Tuesday, December 9, 2008

By Joseph Lupoli

Remember me, Harry? I was the skinny, painfully shy kid with freakish physical strength who beat your giant sized nephew, Bobby, and just about everyone else around, in arm-wrestling. That's right. It's me, Joe. And at age 52, I'm still going strong and Beethoven is still my favorite composer and...well, you get the point.

A long time ago I worked for you at the ceramic store. And now you're dead. So I thought this might be a good time to pen an amusing little true story about boy-meets-girl...in 1973.

Most people don't write to dead men, but I believe that you, like those before you, have discovered something only the deceased can know: not all of you died, just your body. Your soul lives on because that's the only part of our being which is not tangible. The soul can't be leased. In other words, one must consider: If this were not so, what would be the point of dying...or living, for that matter? The beautiful thing about mortality is immortality. But I'm still alive, so how would I know all this? Am I some genius or clairvoyant?

 Of course not. It's just that due to unusual childhood circumstances, truths could not be revealed to me by traditional means, so I had to turn inward to seek it. Hence the classical music, international film dramas, and constant reading of encyclopedias and classic literature, rather than the standard forms of entertainment other kids my age preferred. All in search of the truth. So by virtue of happenstance, you could say I drew the inside post on premature knowledge.

Anyway, I recall the very day you hired me. I was fifteen and my life was one big jittery rent-a-wreck.

You were a decent boss--affable, funny, good-natured, and generous too. And I was a hard worker.
Plus your endless supplies of jokes and wisecracks were a great source of amusement for me.
Yet in hindsight, another agenda may have governed my work ethic somewhat--a nearby girl, perhaps.

Undoubtedly, you've heard some falsehoods long ago from your inner circle regarding that particular girl and I. Now, the time has come for you to finally know the real truth straight from the protagonist himself. And rest assured, a man with nothing to hide punches these keys.

This, then, is the accurate, sequential story about the long seasons of 1973 and beyond...

Warm and hazy it was, that June morning when I first laid eyes on your daughter. At first glance, she imparted no real first impression on me one way or the other. She was pretty enough; her dark wavy hair and large brown eyes projected a light-hearted demeanor that came with an easy smile. But the girl was over two-years my senior. And she also worked at your shop. So I shrugged her off.
Well, that strategy didn't work. To my amazement, the girl soon developed a fondness for me. She made this very clear by displaying obvious romantic overtones. At the time, I really didn't need the distraction of personal human interaction, let alone romance.

Intuition told me to stay put; to keep one foot on land. After all, the scorecard on my overall self-esteem read zero. I was ashamed of my roots because, well, I had none. Back then, I was unaware of from where I came; essentially, my roots began and ended with a few still pictures in my head. Even my name wasn't real. Only decades later would my true identity and family history finally be revealed to me. And sure enough, it wasn't a pretty picture. For instance, it turns out my real father was a hood and a killer; a mid-level guy in la cosa nostra, and it was my own mother who bumped him off. Then came the foster homes and the orphanage. And that was just the prelude!


Curiously, your daughter's overt fondness for me actually escalated. I sensed that such a fiery attraction (by any girl) aimed toward me with flames that high couldn't possibly be sincere. So I heeded my intuition...by playing stupid while trying not to appear rude. That didn't work either; the girl would not stop hovering around me. And over the following several months she ceaselessly pursued, gradually wearing down my resolve. So ignoring better judgment, I finally gave in and recklessly allowed the cards to fall where they may, but I was only partially aware of the risks...risks that normal people rarely have to endure.

Things were good...maybe a little too good, and the days and months rolled on. The girl and I talked daily and for hours on end. We went on long bike rides. She confided very personal information to me, and I to her, (even my night terrors and and whatnot). We trusted each other, and I was the perfect candidate to trust. My Italian code of omerta was never broken. To this day, I've not revealed to anyone a single word she said in confidence.

The thing that stunned and embarrassed me the most was the girl's peculiar, off-the-cuff remarks about my looks--something about muscles and, "He's so cute," etcetera. She usually made sure her mother was within ear-shot of her bold pronouncements. And her mother was none too pleased; she often scolded her for it:

 "He is not cute!" Yes, the whole setup was steeped in bizarre paradoxes.

Such out-of-sync behavior aroused my suspicion even more, but the throes of seemingly perfect chemistry overruled common sense. Then one day I found myself sucked into a blender of scrambled amore. And from that day on, any idea of getting out unscathed was no longer within the realm of reality.

You found it all harmlessly amusing. Hell, I even sensed indications that you were more-or-less supporting this...umm...well, I guess you could call it a budding romance of sorts. Especially given the way she would lean all over me every chance she got and hold my hand or arm whenever no one was looking...or was looking, depending on her mood, I suppose. Bear in mind, we never did kiss, much less anything beyond that. Sure, there was plenty of touching, but only appropriately.

