Submitted: August 25,2017
Come What May
The whir and hum of the family jet rang in my ears as Petey, Francesca and I boarded her. Four of the family’s security team followed close behind.
I tossed the football I'd carried since leaving my bedroom into the seat nearest the cockpit, too tired and spent to care about any of this. I plopped down next to it, stretching my legs out before me. Frankie eyed me as she moved by. Sensing my absolute rancor for them both at the moment, she towed Pietro with her toward the back. The security team brought up the rear and the door closed behind us.
I kept my gaze to the window and watched as the last of our luggage and personal belongings disappeared from view, swallowed up into the storage compartment of the plane. With as much as we’d packed, I almost expected it to belch after the last of it was loaded.
My phone rang.
“Mio figlio, how are you feeling?”
I sighed. Papa. Of course it would be Papa. I’d been expecting this all along only to somehow become disappointed that he’d waited this long before calling.
I couldn’t blame any of them really; after all, I’d made quite a mess of things before our departure, even if I hadn’t witnessed the outcome. The family moved swiftly when it all started to collapse around me. I glanced back at my brother settling into his seat, recalling how he’d stuffed me, quite physically, into our walk-in closet and like Cinderella’s stepmother, he locked the door behind me, sealing me away from the horrific night’s events. Those harrowing and pleading screams from my boyfriend still seared the canals of my ears. Like molten lava they poured their way into my head, scorching their way, burning me from within. I hated them all for this. They allowed this to happen as much as I had.
“I’ll take care of it, Marco. Stay here,” Pietro had said calmly two nights ago when it all went down, his voice a little too calm now that I thought on it. Those blood curdling screams, calling my name in absolute vain still haunted me. I could hear him now, my Tonio, though no longer mine, if he existed at all.
If he did exist, there’d be no way in hell that they’d permit me to see him. Not after what he’d done. We’d crossed the one line the family would not tolerate – we broke the family honor. Our relationship had been a dangerous game as it was.
“Marco?” Papa’s voice emanated from my phone again, pulling me from my tortuous thoughts.
“Si, I’m here.”
“Talk to me, my son. Are you okay?”
“No, Papa. I am not okay. I don’t know that I’ll ever be okay. But,” I glanced back at Pietro and Frankie having a very terse discussion. They spied me watching them and paused in their biting, whispered dialog long enough to see me. I turned around in my seat and continued with my father. “It’s not like I’m the one to ask, am I? I think you should be talking to my brother. He seems to run things now. How very clever to come between us, after making me think we’d always be together. How deceptive. Well played, Papa.”
The security guys dispatched themselves along the length of the cabin. Why any of this was necessary seemed quite beyond me. So I’d fucked up. So what if there’d be a scene to take care of. It all took place within the confines of the family villa so, what of it?
We took care of it, didn’t we? Or rather, didn’t they? I had no part in it. They wouldn’t let me be a part of it. Not now. Not after what they’d seen. There was no way for me to participate, other than having been at the root of it all. Nonna wouldn’t look at me after it all went down. I got a hug and a kiss from her as we left for the airport, but it had already changed between us and I didn’t know why.
“Marco? Son. Talk to me.”
I glanced at the security guard seated across from me. He spent his pre-flight time adjusting his earpiece and then tapped out something on his phone, probably reporting to the security team back home that had protected our family for hundreds of years.
Jesus, this whole fucking thing stunk. God himself probably could smell the damage to our family honor I’d caused.
What the fuck was the guy’s name? Ennio? No, that was my uncle. Mauricio? Still not it … Nunzio! That was it. He didn’t appear too much older than Frankie.
