Category: Heart

Family Loss

By , February 11, 2016

This past weekend I delivered the eulogy at my Aunt Mary’s burial mass. Unsurprisingly, I spent much of the 48 hours prior thinking about what I would say. As I began composing what would become the eulogy I found myself lamenting not just the death of my beloved aunt, but the disappearance of an entire way of life that she represented.

The house in which I grew up was next door to that of my aunt and uncle, and most of my earliest childhood memories include them as often as they do my own parents. My two older brothers blur together with my three cousins next door. Numerous other relatives lived within either walking, or short driving, distance, and my entire childhood in Hawthorne is an unending melange of family members coming and going. Most notably, Sundays were full of family, as my grandparents had always come to Aunt Mary’s house every week after mass, which meant that all the other relatives usually came, too. The cast varied, but every Sunday, week after week for 25 or 30 years, members of the Gioia, Dragotto, Galatioto, Cicinelli, Leone, and Gallante families, to name but a few, came together to eat, drink, talk, play pinochle, share family stories, or watch television. I have but the dimmest recollection, if even any at all, of my Sicilian grandparents, but the Sunday tradition continued even after their deaths. My oldest brother has the clearest memories of these weekly gatherings, and he says it wasn’t unusual for him to be one of 15 or 20 children present, along with countless adult aunts, uncles, cousins, nephews, spouses, and others in attendance every Sunday.

For me, being surrounded by family in some capacity was a constant, until one day, it wasn’t. Crime in Los Angeles, especially the area in which we lived, had grown so bad that we had no choice but to move. My father owned a shoe store, and after yet another robbery at gunpoint my parents decided to sell the house and the store and move six hours north to Sonoma County. While the move was undoubtedly for the best in terms of safety, and clean air, it meant we suddenly had no family anywhere nearby. We weren’t the only ones, either. Family by family, we all left Hawthorne, Inglewood, Lawndale, moving to cities that were safer and serener, but also sterile and solitary. Where once we saw family every day, and gathered en masse after mass every Sunday, we now see each other perhaps every 10 to 15 years, at either a wedding or a funeral. Case in point: this weekend I met adults who were infants the last time I saw them.

I know ours wasn’t the only large family of Italians that once gathered at least once a week, and I’m equally certain that most who did, no longer do. The breakup of our clan mirrors that of most immigrant families in America. Before the 1970s, it was unusual if first and second generation immigrant families did not live, if not on the same block as multiple family members, then within a mile or two of nearly all their relatives. A family bought a house, and everyone moved in. As the family grew, or could afford to buy another home, they bought the house next door, or across the street. This began with immigrants congregating in specific parts of town, as when my grandfather came to the U.S. and moved into a tenement on Elizabeth Street, in New York’s Little Italy, because that block was populated not just by Sicilians, but primarily by Sicilians specifically from his hometown of Castellammare del Golfo. The next block was also Sicilian, but Sicilians from a different city. It was no surprise that when he met his wife, who lived on the same block as him, she was another Castellammarese.

Even as the family moved West, first to Detroit, then later to Los Angeles, the tradition of families living in close proximity continued, as did the tradition of immigrants from the same region moving to the same part of a city, and we were but one of many large Italians families living in Hawthorne. Living amongst others from the same Old Country made sense when it came time to marry off the younger, American-born, generation. In fact, when the Depression hit, my grandparents sent their eldest son to Los Angeles to scout for opportunity. He met with another Sicilian family and sent word for the rest of the family to move. The Gioias trekked across the country and stayed for a few nights with that family, the Dragottos, until they found a home of their own. Later, that eldest Gioia son would marry a Dragotto daughter, and the youngest Gioia, my recently departed and dearly missed Aunt Mary, would marry a younger Dragotto son, my Uncle Jack. (It was something of a minor crisis in my family when my father didn’t marry the Sicilian girl who’d been hand-picked for him by his family, and instead married a Mexican girl, but she was quickly adopted into the family and in short time became as Italian as anyone else.)

