Every once in a while my in-laws come from Cassino to Florence to visit us and stay at our apartment for the weekend. This past weekend they came on Saturday and left on Sunday, a short visit, and I have to admit a pleasant visit (for those of you who read M.E. regularly, you’re totally shitting your pants right now. I know.). Usually when they visit I find myself crying hysterically in the bathroom or I spend hours thinking of interesting ways to murder my husband. This time I decided something that I should have decided a long time ago: I do not give a flying fuck. I made my husband clean and prepare the apartment for them, I refused to be bothered or stressed because Misty is tired. When they arrived I said hello and was polite, but I did minimum hosting which means I only handed out water and made sure my dog didn’t bother anyone t0o much. Everyone was fine and it was mostly not weird until someone had to go and ruin it for everyone.
We were all gathered in the living-room, my in-laws, F and I, drinking coffee when the attention turned to Oliver who was being his usual-self, attacking and enthusiastically humping Mr. Oinky his new stuffed pig, in his bed. Then, as though he was trying to make me look bad, he stopped, panted, lifted his leg and PISSED on Mr. Oinky. Right on his head like he was all, “take that bitch” after a disappointing exchange. After all my work with this dog I’d still managed to raise a canine version of R Kelly. Everyone exchanged uncomfortable glances and I leapt up to express clean while I explained that he had never done that before (which is entirely true) but it was too late. Obviously, I had a raised a freak and there was no getting around it.
Later that evening we were invited to dinner at a friend of the family’s house who also lives in Florence. I realized a few things. The first thing being that I love how people do table spreads here. I mean, the entire table is literally overflowing with food. The second thing is that now that I’m married everyone is really interested in my vagina and concerned with how much action she’s potentially getting.
My in-laws, my brother and sister-in-law and the hosting couple, almost at the same time, leaned in and started asking questions. When are you guys going to have a baby? When? WHEN!?? Someone demanded that we have more sex. Have sex every day! Everyone seemed so excited about us having sex that I was kind of waiting for it to be suggested that we make a baby on the dinner table. No really, do it now. NOW. NOW!
I said, “well make one when we can afford it unless you know of a way to make it live off of air. Also, babies pee inside of you. THEY PEE INSIDE OF YOU! Speaking of pee, I should not be a mother. Did I tell you all what Oliver did to his stuffed animal today? Really, you don’t want me to reproduce.” And I think they all agreed so maybe the thing with Oliver was a blessing in disguise. It’s not that I don’t want kids, it’s just that I don’t want kids now. Or soon.
(And I might reconsider doing it ever after reading this article on fetal masturbation. Seriously? Why babies? Also, I would like to know what the church thinks of this. Kind of puts a damper on the no touchy-touchy argument, doesn’t it?)
The sex talk faded away and I was able to focus more on eating and wine. I had Oliver chained under my chair with his Kong so he couldn’t freak anyone else out. The more I drink the less I can speak Italian, or English, so at some point I was just staring at everyone. I don’t know about any of you guys but bored is bad for me. Usually my imagination kicks in and it’s all downhill from there.
Lara, our nine month old niece was sitting on my mother-in-laws lap, poking her with little bread sticks that are about the width of a pretzal but longer. Then she started feeding my mother-in-law the bread-pretzal. And I leaned over to F and was all, “I want to feed your mom a breadstick !” And F was all, “DO NOT DO THAT.” I tried to stop myself but she was sitting next to me so at some point I was waving one in front of her face making an airplane noise and then trying to poke it into her mouth. She wouldn’t eat it. Unaware of how to repair the awkward thing I’d already done, I bonked her on the head with it instead and said, “dooopidooopidooo.” Francesco was horrified. She shot me a mean look and somehow I felt an odd sense of satisfaction that is really inexplainable.
On Sunday everyone returned to Cassino. The weather was shit in Florence so F and I decided to stay home and watch Underworld because, you know, werewolves and vampires!
F: What if I was a Lycan and you were a vampire?
ME: Clearly, we’d get married and have a half-breed baby. I don’t see the issue.
F: What would your Vampire name be?
ME: Something gothic and ridiculous like Seraphyn.
F: What would my name be?
F: My name would NOT BE PUPPY! It would be Rocko!
ME: No. Your name would be puppy. That’s a good name!
F: I hate you. [Gets up and adjusts sound]
ME: Good puppy! [pat, pat, pat].
