Debra Jean Longobardi
All Roads Lead To Pasta
The Ring I glared at the black shadow of the revolver visible through my bedroom door. My father clutched the gun as he paced our long hallway. Antonio’s words still echo in my soul: “Allegra,” he said, “you will never see your mother again!” The phone screamed, startling me. It was the middle of the night. Who could be calling so late? Was it my mother? It was a bitterly cold New England winter night, and there was evil in the air—I could feel it. I pulled the covers over my head and clenched my fluffy camel teddy bear. A lump formed in the center of my throat as I attempted to hold back my tears, but they just kept streaming down my face onto my mint green pillowcase. I put both hands over my ears, attempting to block out my father’s venomous profanity laden threats. “I am going to fucking kill you both!” I jumped out of bed filled with nervous curiosity and stubbed my toe on the corner of my dresser. I quietly crawled across the hardwood floor nearing my bedroom door and peeked fearfully into a narrow streak of light that seemed blinding from my dark room. I stared in shock at my father standing in the kitchen and caught a glimpse of his blue-and-white polka-dotted polyester shirt. He was in a panic, with our pale yellow rotary phone cord coiled around his broad mid-frame. He held the receiver in his left hand with the gun pressed into the palm of his right hand. I felt so helpless, and angry that I was alone. How could my siblings not be there? They were so lucky to be older and sleeping over at their friends’ houses. Would I ever see my mommy again? My daddy was always the one disappearing, not mommy. It was all so confusing for an eight-year-old— for anyone, really. My heart began to sink. I’d known that this day would eventually come. Memories plagued me—flashbacks of my parents and their turbulent arguments over the years. I couldn’t block out the horrible images
Chapter One witnessed year after year. My most vivid memory was seeing a dining room chair flying across the room toward my mother. Then a kind of peace came over me as it dawned on me: My sad mommy had finally found the courage to escape. She’d managed to find a way out of her sickening life. She was Amelia, a sheltered girl from a small town in Connecticut, and she had to grow up quickly when she suddenly found herself romantically involved with an untouchable gangster hit man known as Bobby V. I would later realize that the chair-throwing incident was the single defining moment that prevented me from ever being able to commit to one man. Through all the ups and downs, my biggest childhood comfort was a big bowl of pasta. It helped me through the hard times and enabled me to appreciate the good times. Growing up, there was one absolute: pasta was always called macaroni. After I studied in Northern Italy, the word pasta took a beloved and permanent place in my vocabulary. Whether there were financial obstacles, death, or divorce to deal with, Sunday pasta was made without fail, like clockwork, and it always brought our family together. My mother would start the sauce at around six in the morning and it would cook for hours. The aroma of fresh garlic sautéing in piping hot olive oil became my Sunday morning alarm clock. Next, the sausage was cooked until it was lightly browned. She would blend each jar of tomatoes herself—a carefully guarded secret to her famous sauce. My mother had cooking down to a science, and everything she made tasted like artistic heaven. I would sneak into the kitchen and dip a slice of freshly baked Italian bread into the steaming pan of hot red meat sauce. It was consistently delicious. The aroma of garlic, tomatoes, and fresh basil filled our kitchen. She would fry the meatballs and slice her homemade breads, usually stuffed with spinach or broccoli. Then Amelia made braciola, rolling slender slices of beef around layers of fresh parsley, garlic, and black pepper. My favorite part of helping her was inserting the wooden toothpicks into the rolled meat. Mom was not a fan of wrapping string around each piece; she was afraid someone would ingest the string. I would eat at least two bowls of pasta and up to four bowls, depending on how hungry I was. I loved adding tons of grated Parmesan cheese and black pepper. My mother’s pasta always brought me comfort and put a smile on my face. My mother was ready to turn on the dishwasher that day when she heard loud coughing coming from the crib in my bedroom. She rushed to
All Roads Lead To Pasta check on me, and found me in my crib turning blue. I went into shock that day, and stayed in a coma for forty-eight hours. I had Shirley Temple curls that straightened, I lost the enamel on my baby teeth, and I had to have silver caps put over my molars as a result. It was the winter of 1976, and my three siblings and I all had the chicken pox. I caught the worse case of it. It happened because I’d chewed recycled bubble gum from my oldest brother, Francesco. My chicken pox became so severe that bumps appeared in my throat and on my neck. My mother tried everything to calm down the virus. During the Seventies, plenty of mothers smoked while pregnant and had no clue that aspirin could be toxic for babies. She gave me a little piece of aspirin, and I became one of the documented cases that warned parents against giving infants aspirin because it could trigger Reye’s syndrome, a deadly disease that basically attacks all body organs, especially the brain and liver. I was one of the “lucky ones,” and I eventually developed an innate confidence God had a profound purpose in mind to keep me around. It is hard to imagine that merely turning on a dishwasher could control someone’s destiny—my destiny, that is—but the truth of the matter is that if that machinery had been turned on, my wails would have been drowned out and I would not be here sharing my story. Ever since I was a little girl, I have always walked my path with big hopes and dreams. My Italian-American