What My Father Knew About Love
Obviously, my father knew a lot about love. He knew he didn’t have it. And he knew if he’d been so fortunate to get it, he’d have been the luckiest man alive.
But that wasn’t going to be his story.
One day, with the most solemn exposition -- a formal invitation he extended me to go with him for coffee in the piazza -- he discussed his shocking secret.
“Yes, Pasquale, it went like this. The morning after my wedding night, I woke to see your mother’s face sleeping near me on the pillow. And a feeling of panic overtook me. I wanted to flee to the mountains or disappear or kill myself. I didn’t know which.
“Your mother, she was really tired. She’d had to strangle all the chickens for our wedding banquet herself -- strangle them and bake them up. Her sisters and your grandmother were busy doing everything else.
“And I looked at her and I could tell she was still mad, resentful at all the work she’d had to do the day before her wedding. You know your mother -- all business, all work. But underneath -- lazy. Lazy as can be. And with the belief deep within that she should be Queen.
“Every single day of her life she’s mad at somebody because she’s not Queen. And I saw it there on the pillow that first morning, saw that she’d be mad as a wet hen forever.
“Well, what to do about it? I couldn’t give her what she desired, though in the beginning I tried. A curious thing happened just before we wed. My old sweetheart, Elena, told me to meet her behind the church; she had something to tell me.
“My instincts were against going to meet with her. I still liked her too much, you see. But I went. What a mistake. She told me not to marry your mother. She admitted being too hasty in breaking off our courtship earlier in the year. She spelled out every one of your mother’s faults and left none unnoticed. Elena had known your mother for years, since girlhood, and she was an accurate judge of character.
“So she begged me to call off the wedding, knowing full well that your mother’s temperament would kill my life.
“And you know, she was right.
“How awful to admit this to you, my only daughter. But it’s true. And you must know how I feel.
“Your mother is a murderess -- full of crazy contradictions, self-pity, false stoicism. And she has no imagination. She has no logic. No hope of tolerating another being’s idiosyncrasies, no fluidity. No compassion for me whatsoever.
“And she’s very provincial, very narrow.
“My people, Pasquale, and they’re your people, too, are from the North. We’re from Treviso and that has a certain weight to it around here. It’s sad to say but Casamassima is so backwards compared to the North. There’s just no comparing it. I’m in all ways a fish out of water here. Someday, you’ll travel. You’ll see. But for now, just trust me. It matters where you come from. You carry the earth on which you were born with you. Always.”
My father paused dramatically.
“Yes, it’s like with vampires,” I volunteered. It was the first thing I’d said in an hour.
My father blinked, startled out of his soulful reverie and confession. “What vampires?”
“Well, they can travel, but they always have to have a coffin filled with their home soil to sleep in. Else they die.”
My father looked at me incredulously. I could tell he was debating whether or not the gravity of the situation had sunk into me.
It was a little trick I had, pretending to be dense or literal-minded during particularly heavy, uncomfortable times. It was the defense I favored.
He looked at me critically. “But you understand what I’ve told you today?”
“Yes, I do.”
“Well, good. Then you see why my depression is so deep. I told you today adult-to-adult about it. So honor this confidence, Pasquale. And choose wisely when you come to marry.”
With that, my father had completed his mission. He put his tiny espresso cup down on the green marble top of the table with a little fateful clink and gazed off vacantly, heroically.
My own eyes wandered over the piazza, to the fountain in the center. Today there was a puppet show set up near it and I watched the puppets fussing and fighting from my seat. I’d seen them a million times over the years.
They were always having the same quarrels and preoccupations, these puppets. Usually I liked their energy and their tenacity. But right now they seemed somewhat menacing.
If it were possible for a man to look at his new bride’s face on the pillow and love her no more, everything was changed.
My father, I could tell, did sort of understand my mother. She was as rough as a hurricane. And just as blameless.
But he couldn’t love her, even though he understood this. The winds near her were just too strong. So what were they going to do about the situation?
My guess was nothing. Nothing was something people did frequently when confronted with overwhelming problems. And something does come of nothing, contrary to what King Lear says.
I, for instance, wasn’t going to worry about being the child of divorce or abandonment. My parents’ cage of inertia suited me and I walked around in it feeling secure, if not smug.