I am first generation Italian on my mom’s side. Second generation on my dad’s side.
My mom emigrated from Vasto Italy when she was four, traveling with her siblings, Lucy, Lena (Anglea), her older sisters, and younger brother, Nicola (Uncle Nick). My nonna, Grazia, and my nonno, Gaetano were garden variety Italian immigrants in search of a better life for themselves and their kids.
I remember visiting Nonna in the Bronx every Thursday after kindergarten. Her apartment at the Dennis Lane complex on Crotona Avenue is iconic in my mind. The smells that emanated from the hallway surrounding their apartment propelled me into constantly thinking about food. For the rest of my life..cheese, meat, pizza, sauce, sausage. I don’t remember a moment in time when she wasn’t cooking something. I owe my childhood Venus Di Milo figure to her.
I came to understand after those cursory trips to Arthur Avenue that I could recall, probably from about four on, that the Italian diet, although the thrifty immigrants used every part of that poor, butchered creature of God so a to not waste a literal hair of the animal was a lot of the time, gross.
Until you went food shopping with Nonna, you hadn’t shopped. There was no feeling sorry for the dismembered rabbit skinned and hanging feet first in the butcher shop n Arthur Avenue, similar to the new Louis Neverfull on display on the flagship store at Piazza d’Spagna.
Thumper was destined to be supper, lunch the next day and possibly in a soup on day three, or a lagomorphe stew.
The lambs didn’t have it any easier…Easter dinner carnage also doubled as a tasty hit for an upcoming meat sauce, and never ever doubt the power of presenting a tasty capuzzelle…a stuffed lamb’s head to complete the Bovidae roster. I found the entire dining concept repulsive, but I know for a fact as a younger, less cognizant diner, I was fed many treasures that I would use now as an emetic in a dangerous situation.
For instance, tripe. I was brought a gorgeous plate of this shit covered in Nonna’s tomato sauce, which I loved. Nonna said, “U-ah try. Its-A very good.” I did. Except for the fact the texture was that of a plastic tongue with tiny bumps combined with a deflated volleyball, once I chewed it enough to swallow it, I kind of liked it. Until big brother Steve ruined the moment with…”You know you’re eating pig stomach.” What the fuck?
Moment ruined. He then said, “or maybe the cow.” Omg, that just makes it so much better.
And the other thing…sanguinaccio. Do you see the correlation with the latin root in the beginning? Sangue=blood. Fucking blood pudding. Why? Because the sausage, bacon, pancetta, chops, feet, ears of that poor, unsuspecting porker wasn’t enough…nothing goes to waste so we made…dessert! And the banner in the butcher was hung so proudly that they carried this delicacy, as if they had sold the winning ticket in the 500m Powerball. My mother would get so excited they had sanguinaccio she bought it to take home to my father. All Italians are fucking nuts.
Let’s move along to one of my favorites because it sounds yummy…sweetbreads. Duped again. Sweet and bread are just a deviation tactic and alias to get you stick your fork in it and savor the delicacy of this mouth-watering, succulent nectar of the gods. Innards. Plain and simple. A leftover from a slaughterfest, because Italians throw nothing out. My mother loved them beyond, but nobody in my house, including my father would eat them. She would order them when we were out. Not like they were so readily available, but that made them even more desirable.
My mother ordered calves’ brains once in a restaurant and I went to the bathroom at the same time, or whatever I was doing not paying attention, and when they arrived on site, looked yummy. Again, Steve said, “those are chicken cutlets.” My mother chuckled and rolled her eyes at him, but they looked like good cutlets. I tried one, and the texture was soft, slimy,and very bizarre to my mouth. They almost melted and certainly didn’t taste like chicken.
I said, “Steve, you lied.” He laughed this really evil, diabolic laugh and said, “Ha, ha..they are calves brains.” I hated him from that day forward.
I never liked fish as a kid, but I’ll tell you, after the Italian leftover experience, I had no problem eating Nonna’s whiting with the parsley and olive oil. I even preferred the bones over some cow tongue.
If that’s one thing the freakish, grotesque immigrant practice of using every last drop taught me, it was how to love fish. Give me smelly baccala’ any day…and I never thought I would say that.
But in the end, nothing was wasted…all was appreciated.
All was loved. All resources consumed to provide for their families and birth a new life. Sacrifices made so my children would never starve or want. Parenting at its best.
Sometimes, especially growing up, we accept things, even the abnormal, as normal, and its by- products may not be visible to the human eye, or felt by the human heart for years to come.
Children who live with abuse, abused women, alcoholism, addiction, etc, accept the evil that enveloped them their whole lives, and the scars that remain indelible are either interred with their bones, as William Shakespeare said in Julius Caesar, or addressed much later in life.
Whether those scars are turned into life lessons about love, and recognizing love, or never worked through, is up to prayer and fate.
