Growing Up In The Mob (illustration)

30 06 2009

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Growing Up In The Mob

30 06 2009

This story grew out of a conversation I had at college with a young woman who told me that her relatives were involved in the Mafia. Our relationship was short lived.

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Growing up in the Mob

My shrink says that I have a morbid fascination with death. Who wouldn’t? I can’t remember when I haven’t had nightmares about death. Some kids went to the cottage in the summer. My family went to funerals. We had a special wardrobe for funerals. And a special car. The black Cadillac that waited like a hearse in our garage. My mother kept an album of Mass cards for the bereaved. No doubt it would have been worth quite a bit of money by now. I burned it after my father’s death, like I burned everything that had anything to do with that time in my life.

The whole family were animals. At least the men were. My uncles ate with their mouths open like cannibals, snorting and belching. Hairs grew out of their noses and on top of their knuckles and sometimes you could spot bits of food stuck in the hairs. I used to have nightmares that I would grow up with hairs growing on my breasts. It was like living amongst the beasts of the jungle. Of all my uncles, Uncle Bert was my favorite. He was a bit of a kid himself always ready to play games. Uncle Bert was short one finger. This was quite a mystery to us kids. Later I learned that the lost finger had been payment for a loan he had reneged on. But that was not the story he told us kids. He told us kids that one evening after working all day in the fields he was so hungry he’d sliced his finger off and swallowed it before he realized it wasn’t a sausage.

All our Sunday afternoons started in the kitchen with my aunts cooking and criticizing aunts who weren’t there. Once they had completed gang banging the absent aunts, it was time to eat. The tables were always filled with more food than anyone could ever imagine being eaten at one sitting, but each dish had to be finished off so that none of the aunts would have cause for insult regarding their contribution to the feast.

Once everyone had gorged themselves, the men would be sent off and the women would clear the tables and wash the dishes. Talk turned on the husbands. All my cousins, the girls, would sit around and listen. In Aunt Marge’s kitchen the talk centered on Uncle Peter’s insatiable sexual drive. At Aunt Bernice’s we all retired to the laundry room where Aunt Bernice complained that Uncle Joe never changed his underwear, which we had all suspected. Uncle Joe was getting something on the side and if Aunt Bernice found out who the slut was she would cut her tits off. At Aunt Rosa’s it was obligatory to kneel down in front of the chapel she created for the Blessed Virgin and say a prayer for her mother, her mother’s mother, down a long line of mothers. Death held no dominion over Aunt Rosa. No one ever mentioned Aunt Clara. She was English and had been Uncle Bill’s first wife. Apparently she had been caught with one of my uncle’s drivers. None of us kids knew what happened to Aunt Clara and the driver, but mother always blessed herself when we drove passed the new bus terminal.

As a shy rather unattractive girl I spent many of those days sitting in a chair, my hands neatly piled in my lap, listening to my aunts and uncles bartering for the airwaves with shouts and laughter. The boredom drove me into my own thoughts. I daydreamed. And what I dreamed about most often was death. One particular dream stalked my thoughts.

I am standing on a railroad trestle, staring down at the black curling water below. The poor little moon is spinning around in an eddy, fighting not to be sucked under. I’m thinking of throwing myself off the trestle onto the rocks in the creek below. I feel the railroad tie beneath my feet vibrating. I look up and stare down the tracks into the darkness. I see nothing but I can hear the faint sounds of a train coming closer and closer. And then I see the train headlight like a light at the end of a long dark tunnel. I scream, realizing that I don’t want to die. I begin to run, desperately trying to reach safety. I trip.

I was so happy when I got accepted at the University of Windsor. Finally I was away from them. I never expected to be so lonely, far from home, living on my own for the first time with  people who didn’t understand my background. And why should they? They’d all come from normal homes where courtesy and politeness and niceness were the rule. When I tried to explain what I had been through, when I told stories about my uncles, they’d sit there with their mouths open in disbelief. Word got around the campus and I was labeled a loony. Only my good friend, Mary O’Hara, believed me. But the loneliness drove me deep inside myself. I fantasized about new deaths.

