A Walk in the Park

My early teen years were very difficult for me. My parents divorced and many things were changing. I don’t take well to alterations in my life for some reason and back then all I knew was constant change. I was consistently was on edge. I wanted to tell this story first and foremost because it paints a very clear picture of my Nonni and her kindness. Secondly and less important, someone once told me the way to really find out who you are is to be open and transparent and above all honest in aspects of life you are not proud of. The moment these acts played out, they were meant to be told, I just haven’t told anyone until now.

High School is a tough time for anyone I think. Maybe not by Junior/Senior year, but Freshman year for certain . I was going into high school with a large focus on sports. I didn’t know many people going to my school but I knew some members of my future basketball team because we were already practicing the summer prior to freshman year.

This story begins on one of the first Fridays of the school year. Everyone I knew at that point in school were talking about meeting up with girls and hanging out at an undisclosed location. I remember feeling uncomfortable and pressured so when it came time to say if I was in, I nervously backed out. It wasn’t that I didn’t like girls, but my self confidence level at this point in my life wasn’t very high. The last thing I wanted was to be put in a situation that people could make fun of me. I played it safe and backed out.

As I look back at that point in my life, I let a lot of people use me as a punching bag. They knew I wouldn’t hurt anyone, so they always took jabs at me, verbal jabs that is. I let it pass, quite honestly because I thought it made people feel good. And coming from a broken house, I would do just about anything to make someone feel good, unfortunately even at my own expense.

I wouldn’t be going to the “gathering.” Instead a perfectly good night was going to be spent working on a short film and re-watching Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo. I remember being in a Vertigo funk. I had a theory that James Stewert’s character actually died in the first sequence and I needed to do some re-watching to fill some holes in that theory. Sounds riveting, doesn’t it? But that was me in early high school days, a film nerd who could tell you unhealthy amounts of film facts from decades before my birth. It wasn’t that I was unsociable, I just had my own little world that I felt comfortable in and when that space became hindered I always fell apart.

When I got home from school that Friday, my mom informed me that I wouldn’t be staying home that night. She told me my Nonni needed help moving some big furniture and asked if I could aid. As much as I loved and would do anything for my Nonni, I didn’t want my night of movie watching to be disturbed. It was one of those “I know this is wrong to not help and I just don’t care” moments. But my mom didn’t care and off I went being driven to Nonni’s house on a Friday night.

When I arrived Nonni always greeted me with a smile. To my shame this particular time, I didn’t give one back. Nonni didn’t care. Little stuff like that didn’t faze her in the least. She was just happy I was there.

I helped her move the furniture which was a small end table . I still remember thinking that she could have done all this on her own. I was upset because I felt like my time there wasn’t really needed and all the while I could have been home working on my short film and ultimately smoothing out some bumps from my Vertigo theory. I was selfish.

After the furniture got moved Nonni asked me if I wanted to go to the park for fresh air. A routine we did consistently since I was young. Reluctantly, I went. In an even worse mood that I had when I arrived.

She never took the direct route to the park. She was big on talking so Nonni didn’t mind taking a longer way to the park. When I was younger I really enjoyed this. But at this time it just added to my frustration.

The sun was just setting and the weather was exceptionally good for a walk. Nonni had a habit of picking up a flower and touching it during our walks. She did this while talking almost professionally. I couldn’t tell you what we talked about and I don’t remember much but unfortunately what came next is one of the more stark memories I can recall.

We were walking back to her car. The night was finally over. All I had to do was wait for my mom to pick me up at Nonni’s house. As we were about half way to her car a bunch of loud Honda civics and racing type cars pulled up to the park parking lot. I looked and sure enough these cars looked familiar. They were people from my High School. In some weird coincidence they picked the exact park to have make out sessions in that my Nonni and I were walking at.

It didn’t take long. They recognized me instantly and began belittling me. Making fun of the fact I was walking with my Nonni at sunset in a park. One of my most treasured memories as a kid was now being ripped apart by my new day to day life of school. I began getting nervous and anxious. The insults kept coming in and I just dropped my head and closed my eyes. It felt like I was being hunted and had a gun pointed at me. I was helpless and frozen.