My brother Mark, who passed away in 2015, was a paranoid schizophrenic.
Schizophrenia in its most rudimentary form means….
A fragmented mind.
Mark and I were not contemporaries. There was a fourteen year difference between us, and that meant, truly, little sister.
I was not aware of what was to be or become later in his life and mine, but there was some kind of sweetness to your brother teaching you the lyrics to the Doors and Jim Morrison when you are four, playing the Let it Bleed Stones Album over and over (I loved the cover…the birthday cake and the pizza looked amazing), blasting Jimmi Hendrix and just making me repeat stupid shit.
I did learn to love music from both my brothers, Stephen buying for me when I was about eight, this tiny transistor AM radio that looked like a red ball. It was the prototype for a Bluetooth speaker when I think about it.
From what I was told, Mark started to have mini breaks as a child, before I was ever born. Odd behavior, bed wetting, repeating phrases, but nobody addressed it as mental illness back in the day. My father attributed it to Mark’s mom, Kathleen passing and the transition time of being cared for by my paternal grandmother, Dora, and remarrying my mom, his stepmother.
My oldest sibling, my sister, Chris and I were 16 years apart, and Steve and I, the closest in age, 12 years apart. This put me at home, and the older ones in college when Mark started to have adult “breaks.”
I remember vivid fights in the family room about Mark not cutting his hair at Bergen Catholic, my father in a wrestling match with him because Mark was resistant to anything and anyone with authority.
My parents moved him to Rockland Day School, where he eventually graduated and to Skidmore college, and Fordham University where he completed a B.S. in PolySci, and like every other brilliant Perillo man, on to law school, Fordham of course, where my Uncle Joe was a professor.
Typically, schizophrenic breaks occur in early twenties and the pressure of law school compounded with mental illness proved unbearable. The brilliant mind took to LSD to suppress voices, and law school would be a distant memory.
My teenage years saw Mark bounced in and out of mental institutions in the hopes of saving his mind and keeping him on medication.
I began to understand the pressure on my parents to float his life, and the sadness of watching him, a dear soul, truly, I believe, survive. When he took meds, he was brilliant, charming, conversive and sweet.
When I could drive, I would visit him at Rockland State and bring him food. When he was on a policed treatment regimen I thought he was fun to hang with, and the other patients, were, well, interesting. He seemed so normal compared to the guy who kept asking me for my autograph because he thought with my curly hair as a decoy, I was Stevie Nicks.
Somewhere between the normal and the frenetic, unthinkable memories like being a young witness to Mark hurling everything out of the refrigerator because he thought my mother was poisoning him, or pulling the new alarm system out of the wall because he thought the FBI was spying on him, (both which warranted calls to the police because my mother and I were alone in the house,) lie the tender and poignant.
My father made sure Mark was taken care of with supportive care and finances. He eventually moved him into my grandfather’s house in Pearl River, which was next door to my house on Highland Avenue. He lived horribly in squalor, the house aligned with paper bags from various supermarkets. Without medication, there was no hope for normalcy.
Unless provoked, Mark remained in his own mind. His own realm. He would travel from Pearl River to Port Authority carrying a black garbage bag. It was almost like he was in the Witness Protection Program…last seen at…and someone would say with coy inquisition, “Hey, I saw Mark today…he was carrying a black garbage bag on Central Avenue….” Looking for a juicy subtext or conclusion. There was none. That’s what he did.
The movie a Beautiful Mind recollects the story of John F Nash, a brilliant mathematician who could decode and retain information like a robotic Russian spy. Mark, in the same vein would never forget an event date, a birthday, nor a generous gift. He would lumber into a family party and remain sequestered on the couch with no movement. And after he had enough, usually an hour later, he would say his monotone goodbyes and leave. He arrived with a gift, always monetary, and when the recipient opened the envelope, the desire of a softhearted, wildly misunderstood soul to be incredibly generous with what he had, was understood.
My desire to understand my brother over his lifetime went from absolute zero to boiling in the 48 years I knew him. I accepted his norm as a child, but as an adult, my heart broke in reminiscence, frustrated with sympathy I unknowingly lacked.
When I graduated college and my father took me to lunch, alone, at Valentino’s, he said, “Can you promise something?” I’m thinking what could this creative genius, mega millionaire want from me besides a buttered jelly toast and coffee I used to bring him when I was a kid…
“Anything…” I remember saying. “Promise me they will take care of Mark, “ was the ask.
What has stunned and stung me for my life since that martini moment was this powerful icon, this block of Leo persona, of steadfast commitment to wealth, ego, family and success was watered down, humbled and rendered powerless as only a parent could be with a disabled child. “The mind, the mind, the mind, Linda.” And I cried because I finally understood what we had all been absorbing our entire lives, and the lingering pain of a powerless parent reaching out helplessly and to no avail to help his child.
