No, I'm okay, honest. I feel fine. I just gotta sit down for a minute. Could I have a glass of whiskey, please?
The photo I picked to go with the excerpt is the only one I have of my parents on their wedding day. Nothing says "good times, good times" like an arranged marriage, amiright?
BLOOD OF MY BLOOD
My father likes to say he was lucky, that God held both his hands and stopped him from killing my mother. “Even Job would be lost his patience,” he explains in his Italian-accented English. “Think if you was be having one parent in the jail, and the other one underground.” My dad—a friendly, compassionate soul who caught and rescued the sparrows that flew into our garage in his enormous, calloused hands—conceives himself as capable of being the killer, pushed into a murderous rage by my mother’s unrelenting provocation and her debilitating mental illness. I find the idea ludicrous. I used to imagine taking flowers to my father’s grave and writing letters to my mother in a maximum-security institution.
I am the product of a careless matchmaker, a featherbrained cupid who ignored my mother’s early warning signs and her family history of brain disease. My parents were born and raised in a hillside village in southern Italy called Bonefro, a Sabine-inhabited area that was assimilated by the Roman Empire, a place steeped in millennia-old superstition; a place where everybody knows your name, your grandfather’s and great grandfather’s name. Bonefro holds the key to my past, a paternal line descended from bandits and a maternal line of sheep-herding thieves. Before they were committed to each other in sacrament for a lifetime of sickness and horror, my parents were related to each other as second cousins. This resulted in my favourite dinner party punch-line: that if I were to research my family tree, I might find out I'm related to myself multiple ways, but the whole thing feels too Mormon to consider.
On his wedding night, my father thought there was something wrong with his young bride from her bizarre behaviour and nonsensical speech. But he stood by her even as she knocked him down, again and again, until he left in an ambulance, physical health ravaged and mental health shattered. My mother used to walk around the house, shouting, “No divorce, I’m be widow before I divorce!” Each time she said it, she would laugh.
My parents separated in 2004. The divorce was finalized in 2008. My father’s never felt better, having survived a cancer scare, two suicide attempts and thirty-six years of married life. My mother looks haggard, captive to a devastating psychosis. One in prison, buried by madness.
I think about the big event, the beginning of their time together, both anxious, hopeful, and unaware of all the ways one could harm another. In the only surviving photo from that day, my mother looks beautiful and happy. The photographer captures my father’s pensive nature. My paternal grandfather is stuck mid-sentence, likely spinning a yarn. Seated next to him, my grandmother holds her wrist and has a tight worried smile; she spent two weeks tossing and turning—unable to sleep—after the match was decided. Her maternal instinct to protect her son wouldn’t allow her to rest.
Lucky she never lived to see how bad things would get.