“When in Rome”
Fiction. Based on a True Walk to the Colosseum.
by Mingjie Zhai
All journal entries are inspired by true events. Some of the characters, names, businesses, incidents, and certain locations and events have been fictionalized for dramatic purposes. Any similarity to the name, character or history of any person is entirely coincidental and unintentional.
You walk 20 minutes to the Vatican, only to find it closed. That’s right. Today is the second of June, and Rome is having a big festival celebrating the transformation into a Republic. No more emperors, dictators, kings—not even pagan worship of gods—just the Catholic faith, the elite, the tourists, and the common folks, each with the gate ready to be opened through faith in the Good Shepherd that now has solidified His Crown in Vatican City. The stronghold is a spiritual portal to the spiritual battles that are taking place in real time in a parallel reality next to ours.
You are a common folk, as common as it gets, yet completely uncommon.
A 5’1, Chinese-American woman in her mid-thirty year old female with a foxy bitch named Roxy by your side.
Two bitches in Rome.
You direct Google to the Colosseum, or Colleseo, where thousands were once torn apart and fed to beasts of the wild as amusement for the general masses, and for Caesar and his followers to detach and disassociate in bloodlust.
In Paul the Apostle’s time, under Nero, thousands of Christians—men, women, and children were treated as pawns to a live gladiator game…to be objectified under a realtime Hunger Games. A city is as healthy as its sickest, and Rome was and is still pretty sick.
The night before, when you first arrived in Rome, Tim Cast was saying how Dr. Drew believes the Bubonic plague that wiped out ⅓ of Europe in the dark ages may be coming back from all the pile-up filth and human feces of the homeless and mentally ill.
You believe this kind of “city filth” is everywhere now. Even in Rome, the city streets are littered with trash, spit, and cigarette butts.
You believe apathy, big pharma, and a hyper commodified reality will do that. You were upset that Tim just made a blanket statement about the homeless, “Even if you offered them housing, they would not take it. They prefer to live on the streets.” Maybe he’s right. Maybe the sick prefer to be sick and that’s why Jesus first asked the layman on the mattress, “Do you want to be healed?”
Are you ready to be healed?
And perhaps that’s why you are grateful to Aaron, and why God had set the two of you up to meet on the balcony of the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills. Aaron called you out on your disability, “You’re not disabled,” and you called him out on selling out his dream, “You’re not a salesman; you’re an artist!”
You remember when you saw a homeless man looking at beer and you offered him a fresh bottle of ice water, but he refused.
Yet, what he probably needed was for you to buy him the beer so you could sit down with him at a bar and tell him your story of battling with alcoholism. That’s what Bill and Bob did—
it’s true compassion. The context of it doesn’t matter…it changes all the time. You just need a club and an excuse to do the right thing. In Drinker’s Den, they say, all you need is a resentment and a pot of coffee to start a meeting.
Sometimes it takes just that–resentment.
You tell yourself that every beggar you run across, you’ll give him or her a little of your change. If every tourist just gave a little…1 Euro here, fifty Euro cents there…one could be held just long enough to pull through.
At least that’s your story.
If it was not for the insulation of your Disability Retirement benefits, you would not be able to pull yourself off the bootstraps and work on the project. If it were not for the unconditional support of your mother and father, or your reliance on God to do for you what you cannot do for yourself, perhaps, you think, you would have wound up in some mental hospital for the long term and made to feel perpetually less than.
Your friend, who founded IDKYBILY, or “I don’t know you but I love you,” took her severance money from her work and purchased a fundraising ticket to meet Andrew Yang, the politician on the Democratic Ticket to run on the platform of UBI. She took a picture with Andrew and posted it on Facebook. Andrew met with Ben Shapiro, whom your other comedian friend took a picture with, and posted on Facebook. And you have the Dr. Jordan Peterson picture on a Facebook post. You think how eerie it is that you are all connected in this way. As if we really are in a simulation, and the world seems to be getting smaller and smaller, things picking up faster. You wonder if after the first psychosis you actually shifted into a different dimension, like Rembrant, and that somehow, prior to the psychosis, you may have already killed yourself and didn’t even know it.