I was a decent kid (too damn decent for my own good), who never pressed the physical element of the relationship. In fact, the girl did subtly try to kiss me on several occasions, but I quelled her through crafty diversion. She gleefully took the physical lead; I hadn't yet worked up the nerve to change that.

Then I turned sixteen...and worked up the nerve. It was time to stop being a kid; time to initiate things, for a change.
And that year I left her. Abruptly. I had to.

What the hell? Why? Well, it's really very simple: Every time I took that brave gamble and met her flirtatious advances even halfway, she coyly backed off and played the sanctimonious platonic card. And whenever I stepped back, she would again move brazenly forward, all touchy-feely. The girl would not permit me to orchestrate anything; even harmlessly putting my arm around her was rejected.

Her crazy game of cerebral ping-pong went on for months, and it was severely compromising my already fragile sanity.

What was her motive? Did she find joy watching me flounder like an e'ubazze? (crazy person)
Did she really think I would accept the role of modeulle (idiot) indefinitely? But most importantly, how many other poor bastards fell prey to her absurd folly since then, I wondered? Only she could know.

Or could she?

At the time it never occurred to me that maybe, just maybe the girl was acting out a learned behavior. But apprenticed by whom, I wondered?

On the other hand, she may have been slightly cuckoo--not really nuts; just a half-finger shy of a North Jersey borgata, maybe. That in her minds eye, she was functioning with absolute purity of intent.
But did she earn a pass based on that? After all, I wasn't the one who created and directed the whole facade between us.
No matter. Either way, I finally walked on one eggshell too many.

 So, "Good bye, kid," and she cried, but not too hard.

The moment I bailed out I regretted it. And even though my hard-earned trust was breeched, I probably should have gutted it out right to the bitter end. But that bridge I impulsively burned could not be extinguished in time. Also, in hindsight, I'll bet it took her all of about two-days to forget me...if not less. And that assumption is always worth a good chuckle.

We would, by chance, cross paths several times since, but not a word was ever exchanged. There was nothing left to say to each other. I failed the Adolescence 101 Course: How to Survive One-Sided Love Affairs, for Dummies.

So what became of me after I quit that job? Ha! Funny you should ask. Well let's see, about a week after ditching her, I started drinking heavily...at first to escape grief, and eventually to avoid withdrawal. Despite that, I continued with what would become a 20-year tutelage in Japanese Jiu-Jitsu, eventually to the point of expertise. Jiu-Jitsu is a form of non-damaging self defense which (in theory), involves no striking. (The stuff really does work in emergency street altercations).

The rest of my time was used by taking hellish, nightmarish walks on the sands of bleak February beaches and in snowy woods to lament and second-guess myself, thoroughly unable to get the girl out of my head.
How could I have blown the opportunity? Or did I completely misconstrue her intentions? What did I do to destroy the whole thing? I would wrestle with that bitter 'what if' residue for many years to come.

Charming, isn't it? But there's more.

One day, at age 17, while in a drunken stupor and on a whim, I walked into an army recruiting office, signed on the dotted line, and wound spending 11-months being taught basically how to assassinate people. It was no ordinary army AIT (Advanced Infantry training). Idiotically, I chose Spec Force OP because it was peace-time, so what could go wrong? I soon found out there is no peace-time in Spec Force OP. They pray for conflict. Any global hot-spot will do.

After advanced training, we were flown to a "relaxing vacation paradise" to frolic in the deep, hilly wastelands of Angola, Africa for a couple of eight-month sweat-box summers. Seems there were several violent groups of militant puppet regimes who were violating human rights issues while trying to force a government overthrow. In a nutshell, everybody was killing each other. Now there's a broken record news item, huh?

So picture this: Me, the former 15-year-old bashful stick boy, now the real "fool on a hill." I was transformed into a brainwashed, grizzled, cold-blooded killer, by experts; I was part of a company split into platoons of four-man teams, armed to the teeth and moving only by night.

That's right, me, smoking weed and sucking down beer and cheap whiskey every chance I got. All that plus taking occasional mortar and small arms fire by some prepubescent rebel snipers, or their grandfathers. Twenty-minutes of terror, followed weeks of utter boredom, then more terror, and so on. The whole time my mind was occupied elsewhere, such as knowing another one like her would never come my way.

Pretty bizarre? I thought so too.

Of course my premonition would turn out be false. There would be other women. Life does dictate that broken souls must be voluntarily purged so they can heal. My soul did mend over time. All except for one small crack.

And to my dismay, the overall healing process took much longer than I expected. All those subsequent girlfriends did ugahts (nothing) to expedite my recovery.

Decades later, I would locate your daughter again, in a manner of speaking. But not to rekindle a soaked branch, that's for sure. I needed answers in order to finally put this thing to rest, to fix that one last crack in my soul. The computer age affords us such blather.