I’m a firm believer in establishing boundaries. It’s a necessary evil since most people aren’t as altruistic as we’d all like them to be. In order to have healthy relationships with ones partner, friends, or family it’s often required to lay down the mother-fuckin-law. I know that sometimes it can be more difficult than we’d like it to be but it has to be done especially when you’re dealing with archaic people. I love tradition, culture, customs, and the beauty of the different, the old, and it’s great when you’re only observing. It’s way less fun when you’re participating in someone’s 1855 throwback fantasy. Unfortunately, when you’re dealing with humans who are stuck in the “old ways” there isn’t anything you can do except for throwing a fucking monkey fit. Some people ignore logic, avoid communication, and intense arguing becomes the only way to break down stubborn ideas. It’s like Rooster fighting.
I’m pretty good at setting boundaries because I learned pretty early how to do it and that it had to be done. My father, a born and bred Iranian man, has a last name longer than this blog post, and lives by the ideas that anything before the eighteenth century was the very best ever. Some people assume that because he’s been living in the US for 35 years most of his “Iranian” went away but those people are mistaken. Culture is not an easy thing to change, it doesn’t usually melt away. My father, even after decades in the US, doesn’t like for us wear tank tops, or allow us to talk about dating, or talk with male employees in the mall. When I called home and said, “I have an Italian boyfriend. I love him and want you to meet him,” My father hung up on me and didn’t talk with me for a few months. I was 28 years old. I might be American but I’m used to old-school people who think that they’re always right and that you should dump tea in your eyes when they’re dry. If I learned one thing from my dad is how to set boundaries and check your answering machine in private. Otherwise all of your friends will hear a crazy man screaming in broken English that , “You are a god-damn Misty!” It wasn’t easy to go against his old-school tide, however, eventually, after many fights and a lot of making up, things are decent. We’re not perfect, and in fact I think he’s certifiably insane, but we have a relationship of mutual respect. This did not magically happen when I was born, but rather it came after 29 years of trying, failing, fighting, and trying.
My husbands parents have a strong case of, “I grew up in a tiny fucking village and everything that I say, believe, or have done is right and everyone else in the giant world are vile or mentally handicap.” They’re not easy to deal with as a foreign person, as a daughter-in-law, as a non-catholic, actually, their just not easy. We’ve fought with them countless times, they’ve made every step of our relationship difficult, and things escalated to a point where a few weeks ago, I did the unthinkable: I emailed the mom. This started a long dialogue of denial and absolutely nothing was resolved. Finally, this past weekend, I agreed to go with my husband to his hometown (because he begged me to go) to make some final preparations for the wedding in Cassino. For those of you who are new to my blog, we were married in the United States in September 2012 but we’re having an Italian wedding here in May.
The first day was okay but awkward. We walked in and I said hello to everyone, then I grabbed a towel and ran to our room to set down the bags I was holding and dry off my soaking wet, dirty dog who was dripping water all over the floor. This was apparently rude and Francesco spent the rest of the night ignoring me. The mom and dad spent the evening watching a movie in a small office room, Francesco took the dog to pee, and I went to our room to read. This was also rude apparently and so he yelled at me. We went to bed with him mad at me. We woke up the next day and he seemed in a better mood. Though, I was already sad from the previous night. At first things seemed okay, nobody was at home, I made some coffee and started to get ready for the day. Then the mom came home and shit got crazy.
It all started when Francesco came into the room while I was getting dressed and asked me if we could show his mom the invitations we made. “Sure, they’re right over there, go ahead and show her babe.” He gave me a dirty look and grabbed them saying, “You should come too.” I thought they were pretty cute, and I was pretty sure she would like them. He took them into the kitchen and started showing his mom. I walked in and glanced at them, and her, to see if she approved and she seemed to like them. I was still drinking my coffee and getting ready so I walked out of the kitchen to finish doing things. Francesco came running into the room after me to tell me that I was being horribly rude. And that I had to stand next to him while he showed her the invitations. I didn’t understand why, but I said okay and walked in the kitchen. I leaned against the counter about a foot away from them drinking my coffee and listening to them discuss where to buy ribbon and envelopes. Oliver, my dog, jumped up on my leg, I smiled down at him and started to ruffle his head. Out of nowhere Francesco stepped forward, grabbed Oliver and tossed him away from me, glaring at me with this look on his face like he hated me. I’d pretty much had it at that point. I burst into tears and ran to the bathroom. Yeah, I know, me running into a bathroom with mascara running down my face over something so little is fucking crazy, but it’s been three years of doing everything wrong, of being yelled at constantly, and of Francesco being frustrated with everything I say and do in front of his friends and family. It’s a lot to deal with, people, so stop judging me.