You’ve already had four psychosis…after each one, a dramatic shift.
After your first, you became a journal-artist.
After your second, you understood the clues of the Holy Grail starts in 1 Corinthians 13:12.
After your third, you began piecing together the puzzle of what evil really is.
After your fourth, you began truly understanding the three premises of individual purpose:
- God is Love.
- Love is defined in 1 Corinthians 13
- Love is Sovereign
Now, you’re in Rome, three subway stops from the Vatican, and while you’re walking, you stumble upon Santa Maria’s Basilica. Things are slow yet fast at the same time.
You have a new center.
It is of a purple moon with a purple sky, blended in with Royal blue, illuminating the teal waters from ocean to river to waterfall. Flowing into paradise, in a forest with broccoli trees, lush green, surrounding you with Rylie and the orange sash that he is wearing carrying your baby that you procreated with him, standing not too far from the cottage where the two of you are raising your family of three.
The five of you helping the world through the virtual space while manifesting in the present perfect reality of things, founded by a faithful reliance on God of your own understanding—a benevolent one.
You think of your parents, and you think of settling somewhere in a small community with lots of forestry on a mountain overlooking the sea, lake, and ocean; You tell yourself that you need to build it so that one day, in case your parents need a place for refuge from California, you will have that room waiting for them.
You are en route to Colleseo and you see a Thai massage place. The night before, you feared you would stop breathing because you’ve been having circulation problems.
You ordered a 30-minute Shiatsu, but the masseuse gave you a 30-minute Thai massage…you don’t think you’ve ever gotten a real Thai massage until this Thai lady stepped in places that brought cold sweats to your body. You complained about where the source of the pain resides…You pointed to your right traps and your neck and she wound up getting into places you never thought would have anything to do with the area of pain—but alas, you trust she knows what she is doing.
During the 30 minutes, she was kneading into your back calves, lower back, and wrists, and you screamed in pain. You thought for a moment, this is what a gang rape feels like. Very short, intermittent feelings of release in between long stretches of excruciating pain. For a minute, you felt your entire body disintegrating…you were literally getting stepped on… if you wanted to develop empathy for people torn up in an MMA fight it may be close to this.
Once in a while she laughs and asks you, “Are you okay?”
“Yes,” you say, a bit embarrassed. You can’t help but make these noises. They were half screams and half moans. You don’t like to suppress anything nowadays. Since you are their only client getting a message on a Sunday early afternoon, you let loose.
By the time she is through with you, you feel completely beat up. Your energy points are completely open. You don’t know if you are still breathing either because your body is so shocked by the rough handling of another person, after not being touched for months traveling solo, your system feels completely opened, loosened, jellied. You absorb this woman’s dreams, her wounds, her beauty and ugly.
You absorb it all.
You can barely walk towards the shower, but when you do, you are filled with a deep craving for sugar. You find the adonis berries in your bag and begin stuffing fistfuls of them into your mouth. The hot shower gives you your life back. You start moaning in relief at the places that have been stretched, now addressed. Those places that have been long neglected are now coming back to life.
You are grateful.
You leave and stumble upon a sushi shop next door. You order the Poke bowl for 13 Euros, and while sitting there eating you realize that you could be alone for the rest of your life and that’ll be okay, but maybe God desires you to build honest, forthwith, productive relationships with people you come face to face with.
That evening you had a conversation with Smartie about facing her demons in the classroom as a new teacher trying to take back the control of her classroom.
“You don’t want students to like you. You want them to respect you.”
You both have been alanoics for too long—she is indeed your traveling companion. The extreme swinging must stop.
“You have to bite the head off the dragon,” you say to her. “Find the alpha in the class and go for the jugular. You will win every time. Just be direct and brutally honest. Say what’s really on your mind. Let go of the need to please the class. What kids need is structure, leadership, and honesty.”
The next day, she thanks you for the advice.
