Strolling through town one day, I saw a group of men burning stuff. I didn’t ask myself, “How did they start such a large fire in town?” I knew how. They found all the cardboard, paper and wood they could spare and set it aflame.
I wanted to know why. Why the fuck are you setting a large fire in the middle of town?
We all ask questions — it is a part of our nature as human beings. It’s how we learn. It is often how we move forward. But what we ask also gives clues as to how the mind works. Some people ask great questions, some ask silly ones and others ask questions so stupid you have to wonder what happened to tact.
Case in point, I have been asked four absolutely stupid questions, over and over, since I have arrived.
So here is my question: Why do people think it is okay to ask absolutely personal, intrusive and often hurtful questions?
Question One: Where is your husband?
Usually, after I have explained that my son and I will be residing in Italy for an extended period, a person (nine times of 10 an old one) will inquire, “But where is your husband?”
I like to have fun with this one.
“I killed him,” I begin. “I have fled to Italy because your extradition laws are incredibly lax.”
The eyes of my audience widen.
I laugh and continue, “I am joking!”
Deadpan, I follow up with, “I don’t know who fathered Sebastian.”
I wink and walk away.
Where is my husband? None of your fucking business.
Question Two: Why don’t you have another baby?
The frequency with which this question is asked is low. But I’ve still been asked it several times.
Dr. Johnny, Sebastian’s father (who is alive and well), and I did produce a spectacular specimen. It’s natural that people might think we would want to add more greatness to the human race. And so it goes that Sebastian’s dad and I parted ways many years ago, and to my knowledge, I can’t produce a child out of thin air.
But the answer to this question is actually a little more complex and often goes in tandem with another question I get asked way too many times. It is my favourite question — favourite in the way that it is so outrageous that I edge closer to insanity each time I am asked it — so I have saved the question (and answer) for last.
Question Three: Why has your Italian become so much worse?
The first couple times I was asked this question I let out a sad, heavy sigh. Now I just roll my eyes.
My Italian has suffered because I don’t live with my parents. Up until the age of 19, before I departed for university, I heard the language every day. Well, I heard a version of the Italian language everyday.
My father was born, educated and lived in Italy until he was 24 years old. It is his first language. I picked up most of my Italian from listening to him, although Lucio Battisti will always be given the credit.
My mother speaks an Italian that is not on any books. It is a language all her own — weird, wonderful and completely unique, but a version of Dante’s patois that I had little interest in learning.
Three out of four of my grandparents, who all spoke almost exclusively in Italian, are dead.
I no longer take high school Italian classes; I don’t visit Italy as often as I once did; my friends don’t speak Italian and my Italian speaking friends and family don’t visit Canada frequently.
The opportunity to practice this second language isn’t as readily available as it once was. Sad, sure, but something I am not going to get into detail over while shopping in town.
But thanks for noticing.
Question Four: Brace Yourself.
All roads lead to this question. No matter where the conversation started, it finds its way here.
You’ve gotten quite fat, haven’t you?
Yes, I have. What wonderful observational skills you possess — something you must have learned as a part of your intelligence training with the AISE.
Some people try the casual approach: you haven’t been in Italy for quite some time, but you’ve gained a lot of weight since then, yes? Or: I didn’t recognize you when you first came into town because you’ve gained quite a bit of weight, is that right?
Well, it ain’t wrong, asshole.
My one cousin flat out asked, “What's with the kilos you’ve gained since I saw you last?”
And using the metric system doesn’t make the question sting any less.
Am I being fat-shamed, I wonder? Is it possible that my dress has gone up several sizes, yet I haven’t noticed, so everyone around me must point it out? Is my worth as a person measurable only in kilograms?
All these questions, direct and reflexive, led to a mini burst when two were asked almost back-to-back.
Another cousin, who certainly meant no harm, noted how loving and affectionate Sebastian is and said, “You know, you need a little girl now. Why don’t you have another baby?”
I smiled and politely said, “I have all the child I could ever love in Sebastian. I don’t want anymore.”
It is a sufficiently truthful answer.
Only moments later the uncomfortable questions begin anew.
“You haven’t aged a lot in the last five years, but you’ve definitely gained quite a bit of weight. You’ve always been thin, what happened?
At this point, after being asked too many times (and for the record, one time is too many), a torrent of uncomfortable candor spewed forth and I answered the question.
Five years ago, after many years in therapy and on varying anti-depressants, my psychiatrist concluded I had been misdiagnosed. I wasn’t suffering from low-grade chronic depression and an anxiety disorder, but was in fact, bi-polar II.
Each time your diagnosis changes, so do your meds. And each time you begin a new prescription, your weight goes up.
When your manic lows occur with a profundity that makes getting out of bed a challenge, gaining weight becomes a moot point.
And gaining weight can be quite depressing, so it is a vicious circle — one feeding the other.
But the answer to this question is a two-parter and the second part, also nicely answers question two: why don’t you have another child?
Six years ago, almost seven, I went to see my doctor because I strongly suspected I had begun the long road to menopause.
I was laughed out of my doctor’s office. I was too young.
The hot flashes, night sweats, unbearable joint pain and staggeringly irregular menstrual cycles continued, as did the laughter from the subsequent doctors I continued to see.
Following one full year without a single period, my physician finally began testing my blood and it was revealed that I no longer ovulated, nor did I produce estrogen and had very little progesterone. Estrogen, from what I discovered, helps regulate weight gain. And when you produce none, that regulation fails to occur.
After years of discomfort and pain, my doctor finally conceded that I wasn’t just premenopausal, but in fact post. At 39 years old, I have gone through and almost completed the average ten-year menopausal cycle.
What is a few extra pounds when you may have to contend with an increase in the risks associated with heart disease and osteoporosis? Do you carry the gene for Parkinson’s disease or Alzheimers? Well, with premature ovarian failure aka menopause so early you’re fucked, you’ll get a ten-year head start on the disease.
Coincidently, I gained 55 pounds throughout pregnancy, the same amount of weight I gained during menopause — except at the end of gestation, I had a beautiful, happy, healthy baby boy. At the end of menopause, I might have a beautiful and healthy moustache.
I have since begun to slowly shed the weight, but I haven’t been able to shed the impertinent questions.
Where is my husband? I don’t have one. I’ve never had one, even though I’ve loved before. Of those whom I have loved, some have left me and I have left others. But it always hurt and it’s always intensely private.
Why don’t you have another kid? I can’t. Or to paraphrase my melodramatic cousin, despite my young age, my womanhood has dried up.
What happened to your Italian? My desire to speak it died when my grandparents did.
Why have you gained so much weight? If I could, I would let the pain and upset I have experienced over the last seven years speak for me, but I can’t. Instead, why don’t you just stare at my glorious ass as I walk away.
As for the question why do the townspeople set large fires in the streets — just like the question why does anyone do or say anything: the answer might simply be because they can.