Nonni sensed all this and she softly held my hand to try and comfort me. Almost immediately the laughter and insults grew. I quickly snatched my hand from her, angrily.

I don’t exactly remember how it all finished but, we ended up in her car. It was quiet and I was a combination of humiliated and ashamed. Nonni gathered and very gently asked:

“Whats wrong Danny? Are you ok?” And I said “No, I’m not ok!” almost shouting. And she’s like “whats wrong?” And I said “Don’t you understand Nonni? Im not who you think I am.” And Nonni innocently says “Well, what do you mean Danny?” I say “Nonni I’m a loser.” She says ” oh no your not, why do you think that?” I snap. And I say “I’m here with you on a Friday night, look at me, I’m a loser.” She just stared at me with a confusing look on her face.

We drive away in silence, I had never rose my voice before to anyone in my lifetime and that moment sort of cemented I would try my best to never again. Honestly speaking, I learned I’m the type of person who gets hurt more than the receiving end of me yelling at someone. This situation was all different for me and I remember crystal clear shaking as we drove home in silence.

We get back to her house and she quietly puts sauce on the stove and slowly but surely I start to smell it. Im just sitting there watching her do this. She’s not saying anything to me and this thick blanket of shame pours over me because I feel immensely bad for lashing out at her. I remember feeling I disappointed her. More devastating, I remember the familiar feeling of doing something to someone you love who didn’t deserve it. It hearkened to my parents divorce days, and this time I was the one on the ugly end.

A little time passes and things are still very silent. By the time the pasta has finished and Nonni makes me my bowl and places it in front of me. Her usual ritual would be to sit across and make small talk while she watched her “shows” out of the corner of her eye. She didn’t do that though. She just stayed behind me, standing. It seems odd and all I remembered thinking about at that point was she was going to yell at me at any second. The silence was so much. I had to break it. So I broke the air with “the pasta really is good, Nonni.” Nonni nodded her head and gently puts her hand through my hair and she says effortlessly “you got such a nice haircut, you look so handsome.” She paused and said: “I hope you know your the best boy Danny, I hope you know.”

The next Monday at school was bad to say the least. I heard it from everyone, asking if I was taking Nonni to the prom or if she was picking me up to walk home and hold hands. All stuff I expected I guess. But I was surprised it didn’t bother me as much as I thought it would. I just let it go. It went away after a while and basketball season started. And in an odd turn of events, I became uncomfortably popular throughout my High School career.

Nonni has been gone for years now and when I used to live in Connecticut I would make it a habit to revisit that route. I would drive to Nonni’s, wait there a bit. Then take her specialized directions to the park and walk around for a while in the same way we did. Drive back to her house and just sit in the parking lot and think of her. Think of how calm she handled that situation. A shameful young boy as insecure as the anyone who lashed out at a person who loved him with all her heart, yet she was loving. It was still important for her to make me feel good. To be supportive. She had an unwavering positive image of me that I don’t quite understand or know how to place.

In the time that Nonni has passed, I try to do everything I can to be the person Nonni saw me as. The truth is i’m not that person. I’m mostly selfish and always considering myself before others. I don’t have an inch of Nonni’s genuineness in me. I may try and trick myself from time to time, but its fails compared to Nonni’s meekness. She has set the bar so high for me that sometimes I stand amazed by her and she provides a good reminder for myself to always try and improve, if not for me, for others around me.

If she were here today I would do anything to take her to that park for a walk on a Friday evening. I wouldn’t care who saw me. Because she didn’t. All she cared about was being there with me. As look back, I wish I could have said the same.

Advertisements

This morning I felt a breeze of wind. It smelled exactly like a memory of Nonni. It was exhilarating then almost immediately heartbreaking.

I still miss her greatly.

Mickey & Mike

Mickey and Mike are my two cousins. Both are very special to me and both are without question great people. How I came to be close with them are two very different stories. But when we were close, (the span of 4 years) it was a bond that was very special and unique on all levels. You may recognize their names. I’ve mentioned them before. They are indeed my cousins who went and spent time at Nonni’s on sundays. But thats not where this story began. The story began with a book cover. It ends with content.