Santa Maria in Trastevere
You stumble upon this church, only later to find out that this is the first official Christian place of worship built in Rome. Its purpose is to focus on the Virgin Mary, who is the source of the divine feminine, and perhaps a reminder to us all of Original Eve’s affirmed Faith in God’s Goodness. This place was founded by Pope Callixtus I in the third century when Christianity was still considered a minority “cult.” It was rumored that on the day Christ was born, its foundation had overflowed with oil. This basilica is dedicated to the coronation of the Virgin.
You took Roxy inside and waited for someone to tell you to leave, but nobody did. Instead, one staff member approached you with a headset and invited you to take the audio tour around to know its history. The place had so much cool and calm— a peacefulness that put you at ease almost immediately. You soon found the courage to walk forward, though at first you felt unworthy to approach, especially with your back tattoo of the phoenix exposed, yet nobody said any of the matter. They were on their own journeys with their own communion with Holy Mary, and you thought, “this is how we can transform love.” If everyone just focused on transforming themselves through the communion that have with their higher power…but then that’s you ‘shoulding’ on everything again…focus, Angelie, focus, you tell yourself…so you continue observing, until you come upon this particular painting.
Then you are undone.
You begin crying.
You realize that you are looking into a mirror.
That’s how much your faith has been blooming.
You know that everything is tailored, customized, and divinely designed.
You know now.
The esoteric secrets within.
That’s why you cry.
You cry of joy.
Because you are looking into a mirror.
Thank you so much Jesus.
You feel unworthy, but then you are reminded…it’s not your works, it’s His works.
On the right hand side, you see Mary being crowned by Jesus. You realize that here is the initiation for your crown chakra’s activation. You are moved beyond words. That is the prophecy of the Playbook’s hypothesis, “You will not surely die,” in all life’s tragedies.
You close your eyes and tears stream down your cheeks. This time the first tear drop falls on the right side, then the left. You are beginning to guffaw, moved by the beauty, the love, the joy of it all.
Then your English guide ends and the German one begins. Same program, just a different language. You automatically think of Rylie and when he had last spoken German in front of you when he was on the phone with a friend. You smile. You had entertained Berlin after he advised you to go. And when you went, that’s where you met the Codex of Mary, then Christmas at St. Mary, then Warsaw where you met the mural of Mary on a tree trunk, and then Krakow, where you are in St. Mary’s church again, this time with the tear on her right cheek, then Blue Cave Mary in Split, Croatia, St. Mary on Vis Island, where you began to notice Mary Magdalene—the contemplative, life partner of Jesus, when you began listening to her Gospel.
“Let those who have ears, hear.”
And you heard her tell you in this beautiful Basilica in Rome, “Stay the course. Rylie will come.”
Mary’s naive faith.
Mary’s wisened and naive faith—returned.
You begin heading out, refreshed, with new eyes.
The man who you once dated texted you that he broke up with his girlfriend. He wonders about your sobriety. You look at the SoberNow app he founded and developed and it says seven months and 13 days. You are impressed with yourself. Had it not been for that one day relapse when you felt guilty about taking the Plan B and thought alcohol would reverse its effects, you would have gotten 13 months and 13 days today. You think that avoiding Aaron would not have changed your fate being here. Even if you had showed up in front of Rylie’s door as you had originally planned, prior to leaving LA for Berlin, it would not have worked out. Perhaps, it would have been worse—Rylie may have developed some kind of paranoia over you showing up randomly.
That’s promotion, not attraction, not to mention thirsty-stalker-creepy girl. You want to show up as attractive as the beautiful courtesan in the movie, Memoirs of a Geisha, not the dead bitter girl who lives in the well in the movie, The Ring.
You want to transcend, not transgress.
Aaron was a saving grace by God telling you, “Your trials with Aaron are serving your higher purpose.”
It is good.
It’s all good.
Have more faith, you tell yourself.
It’s all good.
You continue walking and texting your friend.
“Are you happy?”
“Then I’m happy,” you text back.
