He looked like a stereotypical European gypsy traversing the continent selling novelties, gently robbing Westerners, being a citizen of the world and amazing dumb tattoos. I expected his stories to be of adventure and close calls, trysts and affairs, run-ins with authorities, escapes and arrivals.

His name was Norman and he was a former CPA from Boulder, Colorado who had a complete meltdown six years ago when his wife left him for her personal trainer. It’s all so cliché that he could barely say it aloud without rolling his own eyes at his own words. When did I become Ross Gellar, he wondered aloud, a sarcastic cuckold with a cheating wife before I was even 30!?

It was reassuring to see how many Americans escape American life to explore the world, but at the same time it was pretty disappointing to share the same story with most of them.  That said, most of them weren’t dying as rapidly or as soon as I was and I tended not to share this bit of information as it just never landed how I wanted it to. I tried to say it comedically, self-indulgently, apologetically, proudly, bombastically, resignedly, and I got the same reaction every single time. People acted as though “Ahh!! There’s the thing that brought you were here!” and I hated knowing that they were right. That I never would have chosen this life if I wasn’t dying.

I asked Norman why he had chosen Rome as I wasn’t sure of my own reason and thought his might shine some light on mine. He said, “I wanted to roam and I’ve never been great at symbolism.”

That was what I grew to love about Norman in our time selling overpriced beautiful goods to Westerners – he admitted his faults while somehow proving them wrong at the same time.