little rock (Arkansas) June 14th
So this is grief, this pain, this rage, this urge to run away from myself…
this heavy shadow that crawled inside my heart and turned it into stone…
this silence that is screaming inside my head, is grief.
How strange, that a little word like grief can describe a thousand horrible feelings.
The word grief didn't sound as bad as it felt, it didn't even begin to represent all the hurt and anger I had inside…but it was still called grief .
My father's coffin was positioned in front of the altar ,in church . I couldn't believe my father was lying in that coffin. I couldn't believe that he was really dead.
How could God let this happen? What kind of God would do this? Is there even a God out there? If there is, I don't like him. I thought as I tried to swallow the know that was forming in my throat.
My parents moved to Little Rock from Italy 18 years ago, when I was just two years old. They were both born in a little town called Amantea, on the Calabrian coast in the south of Italy. My father was a woodworker, he had a relative living in Little rock and decided to move here. He learned English as soon as he arrived in the US and immediately opened his little woodshop. After years of hard work, he became a famous woodworker and he started to make money, he loved his job and he was an artist with wood. He made everything from wooden chairs to entire kitchens, bedrooms and all sorts of furniture. My mother never worked in the US, because my father wanted her to stay at home with us. When I was 3 years old, they had my little sister, Cristina. We were never a perfect family, but our house was filled with love and respect for each other. My little sister was the happy one, I was the charming one… mother was the forever loving and a little crazy one, and my father was the strong one, he really was the heart of our family. we used to have lots of parties at home and we always had a home filled with laughter and joy…but all of this died with my father the day a drunken truck driver decided to drink and drive….
I still remember when my mother spoke to the officer who came to our home that evening… the doorbell rang and we thought that my father had forgotten his house keys again so while I was on the phone with a friend, and my sister was in her room , my mother went to open the door. After some minutes passed I noticed that she was still standing at the door so I hung up and went to see what was happening… as I approached the door I saw two officers standing in front of my mother on the threshold, I heard one of the officers say "It looks like the truck driver had to much to drink ,he didn't stop at a red light and unfortunately drove into your husband's car"
"is he in the hospital , is he hurt?" I heard my mother say in English, with her heavy Italian accent and interrupting the officer mid sentence, but as I looked in the officers face I understood. "I'm so sorry Mrs. Rinaldi…. but he didn't make it… he died on spot" as soon as he said those words my mother fell to her knees in front of them "no, no, no he's just running late as usual, he…he can't leave me …oh God.." she said…and I could see her heart break in front of my eyes…my own heart was hammering in my head , ice was crawling in my veins…"mom?" I heard myself ask as I knelt with her and took her in my arms… " l'ho perso" she said, over and over again "l'ho perso per sempre" she cried. It was Italian…for ' I've lost him forever'….
The day after the accident, after a sleepless night spent holding my little sister while she cried herself to sleep, I helped my mother with the funeral arrangements and as soon as everything was taken care of I went to my room to look for some black clothes for me to wear to the funeral , but I couldn't find my black pants so I went to look for my mother, I wanted to ask her if she knew where they were…but I stopped in front of my parents room, the door was ajar and I could see my mother she was sitting on her bed with my fathers shirt in her hands, tears streaming down her face, she looked empty, her beautiful green eyes were spent, her face was pale and she really looked as if she had just lost her soul. I decided to leave her alone and I went to Cristina's room instead…I found her hiding in her closet. She was sitting on the floor, hugging her knees to her chest, rocking up and down while tears were falling down her face. "matt?" she asked, her voice was just a whisper "yeah?" I said, while I sat next to her "Why did he have to die…why would God let him die…it's not fair" she looked up at me, her big blue eyes were full of sorrow, and I didn't know what to say to her, I had no answer…all I knew was that I was angry and confused and I really wanted to find that truck driver and kill him, make him pay for all this… but that wouldn't bring my father back…nothing would….so I just took her in my arms, dried her tears and sat with her for hours. Eventually she stopped crying and fell asleep in my arms. I envied my mother and my sister for their tears, because after one day I still wasn't capable of crying, I wasn't sad either , I was just angry. A part of me kept hoping that he was going to come home soon and this was all a misunderstanding, but at the funeral, when I saw the sand falling on my father's coffin… I finally realized that he would never come home again…and my heart broke into a million pieces.
My mother was crying on my right shoulder and my little sister was hugging me on the left, they were the only thing left of my family, and I promised myself right then and there, that I would never let anything happen to them. Never!