“MY PART” you tell yourself. The acronym was introduced to you in your recovery group a few days prior.
It means, “Manifest Your Power Accept Relax Trust.”
You wanted to give him advice—“are you sure? Well maybe you should have brought it up to her.”—but you don’t.
You’re learning from CODA to just let go.
Let people be. Their situation is not the same as yours. Let them learn their own lesson, and support them in their process.
“Why?” you ask.
“She is a closet alcoholic and there’s nothing I can do to get her to where I’m at. She started talking about having a family and that was when I knew I had to end it.”
“You did what’s best,” you text back.
You realize you’re not bullshitting.
Every situation is unique. You have no idea what he has gone through with her, so you take it on faith that he made the best decision for himself. He’s a big boy.
Looking back you also did what’s best.
You would have been miserable had you stayed with Green Eyes. His alcoholism was so terrifying and terrible that you could not fathom putting your child in harm’s way like that… the way you witnessed your mother powerless when your dad would have uncontrollable temper tantrums from his alcoholic illness. It’s not just the substance…but the abuse. It’s a spiritual and psychic shift. One can stop drinking the liquid and still be a dry drunk…Now that you’re seven months you are finally beginning to calm down a bit more, you know the difference.
You’re gaining perspective. Your channels of communication with the Holy Spirit are beginning to grow stronger by the day. And it helps that your team is growing too—more people are believing in this project.
Recently, an editor had to step down due to personal emergencies, but she was able to express how much this project has given her insight, an anchor, and how appreciative she is. Next is the first woman who believed in the journaling pilot—she sincerely thanks you over a video conference and you still find it awkward to accept another person’s warm gratitude. “It’s God…and other people…and…well, thank you,” you finally surrender.
Yes, Angelie, it’s also you. You did much.
For those much is given, much is expected.
You are doing it.
Just do it all the way.
Don’t do it 60%, or 90%…do it 100%.
You pass through the Palazzo Venezia, the Altar of the Fatherland, and the Imperial Forum, where you find a few East Asian men selling water for 1 Euro and selfie sticks for 20 Euros. You think about buying the Selfie stick, and when the man approaches you, you give him the money without hesitation or bargaining. Why would a rich man bargain to reduce the price of a poor man? How is that not exploitation? It never made sense to you when you would watch your mom and grandmother haggle the prices on items from these tent street shops while at the LV store nobody dares to negotiate the price. It doesn’t make any common sense. The poor man needs your money more than the rich man. The rich man gets his materials made and produced by the poor man and takes credit for it, under the pretension of a “Brand.” The more you understand business, the more hardened your heart becomes.
And yet, even in today’s day, it is better than what it was like in Rome. Who built the Colosseum? Slaves who sweat night and day just to survive and eat. Exploitation and years of pain and suffering by nameless people brought together rocks upon rocks that made the Colosseum, which now brings together an international community arriving to take pictures of the monument of the dead matters. Whilst the real treasure is the one hawking the water for 1 Euro so his family can live to eat another day somewhere across the ocean.
You and the rest of your kind, humankind, focus too much on dead matters. You and the rest of the tourists snap photos at dead rocks, dead buildings, and dead wooden things while an older woman is literally on her knees, head down on concrete, with a hat up, hoping that someone kind enough would take a few moments to drop a few Euros so she can drink some water and put food in her stomach to live another day. But people ignore her, as if to recognize her is to acknowledge that there is suffering in the world, even on their “vacation” or “time off.” How dare her presence become such a buzzkill for people? People of poverty and suffering bring a reality check in a place where people pay extra money to “escape” from their reality, so most find it easier to pay her no mind.
Dozens of excuses are made as onlookers look the other way.
It’s hopeless for her.
I’m not going to enable her.
It’s none of my business.
Don’t they have a social welfare system?
What made her possibly this pathetic?
It’s my money. I’ve earned it. Why should I give?
She doesn’t deserve my money.
Why can’t she learn to work?
I won’t enable this victim behavior.
She probably deserves where she’s at, and who am I to interfere with fate?