“Papa,” I sighed, knowing he wanted an answer, some sort of explanation on why things went the way they did. Only I didn’t have an answer, not really. Because by the time Petey had unlocked the door I had curled up into a ball on the floor, crying my fucking eyes out. Probably one of the few times my brother misread my emotions, he tried to pull me to him, thinking they were tears of heartbreak. How sadly he mistook their presence. The moment his hand touched my shoulder I decked him, hard. I scurried out of the closet, the irony of it not lost on me, and began the convoluted trek to the patio downstairs. Pietro’s calls chased me through the house. Anger coursed through my veins aimed solely at my brother that I couldn’t be near.
Brothers forever …
“Yeah, fuck that shit,” I remembered saying as I moved through the house only to stop cold as I opened the door to the patio to find blood congealing on the terrazzo tiles. The cleaning crew, called in at this ungodly hour, made their way from the house out to the patio and began to remove the remnants of my boyfriend from my life. I remember watching as they sponged it away, how cold it made me feel inside. I felt so disconnected from everything, especially from my family who I knew had moved swiftly to handle it and sweep it from our collective memory. They did it with dispassionate efficiency, sterilizing the last lingering expression of my first love.
Pietro came up behind me and slowly turned me to him. Only this time I didn’t have the energy left to fight him. Instead, I sobbed. I couldn’t help it. I knew it was over; we were over, that amazingly beautiful boy and me.
“Marco … shhhh. That’s it, mio fratello. Let it out,” Petey tried to soothe what couldn't be.
Apparently I still possessed pockets of anger that needed cleansing as well. I pounded on his chest. I slapped him rather hard across his face. He took it. He let me take all my anger, my frustration, my desolation out on him until I sagged into his arms from the weight of it all. Without saying a single word he scooped me up and carried me upstairs back to our room, my face nestled in the crook of his neck. Without thinking, as if by rote, I breathed him in. Even in my despondent state, the scent of my elder brother calmed me like nothing else could.
I did what I’d always done when the world seemed to conspire against me – I returned to my brother’s embrace. Even in my anger, nothing new came from it. Pietro would always be my champion, the one person in this world who would fight hardest for me, the one I trusted like no other.
In that moment, as he gently laid me in the bed we’d shared for nearly a decade, I realized just how much he’d let me explore the man I was becoming. He never talked me out of something that I wanted to do. He’d even nudged me along when I was unsure of myself. Though as the soft caress from his hand along the side of my face, followed by the softest kiss to my temple, I knew he believed in me. He knew I had my own path to explore. But that didn’t mean he wouldn’t continue to watch over me. I knew that now. I’d always known it really. Just never gave it as much thought as I did now.
I knew he waited to see if I wanted to talk. Words seemed beyond me at the moment. So I chose sleep instead of talk. I slept the rest of that day and well into the next, only pausing every now and then to let my mind wander over our years spent in this house, the house of our father, probably even in this same room. The history of it all truly began to sink in. It’s what we Sforzas did. We knew no other way.
Petey never left my side. He spooned me to him, his nose firmly planted at the base of my neck, his arm holding me firm.
I didn’t eat.
I didn’t speak.
I didn’t have anything left to give any of them.
Our things were packed. Nonna came in and told Pietro, and me, though I feigned a nap while she spoke to my brother, that our father had the flight arranged. We would return to San Francisco later in the afternoon.
It was done.
Italy had ceased to be our home.
At least for now.
The pre-flight movement in the plane pulled me back from the hellish nightmare our departure from our ancestral home had become. This would forever color how I saw my new life in America. Admittedly, a bit over the top dramatic, maybe even operatic in scope with the way I’d behaved, but right now I didn’t really fucking care. That was Italian, too. If we knew anything, we knew drama.
I watched the skyline in the distance as dusk settled along the horizon. My eyes scanned it – the last visage of the city I’d called home for the better part of my childhood. My beloved Torino, it was all I’d ever known.
Oh yeah, the phone – Papa.
“Papa, do you mind terribly if we don’t talk right now. I just … can’t.”
Silence from him. Never a good thing, but I held my ground. I think he expected it of me.
“Very well. But when you do want to talk, I’ll be here. You know that. Te amo, Marco.”