I decided to write her a letter. What was to lose? Those paralyzing fears that once governed my brain were expelled long ago by harnessed power and confidence. I was too well trained and born again hard for life, by the experts.

So, who cared whether or not my questions might temporarily disrupt some woman who probably scarcely remembered me in the first place? And even if she did recollect anything at all, would she have given a damn? Hell no, I had to figure.

I was correct.

Realizing this might be a one-shot chance to get answers, I worded the letter in a direct yet lucid tone. Placing blame was not my directive. I layered in vivid detail the events of yesteryear, inviting her to correct me if anything she read was inaccurate. Once I sent the letter, the only question left was: would she have the emotional integrity required to respond truthfully, if at all?

Alas, the letter was read but no return text was sent. She took the easy way out. Only sometimes there is no easy way out; not in the long-run. So I let three-months go by before sending a reminder.

No doubt, your daughter feared I might harass her to no end, because she finally threw together several hastily written sentences which answered absolutely nothing...at least not at first glance. She just wanted me to disappear.

They were not kind words, or even legitimate. Evidently, I overestimated her inner fortitude. She refused to address any of my questions in the original letter, claiming not to understand them or why I asked them.

And for the kicker, she dismissed me by suggesting I'm not the only person in the world who has problems. I found that hilarious considering my chosen career (helping other people to overcome their problems). Jesus.

Her deflection was interesting...and revealing. It doesn't take a psychiatrist to ascertain that at some point in her life, ill fate must have hit her very hard. Could the girl have been ousted? Widowed? Or worse? Worse is my guess.

Le conseguenze dell'amore? (The consequences of love?)

Your daughter's minimalistic response was disappointing, but not that surprising. And I sensed that her poor grammar may have been a deliberate dissuasive tactic. (At least I hope it was deliberate). Otherwise, God bless the public school system's hooked-on-phonics policy. (Laughing my ass off here)! Err...sorry.

Having to take countless hours of boring psychology in college to become certified as an alcohol and drug counselor (at age-42, no less), I know what emotional evasiveness is. It is a defense mechanism subconsciously designed to prevent other people from entering their emotional domain, no matter how damaged and fragmented that domain may be. The problem is: they, themselves, get locked out too.

I could not help but feel deeply sorry for the woman. Not a pity sorrow, but a sorrow of hope...hope that she would one day regain her easy smile; that wonderful laugh, her light-hearted disposition...for her own well-being. It was no skin off my ass. Not anymore. If she feared harassment from me, it was a wasted worry. These days, what non-sociopath has the time and inclination for that? Few, I'm sure.

Still, in a moment of compassion, I composed a small letter explaining to her, (in a very gentle manner), that it's okay if it was not within her to face the music of yesteryear...that it is probably unrealistic to expect any person to address supposed transgressions that far back. And that I harbor no ill will; merely a wish that her life is (or will become) happy and content. Not even desiring a response, I shipped it.

Then I reflected and laughed.

My war with booze ended a long time ago. It turns out my alcoholism was genetically predisposed. My biological mother passed it down to me, her mother passed it down to her; who knows how far back it goes. It wasn't life's situations that exacerbated my addiction. It was my genetic destiny, no matter what my lot in life would be. Eventually, and against great odds, I dug deep and sobered up for good, ending the family booze cycle once and for all. It was the hardest thing I have ever done... and the most rewarding.

Your daughter deleted the letter without clicking the open button. It went unread.
Turns out it didn't matter.
By not pressing the open button, she handed me the true degree of her embittered spirit on a silver platter.

Right then and there, I knew for sure: It never would have worked anyway! The chasm of stability and forthrightness was just too wide for the woman to negotiate. And that is what really answered my questions, albeit in a 'round about twist.

In the end, your daughter did, unwittingly, repair the tiny crack in my soul. Think about how ironic that is. 
Tremendous weight off my shoulders? You bet. I felt giddy...and philosophical.
pondering the big picture, I asked myself: How odd is it when a person's direct questions are often answered by a smokescreen of denial and omission--which is often how, quite by accident, the truth is revealed to us.

Yes, gut-level truths are hard for us to understand, much less face, especially from a protagonists point of view. Yet we ought to meet them head-on them anyway, don't you think?

So, once and for all, the whole story has finally been told, and with absolute precision. And this is the only version you'll ever hear that can be trusted as one-hundred percent true.

So, in a nutshell, what really happened in the summer of 1973 and beyond?

Everything and nothing.

I'm still grateful you gave me the job though. Granted, the price-tag may have been a little high, but that gig taught me a lot more than how to make ceramic trinkets. I'm a smarter and tougher for it now. And I owe much of that to you. I'll miss you, Harry.




Mercy said...

Is this the "one"?

Lisa said...

Very good read. As for her acting out a learned behavior... You bet!



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