I could always count on my grandmother Rosa to remind me that if I continued to go out at night I would eventually be murdered or raped, because only terrible things happen when it’s dark. In her thick Italian accent she would say “you no go out at night okay?”
Being a teenager and a twenty something I would always feel a twinge of annoyance for the narrowness of her world view but also an endearment to her. She was a scared person.
I think I inherited quite a bit of her emotional temperament. When I was a child she would often comment that if I did anything outside of walking I would fall. Never a further explanation of what would happen if I fall but just a statement that somehow that fall would be very serious and life changing. If I climbed on top of anything I would hear the words “you betta watch, you fall Luci”. I think a lot about her lately. Her cute little body, so small and yet so round. She was so loving. Every time I walked in I knew how loved I was. If it wasn’t apparent by all the food offered to me it was certainly received through physical affection and a wanting to spend time with me, to sit and talk.
When I was 19 I decided I wanted to pursue acting and became “rebellious”. I put that word in quotations because I was far from rebellious. I was just trying to find my identity outside of the role I had been cast in by my family. I was labeled bad, I disturbed my whole family by my choice. I was a selfish girl. A priest was called in to try to change my mind. Family members came one by one to our house to try to talk some sense into me. You will die, be raped, end up an underwear model. Yes the underwear model thing was actually said to me. Well, some of the dirtiness of the business they warned about was true, I admit. But it wasn’t really about being famous for me. At the time I thought it was. It was really about was giving myself permission to be something other than the good girl who was vigilant about not falling, whether that was physically, or emotionally. Not only could I not fall and hurt myself physically but I was expected to be a doctor who would give my father some sort of royal status in the family. So…I started rebelling. I was late to the show I know. Most kids start much earlier but I truly was/am a good girl. I finally started saying no and making plans to move to LA.
The year before I left, I spent every Sunday visiting my grandmother after church. We would sit down at their tiny kitchen nook, the table I remember so well with little gold sprinkles on top. She would make espresso with Italian hard cookies that I always hated, but now recognize as part of my identity when I see these same cookies marked up to 10 dollars at Whole Foods. I would sit and listen to her stories of living as a girl in Italy, the war, meeting my grandfather, their marriage, and the struggles to live simply in Italy with very little income. As I sat with her I began to recognize the strength in her. She had grown up in a town of 500 people and had never lived anywhere else in her entire life. At 36 she and my grandfather immigrated with 4 very young children to a foreign country. How did she do that? How? I don’t know that I would have the strength to do that. The stories about being committed to learning English so that she could communicate and keep up with her children are the sweetest. She hired a tutor to come to her house with the little money she had. She was determined to stay connected to her children’s lives as they became Americans and fluent English speakers.
She was a scared individual, but she was also brave. I don’t know that she would ever have claimed that word as her identity. She was labeled by family as a “hysterical woman.” A woman who received Valium as a prescription for her “nervos” condition as she called it. A woman my mother describes as often collapsing on the couch and sleeping for hours. But what else could she do right? How else could this woman who was forced to take on so much survive what I suspect was an innate nervous condition while she immigrated to an entirely different country and was asked to jump through hoops that most people will never dare try.