Mark had many health issues, including diabetes and a really bad ticker, forcing him into a quintuple bypass around 2005. One of my favorite stories, and I admittedly giggle when I recount it, was when Mark was found in the subway unconscious from a diabetic coma. First responders asked him who he was when they were able to communicate with him.
Multiple times he said to call Perillo Tours because Mario Perillo was his father. Apparently the officer on the scene laughed at him, as I am sure you do with a “crazy” person you find in the subway. But, apparently someone acquiesced and called the office, tagged Steve who said, “yeah, he’s telling you the truth.”
On August 8, 2015, I was going to New York to see a show with the kids. Steve called me…I’ll never forget the moment of looking for the garage, and like, “What do you want, Steve…did Harry get loose again…”. The phone call was direct and somber.. “It’s Mark.” I knew. The moment we had all been waiting for…the culmination of the beautiful life and beautiful mind had finally met its greatest limitation…death.
He had just returned from his Highland Avenue home’s garden, where he harvested all sorts of vegetation, like my grandpa, and fell backwards in his doorway. He was alone. A neighbor saw his feet sticking out of the front door, akin to the WWW in the Wizard of Oz, and called an ambulance. His weight and his diabetes overtook his compromised heart.
It was finished. I think it was finished in the way Mark would have wanted it finished…alone, quiet, in Pearl River and close to his garden.
As my life moved on from that moment, I did more research on the life and obscurities of a schizophrenic. Mark was classic. But the moments that defined his disease from my childhood until today, are now more clear. Understood, indelible.
The stages I retain and maybe blew off as a child, or adolescent have now become the pieces to a mosaic I have constructed of the understanding of mental illness, disability, and moreover the unsinkable love, and frustration for a parent who cannot move their child from despair, change their future, or simply put, help them.
Mark’s life has entwined, even posthumously, with mine in a beautiful way that I could not imagine would ever cultivate from the time he imparted Doors lyrics or Hendrix riffs on what were then young ears, just learning the scales on a piano. I asked my piano teacher at the time, Miss Williams, “Can we try Excuse Me While I Kiss the Sky…”. She laughed the most jolly laugh of a chubby coiffed blonde woman with intense perfume and pointed me back to my scales.
I eulogized him at his funeral mass, and recounted his imperfect life, because we needed to recognize those imperfections rather than blow them off just to get a gooey eulogy. Those imperfections, his nemesis, his cross is what made him beautiful, albeit invisible to him.
I said there was more beauty in Mark Joseph Perillo because of those imperfections, and loved more by God than those without them.
Thank you Mark, for the gift of patience and love that needed years to cure, but will remain with your little sister for the rest of her life.
I spent some of my creepiest nights in a convent growing up.
It’s no secret my mom’s sister, aka, Aunt Lucy was a Franciscan nun, and my mom, a devout Catholic. Sometimes we would visit her in Poughkeepsie when she was the principal of St. Francis School, and because of the distance back home, we would dine and sleep with the nuns.
The nuns were all kind and fawned all over me because I was little.
But, I could not escape the rickety-ness of everything in their very meager, old, musty smelling abode, laden with saint statues whose eyes seemed to be on me at every turn. I found solace in the itty bitty chapel, but when I slept over I used to hold my pee overnight so I didn’t encounter St. Rose of Lima by the bathroom.
There was no en suite toilet, and I had my mom walk me in the morning because I was scared. There was something about it that reminded me of the Haunted House ride in the Magic Kingdom. I expected spirits to join us at breakfast and I couldn’t wait to get in the car and split.
As I grew older and more mature, aware of the sacrifices of religious vocation, it wasn’t the décor or the saint replicas which threw me for a loop…it was the lifestyle.
Aunt Lucy entered the convent at seventeen, and never looked back. I understand loving the Lord…my devotion falls just slightly short of moving in with a horde of same sex devotees for the rest of my life, so I understand her passion and her devotion…but no man is an island.
I remember peering at her once when she didn’t see me, when my niece Jennifer was born in 1977. We went to visit my sister in Sherborn, Massachusetts. With nobody watching, she took Jenni out of the bassinette, just to hold her. No fanfare. No noise. No crying. Just her and this little newborn. That moment is etched in my brain, and on my heart for 44 years.
When I think about it, there must have been a craving for motherhood, because for most of us, parenting is natural. A woman’s desire for a baby can override every thought, every importunity in life, and yet she chose, chose I say, to fight the natural instinct and human desire to be close to another life.
I knew she loved family. She loved our holidays, our meals, our stories, speaking Vastese with her siblings and sharing childhood memories, but how do you walk away from that after a few hours and not need a mate…someone to rehash, recap, uncoil with? How do you go to bed alone without a good-night kiss, and “I love you.”