“Yes, I know Papa. I love you, too. I’ll see you soon.”
He sighed, a world of worry and concern laced that sigh. It came through the phone and cleaved its way into my heart, a heart that had little reason to continue beating just now. But it seeded itself there nonetheless.
“Ciao …” he said softly.
“Ciao.” I hung up and tossed my phone next to me on the double-wide chair.
“It’s time to buckle up, Marco,” a lovely Asian attendant informed me. Her name badge said Yoshiko.
Japanese. Cool. Whatever.
I buckled up as I looked around the edge of my seat to see that Frankie and Petey had settled whatever little tiff they’d gotten into. He chatted on the phone, no doubt with Papa, as she scanned one of the several magazines she had in a carry-on bag. The flight would take us approximately thirteen hours so I guess she came prepared. I had no way to prepare for any of this.
“Tonio …” I murmured. I didn’t know where they put him, if he even survived the night or not. No one said. Not Petey, not Papa, and certainly not Nonna. God, the shift in how she looked at me still cut. I still bled from that tense goodbye, an emotional trail of it tracing our drive to the airport.
I still recalled her whispered words to Petey as she pulled him close. “You’re his brother. See that he gets some help. It’s not too late to fix this.”
Fix this … other than my boyfriend being ripped from me I didn’t feel broken. Up to that moment, I felt pretty damned confident in who I am.
Fix this … Yeah? I'd like to see them try. Fuck that. Fuck them all.
The plane began the process of pulling away from the gate. I’d never flown in the family jet before. As private planes went, the Gulfstream jet was pretty fucking on the money with the whole jet setting lifestyle.
Yeah, they can fuck that, too.
You bet I was bitter. I silently sat watching the city in the distance, unsure if or when I’d see her again. If I’d ever see him again.
“Tonio …” I whispered again, running a finger along the curve of the window sill in the plane. “Non dimenticherò mai voi, mi amore.”
As the plane moved along the tarmac a thread of anger pushed its way through me. I unbuckled my seat and marched quickly toward Petey who glanced up at my swift approach. The security crew all unbuckled their belts and sat forward, ready for whatever I had planned.
“Marco, you need to sit down,” Petey said, his eyes narrowing the tiniest bit as I approached him.
I slapped his face with everything I had.
“I want answers!”
Not missing a beat, not reacting to the red mark that now graced his face, he unbuckled and stood up.
“Marco, enough! Get your ass back into that seat or I’ll make sure you don’t get up until we land. You can piss and shit yourself for all I care. I won’t have us detained and explain to Papa why your little outburst caused us to miss our window of getting out of here on time. Now sit the fuck down!”
I huffed, eyeing the security team that had moved in around me as the plane continued its way to our assigned runway.
“Answers … when we land, you better have them for me. Got it?”
One of the security team reached for my shoulder and I yanked myself free of him and pushed through them back to my chair. I buckled in and heard them all do the same. Several minutes later and we were ascending to our cruising altitude of 50,000 feet.
For a moment I allowed myself to think about her. I’d always been intrigued by every movie or TV show I’d watched that had been set there. America, my new home awaited me.
I didn’t speak to any of them for the rest of the trip. I sulked, I stewed. I flipped Petey off when he made his way back from the bathroom and had to pass me, stopping briefly to see if my mood toward him had changed. I made sure he saw that it hadn’t. I didn’t have anything to read to occupy my time. I supposed I could look up something online, but I didn’t have the energy to spend on it.
So instead I decided to spend my time reclining in that wide seat, reminiscing, letting my memories pull me in, pull me away from this plane, my family’s influence, our affluence, all of it.
Memories of a childhood. At one time golden, and filled with so much love. Those memories lingered and moved along to eventually find him. Memories of another boy, a boy who held my young heart in what would prove to be his very volatile hands eked its way into my thoughts.