The automobile, then the interstate highway system, then the airplane, and now the internet have all served to give people greater mobility, and have also served to break up the close familial unit. As a society, we’ve tried to replace family with friends, often united by some shared interest. Whether it’s fans of the same sports team gathering regularly to watch their team’s games, either at a stadium or someone’s home, science fiction buffs attending weekly role-playing game sessions, or friends who bonded over an appreciation for some sub-genre of music meeting regularly at live shows or discotheques to listen, and dance, to their favorite bands together, there is usually some unifying force around which these friends rally, but whatever that force, it never seems as strong as the bond that family provides.

Friends move, interests change, former best friends marry and begin to raise children, and disputes or breakups polarize friendships. Perhaps most notably, age separates friends. Few, if any, groups of friends run the age gamut from infant to septuagenarian, as common interests, not to mention societal mores, don’t typically promote such interactions. The bond of family offers something else, a sort of true connection and shared history, the weight of which can’t be matched within a circle of friends. Your grandchildren will never care how your friend’s friend met his wife, but they will relish the tale of how your grandparents met.

What does this all mean? Hell if I know. About the only thing that I do know is that my generation had something important, something that dated back 200,000 years to the emergence of man and lasted until about the mid-1970s, taken from it during our childhood, and that subsequent generations will never even have that something to begin with. I think not having a large family in close proximity at all times has created a massive and unfillable void in our collective lives, and try as we might to replace that need with the ephemeral substitute of friends, we’ll never find a true replacement for what a family offers.

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My Fake Plastic Girl

By , February 27, 2010

She looks like the real thing
She tastes like the real thing
My fake plastic love

For the most part, I’ve not read any of my old blogs since I wrote them, but as I move each one from the old url to this new one, I am more or less forced to do so while fixing links, updating the format, categorizing, tagging, summarizing and so forth. It is not easy. Sometimes I’m more than a little chagrined by the less than gripping writing or the trite choices of topics, but the hardest ones to reread are those like the Dreaming post. Reading that again evoked a complicated mixture of emotions within me, from the bittersweet to the embarrassing, and for more reasons than I can list, I want to travel back into time and smack myself over the head.

I was so unabashedly open about how in love I was. Which is fine, except that I can’t help but feel foolish in retrospect that I was going on and on about how wonderful our love was, and how amazing she was, when it was all a big joke at my expense. It isn’t as if she became a different person the day she up and disappeared; she was always that person and I was too blinded by love to see it. I realize that now, and so I look back at what I wrote I can’t help but feel awfully stupid.

The saddest thing I ever did see
Was a woodpecker peckin’ at a plastic tree.
He looks at me, and “Friend,” says he,

“Things ain’t as sweet as they used to be.”

I think the crux of what I feel when revisiting the old entries stems from the fact that I know what is to come. Just as each time I reread The Great Gatsby, I futilely hope for a happy ending, yet know all along that Gatsby is going to die, no amount of hindsight can change what I know came next in my life. If I could rewrite history by rewriting those old journal entries– if only it were that easy– I would do just that. Gone would be gushy blogs about true and perfect loves with best friends. No more would be the maudlin posts about future weddings, nor would there be any extolling the virtues of dream girls, and there most definitely would be none of these. In their place, I would write of my fake plastic girl: emotionless, selfish, dishonest, and uncaring.

If it seems like I still care, I don’t. If it seems like I am still hung up on her, I’m not. I’m past it all, and I’m again ensconced in a happy, productive life in which I am the master of my own heart and destiny. I wrote this in part because the old blogs have dredged up memories which seemed worth exploring, but mostly because amidst all the previous blogs devoted to my love for her, and later those of heartbreak for losing her, there needed to be at least one entry here that named her for what she really was– my fake plastic love.

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Nightmare

By , February 2, 2006

I dreamed she came back. It was as though nothing had ever happened. We stood outdoors in the moonlight and the Harry James Orchestra played behind us. Kitty Kallen sang to us.