After the funeral we went home and as soon as all the guests were gone my mother told us that we needed to talk, she was sitting in my father's favorite leather chair and even if she was trying her best to look calm, I could see her delicate hands forming fists on her lap and her knuckles where white from the pressure …she was falling apart…
"I have bad news" she told us, while she studied her feet. " unfortunately we can't keep living in this house ,because we are still paying a mortgage for it and I don't have a job and…" I stood up and hugged her, I couldn't stand to see her like that
" It's ok mom don't worry we can find a smaller house and I will quit college and pay for everything and.." "No!" she shouted, cutting me off, " NO you will not quit college, and you will not take the responsibility of this family on your shoulders, I will not allow that , I want you and Cristy to be happy and live your lives like young people should" she took my face between her hands " I've decided that I want us to go live with aunt Carmela and her family while I find myself a job and then I will buy us a home and pay for your studies here in the US"
I shook my head refusing to hear it "But Mom that's…"
" I will do everything I can to get enough college money for the both of you" she said, stopping me mid sentence " and when you both finish college you will find a job that you like and that pays you well , and you will be happy !" she looked away and wiped her eyes " I know that times will be tough but I will not let this family fall to pieces!…your father and me have sacrificed a lot to come this far and I will not stop now, it will be different from now on, but I'm one hundred percent sure that your father would want the same thing" she finished speaking and I couldn't seem to let my brain function …was she telling me that we're all moving to Italy…to live with my aunt??? Oh no…"mom you can't be serious! You want us to leave our friends and school behind and live on the others side of the world!" she looked back at me " your father and I talked about this ones, we discussed the possibilities so that if something happened to one of us the family would be safe…so we both agreed that if something was to happen to him, that I would return to Italy, live with my sister, work and if necessary find some way to pay for your college…you know I didn't finish school and I barely speak English…the only job I could get in the usa is as a waitress while in Italy I can find a better job…plus…your father didn't want me to be left alone here…" she looked at Cristina who was shaking her head in denial " Honey everything will be all right" she told her, "No it won't!" Cristina started to shout " I'm still in High School! and I barely know Italian! I don't even know how the schools are over there!!! All my friends are here mom! I have my life here I can't just leave everything behind, and what about dad!" She said crying " Will we leave him behind ? What if I want to visit him at his grave…we can't leave him mom…we can't" and she started crying even harder, while I just stared at them…shocked …afraid "Mom are you sure there is no other way?" I asked hoping that this was all just a bad dream and I would wake up and have a normal life again, but it wasn't a dream and my life was forever changed " Matt , honey if I could I would stay here but I can't…please don't be mad at me …I promise that I will do everything I can so that you can restart college next year…it's just one year …it's not forever…" I looked at her face and I saw that she was scared for the future to, and she was doing her best to care for us… "ok mom, I understand and I accept your decision, and we do as you say but on one condition" I told her " what condition" she asked… "I will not sit at home for one year , I will find a job too, thanks to all the time I spent learning to speak Italian I don't think it will be that hard to find a job so that I can pay for my own tuition while you save money for cristy's tuition" she looked at me for a long time "Ok" she said "as long as you promise me that you will not give up on college I guess one year of work won't harm anyone…" she turned to look at Cristy " what about you sweety, are you ok with this?" she asked "I guess I have no choise do I ?" Cristy asked, already knowing the answer " I'm so sorry honey" My mom said… "It's ok mom , I mean I really hate it but this is not your fault and I guess I'll just make the best out of an ugly situation or something…don't worry ok" my sister hugged my mother and I joined them.
We left our old house one week after the funeral ,the new owners were already moving in their stuff while we got in a cab that drove us to the airport. We couldn't even bring my father's handmade furniture with us, we had to store them at a storage room we hired with the help of a family friend. Leaving it all behind was one of the hardest things I ever did, my life was changing and there wasn't a damned thing I could do about it.
We took our flight to Italy around noon. The plane trip was a long torture for someone who was grieving like me, all I wanted to do was sit in my room alone and try to make sense out of what was left of my life! Instead I was on a plane to Italy, sitting next to my mother and sister who barely spoke to me.
After we waited 5 hours for our second flight in Rome, the short trip from Rome to Calabria didn't last that long and it brought us in this little airport called 'Lamezia Terme. I got a good view of the Calabrian coast while we were landing, it was beautiful the sea was iridescent blue and the golden sun hit the surface while the waves caressed the shore.
I remembered all the stories my parents told me about this place, my father always had that look of longing and you could see that he missed it when he talked about it . And now I could see why, truly breath taking. A strange feeling came over me, as if something inside me recognized this place and I knew that it was a part of me . the sky was a shade of blue I had never seen before, and the mountains were huge and strong It looked like they were the guardians of the Mediterranean coast. Why did they ever leave this place? I thought to myself. And for the first time sins my father left I saw my mother's face light up a little while she looked out the little window. "sono a casa…finalmente" she whispered…it meant I am home…finally.
My aunt , uncle and my cousin Giulia where waiting for us at the exit. Giulia, my cousin, immediately ran to us, first she hugged my mother and sister, then she turned and hugged me while she messed up my hair like she used to do every time she came to visit us back home. The good thing about Giulia was that she was the only person I met after the death of my father that didn't ask how I felt. "you got taller and you look older" she said pinching my cheeks, and for the first time in this horrible week, I felt less miserable. Giulia was not so tall ,she was the classical brunette with long brown hair , brown eyes and olive skin, but she stood out in her special own way, she had a little nose and a beautiful big smile, she was she was special in her own way, her face was kind of fairy like…she talked and talked and talked and always smiled…she reminded me of dory the fish in "finding Nemo" always cheerful and saying what was on her mind…I really liked her.
My aunt and my mother where crying and hugging each other, not caring about the other people around us. They looked a lot like each other, the only difference between my aunt and my mother was that my mother had big green eyes, just like me, and my aunt had big brown eyes, and my mom was really short, so my aunt who wasn't so high herself looked tall next to my mom.
Cristy just stood there next to them, looking as if she was about to face hell….then my aunt came to hug me close and put her arm around me "Come on, let's go home" she said. I was so glad that my father insisted on learning Italian for me and my sister, otherwise I wouldn't understand a word about what my aunt said to me.
As soon as we got outside I felt this terrible heat cover me. I knew Calabria had a warm climate, but this was surreal, it was just 9 AM and already the long jeans I decided to wear were feeling heavy to walk in . I was overwhelmed by the smell of saltwater ,flowers and a lot of other things that made me think about tropical islands. We got into a little white Fiat Punto, the car looked quite old but thank God they had air-conditioning ! The roads were quite bumpy and the people's driving skills were barbarian! It looked like they just drove the way they wanted to and I felt like I was in a roller coaster . I didn't even want to think about learning to drive the 'Italian way'. I guessed that people around here didn't even consider the traffic signs on the roads. How they managed to drive around like that and not hit another car remained a mystery to me! Welcome to your new life I thought to myself ironically.