The following is an excerpt from Eat, Fuck, (Write About) Murder, a memoir available for preorder on V.A. Press:
Though it felt strange, I already knew I’d made the right decision when my speedy ferry boat, called a hydrofoil, bounced on the water. My Airbnb host said he'd pick me up. I knew he was likely safe, but was a little nervous. I thought back to how dumb people told me I was for getting into a car with a strange man, the man who ended up raping me. How was this different? Please don’t be creepy. Please don’t. I’m in the middle of the map, very, very far away from anyone I love.
When the boat docked at Vulcano, I marveled at cliffs engulfed in seagulls flying in and out of sea mist. I felt like I was in some tropical movie, about to meet King Kong or dinosaurs. Amelia, my 15-pound Blenheim Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, began shuffling around on my lap as she watched the birds.
Standing on the dock was my Airbnb host, a 60-year-old-ish man with smile lines on his face. He seemed more like a grandpa than a rapist. And yes, I know grandpas can be rapists, retired, or working.
On the ride, he tried to tell me where to buy what around town, but I was too transfixed on the smoking volcano. As we pulled into the driveway, it was just like the pictures of the place promised, I would have a full-on view of the volcano from my front door and patio. My cottage was right next door to the host’s house, where he lived with his wife. Lemon trees and stunted palms divided the mommy home from its little daughter.
I entered the cottage, put down my bag, and reached for my phone in my purse.
Twenty minutes before work started. Damn, cutting it close. I pulled my laptop out of my bag and looked for wifi. I also searched around the kitchen nook and living room for a card or piece of paper which had the wifi name and password.
Nothing. It did say there was wifi in the listing. I’d made sure of it. I felt tension rising in my stomach, my shoulders, neck, and hands. How the fuck was I going to work? I looked at my phone. Okay, 16 minutes before I had to start work. Why did I cut this so short? Why didn’t I just take the fucking day off? The plan was to work from here, a break from the amazing but often crushingly claustrophobic Palermo.
I walked across the little courtyard, my laptop tucked under my right arm, and knocked on my host’s door.
I smiled as best I could to mask the anxiety.
“Internet?” I asked.
I held up my laptop.
“Io lavoro,” I said, choppily. Perhaps I just said “lavoro.”
He nodded his head in recognition. He pointed towards the guesthouse and shook his head no. I let out a sigh.
Then he motioned with his hand to follow him, to come into his home. I hesitated. I said in English, “Maybe I can get internet there,” pointing to a plastic white lawn table sitting extra close to the house’s patio doors.
I opened up my laptop and took a look. Yup, there was internet.
“Ok, buono, buono.”
I sat on the table, and the internet did indeed connect. Just not very well.
I was supposed to finish up a story about Ted Bundy and misogyny. I had pitched it following the release of “Conversations with A Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes,” a docuseries I was asked to build stories around. I was excited because I could pull from Ann Rule’s The Stranger Beside Me, one of the books that first got me into the true crime genre. Rule was researching a then-unsolved string of killings while unknowingly working beside the killer at a suicide crisis center. They became friends, and she was forced to reconcile with the reality that her pal who seemed so empathetic to callers, was preying on people during his time off.
I had basically everything I needed to compile the article and finish it up. Dr. Diana York Blaine, the director of the University of Southern California's Undergraduate Department of Gender and Sexuality, had answered my questions over email. I could just throw those into the article, some Ann Rule lines, some lines from the docuseries, and I'd be golden.
I re-read Blaine’s email. She said that in the United States, females are viewed as objects, "either exalted or degraded."
I paused and thought about that.
“Exalted or degraded,” I whispered. A cool breeze blew past me, and I looked up at the volcano smoking to my left.
I exhaled deeply. I stated in my email to the expert that Bundy killed women while claiming to love some chosen women in his life, like his mom and girlfriend. Re-reading her answer, which I only glazed over the other day, made the wind feel lonelier. She wrote that he "reflects a larger cultural belief that only certain females are worthy of man’s love, that these women somehow transcend the stigmatized category into which we place 'woman.'”
She added that for men that see women this way, "there always lurks the possibility that the 'good' woman will become the 'bad' one, so misogyny is built into the system. This dual need to love and destroy suggests the precarity of normative masculinity.”
Her comments jarred me. Because I knew they were real. Because some men in my past chose to see me as more bad leaning, for all sorts of reasons: because I dressed goth, because I did drugs, because I liked to hang out, because I didn’t roll my badness into a ball and try to hide it in the crevice of my body. I wore it proudly instead. Men can be nuanced, but women still can not, though that has been changing. Just not changing fast enough for my age group or my life. I’ve been a curious butterfly to follow, but when they follow you into a dark cave, it’s your fault, despite not leading them there.
