Roman Beads

I loved living somewhere old. I loved knowing that there was more life behind me than ahead of me. The history of Rome was so perfectly captured in the beads I was selling. They were glass, blue and green in color, foggy and rough-edged, they were recovered from a Roman glass-makers trash heap outside of Kabul and had been brought to Rome by Pilgrims on their way to or from Mecca a literal thousand years ago.

I guess if you’re walking (for religious, or any purpose) thousands of miles, keeping your eyes out for interesting rubbish helps pass the time. These glass pieces had served many purposes in their time on earth, currently though they were beads for people to wear as accessories.

Just as the sea waves soften shells and seaglass, glass trash was softened by being buried in Earth for centuries. In downtime at the stand, I would sometimes just run my dry little fingertips along the strands of jagged beads and imagine the stories they’d been through. The glass trade has seen Mesopotamia, the Bronze Age in the Mediterranean, Roman Mediterranean, Asia, Africa, India, etc. There was no part of the world, seemingly, that hadn’t traded glass and suddenly here it was, my livelihood spread out on a small stand in the back of a market in Rome while I quickly died from kidney cancer. It felt beautiful to me. I would always be wearing the pieces that wouldn’t sell, I wanted to demonstrate the power of the glass beads.

Look at me, I thought, or shouted, to every shopper who made it back to my little corner, the entire purpose for these pieces is to make the wearer feel and look beautiful. It worked! Nobody thought I looked beautiful – I didn’t – but they saw that I felt beautiful and they wanted that.

If you can be dying, it’s best to do it in Rome while reminding strangers that feeling like a thing of beauty is more important than looking like one.


These days spent in Rome, I would not say I was anything resembling well. I would get winded walking DOWN one flight of stairs. I was lightheaded after one glass of wine. I vomited up 80% of the food I was forcing myself to eat. My body was shutting down in ways I couldn’t have imagined.

My digestive system was barely doing its job and seemed to instead be sending the food my brain forced my mouth to eat straight out of my body one way or the other. So I was losing weight rapidly (my 23-year old self LOVED all the new bones becoming more and more visible!).

My skin and eyeballs were changing in color, which was very unattractive, paired with how dry my skin, nails and hair had become for some reason. I looked like withering birch wood. Everything browning and curling as it dried out.

My mental health was at its peak.

The text messages and emails had started to slow down by my ninth day in Rome because that’s about how long anybody’s attention span was anymore. They had sent a day or two all-consumed in their worry until a new worrisome event arose and they moved on. As far as I was concerned, it was better this way.

I sent a pretty detailed email to my mom and brother detailing my illness, my decision to move, and how I planned to spend my remaining couple of years. They both responded with anger which seemed like the opposite of an appropriate reaction. I told them both they were certainly welcome to come share my new life with me and then suddenly, so many reasons to stay home. Unlike me, death wasn’t looming for them so they couldn’t abandon all real life elements.

But death is looming for all of us and real life elements are invented. I was losing patience for the whole, “I can’t just pick up everything in my life and run away” mentality.