Apparently when I ran off crying, in a fit of anger Francesco told his mom he wanted to cancel the wedding. No, I don’t understand why either, I think he was just fed up and frustrated too. This sent her into crazy-land and she came running into the bathroom after me screaming that I have to learn to “smack Oliver in the mouth like people smack their children”. The fuck, lady? I didn’t understand what she was talking about. I told her, “I’m upset because Francesco is being mean to me, this has nothing to do with Oliver.” She screamed something about my mental problems and slammed the door closed. Then, things escalated from “shit” to “holy fucking shit”.
I went into the room and started packing my stuff because clearly I’d made the wrong decision. I needed to get out as soon as possible. I heard the front door open and close and heard Francesco’s dad. The mom ran and told him that Francesco cancelled the wedding. I still didn’t know what had happened or what was happening. Francesco came in the bedroom and told me that he was sorry for being mean to me but I have to learn how to behave differently and when he explains things I need to stand next to him and explain things at the same time. This makes absolutely no sense to anyone raised in England, Canada, the US or South Africa. “Why?” He took a huge breathe, “Because if you don’t explain things the same time as me everyone things you don’t like the wedding!” I shook my head, “But I made the invitations, also, you didn’t stand next to me when I explained wedding stuff to MY parents in September. Why would I feel compelled to simultaneously explain something the same time as you. I think you’re competent in doing it yourself.” This pissed him off even further. “That is NOT how WE do things HERE.”
It was about this point that I heard his dad screaming that, “She is worse than the Africans. Even African people have more manners than her.” referring to me. I was thinking both, “Wow, that is fucking rascist.” He was screaming so loud his voice was straining and cracking, then I heard banging. Francesco ran out of the room into the kitchen and it was like Clash Of The Titans shit. They were screaming, the mom was crying, and it sounded like they were breaking the furniture. I packed faster. This was the first argument that Francesco had ever had with his dad, ever. Take 28 years of pent up rage, and you can imagine the amount of hostility exploding in the small apartment. Tables were flipped over, blood was all over the wall (from Francesco punching it), and I heard his dad scream something about me having “no manners”. I was thinking, “You, sir, are an asshole.” Suddenly Francesco appeared in the bedroom and tells me we’re leaving. We grab our stuff and run out the door with his dad yelling behind us to, “Never come back,” and his mom crying hysterically telling us not to leave and trying to block the door. Yes people, my life is EXACTLY like a shitty lifetime movie. Thank you for noticing.
We jumped in the car, it was raining so hard we could barely see out of the windshield. He drove fast and I tried to talk with him.
“Honey, what is going on?”
“I’m sorry but I don’t want to talk to you right now.”
Then we drove for one hour towards Florence. I felt like I was sinking because I was causing all of it, that everything was fine before we started dating and now he’d abandoned his family. Way to go, Misty, you fucking suck! His sister started calling over and over but he refused to answer. I finally answered for him. I told her I don’t know what happened, maybe everyone is mad because I didn’t say “hello” loud enough? I apologize to her for not saying hello loud enough. She tells me that Francesco cancelled the wedding and I told her that he didn’t. Finally after trying to figure things out for thirty minutes I convinced him to take the phone and talk with her because she’s very worried about him. He did. Then he told her he never wants to see his parents again, and that he is done with them entirely. I’ve never heard him talk like that and I was getting worried for him. He loves his family a lot and no matter what they’ve done he’s always stayed polite, nice, and done what they’ve wanted. And now this?
How confusing. I want Francesco to be happy. That has always been my priority. Often though his happiness is in direct conflict with mine. We’re literally opposites so most of the time we don’t want the same thing. It’s very difficult, and confusing, but I try to make him my priority. I’m not trying to make myself sound like a saint. I’m not easy with my concessions, I make it known that I’m not happy with things and sometimes I’m an asshole. “No, I do not want to raise my children Catholic, No, I do not want get married in the church, no I don’t want to spend time with your friends who keep telling me how many girls you used to fuck, or your parents who tell me that I’m a horrible person with no manners.” In the end I do what is best for him but it doesn’t mean that I fucking like it. I do not like it. The point of this long paragraph is that my life would be awesome without his parents. However, it’s not good for him so regardless of how much they suck, I had to fix it.