It must be lonely. It must have been lonely, but she would never admit it.
How do you spend your existence with other nuns who have nothing to really contribute to your existence except the same day to day devotion, which is beautiful, don’t get me wrong, but that’s it.
How do you not want to hug someone after a long day, your partner, your equal in life, your coparent, whether your day was good or bad, and look forward to that moment when they walk through the door. Yeah, I get it, not every day is “that” day, but there is some element to the comfort of a human hug, a kiss, normalcy of a homelife.
As I raise my kids now as a single mom, and I stress, with the RIGHT person, my BFFL, my companion, my confidant, I miss the adult comradery, the alone time, a dinner, and adult conversation with someone who has my back every day. I look forward to that eventually.
I realized the other night when I had a not so pleasant encounter in the teenage life of one of my kids, I was derailed, crying, emoting, and I needed logical back up. Someone to say, “Lin, this is teenage crap. Back off. Let it settle. Let’s talk. Let’s go for a drink or ice cream. Don’t be so emotional. Don’t be so dramatic. It hurts, but this is how it is.”
I didn’t have any of that, and I just cried in my room, like a room in the convent…and it sucked. I was alone in my thoughts, rehashing the ugliness of the last half hour.
Nobody sat on my bed, I didn’t feel the warmth of the body heat only another person can produce, the smell of cologne or B.O., or even a bad breath kiss.
Someone might say, but you are surrounded with love…you have eight children. And, I never take it for granted. But, it is not the same love.
Genesis 2:18, even the Lord in his infinite, primitive wisdom said:
“It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make him a suitable helper.”
Helper? Hmm…but the take home is that man, (as in mankind) needs a mate, a back up, a refuge.
It is also written, Proverbs, 18:22:
“He who finds a wife, finds a good thing, and obtains favor with the Lord.”
Let’s stress good wife, here. Like myself LOL.
Lonely can be by choice, whether it’s religious devotion like Aunt Lucy, or the proverbial bachelor, who just can’t commit.
Sometimes people, like myself tried so hard to make the relationship work, but it takes two people who want to make it work, who understand what it’s about.
But, in the end, we need “that person.” It’s unnatural not to have “that person,” in good times and in bad, venting about an ugly moment with the kids or shit that went on at the office.
And, “in sickness and in health.” My God…dying alone.
Not being cared for by someone who committed themselves to YOU…holding your hand through a scary procedure. Waking up from anesthesia and seeing your forever person there smiling at you because you just snored in the nurse’s face and farted uncontrollably for two hours. Or, taking the day off for your colonoscopy or mammogram because you are scared shitless.
Yeah, you can call on your best girlfriend to get you there and home, but when they go back to their families, you are alone in the convent.
Although we think we can make it alone, do it alone, and for the toughness I think I have, deep down I don’t. I don’t think anyone does.
Everybody needs somebody. God created us to procreate so we can have our own people, and give our people to someone else’s people.
It’s that simple. It’s that natural. It’s that beautiful.
So, as I reflect on my aunt, her anniversary coming up in August, if she could hear me, I would say…
“Aunt Lucy, you have to admit…it must have been lonely in that convent.”
Parenting is constant.
It is a difficult activity that takes up every ounce of our being, every minute of every day.
Yet, the most joyous, the most rewarding, the most passionate of all loves.
Passion is not always joyous.
There are tears galore, frustration, the feeling of wanting to choke the shit out of another human being, (but if you are sane, even at that moment of insanity, you don’t), saying crap in another’s face that at that moment sounds good because they just touched every sympathetic nerve with a heated barb.
Parenting is an intense road of constant direction, worry, and needing to impart your beliefs on another for their own good, even if it doesn’t really go over well.
That’s if you’re doing it right.
One thing I always say about passion…even in its worst form…anger, tears, telling someone to F-off, it comes from hard core emotion. Most of the time it comes from love. Without love of something, a person, an occupation, a food (if you’re Italian), there is no passion. There is no anger when the other person rejects our idea, rejects an apology, a hug, a kiss, without passion.
Passion is hurt. Passion is anger. Passion is rejection. As twisted and uncomfortable as those emotions are, it means we love.
Indifference is passion’s nemesis. When we can walk away without feeling or caring even under explosive circumstances, or feel nothing in a relationship that is supposed to bring us joy, indifference is born.
Parenting is full of passion. But, that passion doesn’t have to be gooey and demonstrative every day of the week.
Whether it’s a grand explosion of embraces, trips to DQ, shopping sprees and pinatas or the day to day grind, passion for parenting allows us to get up every day and do it again and again.
But, using the word “No,” just to say it so we know we are in the driver’s seat isn’t the balance, either.