Kiss me once and kiss me twice and kiss me once again,
It’s been a long, long time.
Haven’t felt like this, my dear, since can’t remember when,
It’s been a long, long time.
You’ll never know how many dreams I dreamed about you,
Or just how empty they all seemed without you.
So kiss me once and kiss me twice and kiss me once again,
It’s been a long, long time.

And we kissed.

Then I awoke. Alone. And the dream became a nightmare.

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Lessons Learned

By , January 26, 2006

In my heart there’s flowers growin’,
On the grave of our old love

There are two kinds of people: selfish and selfless. While it may seem noble to be among the selfless, it’s also very painful. We bear the burden of the selfish. We may sleep well at night knowing we’ve done right by those around us, but we are forever at the mercy of those ready to trample us for their own gain or amusement. But do selfish people really think they’re doing anything wrong?

I don’t think people like Fizzy think of themselves as bad people. Sure, in the cosmic good/ bad scheme of things they are unquestionably the bad ones, but they must be able to justify their actions to themselves. How else can they make it through the day? I get caught up wondering stuff like “how could she?” or “why did she?” when I really should just chalk it up to the fact that it’s her nature. A selfish person takes it for granted that acting out of self interest is acceptable, rational behavior. The pain they cause those left in their wake is to them probably some sort of unfortunate byproduct that can’t be avoided. “Better you than me” most likely sums up their attitude.

I remember so many things that I should have seen as signs, but I failed to read them at the time. I was blinded by love, as they say. I remember how she always stole things from her workplace, or how she lied to her parents and sisters all the time. I remember her one day cutting all ties with her then best friend, and never telling her why or even looking back. Somehow, it never registered to me that one day I might be on the receiving end of such behavior.

So what have I learned from Fizzy? Many things, both good and bad. I know what it means to be in love with someone. Moreover, I understand that love transcends all rational thought. I know what she did was wrong, and I know I shouldn’t love her anymore, but I still do. I hope I’ll fall out of love, and if I do, I now know what true love is, and I forever have a barometer by which to measure future emotions. I’ve also learned to try not to let love blind me. I placed unconditional trust in her. I overlooked the aforementioned telltale signs, and it was my downfall. I know better now. I’m confident that one day I’ll be ready to try again with someone new, and I know better than to let my guard down. I think I can eventually trust someone again, but it won’t be without careful consideration. I know I can never be 100% sure about anyone, but maybe I can be sure enough to try again. Maybe.

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Awry

By , January 4, 2006

She walks in
beauty like
the night
Discarding
her clothes
in the
plastic
flowers
Pornographic
and tragic
in black
and white.
My Marilyn
come
to my slum
for an
hour
I’m aching
to see my
heroine.

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Trash

By , December 29, 2005

Maybe, maybe it’s the clothes we wear,
The tasteless bracelets and the dye in our hair,
Maybe it’s our kookiness,
Or maybe, maybe it’s our nowhere towns,
Our nothing places and our cellophane sounds
Maybe it’s our looseness

But we’re trash, you and me,
We’re the litter on the breeze,
We’re the lovers on the street,
Just trash, me and you,
It’s in everything we do

A friend recently chastised me for, as she put it, “associating with trash.” Apparently, many of my friends aren’t ambitious or “going places” and I’d be better suited to hang out with young lawyers and other motivated and soon-to-be-wealthy professionals. My initial reaction was shock at hearing one friend describe the rest our friends as trash. I happen to think they’re great people, or else I wouldn’t be friends with them. After a moment something else occurred to me: what the hell makes me any different? If they’re trash, aren’t I trash, too? My friend explained that yes, I am trash as well but I have a decent-paying job and have saved some money, so I’m above them. She described me as “trash with money.”