heritage is instantly revealed with one glance into my deep brown eyes, so dark that you can barely distinguish my pupils from the irises. Growing up, my stepfather, Bobby V., teased me by telling me that my eyes looked like two black olives. You could always spot me in a crowded room by my distinct and pronounced smile. I actually wore braces twice just to have a perfect American smile. When I was in pageants, I would often win the “Miss Photogenic” title. I wanted to be a model even before I reached puberty. I won scholarships to model in New York. My mother always supported my vision and would take me on go-sees, toggling between dancing and modeling. One summer I was very proud to get the lead in a magic show that was supposed to hit the television circuit. I dedicated an entire summer to filming, while ever-optimistic Amelia had to shuttle me two hours each way. The hope was that the show would put me on the map; the reality was
Chapter One that the producers ran out of money and went bust. The outcome was all that work, no fame, no gas money, and a complete waste of time. Sometimes we take chances and they pan out, but this time that was certainly not the case. I would often enter contests and became a finalist, almost making it on the cover of top teen magazines. In high school I even won “Best Smile” in my yearbook. Over the years, my smile won over many hearts. I was the baby of the family, left-handed, and by default the black sheep. I was born nine days late, and to complicate matters, I flipped in my mother’s stomach before she gave birth. To top it off, I was the result of an unplanned pregnancy. I have an out-of-the-box concept in my approach to life. My vision was always different from the other kids, especially my siblings. I was always a vivid dreamer both in my sleeping and waking hours; my lucid and colorful dreams sometimes made it difficult to separate dreams from reality. I wasn’t much of a sleeper anyway—I was too busy chasing life. I would describe myself as a night owl at best, not a morning person at all. My mother would politely describe me as “unique and one of a kind.” My close friends would often say, “There is only one Allegra in this world; you are special in a good way.” I grew up in a small town in Praying Mantis, Connecticut, with a population just above 50,000. Praying Mantis is known for its mountain, known as Standing Giant. If you’re driving on the highway you can just make out the formation of a giant standing carved in the mountains. In autumn, trees burst with vivid colors of burnt orange, Macintosh red, and rust brown. New England country houses are often spread out on an acre of land surrounded by vast forests. When I was a kid I would spend hours outside collecting leaves and pine cones and just exploring nature. And just like in the storybooks, families of beautiful deer would dash by the green yards.. Praying Mantis is a small community, and everyone knows your story. Outsiders stand out. I come from a large, traditional Italian family. We are the Toscana family and proud of it. My great grandmother, Isabella, had eighteen children. Isabella used to put her infants in pulled-out dresser drawers to sleep due to the lack of beds. Inspired by this whole Italian tradition, my mother had four children: two boys—Francesco and Valentino, and two girls— Alexis and me.
All Roads Lead To Pasta I was blessed to travel the world and live in some incredible places. My life and my story have been molded by extraordinary characters with different personalities on a different planet: My Planet. These are not people with easy, uncomplicated karmas. They are old souls who have raised me and shaped my life, my morals, and my inner strength. I am sharing my stories because I made it out. My life was no cakewalk. There were struggles everywhere, and I went against the odds and leapt over the hurdles each time. It’s not where you start; it’s where you end up, and how you handle life when it kicks you in the teeth. I was able to get up each time—and eat pasta! I learned not to take my karma personally or let it define me. I used my painful lessons and turned around as on a diving board in order to succeed. My road had a narrow curve in it, and I had to reinvent myself each time. I adapted the concept “Everything happens for a reason,” and I still believe that individuals and situations come into our path for a reason: to teach, not to make us regret our decisions or look back in time. My story is chock full of adventures, some of them amazing and some just off the wall. Life is unpredictable and can change for better or worse in one snap of your finger. Reaping the ultimate rewards is really about accepting changes and having the courage to fail. We grew up in a great neighborhood where everyone felt like family. Our horseshoe-shaped street was very safe. Playing “Kick the Can” was our favorite outdoor activity. There could be up to thirty of us kids playing at a time. We would take an old metal coffee can, kick it, and depending on where it landed, the nearest person was “it,” and a vigorous game of tag would begin. We were very active and always getting into trouble. We would pad our indoor staircase with sheets and fly down it on pillows like eagles over the ocean. One day, Alexis was flying away on the stairs and down fell this black iron heavy metal birdcage hanging from the dark brown paneling. Her big toe was severed, and blood gushed everywhere. The boys grabbed a tennis sock to try to conceal the situation, but I ran upstairs for help. My brothers pulled their usual routine and ran like a bat out of a butcher’s bag, fleeing from our hatch door downstairs, not wanting to deal with a leather belt punishment. Fortunately, her big toe was saved, but we had to invent a new game that was less risky. Francesco’s new game was a neighborhood berry fight. He convinced all the kids on our block to steal all the berries from the trees in each household and pile them into wooden buckets.
