“I’d like to teach the world to sing…I’d like to buy the world a…”
Nope. I’m still getting this wrong.
“It’s Miller time!”
Okay, now we’re getting somewhere. The pop. The fizz. That cold sigh as the top releases, and you know you’re about to drink a cold one. That’s what I do. My whole purpose is to make thirsty people, hot people, even (some) desperate people as happy as possible.
I produce the happiest sound ever heard by most adults of a certain age. Not the glug-glug of greedy slurping. Not the clink as the glass slams down on the table. Not even the satisified, “Ahhhhh” after a long swig.
Nope. I have a better job than that. I’m the reason for the satisfying crack when a seal breaks. I’m the reason your hand doesn’t sting. When you’re struggling to make those manly hands work, I get the job done in one smooth move.
Yeah, I’m the best. I know it. It’s not bragging if it’s true.
And when you’re covered in sweat, with a tongue like sandpaper, and clothes sticking to every inch of you, I’m your best friend. You need me. You’re desperate for me. You’d do anything for me.
Wouldn’t you? You know you would. If I’m not around, you can’t have what you want. And I think that deserves it’s own theme song. Something that shows how much you love me, want me, need me.
Maybe something like this…
You know you love me. And why shouldn’t you?
I’m your trusty bottle opener.
Available here – the bottle opener with an ego bigger than itself but that always gets the job done. It’s not bragging if it’s true, right?
I see you there. I know your footsteps. The murmur of your voice as you pass by. But you don’t see me, do you?
Whatever you need, it’s always there. I don’t complain, though. I know my job. Give ’em what they want. Give ’em what they need. That’s me.
You don’t even notice when things start to run low, do you? I do, though.
I can’t complain too much. I know I’m the most sought after in the entire office. People don’t know why they crave me. Maybe they shouldn’t. Maybe it’s enough to have a need and know where to go to fill it. Maybe I serve a greater purpose that way.
Ah, hell, is a little gratitude that hard, though? Is it so difficult to acknowledge me? Nod your head. Smile. Make eye contact. Anything.
Bunch of ungrateful babies.
No, they don’t notice me until something runs out. Then they’re shocked. Annoyed. Pissed. Even worse, they leave. They run out to get what they need. Damn it, give me a minute, and I’ll get you what you want. Don’t I always? Have I ever really let you down?
Jerks! Run out, see if I care! You’ll be back. Everyone comes back. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow. But in a few days, you’ll wander mindlessly by with your hand out for what only I can give you.
How do I know? How can I be so damned sure?
Because I’m the office candy dish, that’s why…
If your candy dish, office or otherwise, doesn’t have quite the same attitude as mine, maybe it’s time to o something a little different.
The last words I ever spoke to her were, “I wish I’d never been born.”
Even in my adolescent arrogance, I saw my words slice her open and cut through her pristine exterior. At the time, I was glad for it. All I’d ever wanted from her was a reaction.
Throughout my childhood, she’d been cold, distant, impossible to connect with. She was never Mom or Mommy, always Mother. Even my dad called her Mother.
She ruled our home. All decisions were hers and final. There was no negotiation or discussion. Do what you’re told or face the consequences.
The consequences were as steely as the woman who gave birth to me. I was never physically hurt but the scars on my heart and mind are more like scar tissue. A hardened damaged part of me that will never fade.
But those words, flung in her direction, as I made a grand exit, complete with slammed door, felt good. I was right. Vindicated. She’d never wanted me.
I stayed away for the weekend. Afraid to go home. Afraid to run away for good. Everyone knew where I was. Pete had been my best friend since first grade. If you couldn’t find me, look for him. I expected my father, maybe even my aunt, to come looking for me. No one expected police officers.
My first reaction was anger. How dare they send the cops? Then fear. Maybe they weren’t here for me. Maybe something happened to Pete’s brother. I quickly wished the thought away. I’d rather them take me to jail than bring sorrow to my friend’s life. I couldn’t foresee they brought sadness and guilt I might never recover from.
I don’t remember much after they said, “She didn’t make it.” I hid away deep inside myself, in a place where no one could touch me and nothing could hurt.
I came to days after the funeral when I found my father passed out in vomit and whiskey. The bottle loose in his hand. Picking it up, I considered swigging down the rest but someone needed to be sober for the meeting with Mother’s lawyer, Mr. Reilly. Because of course she had one. Of course she’d neatly planned, like a general readying for battle, for her own demise.
We sat in her study. Maybe in other family’s the study was a man’s haven, but not in mine. The dark room was Mother’s domain. I’d only been allowed to enter for lectures and the doling out of consequences. It wasn’t a place that filled me with fond memories.