This did not sit well with me. I tried to see the side of the friend who said these things to me, but her attitude is diametrically opposed to everything I believe in. The more I’ve mulled it over, however, the more I see that she is right, to an extent. Just like Brett Anderson wrote in this post’s epigraph, we ARE trash. I’ve been trash all my life. Proudly so. I grew up poor, in one of the “bad parts” of Los Angeles. My father would routinely come home from work after having been robbed, once whilst tied up and at gunpoint. I remember my mother sometimes buying two fast food cheeseburgers and cutting them into pieces to feed three of us. For most of my childhood, my clothes were ordered from the Sears-Roebuck catalog. Going out to eat meant Taco Bell or McDonald’s– Sizzler if it was a special occasion.

My job often entails me interacting with moneyed folks, and by and large I find I have nothing whatsoever in common with them. I don’t dislike those in the stratospheric socials classes. I harbor no ill will for them, and congratulate them for the hard work or good fortune that got them where they are. It’s more that I have an entirely different value system and lifestyle than they do. And yes, the sense of privilege and entitlement that sometimes seems to run rampant through the upperclass can at times be sickening, but for the most part they are people like anyone else. They just aren’t the sort of people I feel comfortable being around. Sure, a few lucky breaks and wise choices on my part have landed me in a career that provides me with a decent level of income, but I don’t consider myself a part of their world. For that I am glad, as I think I’d be miserable if such people were my friends. I was born and raised trash, and trash I’ll always be.

And the road that I have walked upon
Well it filled my pockets
And emptied out my soul

Truth be told, money is almost meaningless to me. Earning it has never been my goal. I realize I need some to survive, and while I’m glad that I no longer have the money worries I used to have, I know that I was a much happier person when I was still poor. I once gave the girl I loved the last dollar I had so she could make good on her bills, and I gladly ate leftovers and scraps for a week until more money came in. I was happier eating those meals than I am now that I can eat (nearly) anywhere I choose. And now that I have a little money, I do my best to share it. I treat my trashy friends whenever they aren’t fixed for cash, I over-tip trashy waitresses working dead-end jobs in nowhere towns, and I give to charities that help trashy people in other cities and nations. I even gave a twenty to a trashy homeless man the other night. So yeah, trash with money is fine by me.

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Promises

By , December 27, 2005

I wasn’t going to post this. I wrote it, and decided it was much too personal to share in a blog. But I did share it with a friend, and she responded with her thoughts on the matter, and her own experiences. Other friends have shared their versions of the story, and when it comes down to it I think what I have learned from all this is the true nature of love. When someone falls in love– truly, honestly falls in love, it’s forever. There is no undoing it or going back. The love becomes a permanent part of that person. When both people fall that way, it works. When only one does, he spends the rest of his life trying to forget something that can’t be forgotten. And so:

At some point years ago I realized I was going to love Sue for the rest of my life, and now that I’m no longer supposed to do so, I don’t know how to stop. I don’t know how to shut off those feelings. I know she’s gone, and never coming back, but my heart still belongs to her. It’s been over nine months now. For many months I didn’t know where she was, or if she was even alive. By now it has become clear that she decided to vanish one day, and couldn’t be bothered with saying goodbye to me. I also know that wherever she is, she isn’t thinking about me, yet once again I am sitting here missing her, just like every single other day since she left.

Every time I promised to love her for the rest of my life, I meant it. I don’t say such things lightly. She is the only girl with whom I’ve ever fallen in love. It was a gradual process. By the time I first told her I loved her, we’d known one another for nearly two years, and I was already hopelessly in love. Over the next five years, every time I promised my love to her, I absolutely meant it, and every time, I felt it even stronger than before. There were times that I held her in my arms so tightly that it felt like we were one person. I’d sometimes feel so much emotion that my body would tremble; I’d honestly feel so much love inside that I would literally shake on the outside. I’d never experienced anything remotely similar to that in the past, and I doubt I ever will again.