I am in my room alone, as I usually was most evenings sitting at my desk by the window. I take the bottles of aspirin out of my school bag and set them up on my desk in front of the window. Turning the lights out in the room I look out at the cool evening sky. Windsor looks like a Christmas tree from the seventh floor of Electa Hall, the girl’s residence. Across the street out back of the married residence I can see someone throwing a frisbee. A dog is barking. I empty all the aspirins onto my desk and open a bottle of coke. Lighting up a cigarette, I consider a suicide note. Who would I write it to? My father? That son of a bitch! Mother? She’d feel guilty. I couldn’t stand that. O’Hara, my best friend? Too presumptuous. I’d only known her a few weeks. I wonder what the funeral would be like. That was always one of the great joys of considering suicide. Would my mother make all my cousins dress the same? Should I ask to be buried in the wedding dress mother was keeping for me? I felt as if my suicide would help fill out the family’s social calendar. I took a handful of aspirins and then reached for the coke. In the darkness I knocked the bottle of coke over. I began to choke. The aspirins became lodged in my throat. God, I didn’t want to choke to death! I stumbled across the room toward the door to call for help. In the darkness I couldn’t find the doorknob.

Most of my life at university was study. I had entered sociology; I wanted to become a social worker. Maybe I felt guilty for my family’s crimes and wanted to undo some of the harm they had committed. There were boys but nothing very serious. I got the impression that my reputation as a loony had preceded me; most of the boys I attracted were psychology majors more interested in getting into my head than into my pants. I tried to have sex with one boy but it was a disaster. He wet his pants than wiped his sticky fingers on my sweater. My aunts were right about sex. It wasn’t worth it.

In my senior year of college I was called home. Lumps had been found on mother’s breasts. My mother was a saint. She had taken the family’s sin upon herself and they were killing her. I spent most of the year running back and forth between school and home. Mother and I became very close, like girlfriends. She told me how she had met my father. It had been an arranged marriage. She had fallen in love with another boy from a neighboring village but her parents had forbidden any alliance with his family and forced her to marry my father, a boring and homily lad by her account. But she did not regret her choice reminding me that she had three lovely children. On her deathbed, mother smiled at me, told me her time was up and wished me well. Then mother closed her eyes and was gone. Mother was buried in May. It was so hot the day of the funeral. There were thousands of grasshoppers in the cemetery. Father cried all through the service and didn’t stop for days.

Now that mother was free, my father wanted me to come home and keep house for him. Fuck him! I thought. Let him hire a maid. I was going to graduate school. Father bought me a small car, a Toyota, so that I would come back to Toronto more often. He never bought my mother a car, never trusted her out of the house. I should never have accepted the Toyota. It was bought with blood money and I was to suffer for it with a new nightmare.

In this new nightmare I am motoring along the Macdonald-Cartier Expressway, moving the Toyota into the passing lane and slowly passing a transport. The driver looks down from his cab into my car and throws me a kiss. I move abruptly into his lane forcing him to hit his brakes. I laugh, give him the finger then move briskly along leaving the truck far behind. I roll down the car window and relax. The sun smells like clover. In the sky white billowy clouds tumble over each other like kittens frolicking in a toilet paper commercial. I slip into that warm tub of dreaming that always comes over me on long drives. Reaching over, I turn on the radio. One of my favorite tunes is on and I hum along and grab a cigarette. When I reach over to push in the cigarette lighter, I spot a hornet resting on the knob. I swat at the insect, turning the steering wheel sharply. The car flips over and slides on its roof like a curling rock down the highway, the metal roof screeching, spitting out a volley of sparks. I freeze, hold my breath and begin to pray. Finally the car comes to a stop. Hanging upside down, I fumble with my seat belt. It is stuck. A truck’s horn calls out. I turn my head and see the big transport barreling down the road toward me, its brakes screaming, its gears grinding down.

I liked to pick up hitchhikers on my trips back and forth between Windsor and Toronto. I loved Michael the first time he stepped into my Toyota, his long red hair in tangles, his backpack thrown so thoughtlessly into the back seat. As we drove, Michael explained that he was a draft dodger, that he was in the country illegally, that every month he returned to Toronto to pick up money from a special account his parents had set up for him. His parents lived in Texas. His father was a well-known lawyer in Dallas and had worked on Lyndon Johnson’s Senate race. We pulled into a service center. While Michael went to use the washroom, I filled the gas tank then pulled into a parking space. I don’t know what came over me. I walked up to the washroom, knocked on the door, pushed Michael inside the room and began to undress him. The expression on his face still makes me smile.

Michael and I became lovers. I didn’t care what my aunts would think of me; Michael treated me like a princess. Some days we spent all day naked, making love, eating, laughing, smoking dope, making love. I loved everything about Michael, his wavy long hair, his rough strong hands, the curve of his back, his soft blue eyes, his ears that stuck out when I pulled his hair back, the curve of thick white cock, the sound of his breath by my ear when he was inside me.