It was at my cousin Victoria’s (Mickey’s sister) birthday party which me and Mike first got close. Mickey and I always had a closeness because of our age. But Mike and I never really connected because of the 10 year gap. The party was a great time. It occurred at a more innocent time in my families timeline. Currently that side of my family tragically avoids each other and celebrates family milestones in an isolated fashion, but at this time everyone was just playing their usual role in the family. Everyone got along enough to be in the same room. It was great. I overheard Mike talking about film. I never knew Mike was into movies and such. We talked a little at that party and we had sort of an unsaid, natural closeness. I also overheard Mike talking about how he needed a haircut. I told him without question I would do his hair as one night after work. He came and again the conversation flourished, from the barber chair to the parking lot something was happening. Something new, yet something genuine.

It was a click moment in my life. Here was someone who I knew my entire life, who was always around but suddenly was turned into everything I admired in a blink of an eye. I couldn’t believe that A.) he talked and thought about films the way I did and B.) he actually cared about what I had to say. Mike has a calm, comfort to him. He listens to you talk and very, very rarely talks about himself. A trait I wish I had. After that talk in the parking lot things were different for me. I had a new friend. More astonishingly, it seemed he had one too.

After a little while of phone convos, Mike proposed the idea of heading to Nonni’s to fix a light for her, that was actually the first Nonni’s visit, but we started to make it a weekly thing. After a little bit Mickey caught wind and starting showing up and we sort of just formed a unit, a strong one. Mickey and Mike had got along cordially, kind of like Mike and I. But they shared similarities. They were both very interested and involved with music and the creation of it. They had a strong connection with arts and past experiences. The unit was forming with energy leading us. I don’t think any of us forced anything. It all happened so naturally.

Mickey is different from Mike in many ways though. Whereas Mike has “strong” image in my opinion, Mickey had a gentleness about him that came off as a very innocent energy. You got the feeling being around him that he was never going to be controversial and always would support your feelings on matters. Mickey had/has a big heart and in my opinion displays it in a soothing yet comfortable way. Mickey and I grew up together, we basically stayed at Nonni’s all our early summer days until we were in High School. We played Mortal Kombat (physically, not video games) We imagined our own companies, we went to the park with Nonni and played baseball. We did all sorts of fun stuff but most importantly, we connected on a deep level at young age. It solidified us a friends, not just cousins. Connections happened with Mickey and Mike in my life, just at different times. It was hard to see all of our little connections until the 3 of us combined to make a friendship. It seemed like fragments of rivers winding aimlessly until spilling into a vast ocean.

In the beginning of our hanging out, much weighed on Nonni’s. We met there every Sunday and things were cool. I found myself looking forward to seeing them and catching up on the week. Sunday after sunday we would meet and every time we would learn and feel out a little bit more about each other. We would start to have little running jokes and familiarities in conversations that were never there. It was so interesting to me. These people were around my entire life yet now, just now I am letting them into mine and learning so much more than the cover of a book. Soon, just meeting at Nonni’s wouldn’t be enough. We started to go to the movies every Sunday night after Nonni’s house. Sure the movies were great, but the magic happened after. Long conversations in the parking lot ensued while we learned more and more about one another. Like newly realized strangers, we were shocked at what we thought about each other and we were enthralled to learn new elements of each other’s life for the first time. Every sunday for me, was a new chapter to the most excited book I ever read. It was a page turner.

The 3 of us also conversed about so much more than we could ever imagine. Relationship issues. Past experiences, what we’d learned. What we wouldn’t be doing again. What we wanted to do again. It was truly a cathartic experience for myself. I could honestly say I learned how to “comfortably” just be myself around them. I didn’t need to put up a front. They enjoyed my company for who I was and I appreciated that. It made me feel “OK” to be me. I hope they would say I gave off that same energy to them. It was such pleasurable experience to be in their presence.

