A Woman Like Her
In my childhood home, squished between my parents’ bedroom closet and bathroom, sat my mom’s vanity table. My dad made it for her in high school - one of the only assignments that he completed. It was small and white with an array of makeup and perfumes. I spent hours sitting on the floor watching her get ready to leave the house. She combed her hair with purpose, applied her lipstick and mascara with precision, and selected a pair of earrings that_ spoke to her._
_Domenica, a woman should never leave the house without earrings and mascara. _She would say that to me, many times throughout my life.
_Ma, we’re making sauce, you’re not even leaving the garage, _I replied once in a fit of giggles.
We made sauce every September, whenever the tomatoes were at their best. My entire family would come over and spend the day. Each adult had a job to do and each child played the role of gopher, as in _Go get me this. Pour me a shot of Sambuca. Go turn on the espresso_. My mom would walk outside holding a tray of espresso and homemade biscotti wearing a new dress, full makeup, and freshly painted nails.
Meanwhile, all of my Zia’s and Zio’s were in their oldest clothes and shoes; they would not risk wearing their “good clothes''. Not my mom, _every day is an occasion Domenica - always dress with confidence. Wear something that you wouldn’t mind being caught dead in. What if you got into an accident, would you want the paramedics to see you in your pajamas? _
My mom was serious when it came to how the family presented themselves both in appearance and manners. Asking for something without a _please _following question or a _thank you _following the receipt of said item would lead to a five-minute lecture. Getting up from the dinner table without taking your plate to the sink or washing dishes (while the men sat around talking), meant no treats or dessert. Going to a family function without kissing every Zia and Zio _hello_ (and later _goodbye_) led to being yelled at in front of everyone.
Mom always had a calm, warm, and welcoming front. She walked with confidence and poise even when my dad got drunk and spat hateful words her way. Even when some strange man showed up at the house looking for my dad. No matter how big, scary, or intimidating these men were, she would invite them in for a coffee and biscotti to wait for my dad to return. She didn’t break a sweat.
My friends would come over for dinner and _oooh_ and _awww_ over not only how stylish and beautiful my mom was but how much effort she put into making dinner. If she made pasta with meatballs, she would make the pasta from scratch. She would cook the sauce from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. She would boil rapini and then fry it in garlic and olive oil. She would make olive bread and a salad. The table was always filled with dishes.
On the many occasions that my dad came home bruised, bloody, and beaten, she’d send me and my older sister Danielle to our rooms while she iced, wiped, and stitched up whatever pieces of my dad’s skin required. When the police came around, my mom would tell them she had no idea where her husband was - which was often true. Dad would leave for weeks or months, always returning as though nothing had happened.
She only ever lost her cool with Danielle. They were constantly at each other’s throats. Danielle just HAD to have the last word, just had to stay out late, or bring a boy home and fool around downstairs. I think she enjoyed getting caught by my mom. I remember the evening before Danielle left the house for good, her screams shook the entire main floor.
_Why do you let him come back time after time? I’m not an idiot, even if Domenica is! He’s a drunk, an addict, and a gambler. He’s a drug runner and a loser! How can you let him and his goons come into this house? YOUR CHILDREN LIVE HERE. Domenica is always with him, looking up to him like he’s some kind of saint because you do! You’re a weak coward! _
From my seat on the stairs, I heard the unmistakable sound of a palm hitting skin. I’d heard it before in the middle of the night.
_Your father provides for this family, this house, everything in your closet, the food in the fridge, where do you think it comes from? _My mom spoke in a whisper. _He takes care of his family and I take care of you and your sister. That’s the way this family works. If you don’t like it, GET OUT OF MY HOUSE!_
And she did. After she left, my role as the easiest daughter also became the only daughter. As the only daughter, I got all of the attention; especially when my dad wasn’t around. Without Danielle, there were no distractions for my mom. I used to be able to sneak _my_ boyfriend into and out of the house, I could lie about studying at the library or sleeping over at a friend’s house. I could get away with anything because Danielle always took over the spotlight.
For the record, I’m not an idiot. I knew exactly what my dad was involved in. I knew about the drugs (both the taking and selling of them), and the shady business deals, I knew about him stealing money from his “boss”. I knew everything. I was named after the top-of-the-pyramid-boss-man for Christ’s sake!
The only difference between me and my sister was that I just took it for what it was. I never got involved in my parents’ fights, or their business. I accepted who they were. I respected my mother for putting up with him so much. I respected how fiercely she protected her family, and how loyal she was. I respected her for keeping us safe every single time my dad fucked up. What Danielle saw as weakness, I saw as strength.
Whenever my dad was around, and sober, he was kind, smart, funny, and affectionate. Always looking at my mom like she was the only woman in the world, taking us out for ice cream, and spending time with us. When he was high or afraid, his demons took over. He was nasty and abusive, especially to my mother. My dad did not take Danielle moving out well. The evening she left he drove around all of Woodbridge looking for her, knocking on doors and causing scenes.
Around 3 in the morning, my cell phone rang. It was my dad. He needed me to pick him up at the police station. He’d gotten a DUI and his car was impounded. On the drive home, he sat in the passenger seat, staring out the window and avoiding eye contact. Like a child who knows they’re in trouble.
_I just don’t understand why she left, _he whispered to himself.
_Dad, you know exactly why she left._
_Then why haven’t you left yet? Why is your mom still here? _he snapped back.
_Because I know you're never going to change and I’ve accepted it. This is who you are. You’re a drug addict who works for a second-rate mob - in Woodbridge of all places. Nothing we do or say will change you. You’re lucky you have a woman like mom, no one else would put up with this. _I paused, trying to pick out the perfect words. I sat up straight, like I’d seen my mom do so many times. _I love you both, and Danielle but when I’m ready to start my own life and family, I’ll be on my way out. For now, it looks like you’re going to need a chauffeur and I have a feeling it’s going to be me. _I nudged him and smiled.
He looked over at me, sheepishly, _I promise Domenica, no more drugs. No more alcohol. _
Maybe I am an idiot.
I actually believed him.