Pietro and I are loved by everyone we’ve ever come into contact with. It’s not bragging or saying we’re all that, but a simple statement of how blessed Petey and I are. We get it; we’re reminded of it nearly every day. It’s both a blessing and a curse. I realize just how full of ourselves that sounds. But I swear, it couldn’t be further from the truth. It can be a burden, at times, oppressively so.
Though born in the States, at Stanford Medical, no less, Petey and I didn’t grow up there. While my parents love Petey and me very much, they just had other things on their minds when we pushed our way into their world.
It’s not been an easy life to live sometimes. Our family life can appear very fractured, more by distance – both physical and emotional – and burgeoning careers than anything else. Still, we’re Italian so family means everything, even when you wished it weren’t so.
Our lives read like some sort of fractured fairy tale, complete with a loving father, a self-absorbed wicked and oppressive mother, kindly grandparents, and two charming princes, Pietro and me – the heir and the spare.
While we were wanted and loved, we ultimately also became a distraction. From the time they married, our mother became singularly driven to help our father succeed in his career as a new physician. She’d been born into a prominent American-Italian family in California that made its wealth in banking and finances, and he from a decidedly historically powerful family from the old country – a match the Gods of Rome would’ve approved.
Though our father, Vincenzo, wanted a family, something had to give when we came along. His career came first. She tried, so the story goes, and muddled through it with the aid of a nanny. But I suppose we just became too much to bear when she had parties to plan, networking at the country club to sort out. We just didn’t fit into their social calendar which Mama swore was key to the family’s continued success.
So at the tender age of three, off we went to our paternal grandparent’s home to be reared in the traditional Northern Italian way, the way our father and his three brothers had been reared.
As a matter of history, the Sforzas go way back. And although the family is a fixture in Torino, our lineage traces to the ducal titles of Milano in its distant past. We took great pride in the history of it all. Our name carried a certain historical weight and context in modern Italian social circles. We weren’t the Medici’s, but then again, who was anymore?
Petey often called it our “hysterical” past whenever its history came up, a moniker that never failed to make me smile. His eyes would just light up whenever Nonno Stefano went off on one of the family stories of antiquity and Petey’d get this devilish look and say, in his best Italian, “We’re the Sforzas – we’re so important, we’re hysterical.” This often got a soft clap on the back of his head from either of our grandparents. It never stopped him and we noticed that Nonno and Nonna would share a small grin between them for his cheek.
We took it for what it was: family, nothing more, nothing less. But one thing became clear to both of us – we had to be worthy of it at all times. Being a Sforza carried an honor to the name that we had to defend and uphold. While our Nonna Caterina was the fountain of love we craved in a mother figure, she also possessed an iron fist when it came to the family honor. There was very little left to interpretation when the family name and reputation became involved. And there was precious little that we could do that didn’t bear the Sforza banner loud and clear. A blessing and a curse.
Petey and I adapted to our lives in Europe, blending in as much as native born Italian boys do. We wore it with pride. Our grandparents and extended family on my father’s side expressed enormous pride in our accomplishments whether academically or athletically.
We played on the local football team as we grew and spent a great deal of time with close friends and cousins playing the game hard. Our bedroom bore banners, scarves and other memorabilia from our favorite soccer teams.
We each had our separate passions in sport as well. A teacher at our school who had played college American football taught me how to pass the ball. I took to it like water. Papa bought me one the following Christmas and I often spent times with Professore Langford working on my passing skills. Fencing and sword play were quickly added as passions of mine and martial arts, diving and swimming for Petey. He was practically a Ninja fish.
We grew up surrounded by culture, sport, and love, often in that order. Our family was nothing if not passionate; we were quintessential Italians to the core. I make no apologies for that. Neither would any of them. We are who we are. And we were nothing, if not hysterical. Laughter and love lit up our home more than the electrical lights that bathed it in a soft glow.