Sometimes writing characteristics of people just doesn’t quite get the job done, so i’ve thought very hard of memories I have of us to really portray these amazing people and hopefully add some vibrancy and life to their portrayal displayed here. There are three memories that I believe are very telling and an accurate picture about us and our relationships. 1 of Mike, 1 Mickey and 1 of all of us:

MEMORY 1 – Unselfishness of Mickey
I filmed my movie in mid 2008. Mickey’s home was the main set piece for the filming and even I didn’t realize how obtrusive filming would be. It was encompassing on us, never mind Mickey’s family who basically traded their house for a film set for 40 early mornings and 40 very late nights. Mickey wasn’t hired to do anything besides be patient (which he was). Early in the filming, it was clear I didn’t have the right man power for the crew. Mickey somewhat picked up on this and quietly, in a humbling manner just began to help. He wasn’t looking for rewards, he wasn’t doing anything to get noticed. He plainly witnessed someone he loved in need, and he delivered. I figured it was a one day thing and I was thankful. But day after day, he made my movie a priority in his life. In other words, he made something I cared about mean a great deal to him. He didn’t have too, and that was the point. That was Mickey in a nutshell. Quietly helping behind the scenes when no one asks. He’s got huge heart and the remarkable aspect of it is; he’s unaware of just how unselfish he is.

MEMORY 2 – Kindness & Thoughtfulness of Mike
Mickey unfortunately had the inevitable happen to him. His girlfriend of multiple years broke things off after she entered college. It took a month longer than Mike and I predicted (october). Well, Mickey has a kind heart and really had super strong feeling for this girl. It wasn’t hard to see what was going to happen. It was unfortunate but a ticking clock, nonetheless. Sure enough Mike called me on a Saturday and said simply “Mickey’s a mess.” “Say no more” I responded. It was like our trio bat light in the sky was shining. Mike came to the salon and Mickey followed. I will be hard pressed to forget such a night. Mike sat for hours and hours at the salon literally until early morning giving Mickey advice on how to handle things. It was an act of amazing trust on one side and unparalleled kindness on the other. I sat back and watched in complete awe. 2 people completely in the moment. Mickey called, Mike responded. I had the extreme pleasure to observe such thoughtfulness from Mike. He cared immensely for Mickey and you could clearly see, it hurt Mike to see Mickey hurt.

MEMORY 3 – Something Real
When our Nonni ultimately ended up in the hospital for the final time, it was unfortunately in the midst of our families internal warfare. People who avoided each other (and Nonni) purposely were sort of forced to come and be around one another. They felt a need of some sort I guess. I’ll never forget that feeling that everyone was there to make up for lost time with Nonni. It felt so fake to me. So manufactured. I bad situation I admit. But in the middle of all that I beheld a sight I will never forget. My big, loud Italian family conversing with one another barely being able to look each other in the eye and across the room I see Mike and Mickey just talking, even laughing. Doing what we did. Enjoying each other’s company. We left nothing on the table. Especially with Nonni, but even more so with ourselves. We were all genuine in our feelings for one another. What more can someone ask for? In a time were everyone was playing the role of life, we weren’t “playing” anything. We had something real. We had a bond that didn’t require a death in the family to mend.

Mickey and Mike weren’t obligated to be anything but cousins to me. There was no script for us to follow. Events didn’t have to happen. But they did. Not a day goes by I’m not genuinely thankful for friends like them and the experiences we shared together. I realize many people go their entire lives without such relationships. I take nothing for granted. Every Sunday at Nonni’s, I knew something special was happening. Every time Mickey, Mike and I were planning something, I knew it would be for the ages. I knew these memories were what mattered and I had a feeling they did too.

The reason the Mickey and Mike time in my life was so profound, so special and most of all, so inspiring is something I have pondered for a very long time. I recently came up with an answer. A simple answer. I guess the only way to put this may be in an example: Picture someone in your life that you see everyday but don’t talk to. Now, think of what your thoughts are on that person. No doubt, you have an opinion. Sure you do, we’re pro’s at that. Then finally, one day go talk to them. Let them filled your skewed, perceived book covers with pages of freshness and breath life into it. The simple truth is actually really simple with Mickey and Mike. If Nonni’s never happened I fear to say they would still be book covers to me. Sure we would see each other at family parties and such. And sure, maybe their content grew clearer as time ticks along, after all they are family. But that directly strikes my point. I was “supposed” to be close to these two special people. But I wasn’t and I never knew I wasn’t till I got close enough to see who they really were and are. Two special people who hold a permanent spot in my life and heart. Our time we grew close was magical to me. No other word comes close. I love them very much.

