, that summer, was doing social work among the street gangs of Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

He wanted me to leave university for a year and travel with him in Mexico, a country he’d visited and loved. I couldn’t or wouldn’t decide and worried about my scholarship and what my parents would say. I’d also fallen in love, in advance, with Greece and was determined to go there. My future was a purposeful haze, and I probably thought that by excluding nothing I could have everything.

In August 1963 I was staying in Rome and running out of money. Then Michael’s letter arrived. I stood on the pavement outside American Express and read it three times. He was coming to Italy. He had a cheap flight and would meet me in the Piazza Navona on 21 August at 6 p.m. From there we’d go to Greece. He loved me, this I knew. I also loved him. But I had turned 20 that May and was, as we used to say, ‘on the loose’ and wanting to be just that little bit looser if I could get away with it. I was escaping my upbringing (small town Irish-American Catholic), and I considered this mission almost but not quite accomplished. Michael was beautiful, he was sexy and he was good. I could not believe my luck. But it occurred to me that he might be re-entering the novel of my life a couple of chapters too soon.

To compensate for this structural flaw, I went to Athens and had the adventure I wanted to have. Then I nipped back to Rome, found a seedy pensione and holed up there until he arrived. For two days I lived on peaches and pasta and read James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room.

Baldwin’s famous novel was published in 1956 when he was becoming not only America’s foremost black homosexual writer but also a spokesman for the Civil Rights

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About the contributor

Mary Flanagan is a novelist and critic. An Irish-American living in London, she has published three novels and two collections of short stories, and is currently at work on a third. Her most recent book is Adèle.

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