Interview by Author, Susie Clevenger
First of all I would like to thank Carrie Clevenger and Claudio Cocino for taking the time to sit down and chat. There is buzz about a movement started by Carrie and Claudio called #perchenovacanza (Why not! Vacation!) The philosophy behind it is to live and love loudly. Today you will get to know more about the people who choose to celebrate life so enthusiastically, and their desire to share it with the world.
Susie: Where did you meet?
Claudio: Me and Carrie met in Tulsa a few days after I arrived. I was new to the city and to the USA. I moved all the way from Rome to Tulsa to join an international ballet company. It was my first week in a totally different environment than anything I was accustomed to. Trying to find my way into the new building one day, I noticed a little merchandise shop at the entrance. So, I went in to see if they had some beverages. In that moment I was really thirsty for some sparkling water and had very little time to run to the store and get some. So, I walked into the store and nobody was in there. I looked around for a while, but still nobody was there. At that point I was very frustrated when a beautiful woman walked up to me and asked me if I needed help. “Yes!!! I do need some help!” After few months she told me her perspective of our first encounter. The first impression she had of me wasn’t a nice as everybody would think. But seriously, I just wanted some water!
Carrie: Well, we properly met at a party about a week after this first encounter. It was extremely hot outside and I was sipping a drink when this smiley Italian wearing some strange, paper-like shirt approached me and started talking. For some reason I ended up telling him my whole life story and about how miserable I was in my current situation. I felt totally embarrassed the next time I saw him, for being so open. I apologized for spilling my guts, but he just smiled and said “Don’t worry; I will keep it in my heart”. I’ll never forget that.
Susie: It appears there was an immediate chemistry. How would you describe it?
Carrie: Well, I found him interesting from our first conversation, but I was a bit hesitant to jump into a new friendship. I overheard him talking about a weekend trip and that he was taking cab to and from the airport and I was” like..no way I will pick you up!” So, when he was coming back to Tulsa, I was there waiting for him. I barely knew him and could hardy understand his thick, strange sounding accent. That day we went to a diner and had a “proper American breakfast”. After that it was a sort of…dance. Pun intended. I think we both found one another very funny but, ya know, not expecting what would become an amazing friendship. I remember seeing him dance the Prince in the Nutcracker preview and something about him felt familiar. It was a bit indescribable, actually. One evening he was leaving the studio to walk home. I offered him a ride and I think from that drive, through us laughing the entire time, we kind of just said “screw it! We’re doing this”. We started going to events, having dinner, doing ridiculous things and laughing…
a lot. It seemed liked months or years that we had known each other, because again, it was a familiar feeling. I mean not to be cheesy, but it certainly had a sense of reconnecting with someone I knew from a past life, perhaps? It was comfortable and easy. He didn’t just allow me to be myself, he demanded it. That feeling was new to me and refreshing.
Susie: Claudio, Carrie has quite an open personality. People are often drawn to her. What was your first impression of her?
Claudio: Carrie and I started to hang out almost immediately after we first met. She has the power to draw all the attention to her, like a big bight star until all of the sudden it shines on the people around her and they are captured by this brightness, just like I was when I first met her. Then she opens her heart to you and you understand why she is so fascinating.
Susie: You became best friends, but can you describe the shift from just hanging out to becoming inseparable?
Carrie: It didn’t take long, really.
Claudio: It was really easy! Carrie and I felt like we had met before every single time we talked.
Carrie: Once we started hanging out, we grew really comfortable with one another and with just being ourselves. We laughed so much together from the beginning and being with Claudio just felt good.
Claudio: Our lives were so different at that point but the age gap, the cultural gap, and the
experience gap didn’t feel like it was a strange thing. Actually, we would spend hours talking, laughing, and enjoying the company. We would go out every day for different adventures, just the two of us, always thinking “have I met you before!?”
Carrie: It was an major transitional time for me and when we deepened our bond, he was always there next to me as a friend and partner who allowed me to be as ugly or beautiful as I needed. And if I had never believed in fate or destiny before meeting Claudio, I certainly did now. He seemed to have this wisdom beyond his own life experience and age to say exactly what I needed to hear. Not only was a making me laugh all the time, he was reminding me that I was worth being loved unconditionally. Somehow the universe granted me with one of the most amazing humans I’d ever met to show me these things. Just when I thought I had all the people I needed in my life, he changed that and I’m thankful for his persistence. He truly changed my life.
