Never Give Up On Your Dreams (Part I)

November 11, 2015

My boyfriend broke up with me on February 14, 1999. Happy Valentine’s Day!  He was my gateway to discovering the world and to experiencing life. Something I couldn’t do on my own, or so I thought. Between bouts of crying, I received a new job offer. Working on a movie set as an assistant costume designer in Northern Italy took me away for few months. And just like that, he was forgotten.

I found myself in a different setting with brand new experiences and a multi-ethnic cast. Also, I made a new friend. Everything looked different. Besides working together, we were there for each other. We felt unstoppable and alive. By summertime, I was newly inspired and empowered. I felt that something new was coming!

That’s when she blew my mind with the travel invitation to visit her family in Brooklyn for the summer. “America? Fantastic!” Pronti, partenza, via! We had a plan, but I had no idea of what to expect. We were two single girls about to embark on a new adventure!

At age 28, I felt like my freedom was limited.

We wrapped up production in June and I returned to Rome to plead with my parents, but there was a bigger issue… I didn’t speak English!

Upon arriving in Brooklyn, I was surprised to find an old Italian-American couple who spoke a mixed Italian dialect with broken English. Huh? They were from Naples and had moved in the ‘50s. At age 28, I felt like my freedom was limited.

Daily, my friend and I gained confidence and began venturing out and meeting people on our own. While visiting the World Trade Center, we saw a production crew shooting a music video.  “Wow!” We had to meet them! Talking to the two cameramen wasn’t easy, but it helped that they wanted to flirt with us. 

One day in Little Italy, we ran into an Arab guy we’d encountered many times at a restaurant. He was nice and polite. His spoken Italian was a funny Napolitano dialect he’d picked up while working there. We told him we needed a place to stay for a few nights and he opened up his house to us. He was the only person we thought that we could trust at that time.

We arrived and were shown a small bed in a room that included two other beds for men who already occupied them. We spent two days avoiding them and pushing them away. We realized too late that we’d ended up in a house with two strangers who were looking to get laid! Looking back, I know our lack of English made us vulnerable.

Finally the two cameramen arrived to take us away! Initially we were all a bit shy, but it didn’t take long to feel comfortable. Everything was moving in the right direction. The nice, hot guys were looking out for us, and there were loads of house parties, beer, and lots of Italian cooking! My English improved and being in love under the influence of alcohol and marijuana felt magical. Little did I know how quickly a beautiful moment could fade…

Looking back, I know our lack of English made us vulnerable.

Celebrating Y2K in New York City was the event of the century! We were in Times Square, the epicenter of the beginning of a new millennium with our new loves. By midnight, we were tired and bored. Unable to bring alcohol into the festivities, we shared beer from disposable cups. We stood there until the end. We were ready to party but our guys told us that there was nothing to do. After the ball drops, they said, everybody goes home.

Things continued getting weirder. Our freedom was again restricted. I’d envisioned that I’d live in a building similar to that of the cast of Friends. Instead, we were held in a house and threatened that if we wanted to work in the movie industry in America, we’d have to follow “the rules.” My friend wasn’t supportive of an escape plan even though I felt uncomfortable.  

The guys left us home alone all day one Saturday. We were pissed and decided to go out, but the guys arrived just as we were walking out. A big fight broke out. My friend took her guy aside and spoke privately to him, since my English wasn’t great. I couldn’t even talk to my guy since he didn’t speak Italian.

In the end, everyone placed all of the blame on me. Apparently, I’d been the one who’d been the bad influence and disrespected “the rules.” I was accused of cheating. My friend stood silently next to the guys. I couldn’t defend myself. No words came out of my mouth. My cheeks were flushed, and I was sweating.

My so-called friend and co-adventurer said nothing. I couldn’t believe it! What had she said about me? I’d trusted her. She’d masterminded the plan to go out and meet a guy that night, but I was the one being called a prostitute. 

With fire burning in my chest, I looked at my friend and said, “ I’m leaving. Are you coming?”

That was it. I washed my face, took my bag out of the closet and threw my things inside without caring what was left behind. With fire burning in my chest, I looked at my friend and said, “ I’m leaving. Are you coming?”

The moment was terrifying. My hand was still holding the doorknob. My heart was pounding hard and my determination had suddenly left me. I was overcome with fear.

“I can’t do this… should I go back?”

To be continued…


About Francesca Defranchis

Working at the crossroads of travel, culture and humanitarianism, Francesca Defranchis has carved out her own unique niche in the business world by combining her personal passions with business. As an Italian-born entrepreneur currently based in New York City, she engages in many personal pursuits, whether it be humanitarian, animal rights activism, the arts, food politics, or a combination of any of these, and she is always seeking new experiences with new people — in an effort to make the world a better place.

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