Chapter One Besides the messy clean up, my parents had to deal with livid neighbors because that spring none of their trees bloomed. That spring became known as the season of colorless trees. That time, Francesco was not fortunate enough to escape a spanking. One would imagine that he learned his lesson by the sounds of his shouts. It took us hours of sweeping the streets and seeing the pavement covered completely in orange. It looked like Halloween. Francesco also had to go door-to-door apologizing for his misbehavior. My mother was and still remains my hero and angel. Her beauty radiated inside and out, and practically every man and teenager in our small town had a crush on her. Amelia had been a model in her youth. Growing up, she was a perfect mom, cooking and cleaning and managing the restaurant passed down to her by her hard-working father. My mother would do anything for her children. Yet my dad divorced her, split, and she was left alone. Along with leaving us behind, Antonio depleted our family’s hard-earned fortune. Having no choice, she raised us four kids without a father in our household for some time. Amelia stayed strong and endured. She never took her situation personally. My mom stood 5’9” with honey brown shoulder-length hair. Even now, her skin is like that of a porcelain doll barely showing any signs of aging, only a few gray hairs, and she’s 69. After all the years of adversity, age was never a factor. People actually think her grandchildren are her children because she looks so young. Her carefree personality brings happiness to everyone’s day. My mother is so kind that she would give a stranger her last dollar. She clipped inspiring articles for me each year and sent sentimental cards each holiday. She went so far as to read my horoscope to me each day. She was and is the most loving person I know. My mother also always kept me on track over the years. Often reminding me to have compassion and to be thankful for my blessings, she helped me handle the challenges that help to build character. Whenever I had a rough day, she pulled me out of my darkness every time in honor of Ally O., a girl from my hometown for whom my mother had an affinity. My mother opened her heart to others in such an extraordinary way, touching their lives. Amelia would quickly get past outward appearances. She would shed light on the suffering and always regarded life as a glass half-full. Ally O. woke up one morning and found herself battling for her life. She
All Roads Lead To Pasta had developed a flesh-eating disease that was literally eating away at her skin. Ally O. never quit, nor did she let her rare disease affect her desire to live. Her faith was so strong that she fought to add an extra decade to her life expectancy. She cherished life, even though her skin was disappearing along with her hair, and even though all her loved ones had become alienated from her, including her own mother, because they could not handle the course of her debilitating illness. Amelia saw her inner beauty and treated her like a human being, a person. Knowing someone cared gave Ally her hope and the will to live. Ally would have done anything to be well, but evidently God had a different plan for her. Amelia was my teacher in life. She had an angelic quality about her. She prepared me for her death practically as soon as I came out of diapers, because when her own mom passed it was an extremely difficult transition. “Allegra,” she would tell me, “you must accept life and death and keep living when it is time; understand that it is meant to be. When I leave this universe I want you to promise me you will not mourn my loss, but rejoice in my life and keep living. The worst injustice in life you can commit is to stop living when life takes its natural course.” To this day, these words still make my stomach turn, but I know it is Amelia’s wish. We decided as mother and daughter we would come up with a sign to symbolize she is with me. We decided butterflies would be our symbol to know that we were in each other’s presence. My darling mother taught me the true meaning of love, strength, dedication, and family, and she taught me not to take the lessons on our path personally. Antonio, my biological father, had such a handsome face. He would light up any room like a Christmas tree. Very Italian looking, he had a medium build, olive skin, and an infectious swagger. Antonio dressed in suits with touches of gold on his cuffs and a gold Rolex watch. Women could not resist his sex appeal. His wavy thick hair had turned glistening silver gray in his early thirties. He had natural sophistication and confidence that could glide him into any social circle. My dad was a famous saxophone player. He attended Juilliard School of Music and played with all of the most famous bands in the Seventies, from Duke Ellington to the Supremes. Music came naturally to