Michael moved into my Windsor apartment over a 7-11 convenience store. While I worked on my Master’s thesis, Michael organized an anti-war group. Our apartment was a hub of activity. There was a constant flow of people sharing ideas and organizing protests. I reveled in my new life. In the midst of saturation bombing of North Vietnam and the secret war in Cambodia I had never felt more alive. Michael told me over and over again that I was beautiful. We even talked about getting married one day. My nightmares were gone.

Then it ended. One day when I returned from class Michael was packed and departed. I must have been crazy. I actually believed that when I left home I could make a place for myself in the world. My father must have had me watched. He didn’t approve of Michael, didn’t approve of someone who wouldn’t kill. Death had always been the acid test of manhood in our family. No one knew where Michael had gone. O’Hara said that the last time she saw him he looked like he’d been scared out of his mind. I raced back to Toronto and begged my father to let me have Michael. He said that he had nothing to do with Michael’s departure, denied knowing anything more about Michael than I had told him. But there were other boys, he said. He would find me one. I never saw Michael again.

There was a new nightmare. It is my wedding. I take my father’s arm and walk slowly down the church aisle. The packed crowd in the church turn their heads. A wave of smiles washed over the congregation. I glance at father. He smiles, pats my arm. Up ahead I see my husband to be, waiting nervously with my cousin Billy and Father O’Reilly.

“Your ­mother would he proud of you, Christiane,” father whispers as he releases my arm.

My fiance reaches out for me. I reach into the bouquet of flowers I am holding, pull out a revolver, put it to my father’s head, and pull the trigger.

Time passed. I threw myself into my work. Never saw any of my old friends. There were other men in my bed but all I could think of was Michael. Soon I gave up on men altogether and concentrated on my work. Except for special family occasions, father and I never exchanged a word.

Years later I showed my old school friend Mary O’Hara around my apartment in Toronto. She was very impressed. The tour ended on the balcony where the two of us sat down at a garden table. Around the table there was a jungle of plants and trees.

“This place is incredible,” O’Hara smiled.

“I’ve got a herb garden set up on the roof,” I smiled. “And look at the view you get of the city.”

O’Hara shook her head.

“You’ve done well, kid.”

“You want a drink?”

“Sure.”

“White wine okay?”

O’Hara nodded.

I stepped over to a small white table where a number of glasses and bottles of liquor were set up.

“How can you afford all this on a social workers salary?” Mary laughed.

“Father died, He was loaded.”

“I didn’t know about your father,” Mary sighed. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be. Father was lucky though. He died of a stroke in his sleep. Got off Scot-free. I hope he burns in hell.”

“Christiane!” Mary gasped.

“Father used to say that you can’t leave your family. They’re the luggage you carry through life. I hated him.”

­“You hated your father?”

“I hate the whole family. They’re all monsters. I thought that when I saw him lying there in his casket that I would be rid of him. But now I’ve got all his money. It’s a curse.”

“You could give the money away.”

“Wouldn’t matter. I dream about him every night.”

O’Hara lit up a cigarette.

“When did you start smoking?” I laughed.

“After Michael left me,” Mary laughed. “I picked up a lot of bad habits after that louse ran off.”

“Michael?”

O’Hara smiled.

“Remember your old fling. Months after you left Windsor, Michael returned from Texas. His father had died and he had to sneak back into the States for the funeral. He was a wreck. God, I guess I felt sorry for him. He lost his father; you two had split up. He was suicidal. We ended up getting married. That was a mistake. It was like living with a stranger. Even after we had Sandra, he was distant. And then he disappeared. Without a word.”

After O’Hara left I gathered up the dirty dishes from dinner and piled them into the dishwasher. Feeling an attack of gas coming on I took a tablespoon of Maalox. Checking out the time and the television guide, I sat down on the couch and watched a rerun of a Barbara Streisand movie. About half way through the film I fell asleep and dreamed about a photograph of my cousin’s wedding. Sixteen flower girls. Four hundred guests. All my aunts and uncles were there. My cousin Billy stood beside his new wife smiling. Everyone in the picture was smiling. Father looked at me. He was laughing. When I awoke the television was snowy. I checked the time on the stove. It was three-thirty. In the distance I heard a dog howl. Stepping onto the balcony, I threw myself off.








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