She’s better off dead.
Her time’s up. I’m just delaying her process by giving her my money.
Dozens of reasons why people pass but the majority of people who pass her have the same dozen reasons on their minds when they choose to ignore her.
That’s the pain you suffered through when Sonny acted as if you were such a nuisance just trying to “suck up” his wallet when he forgot to remind himself that it was you he had exploited. He made more money than you yet you gave him the majority of your money and he took it without gratitude, only expectation, and a false sense of responsibility. A false sense of entitlement.
And there you realize that in Act One’s setup of Uncle Maroye, Maro, the nephew who squandered his Uncle’s money for the courtesan, reminds you of Sonny, and you are like Uncle Maroye, who ends up with the label “mad” by polite society. When Uncle Maroye finally confronts Maro of Maro’s negligence and self-centeredness, Maro pretends he does not recognize him and then calls authorities to arrest his Uncle for his “madness.”
By the time you arrive at the Colosseum, you and Roxy are both exhausted but grateful that both of you finally made it to the destination point that you had set out to accomplish that morning. You take the selfie stick, and the angle is looking real nice now. You are grateful that you gave the brown man the money and kept his dignity intact so he didn’t have to beg like the woman does.
Perhaps the woman lost all her family in a fire. Perhaps she wound up in a place that was not of her doing. Who is to say that John’s beheading is John’s fault? Or Paul’s beheading was his? Who is to say that you deserved your time in the mental health institution? Or that you deserved to be cheated on, lied to, manipulated by a man you had entrusted some nine years ago?
And there you’ve arrived in Rome. The fullness of your tragedy in Act One is knowing that you were betrayed—thoroughly betrayed by your partner, and you had blamed it on yourself. You were a victim but you did not want to admit that you were, so you pretended that you were the perpetrator—and perhaps in codependency you were. You co-signed everything after all.
Perhaps, the beggar woman has also internalized the villainy upon herself when she kneels at the steps of the colosseum while onlookers keep looking on, looking past her, looking as if all those things that happened to her were her fault.
You now fully understand the voice of Sonny’s alchemized shadow:
Do not harass me.
It’s hopeless to try and work things out with Angelie.
I’m not going to enable her.
It’s none of my business.
Won’t some other poor chap take care of her?
What made her possibly this pathetic?
It’s my life. I’ve earned it. Why should I give?
She doesn’t deserve my love.
Why can’t she learn to work life out on her own?
I won’t enable this abusive behavior.
She probably deserves where she’s at and who am I to interfere with fate?
She’s better off without me.
Her time’s up. I’m just delaying her process by giving her my love.
And there is Sonny’s alchemized shadow, going right through your mind when you pass her by. Except, you stop. You pull out a Euro and drop it in her coffer.
Foxy’s laughing and you’re giddy. You two made it. Survivors of travel, blessed by the Holy Trinity, and perfect in your spiritual process.
You get an email from Aaron.
Manifesting My Power —Acceptance, Relaxation, and Trusting God
That evening, right before bed, you told yourself that you would listen to Mother Mary.
She offered you another perspective. Perhaps, it is both Aaron and Sonny who are the codependents raised by Jocasta mothers who looked upon you as the replacement for their toxic mothers, and perhaps it is their fantasy to try and fix you as a subconscious way of their fixing their own mothers, the way you’ve dated every alcoholic man to fix your father. And men like Sonny and Aaron who tried to hold on to this fantasy, of fixing you as a way to fix their own moms… they had become codependent addicts as well. Alanonics or Alanon-addicts.
The Geisha represents another kind of tragedy—that of the woman chasing security so that she will never have to end up like the old woman with her forehead on concrete asking for change that only Jesus can give. This is why the woman with the sick blood could not find any man to fix her and this is why you were stricken with the flu when the man you were dating wanted to get physical and the Croatian man was stricken with the flu when you were tempted to get physical.
It’s all good.
“Count it all joy,”
-Paul, the Apostle.
When in Rome, do what the Romans are doing…
letting go and letting God.