Chapter One him. I remember our shopping sprees at Bloomingdale’s when I would sit for hours listening to him play the piano. He could play anything I asked for just by ear. Growing up, I was daddy’s little girl, so of course in the early Eighties; the divorce was very hard on me. Actually, divorce in an Italian family was uncommon and quite the taboo back then. I often found going to school uncomfortable because I knew our family was considered different—sometimes even defective— because of the divorce. I had to walk around knowing my daddy was no longer with us. When it happened, I was so little that I was upset about it for many years. I couldn’t understand my father’s infidelity or his fights with my mother. He created an absence in my life. It hurt my heart to watch them separate, and it left me with a paralyzing fear of marriage. I spent many nights crying myself to sleep. I turned to prayer and often said the rosary, hoping that some miracle would save their marriage and restore their love. I was frustrated, but I gained some comfort by creating an organized environment. I would hang out with my dog Olive, write songs, and tap dance to ease my pain. It wasn’t until my father’s life was on the line that I gained a full appreciation for the man responsible for my existence. My mobile phone rang at ten o’clock one evening. It was my stepmother informing me that my dad’s internal organs were shutting down. To this day, I always have my mobile phone on me in ring mode. What if today were to be my dad’s last day? What would my last words to him be? One never thinks of such morbid situations until you find yourself driving like a Formula One racer down I-95 with your siblings driving toward the same destination at the same speed from opposite directions. We arrived at the hospital, and it was wonderful to see all the members of my family pulling together for the same cause. Mind you, on the bottom floor of the same hospital my stepfather was undergoing brain surgery. At that point, my family obviously had our share of tension. The medical situations faced by my father and stepfather were parallel and equally severe. The doctors thought my stepfather was likely to enter a vegetative state like my grandmother. They warned my mother, “Your husband will not be able to walk or talk, and possibly not even eat.” But both my fathers made it out of danger with a free get-out-of-jail card. It was truly
All Roads Lead To Pasta
miraculous. These moments are precious because they help us understand how grateful we should be for what we have, shedding light on the lessons and progress people endure to determine their overall purpose. My father was a master at fraudulent check writing, known as “The Legend.” A guy by the name of Lucky taught him all the tricks of the trade. Antonio caught on so well he outsmarted his own teacher. He strolled from bank to bank dressed in his tailor- made Italian suits. The fresh scent of his Aqua di Parma cologne hypnotized the female tellers. Antonio always carried a designer leather briefcase. The other, more profound side of his personality showed that he had a big heart; that was how he managed to get away with so much. The bank tellers would lose their jobs. He would scam thousands of dollars out of them. The irony was that these women were apparently so smitten by him that there were never any consequences for his actions. He managed to scam around $60,000 from every bank he targeted. The police were onto him, but he fled the banks so quickly that they couldn’t catch him. It was difficult to imagine getting away with such behavior in the Eighties, but it happened. Antonio was such a degenerate gambler he would do anything to play: exploit women, run card games out of the house, and take money from various bookies. These bookies were usually attached to the mafia, and contracts were put on his head until the debt was paid. By some miracle he even managed to weasel his way out of getting knocked off. Antonio often danced with fire. He had luck on his side, to say the least. Time after time he would escape from each twisted predicament. He was a master manipulator, and getting the high of gambling was like heroin in his veins. In the end, it was not about the money; winning was his obsession. He liked the fast life more than he liked playing the homemaker, and so he chose women and gambling over staying home. In spite of all this, he always made it clear that he loved me unconditionally, and he was there for me all through the years, which is what mattered most to me. We grew up comfortably: Cadillacs, great clothes, and a nice home in suburbs. And each child even had an individual Christmas tree. When the divorce hit, which, in retrospect, was inevitable, our money and lifestyle changed drastically. Everything was gone, even my dad’s favorite yellow Cadillac. To this day, I remember him running down the dark street with his pants down, chasing the tow truck that was hauling it away, only
to fall on his face with all the neighbors rushing from their dinner tables to stare at him. My dad’s lover Cindy was over the edge, calling our home and harassing my gentle, usually carefree mother. It’s difficult to imagine that Cindy was deeply upset because she was not invited to my first Holy Communion, but she had the audacity to complain to my mom. My mother also had to watch her father’s fortune and family business slip away to the casino. My dad was into craps. He was a master at the tables for many years. I always knew when he won because he came home bearing gifts. As a kid, I always imagined the casino like Disney World for adults, full of happiness. My daddy came prancing in with collectible stuffed animals each time. One even resembled my German Shepherd Olive. Gipper, my stuffed monkey, was especially attached to me. If I could have showered with him, I would have. Gipper soon became so raggedy that my siblings wanted to throw him out, but there was no way I was going to let that happen. I protected my toys like they were gems; they meant the world to me because they were always there