Parenting is totality. It’s not about the one moment in time when you pissed each other off, or the one vacation to Disney that was so dreamy you bought everything at that store in Tomorrowland to redecorate your kitchen.
It is the mundane, every day routine, but your constant presence of love…your rock for your child, that bologna or meatball sandwich, the project they forgot that you dropped off when you were in your workout gear…it’s all passion. It’s consistency and totality.
Parents who have incessant rigidity will never get to the core of their kid..their needs, and most importantly who they are. Once you unlock this mystery, you will be better adept at navigating the relationship. They seem to be too focused on the mechanics of parenting, rather than the heart.
Have you ever heard this stupidity: “I’m not your friend. I’m your mother?” Right-o mommy-o, oh most holy one. Wrong.
Most relationships, even the romantic ones, the ones with staying power are built on friendship first.
You were your kid’s first friend. First true love, first confidant, their entire world. Their trust.
And, now, just to make a point from the throne, you have demoted them to royal subject and rent free squatter to hold dominion over them because…why?
Without that level of friendship and openness, your mini me will search for other pastures, and others who will listen to them.
I did not say they are your equal. That’s different. Respect is foremost. But, the balance between parent and friend is key, and as I told my daughter the other night during a moment of negative passion, respect begets respect. Yeah, mom, dad, it’s hard.
Showing the omnipotent, infallible teenager respect for their space by asking (even though you own their car, the car insurance, and are the gas cash cow) if they will drive their sibs to dance, what their schedule is, trying to work around their lives, only promotes a giving back of the same. Remember, at any age, children learn what they live. They learn to love from you, how to treat others, and for the good and bad of it, probably how to parent.
I made it through 25 almost 26 years of parenting, without one chart, one colored sticker, one fucking emoji calendar. I don’t put anything in my phone, and my head is my secretary. I fly by the seat of my Fabletics, I can be disorganized and messy. I suck at banking and I can’t get past fourth grade math. And, some days I feel like I suck at it all.
But, I didn’t follow some psychologist’s rubric on how to raise my own child. I didn’t use a book. My mom was dead, and my father was kind, but he didn’t know anything about potty training or diaper changing. I winged it through instinct.
Follow your instinct. F everything else. Teach love. Not Hare Krishna Kumbaya, My Sweet Lord Love, but every day useful love.
Teach compassion. And the best way to teach is to show. Don’t pontificate. Get pissed, because we all do. But, be able to say I’m sorry.
Be generous with uncovering your foibles, because we all have them. Kids will pressure themselves less if they know you are not perfect. Be kind when they fail, falter, bring home a bad grade. We’ve all been there. Demonstrate the compassion and patience you would want demonstrated to you.
Keep your home open for them to bring friends over. You would rather have them there than anywhere else, even if it means a group of long haired teenagers use your house like an after prom shore romp.
Build up the good moments of love and tolerance like an investment, so when you need to let it rip, because as parents we have to, it will balance the softer moments, and above all, leave space for the uncomfortable part of setting a ground rule, dealing with repercussions and lesson learning.
Vexatious moments will arise all through life that need to be pointed out and dealt with…be armed with parental authority and recognize the teachable moment.
Passion isn’t just sex, making out, hanging all over your significant other on the couch watching Netflix. It is about loving what you do…loving others in good moments and moments of distress, discord and disagreement.
Passion in its most beautiful form is an expression of love.
Don’t be guilted by the ugly moments, for they come from love. When you embrace your children, embrace the passion of parenting. It’s hard core, it’s timeless, it’s never ending.
It is a gift.
As I ponder my life at 53, almost 54, and how much has changed in my faith, my thoughts, my direction on the eve of this Father’s Day, I need to address my dad’s influence on me.
But, it may not be in the gooey, typical Father’s Day tribute you will see posted everywhere. YAWN.
For the Italian American community, and sometimes beyond, my dad was, as I am finding, a beloved icon.
My Iast name is not a common one, and a dead ringer I might be related. Sometimes I see how excited someone gets when they put the pieces together, recite commercials from the 70’s and 80s that I can too recite ad nausem and were just a part of my every day existence.
As a kid, I just knew my father as dad. I could not understand the applause. I just knew the guy who lunched at Valentino’s, smoked a pack of Marlboros a day, drove the same car ten years in a row (and of course the Ferrari), only drank Chianti or a Beefeater Martini up with a twist or two, and always came home to his family.
He would inevitably fall asleep on the couch watching 60 Minutes or Gunsmoke. He snored so loud because he was minus his adenoids since he was like ten, and my mom couldn’t take much of that and bought every snore trapper device she could find.
He worked tirelessly and passionately until he entered hospice at 76, and as I go through a divorce, I am proud and excited to go back to my maiden name.
It’s not about the celebrity, it’s about the man.
The man who, set the bar so high, I couldn’t find a real man representative of what a man should be.
