Snippet from “Radio” :
First Change in 1953 …
My world began to turn around once more. I wish I could remember. I had someone on the phone only a month ago and I was supposed to get dates and information, call the only boy I did not hate and in all the excitement I forgot. As an expert on the subject, that is the best rationalization I could come up with on such short notice.
In the kid stage of our life, we don’t have a very extensive network and the world in which we revolve is a small sphere that is tricky to manuver, like the entrance to Steeplechase Park in Coney Island.
Adults really don’t talk to kids. They make believe. Like when they ask you what you did in school or how was your day … did you enjoy the movie? None of these questions are supposed to generate much of an answer. I saw it in her eyes. She asked the question and two seconds later her attention shifted to something else.
I heard things. Kids always hear things, because kids are invisible. Adults say things while you sit there, as though you are part of the furniture or deaf or something. For months they talked and I heard.
The only person in ten families, in three states, for heaven sake, in two countries. The only person from Califorte or Poughkeepsie who didn’t think I was a pain in the ass was sick.
It’s the kind of sick men could not fathom and women whispered about. They talked behind their hands and whispered the initial. The letter C … like we were all stupid.
She was a beautiful angel who laughed and filled my world with sunshine and joy. She taught me things. I never forgot what she taught me.
One afternoon when I came home from school, my mother and my angel’s sister were home early from work. They sat at our kitchen table and told me to change.
I don’t know. She shouldn’t see such things.
Let her go. It’s important.
She sat up in a big bed with lots of pillows behind her head and a pink and white bed jacket. Her hair was black, thick and wavy. The others gathered in the kitchen like cattle, cows grazing on sweet grass, chewing and mewing.
Why is that pest here?
Mind your business and go back to mewing.
I sat up on the big bed and she held my hand. I felt loved and safe. She brushed back my hair and laughed.
Your hair is a mess.
Yeah, you know, I’m always a mess.
She kissed me on the forehead and hands lifted me off the bed and sent me away.
One morning my mother sat alone in the kitchen. She didn’t pretend to be interested or say good morning. She nodded and told me to go to the grocery store.
We need a loaf of white bread.
No we don’t.
Her eyes were puffy, so I went anyway.
Down the block at the grocery store I saw the only boy I didn’t hate. His eyes were puffy like my mom’s, and I knew. My only real adult friend was gone.
This was the year I learned why sad songs make you cry.
Some things never changed. Like I would always be the damn baby of the family. I would always be the only girl, the one who needed someone to watch her or walk her. The middle one doesn’t walk me, he drags me.
Come on damn it !
I hate you.
Yeah? You think I enjoy watching your skinny ass? I could be out making time like him. But, no, I got stuck with you. Every day, I’m stuck with you. Get your sister from school, take your sister to the movie, walk your sister to the library.
I don’t need you.
No you need a nursemaid.
I remembered the times we went to Poughkeepsie, and my mom and my aunts visited the cemetery. They went to the cemetery to bring a bunch of dead people a bunch of flowers. It didn’t make sense. Sometimes she took me and my little cousins. We ran around the tomb stones, like chasing each other in traffic. The big houses were fun and we made up scary stories.
This is your grandmother. She is who you are named for.
A place in the dirt, her name etched in stone.
My name in stone.
Death is an abstract event for a kid. One day someone was in your life, teaching you how to embroider and the next day they were gone. No matter how many times the other women laughed that I couldn’t learn because I was left-handed, it didn’t stop her. They were all wrong and I did learn.
Death means, she was not there to smile when I tripped or did something really stupid. I couldn’t run up the two long flights of steps in the enormous hallway in the building next to the bar to see her and the only boy I didn’t hate. I ran fast and avoid his rotten older brother and his brother’s rotten friends and called for him. She didn’t chase me or tell me to go home and bother my mother. She used to call me her rufiana.
We went to a special mass for her. She was in the box that would go into the dirt. I didn’t want to listen to the priest or watch the nuns in their penguin clothes or think of her alone in the dirt.
On the other side of the church I saw my friend’s little round face, red and puffy. Nothing would ever be the same again. It was my first lesson in death.
Someone sang Ave Maria and it made my Dad cry and years later when my Dad died we had someone sing the same song. It is for Italians what Amazing Grace is for country folks, like Danny Boy is for the Irish and you don’t have to know anyone who was Irish or Italian or who comes from the rural parts of America. Just hearing sad songs makes you cry.
I don’t remember when she died. I think it was 1953.
And to you my little friend, the only boy I never hated. If it was 1952 you’ll understand. It will always be like yesterday so it doesn’t matter. I always miss her.
At night I hear her song and remember.
Some of our stories are too close to the bone. But then they say, “The closer to the bone, the sweeter the meat.”
Do you dare venture into the dark corners of your mind?
Who was the first person in your life you losts?