 

Thankfulness

One day I’ll truly understand what being thankful means. As I grow older and dare I say, more mature, I’m beginning to question more and more what I honestly think about things and the place they have in my life. We all have that time in our lives where things are just accepted. Usually at a young age, shaped by our parents. So obviously what we are thankful for ties hand in hand with the values which we are taught. I speak for myself when I say. Just recently, those values have shifted from another’s to my own.

I guess being thankful starts with comfort. You are naturally thankful for things you “like” or “enjoy.” But as I have grown older, I begin to realize being thankful is tied directly to what you truly hold dear. For some it may be possessions, others achievements. Nothing wrong with those. Both are reputable in the world and mostly cherished.

In my life to this point, the most honest answer I can give, would be relationships. Past and present. Big and small. Relationships are unique. They are not given but earned. They take time develop and mature. Occurrences and past experiences shape the final result. No 2 could be alike. No 2 should be alike. They are tailor made for the participants and fill emotions in the gaps of those peoples lives. Very special are they and treasuring them is simple yet steadied art to achieve.

Firstly my wife Lindsey, She is an unselfish, honest woman who is pure at heart. Those traits are all too often looked upon lightly (mostly by myself.) And in my opinion, qualities that aren’t easy to abide by, she effortlessly performs them daily. I’m thankful for her and her presence in my life and by zero means do I deserve what she brings to it. I still haven’t figured out a way to demonstrate the emotion of thankfulness to her in a acceptable way in my opinion, yet she stays. That means everything to me.

Another relationship I am immensely thankful for is my cousin Mike. We live in different states now. But in my younger years he took time to show me I mattered. He spent real time with me talking about my interest and helping me with my problems. Things I now hold very highly for my wish list on how to treat others. He told me without telling me that he cared about me. Even though we are miles away, the bond we made remains strong. Something to cherish and not something easily obtained.

My best friend Jeremy also is someone to cherish. I look up to him in many areas, professionally and personally. He has done many things for me in the past and recently. Things that some family members wouldn’t do for each other. He is someone who is truly a friend with no motive behind his actions. In my opinion that is a rarity. I only wish I could return what he is to me unto him. To this date, I’ve never met a more selfless person in my travels.

My Nonni is someone who I daily gain more respect and appreciation for. The longer she is gone the more I look back upon her and what she held important. I miss her a bunch. I miss the way she would tell a story. She would make you feel special and she wouldn’t shy away from true feelings. She loved telling you how she felt. Sometimes it was harsh, but it taught me a lot. Being a true friend and loving a person doesn’t mean you yes them to death or tell them what they wish to hear. To Nonni, loving you meant to give it to you straight, a noble trait in that is seemingly lost in most people nowadays.

Last (in this post) but certainly not least would be my mom and Dad. Maybe we always didn’t see eye to eye and still probably don’t on topics and life decisions. But that fact alone has only makes me appreciated them more. They still care for me regardless of decisions I have made in my life. There is a bond there that can never be broken, for better or worse and I appreciate that. They truly care for me and I’m not so naive to take that for granted anymore. A constant love is what they offer, to me thats the best gift parent can display.

Those are just examples and Lord knows if I mentioned everyone this post would be intolerable even by my standards. But I guess what I am trying to get across is that being thankful changes in one’s life over a period of time. Right now for me, I’m most thankful for people and the connection I make with them. I’m one of those “I don’t expect anything” people. It’s one of my few traits I actually very much appreciate. So when someone takes in interest in me, I really, truly appreciate it.

I dare you to take time to search what you are truly thankful for. Not some monotone, prefabricated answer that is expected of you. Something that truly matters. It doesn’t matter if people don’t agree. That’s the beauty of opinion. Take careful notes of what you choose. Save them. And after a couple of years put them together and see how you’ve grown. I promise you’ll learn something about yourself. If for no other reason, you’ll understand that you are not as important as you think, and the objects of your thankfulness are the things that are.