My father was the most committed individual to anything he embarked on.
He never left a project unfinished, or slept in until 11 a.m. There was work to be done, money to be made, and a family to provide for.
Even during the not so wealthy days, as an immigration attorney, he always knew there was more. Make it better. Make it the best. Be a good person, with honor, integrity and care. Treat everyone as if they were paying your bills. Remember your employees are part of your success, and your front line. Love them until the death. (and he did). Be loyal. Love your wife like she is the last woman on earth. Provide for your kids even when they become adults. Then, provide for your grandchildren.
Legacy. Lineage. Roots.
He never forgot any of them.
If he were alive, I would probably tell him I find him single handedly responsible for my failed relationships. I’m sure he would laugh and then ask how the hell this could be.
And, I would tell him:
Dad, I thought everyone was you.
I thought every man was you.
I thought men were inherently good, honorable and faithful.
I thought any man knew his role, knew how to love, knew how to treat a woman, his wife.
I thought every man would work like a dog, provide for his family and never rest until he achieved his goal, and still never stop.
I thought every man would be selfless, egoless and upstanding beyond.
I thought every man was honest and knew how to love.
It’s all I knew, dad, and I thought they would all be you.
So, as I venture into my almost mid 50s, embarking on a new life, I will look for my dad in an incredibly special man who gets it. He needs to be very Catholic, compatible with my faith, and if you are not Italian…need not apply.
It’s not about money. It’s not about wealth. It’s about understanding what love is, the sacrifice it takes, the calling it is, the unwearying desire and devotion to your better half, and your family. It’s about not wanting to hurt someone to vault your own ego, but about forgetting the ego to boost someone else’s. It’s about caring so much for others that you die with nothing to check off, and hopefully no regrets.
It’s about loving the way a man should…without boundaries, without limitations and never, ever worrying about what the rest of the world thinks.
Dad, you set the bar way too high for an average man.
Mostly because you don’t know what average is.
I grew up the anomaly of my grammar school class, Saint Margaret’s School, class of 1981. The “anomaly” part was purely cultural as I was always a pretty nice kid, very social, and I just liked to please and I liked people.
Pearl River was known as “Little Dublin,” and I was, I believe, one of maybe four non Irish kids in my class. I asked my mother once for Irish dance lessons, and my friend, Cathy was in a feis, and she taught me a few moves. Fitting in is very important to a pre-adolescent. But, sometimes I felt “adopted” and out of place. I didn’t have anyone to share my traditions with.
Not understanding how important culture and tradition was, I was in shock that my Sunday, meatball and pasta ritual was not shared with others. Kids used to tell me they had a sandwich for lunch after Mass, and in my mind, I’m like, uh, “a sandwich, on a Sunday? Where the fuck did you come from?” My sandwich came the next day, leaking through a Bamberger’s bag, a meatball sliced in half, one half per Italian bread slice. They looked like two boobs if you opened the sandwich flat. My mother did not buy the handy pack of lunch bags at Shop Rite. Every lunch bag she used revealed where she shopped, indelible for all to read. Embarrassing.
She would slice an orange for dessert because I was chunky. Cute, but chunky. She took a knife and sliced sections from top to bottom so I could peel and eat. I think I threw it out half the time. I was mortificata.
The food isn’t where the contrast stopped. I started body shaming myself very early on. I had boobs…early. My grandmother had them. My mother was normal. My very skinny cousin had them, so we commiserated a lot, but she was still skinny, so I could not even exhume a fragment of sympathy for her. My hips were curvy, and I did not resemble a boy…I was jealous I didn’t…not in a masculine way, in a feminine way. I wanted flat. Flat chest, flat ass, and forget my thighs. OMG…the crowning glory…NOT! To this day, my nemesis.
I remember getting ready for a class trip in 8th grade. I wanted to be like the other girls, so I wanted Sweet Orr pants..do you remember them? The cargo pants of the seventies. Of course, spandex and Lycra were a thing of the future, so stretch wasn’t even an option. The night before I went to sleep, I took two big text books to emulate my spreading thighs, and put one in each pant leg, with the covers open. I prayed God would stretch my pants with the text books and they would fit me like they did the other girls. I was sadly mistaken. I stayed short, rolling up every pant leg, and I stayed “not skinny.”
My hair was also incredibly curly. That completely messed me up because I wanted that straight, nothing, pinned to your head like grease look, similar to getting caught in the rain. Instead, God opted for the white chick “fro,” which my mother kept short, and in the humid weather expanded like a whoopie cushion with even the slightest suspect of humidity. I started realizing my face wasn’t that bad, but everything else…I was just so different and unappealing.