I had to be sneaky. Now, he always reads this blog so he is going to see this and think, “You sneaky bastard.” And I’d just like to say, “Suck it, I did it for you.” So, the first thing I did was call his sister when he went to the bathroom. I told her that he didn’t know I was calling so please don’t mention it and I told her to call his parents and start fixing things with them. While she did that I would work on calming him down and hopefully get him to turn around. I hung up and erased the call. She agreed and started making the necessary phone calls to calm down the parents. Now, Francesco is stubborn. Incredibly stubborn so I knew I couldn’t tell him to do anything because he would do exactly what he wanted anyways. So, all I could do was help him see that it wasn’t that big of a deal, that fighting with your parents is normal, that I’ve done it many times, and that it had to happen at one point in his life. I teased him and made him laugh, and reminded him that old men can be like animals so while his father loved him maybe he didn’t know how to express it in a productive way. “In his frustration he acted in anger” I said. I reminded him that if things were turned around and it were me he’d tell me the same things, and he’d want me to go back and fix things. One hour of this, of story telling of the millions of times I’d been “disowned” and us laughing about his Hulk temper, he decided to turn around. He went pee again and I called his sister to say, “We’re heading back.” And she said, “Okay, I’ve talked with them and they’ve calmed down. Things should be fine.” Then I deleted the call. You’re welcome, Francesco.
We headed back to Cassino and I’d like to add that it takes a lot of character and strength to return to your parents house after you’ve had a fight where your dad tells you to never come back again. I’m a much, much more stubborn and I wouldn’t have returned for at least six months. It really takes a lot to swallow ones pride, and go back and try to talk only a few hours later. I have a lot of respect for him for being that kind of person who can humble himself for the greater good.
When we returned the mother opened the door with swollen red eyes. The dad was on the phone in the office. We walked slowly in the dark apartment-no, I’m not making this shit up to make it sound more dramatic, seriously, all of the fucking lights were off and the house was dark as shit-and sat in the living room in a little triangle. They stared at each other for ten minutes before they both started speaking at the same time. The mom screaming, “You cancelled the wedding!” And Francesco responding, “I was just mad for a minute, I didn’t mean it.” Then the focus almost instantly shifted to me. The mom, tears in her eyes, “I don’t have any problems with you. Yes, in the beginning I did, but now I don’t.” I nodded and said, “Yes, okay, but when you are not welcoming to someone it is very difficult for them to feel comfortable in your home. I don’t feel comfortable here. That’s not my doing.” Then she said she wasn’t trying to be mean because she introduced me as Francesco’s girlfriend instead of his wife. “I didn’t see a point in telling people you were already married when we’re planning a wedding.” I nodded. “That’s fine, but you can’t do whatever you want without an explaination. I think it’s normal for me to be offended for that, especially given your protest of our marriage in the first place.” Then she shook her head frantically and told me that I’m offended by stupid things. The dad at this point had stumbled into the living room and was watching us argue. Then he finally jumped in, “We don’t have a problem with you! You just sit there like a timid animal and you never talk! You can’t act like that in THIS FAMILY. You have obvious self-esteem issues and problems with yourself” Francesco jumped in at this point and told them that I am not Italian and that my culture is more reserved. I don’t scream when I talk, I’m not passionate, and my rules of conduct are different. They ignored this entirely. Then they did that Italian thing where all of them started yelling at the same time. The parents both yelling at me about how I have to act like a different person and learn how to be Italian in their home, and Franceso yelling over the top of them about how I can’t “be Italian” because I’m not Italian. Just like he can’t be American and it’s not possible to ask that of someone. This went on for about five minutes. Then the parents both addressed me again about how I have to change who I am and learn how to act like a different person. At this point I saw that I had no option but to say, “Okay.” And apologize for being rude and difficult. Ouch, my pride.
We went out that night with his friends and I drank too much and then barfed my guts out because I’m awesome and that’s how I deal with stress. The next day we woke up and Francesco voted NOT for Berlusconi, and then we drove home. When we left everyone seemed happy, content, better. The dad, who hasn’t really called Francesco since our marriage in the US has been calling and chatting about wine. Things do seem better, Francesco is really happy and seems to feel like everything is fixed, fine, the boundaries have been set and life is good.
I’m feeling very confused and very heavy. All of this “happiness” is my responsibility now and it depends on my ability to change who I am and become someone else. Rationally, it’s not even possible for me to change the core of who I am. And, I’ve always liked who I am, I’ve always remained true to myself, and prided myself on my strong character in the past. Asking me to change who I am is crossing many of my personal boundaries, and forcing me to question who I am. But sometimes things have to be destroyed before they can get be rebuilt.