“Tom, your mother left something specifically for you. She left it in my keeping about a year ago with a quick addition just before she died.”
A year before had been my first act of defiance against her, yelling, cursing, and leaving behind a slammed door. Just before she died had been my last. My face burned with shame and remorse.
He handed me a box and an envelope. Of course, they were both labeled. “Read first. Open second.” Even in death, she was directing my every movement. For once I cherished the control, happy to do as she wanted this one last time.
Her bold, florid handwriting took my breath away. This was her. As my eyes moved down the page, I heard her voice in my mind.
My darling Tom,
I know you find this hard to believe but I love you, utterly and completely. Since the moment Doctor Geffen told me I was expecting a child, I cherished the very thought of you. You do not like or appreciate my parenting these days. You feel I am cold and harsh. And you’re right. Life is not kind to anyone, certainly not me. My mother died when I was young, leaving behind only the keepsake you’ll find in the box. I fear I will do the same to you. I must tell you what I wanted my own mother to tell me but she died too soon.
You don’t agree with my methods. You don’t agree with my rules. You think me cold, distant, and uncaring. You are not wrong. The only thing I know about raising children is that you are my legacy, you are the proof that I existed. I must raise you to be the best man you can be. Not just for me or your father, but for your future.
I did not know affection as a child. My mother believed to spare the rod was to spoil the child. When my grandmother took over my care later, she thought my mother had failed in her mission and set out to beat the submission into me. I say this not to make excuses for the nights you spent in cold darkness or hours without meals, only that I knew no different. Showing love and affection as a child was forbidden. The times you put your arms around me and held on were some of the most beautiful moments of my life. My only regret is that even now I do not know how to reciprocate.
I can only hope that I have many more years to learn how to show love and affection. I fear I will not.
In the box is the pen I have used to write my journals throughout the years, the only safe haven I have ever known to express my feelings. The inscription is “Hope, Faith, Love” – things I have always longed to share with you. My hope for you is that you will be a better person than I have been. My faith is in your inherent goodness and kindness. My love for you, inadequately expressed, knows no bounds.
I love you, son.
I looked up, blinded by tears and rage. How dare she keep this to herself? And yet, I think even then, I understood. If showing affection was an offense worth a beating, how could you ever feel safe?
I opened the box and looked down at a pen that I’d never known existed. A note lay on top that said simply, “I forgive you for your anger, and I love you.”
I can tell you, 20 years later, my mother’s wish came true. I’ve broken the cycle of abuse and lack of love in our family. My kids will tell you I never leave them alone. My father says I spoil them rotten. Show me the person who was ever spoiled by hearing “I love you” on a daily basis and being hugged and kissed over and over again. The person doesn’t exist.
I write in a daily journal, as my mother did, to deal with my emotions, express myself, and leave behind a record of who I am as a man, a father, and a husband. I cling to the sentiments expressed by my mother, allowing her delayed love to wash over me and soften the scar tissue of my memories and soothe the guilt that’s never dissipated. When I die, I will leave this pen to my oldest but I will also leave behind a legacy of love and joy, nurturing and compassion, and more than a few words scratched out on paper. That is my promise, my faith, my hope, and my love.
They called me Patrizio as a joke when I was a baby. Or maybe it was wishful thinking. Instead of being a round, roly-poly thing that laughed and gurgled, I was quiet and thin. Not one to make unnecessary noise, even as a child, the family worried I was “slow.” Until they caught me watching them.
“Patrizio, he looks at us from his throne as if he we are peasants.” My grandfather, a gregarious man who loved to sing opera and drink wine, was confused by me, I think. As a child, I thought he didn’t love me, not like he loved my brothers and cousins. On his deathbed, when I was the last of the “bambinos” willing to sit by his side – everyone else left as quickly as they could without incurring the wrath of a mother or aunt – he whispered his love to me, and his concern.
“I worry for you, Patrizio. You take the world too seriously.”
I couldn’t disagree with him.
My grandmother, Nani Rosa, spent most of my childhood stuffing me with food. After my grandfather died, it was worse. My brothers and cousins were big, strapping boys who worked the vineyard with the rest of the men, carrying on the family business he’d brought from Tuscany to New York a generation before. I, however, was not cut out for the work. Nor did I have any desire to toil with the grapes and in the sun.
Nani Rosa, when she wasn’t feeding me ever-growing plates of rice and gravy – the red sauce you’re probably most familiar with – slipped me blank sheets of paper and freshly sharpened pencils. She understood I was different, even if she couldn’t understand how or why.