My Nonna, my mother’s mother, was an amazing cook. Her immigrant Abbruzese roots spawned the best peasant food this side of Vasto…and she was always feeding me…her sheet pan pizza was not to be messed with, and everything else she made, I would eat. She skimped on nothing fattening…oil, butter, cheese. I think as a little kid I didn’t get it. But, after a while I caught on…this is yummy but it’s not making me skinny.
By the time high school came around, and girls were getting more feminine figures, some plumping out, others looking great in bikinis with itty bitty boobies. I only paid attention to the bikinis, small boobies and flat stomachs. Remember, Kate Moss, was my idol. She lived on saltines and ginger beer more than likely, and never gained an ounce. But, by freshman year in college, I had had it with the Italian thighs…so I went anorexic for a summer.
Do you remember the book “The Summer of My German Soldier?” This was “The Summer of my Anorexia,” by Linda Grace Perillo. I think it was the summer of my freshman year at Fordham, and I was a DJ on WFUV. I loved it. I lived for it. I loved talking, an audience, and after four years at the Academy, I had guys in my life. If you ever wanted to motivate a curvy girl to lose weight, this was it.
I was down to 105lbs. My skinniest ever. I followed Weight Watchers to a tee with measuring cups and a food diary. I did aerobics every morning. My clothes fell off, and it was joyous. Our PD, Dr. Jennings, lifted up my arm one day outside the studio door and said, “Do you eat?” I was so proud of myself as I ate a turkey sandwich with nothing on it, and one piece of bread. I wasn’t “Fat lard,” anymore. This only spurred me on to continue my dream of looking flat and Irish.
That summer, I went to Italy with my niece. I ate nothing but vegetables and a cup of pasta and fish every day. When I came home, I was so skinny my father looked at me and said, “Linda, you need a steak.” Oh, dad, you are so funny! Deathly skinny is in. Just ask the boys in my class at St. Margaret’s.
A few weeks went by and I managed to pass out at the beach with my boyfriend, and with the same boyfriend I passed out in church, and cut my lip and my tongue on the pew in front of me on the way down. He told my parents when I got home. The next day, I had an early radio shift, and I had just gotten my class three license for the patch panel, so I had no engineer and I had to get there with the tweet of the first summer starling. I got up at 4 a.m., and found a sticky note on my mirror: “Linda, even the President takes a day off.” I think there was a part of my dad that recognized my drive like his early on. He tried to save me. Ok, so being skinny had it’s drawbacks. But like my friend says: “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.”
As years passed, and adulthood and pregnancy took its toll, skinny was a distant memory. Contrary to my belief that skinny was the bomb, my pregnant body was the bomb. I felt so beautiful, so Madonna and Child, that I didn’t care about the flat figure. Models like Kim Alexis, Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell were at the fringe of curve acceptance. They got wider as the years passed, and J-Lo proved, the latin thigh was sexy. Kim K shoved silicone in her butt to make it wider, and suddenly, in my forties, my body was “in.”
Getting older, I worked harder on my body than I ever did, and I finally reached acceptance.
Admittedly, when Brynn had a breast reduction three years ago, I was jealous. I’m short. 5’2 is short. You can call it what you want, petite, tiny, little,…I’m short. My boobs are half my torso, but I started to realize there are women out there getting implants to recreate what nature gave me. Victoria’s Secret makes padded push ups to achieve what I had naturally.
I’m gonna work it, work with it, through it and love it. I have a 24” waist, and bigger hips, and I will never have a small ass or thighs. The solution to my psychosis was working with what I had and making it the best it could be.
I have dreams of walking in my fourth grade classroom even though I hated my teacher, Mrs. Courtney. Oh my God…little shop of horrors. But, I would walk in proud of the Italian thighs, raised on my mother’s Carbonara, nonna’s pizza and fritelle (fried dough with ricotta), aunt Lena’s meatballs and sausage, and not care if I wasn’t “flat.” Keeping myself in check, eating right and omg, working out with trainer Greg, and cardio are the key, even in my early 50s.
But, loving yourself, telling the haters and the mockers, the bulliers to “F off,” is the most refreshing, liberating thing I learned from my Italian thighs. If you got it, girl…work it...someone is gonna love holding you at that tiny waist, even if your hips come out like a shelf. And if they have a problem with it, walk those thighs far, far away and put on the hot pants and blow yourself a kiss in the mirror like my daughter does…
Lots and lots of conversations with the Lord have happened during my “can’t move off the couch except to use the bathroom” period at 53 years old.
I never thought I would have the downtime I do, the quiet days I do, the time to finally write that I do. But, as I now concretely believe, God halts you in your tracks, sometimes without warning. We live our lives with great anxiety, rushing from place to place, minus moments of meditation and quiet…never realizing this is all temporary, and life, as trite as it sounds, is a gift…every moment of health is to be worshiped. It is short. It is temporary. Scary, right?
