I wanted to believe I had changed. I was a better person with more empathy for others, but if Billy hadn’t pulled away, I wasn’t so sure I would have passed his test.
It was time for another moment of reckoning.
I walked over to my front stoop, climbed the three steps, grabbed the handle of the rust-colored, never-locked security door, and froze. I couldn’t quite bring myself to take the inside staircase to the top floor apartment to face the discordant soundtrack that was my family, but what choice did I have? I turned back to the street—maybe I could leave—but my ride was gone. Besides, my mother didn’t send a return ticket and the change at the bottom of my backpack wasn’t enough to buy a subway token. My backpack! I left it and my suitcase in the back of the van.
I plopped down onto the stoop.
The sun was setting, and in the second-story windows of the nearby buildings, with their red-brick exteriors, mirror images to mine, with their two legal apartments and one illegal basement apartment, I could see silhouettes of the infamous Beach Chair Ladies, BCs for short. From Memorial Day until the first snow, the BCs, a dozen or so women from the block, gathered to gossip on the sidewalks and sat in low-to-the-ground plastic-and-nylon discount store beach chairs. They pocketed every one of our pink balls that bounced within their reach. Sometimes one of them would run into the street and steal our stick right out from the batter’s hands. If we dared to ask for it back, they cursed and chased us. It was the price we paid for acting like kids.
The BCs didn’t only police the children. They also determined who was and wasn’t allowed to rent on this block. Only if you were a hundred percent Italian did they give the landlords their approval. Only Italians who had emigrated from Southern Italy were approved. My family was the one and only exception. Mommy and Dad each had Italian parents, but they’d been born in Parkchester, only a few miles away. In the minds and mouths of the people on this block, my parents and their offspring were as American as McDonald’s. Mommy had charmed her way into this neighborhood, the way she charmed her way into, or out of, everything. For the most part, Jimmy and I were tolerated, spared the evil eye. But we did have to endure frequent slaps to the back, administered to encourage us to speak in Italian. “Speak Italian. No English!” the BCs commanded. Whenever something went missing, we were the first accused, and called thieves, in English and Italian. Then Jimmy did his first commercial, and he was taken into the fold. TV stars transcended nationalism. I became the number one suspect, though still never guilty of robbing anyone’s purse or home. I was the only kid on the block who had never climbed a backyard fence and stolen a fig or a tomato. In my teen years, I earned my reputation and stole other people’s boyfriends, a few girlfriends, and the occasional married man.
I hugged myself for warmth. The temperature was dropping, but I couldn’t bring myself to stand up and go inside. And so, grasping the bottom of the banister, I shut my eyes and willed forth the toddler in me who had run for her freedom into the street, as well as the woman in me who had yesterday stopped traffic and marched for justice. I needed to get off my freezing butt cheeks, climb those stairs, and stand up to my disappointed mother, whose three-months-shy-of-thirty-years-old daughter still hadn’t found a man to take care of her and didn’t need one. I needed to tell my fragile father that I may have lived the past decade in the city where he believed miracles and lucky breaks happened every day, but I didn’t believe in miracles, and the only breaks I ever witnessed were when the LAPD cracked their batons over the skulls of peaceful protestors. Mostly, I had to find the courage to come face to face with the brother I had crippled and abandoned. This felt more impossible than anything I had ever imagined myself doing. I had spent the past decade letting guilt fester in my heart because I was too afraid to risk an unaccepted apology.
“Angie, is that you?”
I opened my eyes. It was Dad’s voice behind me. He was waiting in the doorway. I stood and turned to face him. He was wearing the same Yankees cap he’d worn the day he drove me to the airport, and when he opened the screen door he kissed me on the cheek like it had been only a week since we’d seen each other, and not ten years. There they were, the gray-blue eyes, the only thing Mommy ever complimented him about—“It’s a shame none of them have that color,” she had often said. Only my mother could compliment Dad and express regret about her children at the same time.
“How’s my big Hollywood star?” he asked.
“Far from it,” I said.
“You know what they say, there are no small parts—”
“Only a lot of big-mouth actors.” I finished his sentence like no time had gone by at all.
“Dad.” I paused to muster the courage to tell him the truth about my life in LA. I wasn’t an actor, but growing up the sister of a child actor meant a childhood spent on sets and watching the production assistants, the directors, and the camera, lighting, and sound people. All this prepared me for my work as an activist, where I was the “producer,” running a show we hoped would save the world. Ratings mattered. And I wanted my father to be proud.
© Patricia Dunn 2021
Angela Campanosi fled her home in the Italian-American enclave of Pelham Bay, the Bronx, after an accident left her brother, Jimmy, an up-and-coming actor, paralyzed. Now, ten years later, on the eve of Jimmy’s wedding, anti-war activist Angela returns home from LA to grapple with the guilt, secrets, and idiosyncrasies that make family, family. What could possibly go wrong?
Fiction [Bordighera Press, On Sale: November 9, 2021, Paperback / e-Book, ISBN: 9781599541730 / ]
PATRICIA DUNN is the author of the novel, "Last Stop on the 6" (Bordighera Press, Nov. 9, 2021) and the young adult novel, "Rebels by Accident" (Sourcebooks Fire, Dec. 2014). Her writing has appeared in Salon, The Village Voice, The Nation, LA Weekly, and The Christian Science Monitor. She has also been published in the New York Times best-selling anthology, Love, InshAllah: The Secret Love Lives of American Muslim Women (Soft Skull); and elsewhere. Dunn has served as the senior director of the Writing Institute at Sarah Lawrence College, where she holds an MFA in creative writing. She is the co-founder of The Publish and Promote Your Book Conference, and The Joe Papaleo Writers Workshop in Cetara, Italy. Patricia, raised in the Bronx, travels the world, writing and teaching or is at home in Stamford, CT with her family and 26 plants. For more information on Patricia, or to sign up for her newsletter, "How Not to Write," please go to her website: Patriciadunnauthor.com
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