To Be Continued On: Finding Common Ground With Italian In-Laws
It’s no secret that my in-laws do not like me. Why? I have no idea. I mean, I know I’m weird, but they hated me way before they had a chance to get to know me. Given the way that they pronounce my nationality, like a disease, saying it to others as though they’re apologizing to God, tells me that maybe it has something to do with where I’m from. Now, I’d also like to say that I know most people dislike their in-laws. I know that I’m not the only person in all the world with this problem, which is my purpose for writing this, I feel like other people can relate to it. Also, my point of doing this blog wasn’t to document how “beautiful” Italy is. Everyone knows it’s beautiful. I wanted to write an honest blog about what it’s really like living here as a foreign person. If I just post photos of pretty buildings and great food I’d only be telling half of the story. If that’s your thing, there are loads of tourism blogs about Italy that don’t document things like neo-nazis or evil mother-in-laws.
So, anyways, I’ve been with Francesco for over three years and since the beginning we have had a lot of problems with his parents. They objected to our marriage, our relationship, and me. I assumed at some point they’d be won-over by my charm, and by charm I mean, “she’s cute in a baby-in-a-head-shaping-helmet” kind of way. That did not happen and in many ways things have only gotten worse.
Two weeks ago, my husband and I were in his hometown visiting his parents when his mother took it upon herself to introduce me as her sons “girlfriend,” followed by an explaination to my husband that she doesn’t recognize our marriage. This. Pissed. Me. Off. In three years this is the first time I’ve ever felt compelled to say something to her. So I emailed her because I am super, incredibly, stupid. I’m not going to paste the exact email here but it was something like this:
“Look, clearly if you still have a problem with me after three years you’re always going to have a problem with me. I have no idea what you want. You’ve never liked me and have made sure that I’m aware of that. The tension in the family isn’t good for anyone. It’s not good for you guys, or Francesco, and I don’t want to cause problems in his life. He’s in a really difficult position. I’m aware that you would have prefered he married an Italian woman, or one of his ex’s (whom his family is still close with), however he chose me. Why? No idea. But he did. Seriously, what do you want from me? Do you want me to pack up my stuff and return to the United States and leave Francesco? Is that the goal here?”
Of course, my purpose was to address their problems with me and the “less than ideal” situation, and ask what the family hoped to accomplish by reminding me every other weekend that I am not their first, second, or third choice of daughter-in-law. This is not what the mother took from it. Of the five paragraphs I wrote the only part she paid attention to was, “return to the United States” where she decided that I’m going to leave Francesco and divorce him as an “American does.” Her response back to me was something like this:
“I have no idea what you’re talking about. You’ve imagined everything because you are mentally unstable. Maybe you should look at how you’re acting, and stop hiding inside of yourself like a hedgehog.”
Where I responded internally: Oh b&$&, just wait until I publish a book! Just kidding, that would make me crazy (because there is no way anyone is going to publish me). But seriously, just wait.
Suprisingly, her response also pissed off my husband because she called me a dellusional liar, which she can’t do in this particular case because he was there everytime she threw a tantrum forbidding him to marry me, screaming “why would you be with an AMERICAN,” and telling his friends that whatever they do to “find a nice Italian girl, not an American,” like her son did. Not to mention, she expressed her disapproval to the entire village, which of course came back to us. So, as nuts as I really am, I didn’t hallucinate the fact that she hates me and the idea of our cross-cultural union (because it’s 1825), nor did I hallucinate the few times she’s poked my breasts and told me how incredibly unattractive I am because I don’t have huge knockers. True story. So, my point is that I did not make this shit up. My husband called her to say, “My wife did not make this shit up.” Where she responded (seriously), “She left the table during lunch.” What does that even mean? Let me explain.
Leaving The Table Is Like Announcing That You’ve Eaten A Neighborhood Child: Important Cultural Lesson
Let’s say you’re sitting around a lunch table with guests and your baby starts screaming to the high-heavens, or, in my case, your dog feels the urge to make leg sex with everyone, followed by incessant barking, and then food thievery.
The polite thing to do is:
A) Keep eating. Smile. Drink more wine, and tune out everyone yelling at your dog to “stop” and “BASTA!” Embrace the fact that your screaming baby/obnoxious dog is the center of attention. Feel the love. Own it.
B) Take the disruptive child/dog into another room and let everyone eat in peace.
We all know that in the United States, Britain, France, etc, choice “A” would make you the rudest fucking person in the history of manners, EVER. However, I’ve recently learned that choice “B” is worse than committing murder in Francesco’s family.
