When I hear this song, “Con te partirò” by Andrea Bocelli, I am reminded of my first Game Boy, which I got when I was six. It was one of the older models, heavy and bricklike and composed of gray plastic that had turned a sickly yellow, and, as it no longer functioned without being plugged into a wall, it had been given to me. Every day, I would accompany my mother to her job, and I would bring this Game Boy with me. My mother’s job was to sit behind the counter of a New Age consignment shop called Constance’s Boutique while people came and went. I would find a comfortable wicker chair somewhere in the back of the store and play my Game Boy. My hair was long and blonde, and my mother dressed me enigmatically, in colorful tights and oversized sweaters that hung down to my knees, and I did not like to be looked at.
At various points throughout the day, Andrea Bocelli could be heard over the store’s sound system. His album Romanza had come out that year, and it had been one of the highest selling albums of all time. Customers, usually wealthy older couples, would comment on the music sometimes.
“Oh, isn’t he just an amazing man!” they would say. “Such a heart-breaking story!”
From their comments, I gathered some understanding of his life. I knew that he was Italian, for example, and I knew that he was blind. By both of these facts I was transfixed. Sitting quietly in the back of the store, I thought of them often. Sometimes I would close my eyes for long periods, trying to imagine what it must be like to be blind. But, no matter how much I did this, the images that came into my mind were always informed by the things my eyes had seen before I’d closed them. I knew that Andrea Bocelli saw something other than this, but I did not know what.
That he was Italian absorbed me all the more, because to be Italian meant to speak a language other than this one, a language I could not understand. That meant, of course, having names for things we haven’t, and leaving other things unnamed. It seemed to me a kind of secret.
I did not like the customers who came into the store, the way they spoke to my mother, the way they walked through the space, gazing at things, evaluating them. Some days, I would bring a blanket with me, and in my large wicker chair I would hide beneath the blanket, as though it were a tent, and play my Game Boy. Quietly, I played The Legend of Zelda, mistaking, as most children did, the boy with the sword for the title character. But when I heard the customers coming, heard their heavy, careless footsteps, I would turn off my game and still my breath until they passed. And sometimes they did not detect me.
But more often, I had no blanket and, seeing me, they would say—either to my mother or to themselves—“What beautiful hair she has,” or “Such a sweet little girl.” And my mother, smirking, amused, would correct them.
“He’s a boy,” she would say, in that polite, pinched voice which she reserved for customers. But this was not right either. What I had was something very fine. It was like silk, soft and private, and no one could know it but me.
Although I can recite the opening words, until today I had no translation of them. I knew only the sounds that made up the song, not their meaning:
Quando sona solo
e mancan le parole
Each day, I recognized this sequence as it came on the air, and I knew somewhere, there was a place where its meaning was known.
I am surprised to learn now, as an adult, that “Con te partirò” does not mean “Time to say goodbye.” “Con te partirò” means “I will go with you.” And from those familiar opening sounds there is this translation: “When I’m alone, I dream on the horizon, and the words are missing.” It is a numb world, a world he never really knew, to which the speaker bids farewell. I am surprised—now, as an adult, gazing back at my sincere younger self who has been left alone so long—surprised to learn that this is not a sad song. How could I have believed that it was for so long?
“Time to say goodbye,” it says, “to countries I have never seen nor shared with you. Now, yes, I shall be living in them.”