Chapter 1: Slim Shady
We’re talking about Eminem and she thinks her anthem is “Lose Yourself”. I disagree; I think it’s “Rock Bottom”. And speaking of rock bottom, we talk about rock bottom. A lot.
“When you write this, I hope you can make me sound like less of a trainwreck,” she laughs.
Valentina Verani gets up to put on some perfume for our informal, in-pajamas interview. She warmly smiles at me as she sits back down and drapes a Mexican blanket across her lap. She couldn’t look like less of a trainwreck.
“So I bought this beautiful, aqua yoga mat,” she pivots (which I’m totally used to, by the way, because we’re always jumping in and out of topics) “and when I see this mat, I see it for every experience I’ve ever had. Yoga came to me at a time when I was like: ‘What now?’”
But this isn’t about yoga–not even close.
This is about Valentina Verani’s life: the chapters of my friend’s life that I’m attempting to capture in one little blog. It seems impossible, but I’m going to try anyway.
To make it easier, I rely on Valentina’s nimble mind and our shared love of metaphors. “If your life were a book,” I ask her, “how many chapters would you chunk out and what would they be called?”
“L.A. and the end of my first marriage is called ‘rock bottom’.”
“L.A. looks so beautiful, looks so friendly. I was in love with the perception of what L.A. [was] going to offer [me].”
Already Valentina’s humor is catching me off guard. We’re talking about a failed marriage, betrayals of friendship, and the discomfort of feeling lost. Her laughter is feeling strangely out of place.
So I ask her: “How do you have a sense of humor about all of this?”
“Oh, I could write a memoir about this happened to me,” she says with a deep voice and a dramatic gesture. Then she rolls her eyes. “It’s a waste of time and too painful. Like, how much humiliation can you put yourself through?!”
She laughs again.
“I had to experience the hard way what not to do. But if you hold onto it and take it too seriously, you’ll never move on.”
It’s dead silent now and I’m furiously taking notes. For me, this is a bomb of wisdom dropped into my lap; for her, these are just thoughts that flit in and out her mind—her nimble, dexterous brain that moves a million miles a minute and spits out words that I’m trying to record.
Thoughtfully, Valentina adds this little gem: “Laughter makes a rainy day manageable.”
That should be on a greeting card.
Chapter 2: Starting Over (or: What I did after rock bottom)
At 32 years-old, Valentina returned to Massachusetts. She was freshly divorced and temporarily living in her parents’ home. It was a dark period, she admits, steeped in loneliness and depression. She took solace in yoga but there was no getting around the harsh reality that this was simply not where she wanted to be.
“I totally relate to Eminem’s suffering,” she says. “I literally thought the lyrics were about me and that I was Slim Shady.”
(Now it’s my turn to laugh.)
“I was walking out of my therapist’s office,” she continues, “and the dialogue was never about me coming out on the other side; it was always about me dealing with rock bottom.
“Suddenly, my brain shifted to: ‘It’s not gonna end like this!’ That wasn’t how I was going to go down! Some people make that their narrative,” she says. “If the choice wasn’t made to move on, that’s how it would have ended for me.”
Thankfully, that’s not how it ended for Valentina. Flash forward two years and she was running her own, private practice that specializes in counseling. Valentina’s sense of purpose had been renewed and, at 34 years-old, she was powerfully channeling energy into a meaningful career.
Yet still an inner voice persisted—a quiet echo, but insistent nonetheless. It was a voice that told Valentina this was only half her dream; this was only half her vision. What had happened to the rest of it?
I know something about dreams. We get to a point in our 30s when we confront the half-dream and begin to accept it. We work on accepting the compromised vision of what our lives will be. We say, Okay, Universe, that’s cool. I’ll be successful but not married; I’ll be rich but very lonely; I’ll have family but not the career; I’ll have kids but suffer migraines...We tell ourselves we’re going to be okay in the end because half-fulfilled dreams are at least halfway full.
And that’s what Valentina did, too: “I had succumbed to the idea that I was going to be single without kids and that I’d just be a career woman. I thought it was something that everyone else had but not me.”
Chapter 3: title in-progress
“Can we talk about Alessandra for a second?” Valentina asks.
“Sure,” I smile.
I knew Valentina’s kids would come up but I wasn’t sure how. To be fair, I didn’t feel prepared to investigate things I knew little about—namely, her husband, children, and a house in South Boston (#jelly).
“She’s so chill,” Valentina says. “I pushed twice. She barely cried.”
Alessandra is the newest addition to Valentina’s family and a representation of how life is taking shape. The newborn is joined by her older brother John Oscar, whom Valentina says is equally chill and affectionate. “He’s so funny,” she smiles, “and shares our sense of humor”.
About husband Tony, Valentina had this to divulge: “He’s so loyal, intelligent, and funny. I know people aren’t perfect but to me, Tony is the perfect man,” she beams. “We love each other; our actions show it everyday. With Tony, I realize that this is the way it should feel.”
I’m nodding and scribbling all of this down in my little notebook. When I lift my head to look up, I see Valentina quietly staring at me. I’m waiting for her to continue speaking but instead she goes silent, like she’s stopping herself from saying anything more. It’s then that I realize our Past has arrived, claiming its rightful spot in this story.
Valentina and I had lived together in Boston, affectionately naming our apartment the Lotus Pad. There, amidst broken Ikea furniture and dingy yoga mats, we poured our hearts into our journals; we envisioned our perfect mates and shared our secret hopes with each other. Those hopes included marriage and kids.
Now I know why she’s stopped talking; now I know that she doesn’t want to hurt me.
“It’s the same for you,” she attempts. “The more experience you have, the less you’ll put up with.”
The thing is that sadness is so far from this story-sharing. Valentina is someone whom I deeply respect; she is someone who’s experienced life’s vicissitudes and deserves an easier go at it; Valentina is someone who has taken pain and transformed it—not only in her life, but in the lives of others.
In my opinion, Valentina is the real Slim Shady.
And customary of Slim’s lyrical flow, Eminem (aka Valentina) posed this question on Facebook:
Ok, friends. Do I hold onto the same yoga mat I’ve had for 10 years that I used through my darkest days until now? Or do I let go of that one, which tends to remind me of where I came from, in order to embrace the now and where I am headed?
Since that post, Valentina confessed that she’s never letting go of her old mat. But instead of practicing on her pained history, Valentina has purchased a new mat—one that represents this new chapter, and looks to the future instead of the past.