Now, I know what you’re thinking, you’re wondering, “How does telling you that you’re not welcome in their family have anything to do with getting up from a table?” It doesn’t. Which is what makes this woman a genius because she is using a classic red herring move. Touchè devil woman. Now, I have to make the next move but what I really want to do is disappear.Or, I can use her own method against her and reply back, “Goats drink goats milk in the spring . You ate an orange once. Eminem. Caffe Latté!”
I’m trying to figure out what to do next so I asked everyone for advice because clearly I can’t trust myself. An Italian friend of mine said that her behavior is standard for a small southern village, and that she will continue to use a “paranoid, and insane,” strategy to try to take the higher ground politically.” I am well-versed in this behavior, since I attended an American Junior High School, but ain’t no body got time for that! I talked with a few American friends who said that I should simply stop going to their home for a while because the constant negativity is causing harm and strain. I have great friends and I value their advice but honestly I don’t want to do that either. I don’t want to play her “strategy” game, and I don’t want to avoid the problems for another decade. My goal was to address the fact that there are issues and try to resolve it so that maybe one day my kids won’t have to grow up with the same tension (yes, I’m stupid, stupid, stupid!). Though, I do realize that if I couldn’t win them over in three years, it’s not going to happen, ever.
I’ve tried compliments, helping the mom clean and cook more, doing whatever they tell me, I’ve tried everything that Francesco has told me to do to improve the relationship but it hasn’t worked. I’m not the kind of person who normally places blame on other people (but my husband has assured me that this really isn’t me), nor am I the kind of person who cares if people like me or not (because duh, everyone does), but this is my husband’s family. I really want them to like me and it hurts a lot that they don’t (whine, whine, whine). However, I’m aware that you cannot force open a closed mind. If a person isn’t used to cultural differences, there is nothing that anyone can do. I know that because my own father is racist, homophobic, and all kinds of closed-minded. Can’t change them.
So the question is: Do I keep going there, pretending that everything is fine, tune out their criticism and smile, knowing they all want me to overdose on gasoline, or do I politely step aside and avoid the tension for a while, or do I respond to the the mother-in-law’s hedgehog email and hope that if we go back and fourth enough times we’ll come to some resolve?
Being a grown up is hard.
small town near Cassino. I took off my wedges. Old lady yelled at me and chased me down the street screaming something about my feet breaking.
There is a phenomina in Italy known as Mimmoni. If you look it up you’ll find articles written by journalists, psychologists, historians, sociologists, all trying to cleverly explain a very simple concept: Parents, especially mothers, in Italy smother their children and spoil them rotten. We all know the results of spoiled children. The outcome is always the same in every country, and well depicted in Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. Imagine a nation of those little brats. I’ve always known that Italian families are close, but I didn’t realize they were insane (ly) close until I started dating Francesco.
Now, the dynamic of my boyfriend’s family is every bit as dysfunctional as my American family, only different. The Italian parents relationship from afar, borders on stalking, and harassment, but in close proximity it seems like they “love” their children with incessant nagging. Watching an Italian mother with her child is like watching a hen peck a worm to death. It’s slow, and cruel. Eventually the worm stops wiggling, goes limp and accepts that it’s going to be devoured. At least, this is what I’ve witnessed.
I’ve been dating Francesco for three years now, and though I still have hope, I imagine at some point I’ll throw myself over a balcony in his families presence. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t dislike them. In fact I’m often excited to see them when we go to Cassino (a small town between Rome and Napoli) to visit. However, the excitement lasts about fifteen minutes before I quickly regret my decision to go, and I spend the rest of the weekend fantasizing about rocking myself in a corner.
We spent Easter, “Pasqua”, with Francesco’s parents two weeks ago. We arrived late and went straight to bed. In the morning we awoke at seven because Oliver, our poodle, was dropping toys on my head. He does this when he’s had enough of sleeping and wants to explore the world. I’d love to have his kind of enthuisiasm. Francesco and I stumbled into la cucina as we always do to make coffee, where in fact I made coffee, and he chose to drink tar out of a thimble. After, cups in hand, we settled down in the living room onto a couch to wake up.
Enter Francesco’s father.
“Bippoty booba mamma mia bibotty bobbity boopa, da boopa” he screamed in Italian. I didn’t understand any of it because I wasn’t mentally awake. I chugged my coffee while F and the pappa argued. When the volume grew louder than a New York nightclub, Oliver ran and hid under the couch. My brain turned back on and I tuned into the heated discussion.