As we grew older, my grandmother began to receive hints from our father that he’d been contemplating our returning to the States. Now that his medical career had progressed as he’d always hoped, he was of a mind that the time had come to bring his boys home. Though we felt the pull from him in his emails to us, we held out for as long as we could. Italy had become home to us. America, though seen through the lens of TV shows that were broadcast in Italy, seemed like a strange and distant place, like Disneyland, a place to visit. But who would want to live there? At the base of the Alps, in that part of the world we called home, nothing could say that plainer to the two of us than our beloved Torino.
American by birth, perhaps, but Italian through and through.
Our parents would often make trips to Italy for the summer months or the winter holidays. Petey and I gleaned that this was more in part from our father wanting to be near us, than Mama. We got that. The feeling became mutual. We spent time each year with them, so it wasn’t like we didn’t like being with our parents. It could often be just, well, strained, or awkward from time to time.
Each summer they visited as we grew older, it would take us slightly longer to find our rhythm with them. We’d begun to be less and less impressionable young boys; our needs and attitudes had shifted and evolved by the time they’d arrive for another visit.
We’d often Skype with Papa. Seeing the guilt and tremendous amount of love he had for us, we could see how hard it was for him to live with the choice they’d made in having us grow up as he had. We understood it; we loved him passionately whenever that guilt would take hold of his gaze, whispering to him, letting him know that we never blamed him for how things went.
There was love there, to be sure. But not like it was with Nonno and Nonna. Our grandparents had very much become our real parents. Our actual parents were, well, they were academically our parents. The roles had very much switched. Grandparents for parents and vice-versa.
Our real parents were who we’d spend a little time with, and then they faded back to America. To be honest, it always felt a bit disjointed, off-kilter when they were around despite how much our father tried to hold us close to him. It was very different story with our grandparents. They adored us, and we were deeply devoted to them.
That wasn’t to say that there weren’t moments that gave us a glimpse of something more. It became very clear that if we were lucky enough to find our father alone, that we’d find the promise of what our life in America could be. Our father got it. I knew he did. There were moments when he’d tuck us in at night, apologizing for the life he gave us, his eyes soft and glistening with tears he held back. God, did he ever love us — there could be no mistaking that part of our lives. These quiet moments alone with our father meant the most to Petey and me. They were far too few, generally once or twice during their visits, but they were like little treasures we kept close to the heart when we were apart from him.
Mama, however, was quite a different story. Mama never varied in being the composed one, moving with all the precision of a barracuda through torrential waters. She was a woman who could easily swim upstream and not lose a strand of hair out of her perfectly coiffed head. She was a force of nature – the kind that would crush ships, destroy towns, casting people to the wind. That isn’t to say, however, that she didn’t know how to play her cards when she visited.
She made sure to always be gentle with us, motherly in her own unusual way. She never wavered from playing the part, though a calculated rivulet seemed to thread its way between us. She couldn’t be blamed for it. Petey and I just figured that it was who she was. In a way, we sort of felt sorry for her. Whenever she spent time with us, every time she watched us, it was tucked there, in the corners of her eyes, undeniable as the day was long: she really didn’t know what to do with us. There was a certain degree of fear buried in her gaze, like we were going to explode at any moment and cause her tremendous amounts of embarrassment. We were dangerous to her, dangerous to her plans, whatever they were.
Nonna didn’t have many kind words for her. But she kept them to herself whenever my parents were around. Thankfully, those times were few and the tension from them bearable.
Those memories took a lot out of me. By then a light evening meal was served and I ate in silence. Pietro and Frankie seemed to have decided to leave me alone for the duration of the trip and for that I was eternally grateful. I could barely tolerate Nunzio sitting across from me, even if I knew he was a necessity. After Yoshiko cleared the meal away, I asked for a pillow and blanket. I wanted to doze for a bit. Within minutes of reclining the extra wide seat and pulling the blanket around me I slipped into a dreamless sleep.