for me. My dad could not wait to share the news with our family. There he sat in our swanky Seventies-style living room. I remember the clicks as he opened up a stylish leather suitcase. Once open, I could smell the green fresh bills from across the room. He piled the bills, thousands of them, into Francesco and Valentino’s hands. The boys made the money into footballs and started playing catch with it all in our vast back yard. It was a kind of foreshadowing of their fates even before they were grown. I sadly watched my mother as she look down in disappointment. She discreetly pulled my father into our marble foyer. I peeked around the corner eavesdropping on their conversation. “I do not want this blood money in the house. It’s tainted and dirty.” My dad’s face fell into an expression that looked like he’d lost his puppy. Clearly this was not the reaction he had expected from my mother. Of course, every Sunday meant football, and Antonio somehow always managed to be home in front of the television with his heaping dish of macaroni and freshly fried meatballs in his lap. There was always a crunchy loaf of Italian bread on hand; our family favorite was chicola bread fresh from the local bakery. Antonio would have his three sea-foam-green rotary-dialed phones lined up in front of him with his note pad of bets, just like grandpa, who
All Roads Lead To Pasta
passed on his legacy. You didn’t dare to use the phone that day. God forbid if your unlucky friend called. You held your breath, cringing at the idea, praying it was one of my sibling’s friends. If you needed to call your friend on any Sunday, you were shit out of luck. If you were courageous enough to sidle into the room, you were lucky, but you were still asking for it. God forbid if you walked into the room and the other team scored. You would be a jinx for the day. But it was a risk you sometimes had to take. Alexis had just enough guts to set foot into the den. She was obsessed with playing Atari there on a small television in the corner of the room. She would get away playing Space Invaders and Asteroids, and she was so competitive that she would flip the game. If she attempted Frogger or PacMan, it was guaranteed that she would get kicked out. Alexis was pretty tough, so even then she tried to stay and take heat. Sunday football telecasts actually felt very comparable to being in church. Be respectful, don’t speak—just listen and pray to your lucky stars that that day Dad was winning. If Antonio was fortunate enough to win, the entire neighborhood was going to celebrate with mini cannoli and cups of espresso with shots of Sambuca, lemon rind on the side. If Dad lost, you didn’t even dare ring the doorbell or speak about the loss. Antonio’s biggest downfall was in fact his big score in 1981, because he could never repeat it in the years that followed. His substantial win in the millions would haunt him for life. He admitted becoming so greedy that the mob offered to triple his winnings, but instead he gave the majority of his winnings straight back to the casino, and lost it in no time. As a consequence of all this, my siblings and I have had a weird relationship with money, equating money and love until this very day. We always attempt to get back what we lost. My mother, in turn, always detested money and strongly felt it was the root of all evil. In time, Amelia was left to handle some serious setbacks. She lost her mother, father, and favorite aunt all within that same year. My grandmother spent years in a vegetative state hooked up to machines and respirators. My mother would often ponder what seemed to be her challenging karma; she wondered if her destiny would have been different if my grandmother – her mother – had not had an abortion. In time Nonna grew so ill with Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s that she couldn’t even recognize her own daughter. We watched helplessly as she
suffered for years. Back in the Eighties, a “living will” or euthanasia were not possibilities. Not a day passed that my mother did not visit the nursing home. I tagged along with my mom because I knew these visits caused her great torment. The smell of urine and the succession of disappointed faces made saddened me even as a young kid. My great aunt Bella was on the same floor as Nonna. I fondly remember spending hours with Bella, twirling around singing and playing Ring Around the Rosie. I can still hear my grandmother’s moans as her body withered away. Withstanding this, I promised myself that I would never become that way or let anyone I loved suffer so terribly. My Nonna and her sister died one week apart, and we found out about Nonna in the most hurtful way: When we made our daily visit, we simply found an empty bed. My grandfather Don died of a broken heart and too much indulgence soon after these losses. His high blood pressure and cholesterol were off the charts from all the rich Italian food with which he sought comfort. He got my mother to smuggle sandwiches into his hospital room, and he hid them under his pillow. My grandpa’s famous quote was, “I lived my entire life eating salt and I will die eating salt. No one is going to take that away from me!” He was practical and he kept his life simple; especially in cooking, less was more. My grandparents were outstanding cooks and they dedicated their entire lives to the art. Nonna was a master at making pasta. Everyone admired her fluffy and light hand-rolled gnocchi. She would cover dishes of