I don’t know what to do. I don’t break promises to people. I just don’t. If I promise I will do something, I always do it. Now I am faced with the fact that I am supposed to break all the promises I made to her over the years. I don’t know how to do this. I can lie to myself and pretend I don’t love her, or that I never did, but that doesn’t change the fact that I do. I meant what I said to her. I really will love her for the rest of my life. It’s unfortunate that she has left me, but that really doesn’t change anything, does it? My promises, like my love for her, were unconditional.

I’ve tried dating. It feels wrong. I feel like I am cheating on her. Which makes no sense, because she is long gone and not coming back, but I still feel the way I imagine a person cheating on his girlfriend must feel. I met someone wonderful recently, and by all rights, I should be focusing on her, even though the circumstances surrounding her point to another doomed love affair; I should at least be able to find out.

I need to fall out of love with Fizzy first, and that just isn’t happening. It doesn’t help that the last time we spoke, the last thing she said to me was “I love you.” She once promised that no matter what happened, how she felt, or how hard it was, if she ever thought what we had was finished, she would tell me so. She broke her other promises to me, and she seems to have lied to me about many things, so I shouldn’t be surprised that she was lying when she said that to me, but there is still some stupid part of me that believes in her. And every time I try to start over with someone new, it just feels wrong, because I’m still waiting for someone who is never coming back, and I’m still in love with someone who stopped loving me a long time ago.

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HHGFF

By , December 25, 2005

It’s half past four on Christmas morning and we just finished cooking and cleaning crabs for tomorrow night’s dinner. Someone has been kind enough to adopt me for the holiday, and we’ve been hard at work preparing to make dinner for her parents and relatives. I’ve been looking forward to it, and I know it will be a marvelous Christmas. Of course, I have one Christmas wish, which I know won’t come true. Yet, at the same time, if asked with whom I most want to spend this day, I would say with all honesty there is no one in the world I’d rather be with this Christmas than exactly whom I will be with. I may be far from “over” the past, but the present has been a little bit better of late. I don’t believe in fate in any way, shape, or form, but it is remarkable how things sometimes work out. HHGFF. And ever.

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Goodbye

By , November 23, 2005

Thank you for a lifetime of love and guidance. I would never have made it this far, or done as well, without you. You gave me the raw material to work with, and the drive and vision to use it. I would not be the man I am today without you. Whenever people compliment me on my manners, I always tell them that they should be thanking you. I learned from your example. That and the yardstick you could mysteriously produce from thin air under seemingly any circumstances. If I ever failed to follow the etiquette lessons you provided, or misbehaved in any fashion, then wham! I would get a not-so-gentle reminder from the Yardstick of Etiquette across my backside. But in all seriousness, you taught me how to be a good human being. You always put your children and your family first, but you never took advantage of any other person. I never once knew you to lie to anyone about anything for any reason, nor did I ever know you to fail to keep your word to anyone. You seemed always to do the right thing, and instilled in me a belief in doing likewise.

We became even closer in recent years. When Dad passed away, we leaned on each other. When you needed a date for your 50th high school reunion, you asked me to the dance. When Vernon Bean annihilated Pinky, you were by my side. When Sue disappeared, I turned to you for solace and guidance. I tried to brighten your remaining days and made sure you received the best treatment available. You always made a big deal out of the weekly trips I made to get you to the doctor, but for me they were a joy. I got to know you, and through you my father, so much better in these past two years than I think I did in all the years we had together before them.

Until I grew up and left home, I assumed all families were like ours– always happy. I never realized that so many people had fights with their siblings and/ or parents. That other people sometimes left home, or went to bed angry. I took for granted, and was probably spoiled by, the fact that you and Dad taught all four of us to be moral, honest, caring individuals who love one another, and work to make the world around us a better place first, and for ourselves second.

I miss you already. I’m still continuing your quest to pay that man back for the milkshake. Maybe some day, together we’ll have paid the debt. Goodbye, Mom.

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Anniversary Redux

By , August 19, 2005

This is the only entry that is too cubbing to re-post to the new blog.

If I change my mind, I’ll post it. *cub ears*

The comment exchange with my stalker is pretty rad though. At least you can still see that bit of lore.

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