“Italians we a do NOT drink the coffee before we make the shower, and make a the pee! We make wash the face, and make the makeup, and make the dress” Said the pappa.
“Okay pappa.” Answered F, who then continued drinking his tar thimble, and tried to tune is father out.
“No! No!” The pappa continued, “It is because you take the American girl for a girl, in America they do like this! In Italia we do not make like this!”
I realized that I was being accused of corrupting Francesco’s propriety, or rather, what his father believed was propriety but hasn’t existed since Tolstoy wrote Anna Karenina. I wanted to explain to him that outside of his village humans no longer wear ball gowns to have tea in the afternoon.
“Maybe it be a generation thing? Maybe now we are young people and no we make like this, maybe we do different”. I tried to say in Italian.
“NO! NO! Nobody they do like this! Only you!” he used the plural form of you, meaning “you guys”. I wanted to tell him that we’ve had dozens of Francesco’s friends stay with us, and all of them took their coffee in the morning before showering, but I thought his head might blow up, so I remained silent (everything you do or say will be used against you in the court of Italian judgement).
The pappa took his seat in front of the television and turned his attention to the soccer match, and we snuck out of the living room to get ready and leave as quickly as possible.
After getting ready we walked towards the front door but was stopped by Francesco’s mother who wanted to know exactly what we would be doing that day. As F informed her she listened, and looked him all over.
“The shoes, they are dirty!” She yelled in Francesco’s face. We all looked down at his shoes, gray converse. They were a little dirty because it had been raining for weeks and he’d been wearing them outside, but they were by no means filthy or old. The pappa heard this and rushed into the kitchen to join in. Both the mamma, and the pappa were screaming simultaneously and gesturing wildly in Francesco’s face about how dirty his shoes were, about how trashy he had become, and about how irresponsible he was. Then the mamma and the pappa turned to me.
“MISTY!” Said the pappa, “LOOK AT THE SHOES THEY ARE DIRTY! HE HAS THE NEED TO BUY THEM TODAY NEW SHOES!”
I looked at Francesco, but he had clearly left his body, and turned back to mimmo, “okay, we will do that”. I had given the wrong response.
“YOU SAY OKAY! YOU ALWAYS SAY OKAY! SHE ALWAYS SAY OKAY!” the pappa yelled to the mamma.
I turned to Francesco and asked in English.
“What the hell do they want me to say?!”
“They want you to scream too. They want you to say that you always tell me that I’m terrible and dirty but I don’t listen, and they want you to start screaming at me with them.”
“Uhm, over shoes? Seriously? No. I’m not giving myself a heart attack over shoes”.
He shrugged and told them we were going to buy new shoes and we left. We walked through the small city going from shoe store to shoe store trying to find something he liked. All the while I kept thinking, “how polite do I need to be at this point?”. We’re getting married, I can’t get away from them. Will I become like Francesco and leave my body when they begin to speak? Will my children do the same? I’ve never been the type to run away, neither inside myself nor any other way, and why should I start now? Suddenly, like the odd-one-out in middle school, I felt bullied.
It started to rain as we walked slowly from store to store silently. The gray skies added to my foul mood, the water dripped down the old walls wetting the love-letter grafitti. In Italy one doesn’t spray paint walls to claim territory, rather to profess lust. “Ti amo, amore mio, per tutta la vita,” is written next to an old alley full of trash.
I started mentally going over all of the criticisms that we have received from them in the past few visits: I am too pale, they don’t like how I do my makeup, I wear too much black, they don’t like how I do my hair, our dog is ill mannered, we are too relaxed, marrying before buying a house will result in our children’s homelessness and thus we know nothing of the world, I’m too thin, my breasts are not big enough, and the list goes on, and on, and on. A tinge of anger hit me as I thought, “who the hell do they think they are!?” Then, a thought occured to me and I burst out laughing. At first it was nervous laughter, but then it became maniacal. Suddenly, in the rain, wet and defeated, I remembered that I write, publicly, and they’re simply giving me fodder for the rest of my life. Misty-1, Them-200.
We returned back to their apartment to get ready and went off to a nearby city to meet friends for aperitivo-a cocktail and snack before dinner.