And that is something truly to be thankful for.

Picking Pasta

My nonni had a way of making people feel important. In many ways, a special gift she possessed. As a young boy, I remember thinking she was the sole person who actually listened to me. When your young that means a bunch, especially if your looking for a lending ear. When you grow and begin maturing, it means substantially more. She taught me and in many ways still is, that listening is vastly more important than talking. While my famous sunday evening memories are engulfed with very talkative conversation, the most fluid and influential are unsurprisingly calm and quiet vignettes that stand the test of time.

7PM was the appointed meeting time at nonni’s home. Every Sunday, all year. Two other very special people came, and we formed in many ways a bond that will never be broken. A past memory we were fortunate enough to be around for. If we were ignorant in the beginning to just how special this time would be, it became more apparent as sundays went. The event gave me something to look forward to you. It gave me hope that in a rough week, nonni’s was around the corner. Once in a while I would “accidentally” arrive early. Not too early,  but a mere 20 or so minutes prior to the next.  Those 20 minutes were simply me talking and nonni listening. She taught and told me without uttering a single syllable, listening is what matters.

It never failed, once the clock hit 7 and the three of us were assembled around the table, she would inevitably give the command. In a seemingly random order, one of us would be summoned to pick the pasta. Surely, a mundane action to anyone especially us, considering it happened every single Sunday. But to her, an important reminder for us that we were important. The command signified a pause in life. As soon as the order was given, it was ok to settle in. In many ways,  it was her saying sit down and relax. It was a subtle phrase that suddenly meant the world to me. Much like nonni’s, the emotion changed from mundane to admiration.

Conversations were picked and plucked from many different worlds at nonni’s table. Her participation varied and nearing the end of her life, she was reserved to just listening for the most part. I wouldn’t be so ignorant to think this wasn’t purposeful though. She was as much of the conversation quiet as she was vocal. She loved to just sit there and let us talk, mostly about subjects she had admittedly, absolute zero interest in. But even in the moment I assumed something deeper was happening.

It occurred to me after the fact that Nonni in many ways was an enabler. An enabler of this event for starts. It was in fact her who first invited us over, only to let us talk and converse about things she didn’t care about, yet endured the conversations. You see she didn’t care about the subjects of topic, or type of pasta we picked or anything for that matter. All she truly cared about was that we were there. And she did everything in her humble ways to make us feel welcome and significant. From varying bowl sizes according to appropriately sized eaters, to simply just listening about things she didn’t necessarily care about but knew we did. She was all about us, all of time.

I think nonni’s impact was so influential on me simply because she never flaunted her motives. She never needed credit for doing anything and she certainly wasn’t looking for it.  She was more invested in spending time with us, then projecting life lessons. But the beautiful revelation of Sundays at nonni’s, came to me after the fact. Like a great painting, being too close to something blurs the intended meaning. Nonni’s was always about life lessons and they were so effective because they were genuinely distributed.

You see Nonni always wanted to make one of us feel special, she always gave us all the time we needed. To talk amongst each other or simply listen to us individually, unconditionally. Not impending judgement, just lending an ear with input if we so desired.  She taught me, there’s a place for that in life. There’s a place called meekness that lives only when you realize a direct way to someones life is through their heart, not their head. Something Nonni did so well, just listen and invest in those you love. A great life lesson she distributed to me. Something I am forever grateful for and an area I continually try to improve in.

Towards the end of nonni’s life I came to find out something very interesting. It turned out, nonni always knew who’s turn it was to pick the pasta. As weeks went by, she kept a record of it. It wasn’t a guess on her part. It was important to her; remembering the little details about loved ones in her life. But I cant help but wonder that she knew, one day we would understand and comprehend. Understand her quietness around the table.  Comprehend that listening is the best gift you can give someone. I cant help but think she knew as we grew older, that the purpose for coming to Nonni’s wasn’t at all to keep her company as we all thought. But for us to learn. Learn how to one day, let someone else pick the pasta.