by Agnes Krup

Editor’s note: A diary of Agnes’ travels, a “vacation at home” in New York, will appear on Women’s Voices for Change the week of Dec. 25.

Two years ago, I had to spend my first Christmas without my daughter. She was 5, and behind me lay what was an acrimonious divorce at best. No matter how much I kept telling myself that she needed to spend this time with her father, no matter how much I kept telling myself that he was as lonely without her as I was, the pain was unbearable. I had to get away.

After dropping my daughter off on Christmas morning, I found myself balancing on a stepladder in our tiny living room, reaching for the glittering star on top of the Christmas tree that had taken up much of the space in the previous weeks.

I was sure that I was the only person in the vast borough of Brooklyn dismantling a tree before noon on Christmas Day, and I felt very lonely. I carefully wrapped all ornaments in tissue paper and stored them in labeled boxes. Then I grabbed my suitcase and headed for the airport.

I had not been to Rome in many years, but it had seemed a good choice, the consolation its beauty would provide. When I arrived at my hotel on the morning of Dec. 26, I turned on the television to see what the weather was supposed to be like. Torrents of mud were washing over the screen. I sat down on the bed and tried to comprehend. An immense seaquake had devastated the shores of Southeast Asia. Outside, steps, away, was the classic oval of the Piazza Navona, accentuated by the splendor of Bellini’s fountain. Nothing fit; unpacking seemed a mute point.

My small hotel inhabited an old palazzo, its renaissance façade overgrown with vines. The very contemporary interior provided the same discreet comfort as the numerous staff. I had tea in the book-lined bar, feeling guilty for abandoning my daughter. In my tidy room, tastefully decorated in greys, I kept turning on the television, staring at the ever-increasing statistics of catastrophe, feeling guilty for being in an ancient city. In the evenings, I had dinner in the hotel’s starred restaurant and felt incredibly shallow for discussing with the sommelier whether to order wine by the glass or have a bottle corked up after the meal and brought back to the table the next night.

I slept a lot; it had been an exhausting year. When I would finally be ready to go out for cappuccino in the late mornings, there were only a couple of hours left before many of the churches and museums closed for an extended midday break. My best moments were right around lunch, sitting in a sheltered spot outside some small bar with a glass of prosecco, soaking up the rays of the winter sun like one of the tiny lizards sluggishly moving in and out of the cracks in the old stone walls.

In the afternoons, I took long naps. When I went out for a walk in the evenings, most of Rome’s sights were about to close for the day. Romans were shopping for produce on Campo dei Fiori and tourists were sitting in the cafés surrounding the market, thumbing through thick guide books and rewarding themselves with a Campari or a glass of wine for a day of sightseeing well done.

Only I had slept through the productive hours, the hours of good winter light, not worthy of visiting Santa Maria Maggiore, Palazzo Doria or the Vatican Museums. I slept through New Year’s Eve and went home the next morning.

Two year later, I am facing my second Christmas without my daughter. We have come a long way. I will miss her, but I fully intend to keep up the Christmas tree after she leaves. I am, again, exhausted from a long year, and I thought of going away. Instead, I have decided to take a weeklong vacation at home, right here in New York City.

I will visit one museum every day and make straight for the most beautiful objects. I will take myself to lunch at restaurants I have always wanted to visit. In the afternoons, I will come home for a delicious nap, then perhaps go for a swim. At night, I will sit by the fireplace in my tiny house and read; the books that I have wanted to get to for a long time are already piled up next to the wood. I will have salads and cheese and a glass of red wine for dinner.

I will put myself first and, though I am 44, for perhaps for the first time ever I might not even feel guilty about it.

Agnes Krup is a literary agent and chair of the PTA fundraising committee at her daughter’s public school in Brooklyn Heights. She grew up in Hamburg, Germany and has lived in New York City since 1994.

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  • Wendy Roberman December 21, 2006 at 8:50 am

    Thank you, Agnes. Although I am 52, Jewish and lucky to have my son home from college for the holidays, I resonated with every emotion you so beautifully described in your story. I wish I could tell you that there’s a point when you don’t have to relearn the lessons or cease to go through the heartaches, but neither are true. Nonetheless, I swear life just keeps getting better and I particularly thank my women friends (including my beautiful sisters) for that. Thank you for your story. Wendy Roberman, Charlottesville, VA