At the bar (actually a cafe, but they are called “bar” here) my boyfriends extremely flamboyant, and excited best friend greeted us with the standard kiss on each cheek, and then thrust a prosecco in each of our hands. We toasted. We smoked a cigarette. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Next thing I know I’m drunk, surrounded by fifteen Italians outside smoking. I started dancing with my boyfriend’s friend Pietro in the middle of the cafe. This signifies that I’m well on my way to throwing up if I don’t calm down. Just when I started to worry we left for dinner.
At the restaurant we were joined by many random humans I didn’t know. A roman who kept staring at me, a pregnant French girl and her drunk Italian boyfriend, a few Italians, and someone named “I drive” who was way too enthusiastic, and for me that meant “coked up”. Antipasto was ordered, a mix of raw and cooked fish, octobpus, oysters, and patè, followed by some form of fish I can’t remember. It was gross and had almonds on it. Whole almonds. I went to the bathroom to fix my makeup, within five minutes my boyfriend came looking for me. He often does this when we go out, panics, and comes into the bathroom to make sure I haven’t been murdered or raped. I assured him I was simply doing my eyeliner, and he left as “I drive” came in. In Italy, it’s very common for men and women to share bathrooms or at least the “common” area where you wash your hands.
“So you want to do some cocain?” he asked.
“No thank you.” I replied.
He pulled out a massive vile of white powder from his front pocket.
I was right, he was coked up. Nobody in their thirties are enthuisiastic about life unless there is coke involved, unfortunately. I went back to the table and informed my boyfriend that everyone was cracked out. I don’t mind, I worked in a tranny night club as a bartender in college long enough to be immune to anything and everything, but my boyfriend is more pure, and naive than I am. Everything freaks him out, and he forbid me to talk to captain coke for the rest of the evening. We left the restaurant after everyone took their last liquor shot of grappa or limoncello (always served after coffee), and we took to a piazza to continue drinking.
The piazza was full of young, drunk people as it often is during holidays when all of the youth return to the city. Otherwise, the city reminds me of a prune, all wrinkled, dried up, and void of life. I talked with random friends of Francesco trying to say as little as possible and still appear charming. I have nothing in common with any of this friends and it’s best if I simply do my duty as a barbie doll, smile, nod, smile, nod, repeat. This way I come off as useless, but at least attractive and it seems to be what they all want from me. When I talk too much I get into trouble here. It’s very different from my life in the U.S. where my bold, forward personality was appreciated, and my sardonic humor was accepted. Here, I’m a freak, and I’ll always be a freak, though I’m pretty so I can get away with simply existing without thought or communication, it’s disgusting really. It’s times like this, when I’m surrounded by happy people that I realize how unbelievably alone I am.
The next day at Francesco’s parents we awoke for Easter, told everyone, “auguri” and dashed outside with Oliver to breathe a little before Francesco’s sister arrived. When we left the mamma was in the kitchen banging pots and pans and screaming at the pappa. Outside was dead, nobody was in the streets and nothing was open. We smoked a cigarette on dead grass while Oliver peed on every inch of the surface, and trotted along merrily. We watched him lovingly, while we held hands and exhaled in preparation for the hours, and eating to come.
At dinner we sat at the round table in the dining room while Francesco’s mother stood over us holding a jar of holy water. I was informed earlier that it was not for vampires as I had assumed. She dipped some sort of leaves in it and splashed the water on all of us saying some sort of prayer, then splashed extra on me while she said, “babtismo”, still annoyed apparently that I am not catholic. We laughed while water dripped down our faces. After, she brought course after course of food: three appetizors, two pasta dishes, three main courses plus sides, followed by three or four different desserts. We ate until we felt sick, as usual for the holidays in Italy. After, I played with Francesco’s neice while he napped before the long trip home. Leila, his four year old neice, after seeing her grandmother bless people, was inspired to bless Oliver who couldn’t understand why this tiny human kept throwing water on him and screaming “santo, sprito…etc.” He hid under the bed. Leila and I drew together, I drew trees and she drew crosses, until her parents came in to take her home. I tried to help the mother clean up, but she shooed me away. As I walked out of the kitchen I told her that lunch was wonderful and thanked her for cooking.
“It was not so good” she said while blushing, “you don’t have to thank me.” I paused at the door realizing that all of her neurosis comes from the need to please, to be perfect, and her awkwardness comes from never believing she can achieve that. At least, in this, we have something in common.
On the four hour drive from Cassino to Florence I tried to sleep, but couldn’t. I kept thinking over and over again, “is this going to be my life forever? The superficiality, the bella figura, the need to be nice to people who are in general terrible to me?” Then I remembered again that I write. And I calmly fell asleep on Francesco’s lap while he drove.