I tried to piece this together while continuously warming my hands. The sun started to set, casting a rainbow sherbet veil over the volcano. Grayish smoke plumed up the multi-color sky. When the gray and colors turned black, the host’s wife came home smelling like a strong, pink cloud of perfume. She was wearing bright red lipstick and told me I could come inside to warm up and write. But that seemed too imposing. Instead, I roughed it, sitting at the plastic white table, soaking up the wifi from the house as the air turned more and more frigid.
I walked into my guesthouse to wrap my fuzzy Minnie hoodie around my shivering body and returned. Amelia stayed closer to me now, cuddling up to my ankles and staring at me in the manner which indicates she wants to be picked up and held in my lap.
I continued to work. While I was slightly uncomfortable, the air felt good, raw, and fresh, far from pollution. I looked over to the shadow of the volcano beside me and breathed in. Just one more hour, then two days of writing my own stuff. I told myself it’s even better that I don’t have wifi in that little guest house. I can just focus on writing. I won’t be distracted by the internet. I can just write poems inside the warmth of the little cottage.
After I filed all my stories, I figured I’d go walk downtown and grab something to eat. According to my phone, there was a restaurant open just at the end of the street. And it had outdoor seating in case they wouldn’t let me bring the dog inside.
I leashed Amelia and we walked to the gate. I closed it and looked down the road, which looked much more terrifying than when my host picked me up that morning, when the sun was shining. It was so dark I couldn’t see how far to the main road. I turned the flashlight of my phone on and began walking toward an abyss. On both sides of me were fences.
Suddenly, BANG! SNARL! YELP!
A snarling dog was banging on chunks of plywood and fence to our right. I couldn’t exactly see him, but he sounded large and angry. I could see the wood rocking. My heart beat fast as we kept walking. Amelia calmed down after realizing there was no immediate threat.
Finally, we came to the end of that road. My GPS instructed to turn right.
I did so. It was all dark everywhere.
“You have reached your destination.”
I lowered my phone’s glaring light so my eyes could focus. When they did I saw a shut gate and a sad tiki bar in a very closed state. I sighed. In the distance, I saw the light of what looked like a convenience store.
I entered a very tiny shop that resembled a bakery but had only two items for sale, both pastries. I recognized one of them as a Baba, a penis-looking sponge cake soaked in rum. There were several bouncing around inside a container that held an ocean of rum. I purchased one and walked back past snarling dogs and darkness to the cottage. I devoured the cake, felt slightly drunk, and passed out.
I decided it would be better to venture around in the light.
Daylight came. It was an overcast Saturday, full of grays and void of work and snarling dogs. I walked to the miniature downtown, past stray cats crawling around green and blue human-made cat houses on the streets. Ahead of me, I saw hot springs. I could see a girl on her back soaking in the mud. I went to the gate, but it wasn’t open.
A car drove up beside me, and the passenger window rolled down.
“Vuoi un passaggio?” asked a man, maybe in his late 50s or early 60s, with gray hair and a striped shirt.
“No capito,” I responded, ignoring him as I tried to figure out the hours on a white metal sign intertwined with the gate’s metal.
“You want ride?”
“No grazie,” I said, continuing to fiddle with the sign.
“I can give you ride.”
“No,” I said. “No grazie, No grazie.”
He began to drive away, then pulled off and stopped. Gas rose from the muffler like a snake. My entire body clenched until the car finally rolled out of sight. Suddenly I thought of an overpass, that damned overpass in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, long after the sun had sunk, running to it in my argyle dress, hoping I could find solace in a taxi, hoping he wasn’t running after me but too scared to look back.
The girl somehow vanished from view, as if she’d been a mirage. I gave up trying to read the sign and continued traversing the tiny island. There was a cute little downtown, but every store seemed to be closed, the same for bars and restaurants. Finally, by the dock, I found a cafe. There weren’t many options, just a few pastries. I ordered a cannoli and cappuccino and sat at a table under a big canopy. Taylor Dayne’s “Tell it to my Heart” was playing.
A group of old men in newsie hats were at a table across from me playing some kind of card game. They gawked at me for a moment before loudly continuing their game.
When I went up to pay for my food purchases, the young man at the register said, “You only tourist on island right now.”
“Wow,” I smiled. “Damn.”
“Not good time,” he said, gesturing outside. “Molto freddo.”
Using my map app, I wandered down a desolate side road until it led to a beach with all-black sand. I crouched down to touch the little black pebbles. I took an empty water bottle from my bag and scooped a few tablespoons worth up. I stood and faced a rock formation in the distance, feeling the wind go through me. I wanted to linger and marvel but was completely alone on the beach. There was an industrial building nearby surrounded by fencing. A broken beer bottle stared up at me from the sand. It felt too isolated to relax. Seeing there was basically nothing to do, nobody to communicate with, I figured I’d go back to my place and write. On the way back, stray cats walked back and forth in front of me. One meowed. I could hear a car coming, so I got out of the middle of the road. It started slowing down, and I felt a sinking feeling.
