I come from a traditional Italian Roman Catholic family, so religion was a huge part of our upbringing. My mother’s sole primary general education, along with all her siblings and her eldest son of 9 years, had been acquired through a Catholic school system in Sicily, Italy. Attending a Catholic school system was not only traditional in Sicily, but it was also mandatory by tradition. When my family and I migrated to the United States in 1977, having left our home country and being unaware of any Catholic school system, my mother was adamant that my siblings and I would immediately attend Sunday Mass at a local Catholic church in Buffalo, New York. My parents however, would never attend. As a child, I never understood why she thought it so important that her children attend Sunday Mass or why she forced us to attend CCD (Confraternity Of Christian Doctrine) class. I remember distinctively questioning my mom as to why she was so adamant that her children became educated practicing Catholics, while she showed no such commitment.
Please understand, my mother was still very much Catholic and her faith has never faltered. Her marriage to my father was somewhat arranged and forced upon her by her traditional family values.
You see, in those days it was believed that once you were engaged to a man it was the equivalent of being married under the eyes of God.
Prior to her engagement she lived a very sheltered life under the constant protection and eyes of her family. She would tell me stories of her teen years in Sicily and how much fun she had engaging in activities with her siblings and friends. She said she was never allowed to do anything alone without at least one or all of her siblings present. Sometimes she wasn’t even aloud outdoors on her front porch without her father by her side.
Hearing these stories made me wish our family was just as close or even partially as close as she described. If you ask her she would tell you that although their intensions were good, she believes that her family’s constant watchful eye was unhealthy. She was very obedient and faithful to her family, their traditions, her husband and children under the Doctrine of Catechism.
My mother was 18 years of age and had no interest in men nor marriage at the time that she was introduced to my father.
My father whom lied about his age to her entire family was 32 when they engaged.
Soon after their engagement my parents moved into a very small apartment in Italy. They were very poor and didn’t have much to live off of. My mother quickly began to discover the many lies my father had told her and her family regarding his background. She also discovered his abnormal ungodly behavior. She had confided in her eldest sister coming to her with concern and fear that my father was not some one she should marry. My aunt believed my mother and made it her mission to reveal the truth about my father to my grandparents in the hope that this would relieve her sisters commitment to my father.
Unfortunately, aside from the beliefs my mothers family harbored on engagement as stated above, they also believed that once you are engaged it was for better or worse just as in marriage.
This meant that my mother was morally and physically committed to this engagement. Being obedient lead my mother to premarital pregnancy and according to tradition she had no choice but to marry my father despite her disapproval of him.
My mother unemployed and pregnant, spent most of her time at her parents home where she felt safe, supported, welcomed and loved.
They now had 3 children, myself being the youngest and only girl. Although things were tough on my mother, she found security and stability within such a godly family near by to support her through her trials with my father.
I’m uncertain of what it was that propelled my parents to migrate to the United States but when they did things changed for the worse.
My mother no longer had a second home as she had in Italy with her parents. She and my father rented the upstairs home of my uncles two family house in Buffalo. With my uncle, his wife and 3 children residing in the first floor of the house, my mother thought she would be safe here as well. As it turned out she wasn’t as safe as she had hoped to be.
With less family around to keep a close watch, my fathers behavior and alcoholism increased in severity.
My youngest brother had arrived amidst the abuse my mother was enduring. My father lost many jobs, friends and eventually we moved to Massachusetts.
At a very young age my siblings and I had began to become accustomed to feeling like outcasts in society due to my fathers uncontrollable behavior.
I was 5 when we moved out of New York to Massachusetts and this was were my mother enrolled me into CCD.
I recall being so upset about the move because we always had family around. Here, there was no family.
With no outside distractions or intervention, I began to take notice of my fathers behavior.
One night in particular that has always haunted me into my adult years was the night I heard my father raping my mother.
I did not understand what was happening but I understood enough to know by the sounds of what I was hearing that this was not normal.
My mother seemed to have been in a lot of pain. She was crying and pleading with my father to stop.
She kept crying out, “I don’t want to please stop”). I heard her cries over my fathers grunting yet calm voice, “Come on just lye still and let me do this.” The sound of him struggling to restrain her was what initially woke me out of my sleep. Hearing the grunts and cries,
my instincts had me calling out to my parents, while my fear kept me frozen and seated upright in my bed.
I was in a bedroom directly beside my parents bedroom. I shared that bedroom with my youngest brother who woke in his bed at the sound of my calls.
He was so young he has no memory of this at all as far as I know.
I called out, “I’m thirsty, can you get me a drink?” I remember feeling so anxious, fearful yet, compelled to do something to make whatever was happening in my parents bedroom stop.
It didn’t stop until he was finished and I never got my glass of water.
I spent the rest of that night curled up in a ball in my bed so frightened, confused and worried about my mom.
I realized later it wasn’t the first or last time this happened.
As I grew older their were plenty more incidents of violence and alcoholism in our home to witness. There was nothing ungodly or inhumane that my father wouldn’t or hadn’t done. He did everything from exposing himself to stealing from markets to beating his wife and children.
This left me with the inability to focus or concentrate on anything other than fear of what was to come. I struggled in school and had difficulty making friends. I used art and my imagination as a release. I remember going to the back yard of our apartment to get away from whatever sadness was happening in our home.
There was this huge valley in the back left side of our apartment that I would sit at the top of and imagine I was somewhat of a Snow White. I would sing and imagine that something magical was happening. As I got older I would rely on my creativity as an escape.
I danced, sang and decorated my bedroom with images, ribbons as well as barrow my families clothing to express my self through fashion.
I was never a rebellious child by any means. In fact, if you were to question my mother on my behavior she would say that I was an extremely well behaved most obedient child. She tells a story of a very quiet, soft spoken, little 4 year old girl who would come to her mother with her little hands out in front of her whispering, ” I’m sorry mama I know I was wrong, smack my hands.” Though I may have been obedient, I was also extremely inquisitive. She would also tell you that it wasn’t until I hit 16 years of age that I suddenly became very rebellious and that I would not listen!