“Patrizio, sweet boy, you stay here. I’ll take care of Enzo.”
Enzo was my father, a good man but rough. He was more confused by me than my grandfather had been. That confusion came out as disgust and anger. It would take me many years to understand this. As a child, I believed he hated me. I stayed out of his sight as often as possible. My nani’s offer to sit at her antique desk in a sitting room so rarely used was a blessing. It would be many years before I understood what it cost the family to allow me this rare luxury.
Everyone worked in our family. We lived and died by what we were able to produce and sell. The wine was only part of it and not where the bulk of our income came from. The wine was about family pride and heritage more than business. The other produce we grew and harvested was financially more valuable but had much less of the family’s heart.
My father fought with my grandmother every time she allowed me to stay inside with her. He derided my “scribbles” as he referred to them, his lip curled in a derisive snarl. His voice dripped with contempt, or so I thought. I was the useless son, the one who cared so little for our family’s history that I refused to work.
The women in my family understood I was different. They could see that the time spent outside slowly killed my soul and did little for my thin frame. Some touch of women’s wisdom, a thing my grandmother had impressed upon me from the cradle, allowed them to give my spirit room to grow and move in a different direction.
I believe even they despaired of me, though. What good could all this scribbling possibly do for the family? For the vineyard? For the farm?
Days after my sixteenth birthday, when my parents, my grandmother, brothers, and cousins gathered around, more out of duty than joy, to wish me another year of health and happiness, I finally proved my worth. It was then that I finally unveiled what I’d worked on for the better part of a year, what all those years of “scribbling” had lead to, the thing I’d toiled away in secret for fear of rejection and anger.
It was a simple enough thing. A brochure detailing the vineyard and its history, along with our family and the most beloved wines. I trembled as I handed it first to my grandmother, who I believed would, at the very least, read it without judgement.
From Nani Rosa to my mother to my father, the thing spread like wildfire. Only the cousins and my brothers were confused. Good-hearted men, but never the type to indulge in reading anything more than a few words and only when necessary. My father could see the benefit immediately.
He grabbed my shoulders and kissed my cheeks. “This, my boy, is exactly what we need! I was about to hire a company from the city to produce such a thing. So much money I would have spent. So much time explaining who we are, for these city men in their expensive suits to misunderstand it all. And you, my Patrizio, can do it for us!”
There was laughter and wine shared around the table at dinner that night. A big celebration more for the family than for me. They finally saw how I would contribute, what my purpose was. For me, I was surprised it had taken so little – of my time or effort – to find acceptance. My mother and grandmother beamed at me across the table while wine was pressed upon me throughout the night. I was a man now, in the eyes of the family, finally contributing something meaningful. The younger men still couldn’t see it, but because my father was happy, they were happy.
I couldn’t tell them what their acceptance meant to me. It would be years before I was able to admit to myself I was both filled with joy and resentment at the turn of events. I was a man because I could write, as long as it benefited the family, but anything else was a waste of time and made me a lazy boy.
For years, I hid my personal writing, the novel of war and love I penned in secret at night, the fantasy stories I submitted to magazines, even this, my dear journal, leather-bound and filled with my thoughts and fears. As long as I continued to produce a few lines of copy to sell more wine, I was left to my own devices. I thought my secret was well hidden, and maybe it was from all but one.
When I graduated from college, the last of the boys to do so, although the only one to eschew agriculture and business classes for literature and writing, Nani Rosa presented me with a gift.
“It is called ‘Patrizio’ and I knew it was meant for you.” The surprise written across my face was as clear as words on paper. “You think I don’t know what you’re meant to do, where your passion lies? You are meant to do more than write a few words about wine or tomatoes. You will become one of the great writers, and one day the family will understand that what you do is as noble and important as working with the land.”
This pen, used for many years now, wrote my grandmother’s eulogy for her funeral. It penned the first novel I ever published. And now, worn soft and dull by my hand, it continues to write up the little brochures and sales material for the family business – the business I inherited from my father who said of all of us, I would be best suited to keeping it going. He wrote, in his will, that I would never force anyone into a role for which they weren’t suited, and he believed I would use my “good sense” (words that shook me) to keep our heritage going for years to come.
It wasn’t a role I wanted, but I’ve come to cherish. I did as he hoped I would and placed the right people in the right jobs. These days, I’m little more than a figurehead which works well for me as I still sit at Nani Rosa’s antique desk, although now it’s in my personal office, to “scribble” each day with my beloved pen, a symbol of her love and faith in me.