pasta with her homemade sauce and freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. After Amelia’s loved ones passed, her own health weakened. She no longer had her emotional foundation, and her finances were nonexistent. My mom was forced to have an emergency hysterectomy, and adding to this, she developed pneumonia. Her body was clearly run down, and she cried herself to sleep each night. Amelia wiped her tears and made many sacrifices to manage the household. She had to give up both her livelihood and lifestyle. Those years were extremely trying for her and for our family. It was simply shattering to watch my mother lose everything. We soon had to live on welfare. My siblings came up with a plan. They all worked at our hometown supermarket, and they would steal steaks and all kinds of food simply by not scanning it through the register. It was like Christmas the moment they
All Roads Lead To Pasta
entered the door. Alexis and Valentino felt proud to help out. It was thrilling to rummage through the bags of pasta, luscious meats, and cheeses. That year, my parents’ separation made attending elementary school almost unbearable. It was particularly embarrassing not to be like the other kids. I ate hot lunch at school because of our lack of money. I had to use food stamps, which were a bright blue ticket that pretty much indicated, “You are poor” in bold black letters. I would lie and pretended to eat each day just so that I wouldn’t have to reveal that noticeable piece of cardboard or have to explain to my classmates what it was, or why I did not have money for lunch. It was difficult to go from having a lot of money to having none; it felt like punishment. The irony was that my peers thought it was something special – gosh, if they ever knew the truth! Luckily, that year my secret was never exposed. My mother was in a horrible predicament and was forced to survive. Therefore, marriage was her only answer. Bobby V. would always go to my parents’ restaurant; that’s how he began flirting with my mom. My dad knew Bobby V.’s background, and he knew he was one person you did not want to cross. My dad had to move on. Her name was Nelly, and she changed his life. She was twenty years younger, Italian-American, and a waitress at my parents’ restaurant. Nelly would actually babysit Alexis and me and take us on a glorious day. She was a good friend of our family, including my mother. Nelly and my dad wedded soon after the divorce and after my mom settled in with Bobby V. I can always see in my dad’s eyes that he regretted the loss of their love and his mistakes with women, but his pride would never allow him to admit it. Nelly fit into our family perfectly; she cooked, cleaned, and straightened out my unruly father. I had to see it to believe it. She positively changed his entire personality. Nelly was voluptuous and loved to dress up. My mother was a more natural beauty. My dad went from a gambling Casanova musician to a faithful loving husband, and yes, he became a father for the fifth time. My mother, who had a sixth sense, often predicted that he would have one more child—with a new mate. It was eerie that Amelia was always right. Antonio, Jr., was born with olive skin, dark eyes, and dark hair. My dad made up for all the years he was absent from us by raising Antonio, Jr., attached to his hip. In his new marriage, Antonio was under a microscope, something
my mother did not have the energy, desire, or force to generate during their marriage. Antonio checked in with Nelly hourly and drove Antonio Jr. everywhere. Bobby V. also was friendly with my stepmother from the restaurant. Bobby V. put it simply: Antonio had no choice but to be faithful. “Nelly,” he said, “would kill him if he cheated.” Nelly had dedicated her life to my dad with unconditional love. My mother, though sickened by Antonio, was in love with her children, and my dad deeply resented this love. In actuality, Nelly suited his personality more closely and she gave him the emotional attention he needed. Antonio, Jr., was an enigma in our family soft-spoken, quiet, and extremely academic. Ironically, Antonio and AJ were so close that they defined each other’s worlds. Antonio had finally found a purpose that distracted him from his dice, and he did everything with AJ. My little brother was a wonderful kid—the polar opposite of us. My dad tried introducing him into the party scene, but my little brother had no interest. His focus was truly inspiring. Antonio loved being there for his new family. In a weird way, it gave him purpose, and he was content with his situation. Now retired, he still sneaks to the tables during the day. It’s actually rather comical. Every so often when I check in with him, I hear the comforting noise of slot machines in the background as he quickly signs off: “Love you, baby, will call you back later.” Some things never change, and it still baffles my father that he cannot get his luck back after all these years. To his defense, he is a very strategic player. I have studied him over the years. However, luck comes and goes in waves, and he has yet to capture it the way he had it before. For Antonio, the casino makes him feel young and alive in his retirement phases, and the infinite love that Nelly and AJ extend to him gives him the balance he needs to become a wonderful father the fifth time around. My father taught me the gift of unconditional love and forgiveness. He made me realize the gift of a parent’s love is essential in life, regardless of the past. Bobby V. was quite a looker in his day. In high school, he was the best looking guy in his class, captain of the hockey team, and voted most likely to succeed. And even in later life, Bobby V. had the looks of a movie star. His hair was a thick golden brown that shimmered in the light. He had the broadest shoulders I have ever seen. His attire was always meticulously