Susie: What is Holy Thursday? Is it religious, spiritual?
Claudio: Hahaha. That’s the first reaction I can have about this question. As I said previously, Carrie and I spent all of our free time together since the first day we met, practically.
Carrie: Holy Thursday is a holiday we created one night when we decided that no matter how busy we got, on Thursday we would commit to making dinner together, even though we spent every day together already, ha!
Claudio: We had our habits and our celebration days, and Thursday was one of
them. Sometimes, when you work really hard during the week, the only thing that you could think of is the weekend. Since Wednesday was already taken by the “hump day”, we decided that Thursday would be our “Pizza Day”.
Carrie: Holy Thursday would start in the mornings as soon as we woke up and usually ended with a deep, philosophical conversation.
Claudio: Carrie knows how to make a pizza. Considering that pleasing an Italian is really hard, how couldn I not fall in love with the “American girl who can make pizza”?? So, yes it is a tradition, but it is also a spiritual moment that me and her would (privately) share.
Carrie: When Claudio left the states we maintained the Thursday tradition; calling one another and sending texts. I still wake up each Thursday with him on my heart. This tradition has been going on since 2011.
Susie: Life has a way of racing, taking sharp turns into separation. Carrie you live in the United States. Claudio you live in Italy. When and how did that occur?
Carrie: I always knew he wanted to return to Rome and those last few weeks were very difficult to think of what life was going to be like without Claudio right next door and with a 7 hour time difference. And I had a fleeting thought, “well, that was fun”. But, like I said, this was fleeting. By this point I knew our journey was truly only beginning.
Claudio: All the chapters of a life come to and end, and after two years I left Tulsa to make the next step in my life. Looking back at the moment I made the decision to leave, I can’t even think of how hard it was to leave my “new family” in the US. At that time Carrie and I had spent a year living next door to each other and basically spending every day together. She knew that I was leaving in the Spring and this was my final year in Tulsa. But, we never lived one single day without enjoying each other while I was there. It was going to be different but, nothing other than distance changed.
Carrie: I truly believe that to love someone, you must allow them to do what is best for them, even if it doesn’t include you. I knew he needed to be home and I wanted that for him. And being able to let go of him was actually a moment of growth for me. Plus, with him back in Italy I always have a place to visit! But really, now that he lives in Italy and I am also back to my home turf in Houston, TX, we have interesting things to share with each other and places to explore when visiting. It’s beautiful.
Susie: There are lots of miles between you. How would you describe your relationship today and how do you stay connected and close despite the distance?
Carrie: Personally, I think we are closer and more connected because of living apart. We have to actively maintain contact on some level and trust one another. It can be a challenge because sometimes I have moments where I think, “Claudio should be seeing this right now” or times when I just want to sit on the sofa and watch weird movies together. But, we’ve been living apart now longer than we lived together and I think we know each other better and have experienced a level of trust and respect and honesty that I have never previously experienced.
Claudio: After all this time I kind of got used to having her so far away from me. Technology keeps us together.
Carrie: And it’s true that distance does make the heart grow fonder. I mean, our airport reunions are EPIC. A lot of running, screaming, shaking, and crying. And people watch us reunite like a scene from Love Actually. It’s beautiful. I don’t ever want that to change.
Claudio: And Carrie and I have spent the most amazing holidays of our lives together over the last few years, despite the distance. There is so much that connects us that a “few” miles is not a deal breaker. Of course, every time we talk we plan on how to get closer to one another, but it will happen. Not at this point in our lives, but it will happen! Plus, what’s better than seeing your best friend on your free time?
Carrie: Also, we communicate through music. I’m a music fanatic and always find a connection in a song. We often send one another songs whether it’s a feel good song like Fly Me to the Moon, or a sonata when one of us is feeling mellow. Music is definitely a way we talk to one another. “Oh my god you have to hear this song!” is a typical beginning of a conversation. And we build playlists together. It’s exciting to know he will wake up to a new addition from me. Or when I get the notification that he’s added songs. It’s a way to say, “Good morning, I love you”.
Susie: Carrie and Claudio, loving outside the lines is unusual and beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing your story.
“Two unconventional hearts had found one another.
Love came unexplainable, beautiful and timely.
She needed healing and he needed her.”
Unconventional Hearts – Susie Clevenger, from the poetry collection, Dirt Road Dreams
Order Dirt Road Dreams and explore more of Susie’s poetry and writing at susieclevenger.com