It was that old man again, and he had his window down.
He offered me a ride again, and I said no.
Looking dejected, he drove off.
Maybe he was just being friendly.
Or maybe he was a serial killer. At the very least, a serial rapist.
I wondered if there were any murderers on this island.
I wondered if there were any unsolved murders on the island.
Back at the cottage, I sat out on the deck and gazed in the direction of the smoking volcano. It was too dark to see the smoke.
I pulled out my phone, turned on the international plan, and Googled “How many serial killers are there in Sicily?”
The first article was from the BBC in 2010.
“Italian police have arrested a 69-year-old man on suspicion of carrying out a series of murders in a town in Sicily,” it read. “Giuseppe Raeli, who has no previous criminal record, has been charged with five murders and four attempted murders in Cassibile between 1998 and 2009.”
I looked down further.
“Meet the Sicilian Mafia Hitman Who Killed 80 People and Will Be Free in 5 Years”
Eh, a bit different.
I didn’t bother to look up serial rapists in the area because I knew very well that those existed everywhere. I imagined that the accurate number wouldn’t be reported; I suppose the same goes for the United States. I closed my eyes and imagined bones buried just beyond the volcano, on the other side of the hill. I imagined corrupt cops not having the time to investigate, playing cards instead, gambling.
I sighed, lying in bed listening to the thunder and snuggled close to Amelia with her sweet head resting on my forearm. Look at where I am now. Yes, in a cool place, but completely alone and lonely. What is this all for?
Relax, Gina. Remember when you told yourself (several times) that you are, once again, post-breakup, dedicating the rest of your life to becoming a crazy and deranged writer and not a wife? Well here we are, bitch! Here we mutherfucking are.
Be happy Gina, I told myself. David didn’t care about your boob scars, and neither does Otto. It wasn’t the cancer surgeries that made Kyle stop wanting to fuck you.
I scrolled my Facebook feed. Pic of couple kissing. Pic of college friend getting engaged. Meme about Mountain Dew. Then, a meme that said, “You don’t really want sex, you just want the physical validation that you are sexually desirable to replace the emotional rejection of being unlovable.”
And so there it was.
I got a ding; it was Otto asking how I was doing.
“Good, overall. But, some guy tried to get me to go into his car and I’m a little freaked out about it.”
“You’re not aggressive enough,” he told me.
“You need to be more aggressive!”
“Well, if I say no thanks and they go away, I think that is better than possibly escalating things.”
“Fine,” he wrote. “Then don’t listen to me. I don’t feel your response to these men is appropriate. I find it inappropriate.”
My heart started beating fast, like I was in one of my prior arguments with Kyle.It felt like there had been a pudding sculpture in there with Otto’s name on it and it was melting now, disintegrating.
“I am listening, I’m just saying that I would be scared to scream at someone who is possibly already considering getting sexual with me. Could end up in a bad situation.”
He didn’t respond.
Starting to feel butterflies in my stomach explode into vicious flying koalas, I angrily typed and sent: “You don’t know what it’s like to be a woman.”
“Yeah, well men can also be assaulted,” he wrote back.
My fingers started flying. “As for appropriate, I don’t think your response to this situation is appropriate. I’ve been attacked before, and there was a car involved and the whole thing is very hard for me. Telling me what I should and shouldn’t do when you aren’t here, you don’t know, I don’t like that.”
Direct and to the point. I have to be assertive, but never mean. There. That’s what I did. Right?
He didn’t respond.
So I tried to call him. He didn’t pick up. I began pacing around the tiny cottage, which now felt like it was caving in on itself. I could hear rain coming down outside.
“Can we talk about this? Maybe there is a misunderstanding,” I texted.
Minutes passed like taffy being stretched. I opened the fridge and leaned on the door, peering into the all-white and nearly empty display. The only items in the fridge were a bottle of water and one leftover rum cake. I went over to the bed, fitted with the kind of multicolored comforter you’d find in a Florida beach house in the 1980s, and collapsed. I stared up at the ceiling and all its little bumps and scars. The rain was coming down harder now, and louder. I tried to enjoy its calming rhyme as I waited for the ding.
“I think we should just be friends,” Otto had written. Thunder roared from outside in unison with the lightning urge to lash out.
“You really gonna break up with me over text?” I texted him.
“We aren’t even in a story. So there is no break up. I just want to do what I enjoy and I do not enjoy this right now.”
I rolled my eyes, turned my phone off, turned the light off, and tried to fall asleep. But sleep I could not. I turned on the light, stared at a crevice in the ceiling and sighed.