All Roads Lead To Pasta
perfect; he usually wore a sports jacket, with his Italian-made button-down shirt neatly tucked into his tailored trousers. He polished his shiny shoes himself each day. Bobby V. was obsessive about his looks and cleanliness. He would wear cologne to bed and he often kidded around with me about it, saying “Allegra, you never know whom you will meet in your dreams.” Bobby V. sported his gangster oversized sunglasses. He really had the badboy look and the personality to match it. He was just shy of six feet tall and solid as a rock. He had a tattoo of a sword going through a bleeding heart, and it was a most revealing depiction of his outlook on life. Bobby V. was all about ironing and dry cleaning—a quality most unexpected. Bobby V. came into Amelia’s life as a hero and whisked away from all her problems seducing her in a ten- year whirlwind romance. Through the years, they actually built an unconditional love together. Amelia’s heart was so pure it was bound to happen. Until his years of partying and living on the edge caught up with him. My mother and I had just gone to the movies and seen a romantic comedy. After the movie, we indulged in a nice Italian dinner and had some great laughs. When we entered the house. It was dark, and there was an uncomfortable silence in the air. Where is Bobby V? we wondered. My mom and I split up. I decided to take the first floor. She took the downstairs floor. I screamed for my mom, “Help! He’s in a puddle of blood and is white as a sheet!” They say cats have nine lives; I am starting to get the impression Bobby V. has ninety. He has had several triple bypasses, brain surgery, respiratory issues and strokes. Each time he came out of it like a bull. The doctors truly believed he was a medical miracle. My great aunt Trieste would often kid around, “What did you do to God to make him so angry?” Bobby V. lay helpless in his hospital bed. He was in really bad shape, and a kind priest came by to bless him. Bobby V. said, “Get the hell out of here! The last time I saw a priest I was going to confirmation classes just before I was locked up for ten years. Don’t do me any favors.” Marrying an Irishman with power and looks was mother’s only way out. Marriage with him was literally till death did you part. The mafia had contracts on all of Amelia’s children, which in fact includes me--that is, if she ever left him. It’s been twenty-five years, and she is still cooking and cleaning for him. She is Bobby V’s around-the-clock nurse. Her dream was to become a nurse, and ironically she had become one in a roundabout
way. It is often said that in life you must be careful what you wish for. Amelia considered leaving him, but knowing that her most prized possessions in the world, her children, could be killed was enough to keep her in an awkward existence. Bobby V. popped pain pills as if they were candy, rotating between Oxycontin and Percocet. His pain went deep into his soul both physically and emotionally. His oldest trick was phoning his primary doctor for a refill. He often claimed that his pills spilled down the drain. His other obvious play was going to the hospital. Bobby V. battled mood swings that went up and down like a roller coaster. Just to give you an idea: The ambulance drivers and fire department were on a first-name basis. He was rushed to the hospital at least once a month for two decades. We would find him practically frozen in the bushes outside the house, or passed out in a car in the projects. Thank heavens for good health insurance! Amelia just dealt with it, smiling and playing the hand life had dealt her. She was content cooking and caring for us children, and she found peace in doing these things. Bobby V. was most feared in the Northeast. He had a silent guarantee that no one would “fuck with him,” especially not my father. He raised us girls very strictly. We had early curfews, a full hour before our peers, which caused friction for years. Looking back, he did help Alexis and me to become respectful. My siblings were really living on the edge when they got wind of the divorce. Our house was known as the party place: best food, top-shelf booze, and endless fun. There were kegs funneling in. It was quite a landmark party spot in Praying Mantis’s high school history. Couples were screwing in bathrooms, under-age drinking was everywhere in the house, complete with keg stands and, of course, there were drugs. We had a full leather burgundy bar with every liquor you could dream of. One night, my mother was out on a date with Bobby V. and when she entered the house, all hell broke loose. My sister was planning on going to a Beastie Boys concert with Samantha. For the first time in her life, she was punished. Bobby V. was behind my mom’s new backbone, which made us kids bitter, but they were right: We were out of control. In my sibling’s defense, divorce will change people. Separation was devastating at times, especially when we were known to have the coolest parents in my town. And in one flash, the money was gone and so was the laid-back environment.
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My mother actually trumped my dad by marrying a gangster hit man from the Italian-American mafia. The world feared him, and it was the only way she could get rid of my dad -- his lies, his women, and the hurt he left behind. My stepfather had had a disappointing upbringing and had been shifted from house to house. In time, Bobby V. felt so excluded and got on the wrong path for many years. He found a home in organized crime, drugs, and booze. When his regal Irish mother, Regina, passed, a part of his soul died with her. Regina was an heir to a famous beer company. Unfortunately, Regina died when Bobby V. was a mere teenager, and he never saw a dime of an inheritance. Bobby V. lived a life on the edge. He partied at the Plaza and lived in Palm Beach. He had three children that he now chooses not to associate with, refusing to unleash too many painful memories. As for alcohol, it does not agree with him; it makes him violent. Since he married my mother and “started over,” he decided to stay away from booze. Living with Bobby V. was like walking on eggshells. But he did teach me manners—and always to watch my back. Bobby V. was in prison for a decade. Back in the eighties, his sort of prison was like a country club: steaks, pasta, drugs, you name it. He gained considerable respect and endless credit with the mob because he was not a “stool pigeon”—he didn’t snitch for his freedom. When he was locked up, he would read books constantly to stimulate his mind, something one would not expect. The FBI tailed him for years, and after all his bloodshed, they only got him on a petty crime. He was busted on a money extortion charge that was minimal, considering all the rest that was going on with him. Bobby V. was an expert at covering his tracks, but eventually the FBI was bound to catch him. Bobby V. was all about etiquette and being considerate to his elders, and this could be attributed almost entirely to his mother Regina. Alexis and I were not allowed to have boys in our bedrooms, and reaching over someone at the dinner table was unheard of. In prison, respect was key. Someone would kill you sooner or later if you lacked it. Bobby V. also caused strife in our family. He kicked out each of us one by one with the belief that when you turned eighteen, you had to survive on your own. Francesco took it the hardest and it caused some distance between him and my mother. But he soon flourished and bought a condo in his early twenties. Still, he had been forced to become a man not on his own terms.
For my part, I would get locked out of the house at least once a week. Fortunately, my best friend, Samantha, lived around the corner. (She was actually my sister’s best friend.) Her long model-like legs and figure caught much attention. She would let me crash at her mom’s. Samantha stood 5’11”, was skinny as a rail, and acquired the name “ring a bell.” My stepfather named her this because she would never knock when she came to our house, she just walked in. Due to his background, Bobby V. did not like surprises and was always ready to have a gun pointed between his eyes. When he married my mother, he was still partying Tony Montana-style. Most of the time, scattered everywhere around the house were mounds of cocaine on hand-held mirrors. When I first discovered his blow, I freaked out. I felt like I was the lead actress in some after-school special. I distinctly remember chatting on the phone with Sam while opening and closing the desk drawer. Eventually, I noticed the mountain of powder inside. I immediately ran upstairs to confess what my innocent eyes had discovered. My mom took a stern stand: “Allegra, mind your own business.” And that is exactly what I did for those ten years. Bobby V. was often hyped-up, full of adrenaline. “Prison changes you,” my mom maintained in his defense. Anyway, Bobby V. partied like that into his late fifties. In fact, he did not fear death. He smoked two packs of Marlboros daily, with all the windows closed in his vintage convertible black Cadillac. The whole house smelled like cigarettes—in fact, the smell was everywhere: in our hair and clothing even after washing. I detested riding in his old-school Caddy. Because I was just a kid, I was pretty well sheltered. I remember thinking Bobby V.’s weed was oregano for my mom’s Sunday pasta. My best friend’s who attended boarding school in Maine clued me in that it was marijuana, not some cooking herb. And boy, did Bobby V. notice everything, which is probably why I turned out to be a good kid. Amelia still speaks of her wealthy Jewish suitor named Rod, who was head-over-heels in love with her before Bobby V. She had to pass up on Rod because she knew my relentless dad would destroy their love. We were convinced that Amelia’s home-cooking kept Bobby V. alive all those years. Every month, Amelia’s perpetual visits to the hospital also kept him strong. Clearly he would never give up without a fight. He paid
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for his twenty years of bad karma with continually failing health. The fact of the matter is that Bobby V.â€™s lack of fear enabled him to escape his fate over and over again. Mom felt Bobby V. was suffering because he made so many people suffer in his youth. Bobby V. taught me never to give up in life, and to exercise compassion by putting myself in someone elseâ€™s shoes before judging. He also gave me the motivation that was required to be an independent woman.
- About the Author -
Debra Jean Longobardi Born and raised in a small town within Connecticut, I have lived my life through an optimistâ€™s mindset, which has brought me into many exciting adventures from childhood to now. I have travelled the world, and lived a Jetsetter lifestyle much like my main character Allegra Toscana. My life has been full of pitfalls and triumphs, which have produced many fruitful memories. I live life without regrets and will always be a risk taker and my style of writing as you will see pushes the envelope but whatâ€™s life without a little edginess. Over the last three years, I have written my trilogy while maintaining a corporate job which business executive and everyday creative can appreciate. I live a double life and am doing whatever it takes to get my books out to the masses; this is why I need your help Kickstarter.
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