As what I defined as being a faithful follower of Christ and a devout Catholic seemed in place, I was unaware of how much of it was routine until now. Taught. Ingrained. I loved God with my whole heart, as well as my Catholic upbringing, but I started reflecting on that upbringing and what has changed. From my first day at St. Margaret’s in Pearl River in September 1973, until now, and growing up with my Aunt Lucy who makes Mother Teresa look like Gloria Steinem.
Most of it has brought me closer to the Lord in a very human way, not looking to God as the ultimate punisher of all that is wrong. But rather, to Jesus, as man, as human being, as a reflection of those he created.
Do we stray as Catholics? Yes, we are human, but that is the point. If we look at Jesus as forgiving and human, we might have better luck being better Catholics. But, as I encountered a post Vatican 2 Catholic rearing, some of what we were told to believe may defy what we should be doing as Christians, trying only to stay within the margins of Catholic Doctrine.
Pope Francis has shed much light and love and made great inroads into some of this fire and brimstone portrait. Loosening the reigns, just a little, might invite more back to the church, more freely, without anxiety and fear of diabolic punishment.
So, here is what six-year-old Linda thought, and what she thinks now:
Six-year-old Linda on Sin:
Bad, bad, bad. Hell awaits you for lusting after the cute boys at school. You will go blind.
Hell awaits you for daydreaming in Mass and praying for it to be over.
Hell awaits if you have a cookie one hour before Mass.
Hell awaits if your dress is too short or you wear a bikini…anywhere.
Hell awaits if you cheat on a test or throw half your lunch away.
Hell awaits if you don’t go to Confession even if you make it up.
Hell awaits if from 12-3 on Good Friday you don’t shackle yourself in solitary.
Hell awaits if you don’t wash your hands coming out of the bathroom stall.
Hell awaits anything that isn’t perfect or kind, or exemplary of a cloistered Monk. Anything foible and human deserves hell.
Fifty-three-year-old Linda on Sin:
We sin every day. We are imperfect beings and God knows that. We are sinful. The only specimen of human flesh who did not sin was the Blessed Mother, and sister. Let me tell you, nobody comes close to that perfection. She was created without sin, in order to carry and deliver incarnate, perfect divinity. Aside from that, she lived among sinners. The best saints sinned constantly. St. Augustine was a drunk, Mary Magdalene, a lady of the evening, Mary of Egypt, a total trollop, St. Dismas who was crucified with Christ just to name a few. But the key to recognition of that sin, is asking for forgiveness. We want to be “Christ-like,” we don’t need to be God-like. There is a difference. Sometimes just saying “God, I’m sorry I thought that woman was ugly.” “I’m sorry I missed Mass today,” “I’m sorry I forgot today was Friday during Lent and I downed that Chick-Fil-A.”
On judgement day, I believe, that God will not say, “You had a good run for 90 years, but we really have to discuss that Friday in Lent, 1983 when you ate Chicken Matzah Ball soup before I let you in.” No. Christ welcomed sinners to follow him to let them know love was the key…not doctrine or regiment.
Six-year-old Linda on Mass:
Shoot me now, please. Like most six-year-olds, I didn’t relish going to Mass. I found it a burden, and major cut into my Sunday morning Partridge Family marathon. My mother used to tell me it was 45 minutes, and the only obligation I had for the week. But, OMG, if Aunt Lucy was around for the weekend, this added an entire 15 minutes onto the ordeal because she would never, ever be late for church.
I’m not sure if there are too many kids who love Mass. My kids have matured into being okay with it, but the moans and groans still exist. I think a young child who is that enamored by their religious obligation probably isn’t really enjoying youth. It takes cultivation, maturity, understanding and life experience to truly value Mass. I think it is unnatural to expect so much from a child, which is why we keep asking, like Gianmarco does, “How much longer?” And Holy Week... just send me to the guillotine…Veneration…Holy Thursday Mass and oh no, evil of all evils…Easter Vigil.
Fifty-three-year-old Linda On Mass:
My respite. My Zen. My journey into spirituality. My time to meditate on the life of Christ, what he went through, what he tried to teach us about love and forgiveness even when it was most difficult. He was human. Was he divine? Yes. Did he have emotion? Yes. But Jesus as Jesus came for us to understand that we are not perfect.
My takeaway every week is gratitude…my life is actually dreamy compared to the trials of others, and I have learned not to bitch. When I ask the Lord to guide me, that takes hold of my conscience. He is constantly tapping me on the shoulder…saying, “Um, you, with the healthy kids and gifted life…stop bitching about stupidity. You have it all…pay it forward.” This does not mean that I have never, ever looked down at my phone, answered a text or headed into the shopping zone in my mind, ever…it happens. I am human. I own it. St. Teresa of Lisieux admitted there was a nun she found incredibly distracting.
“Formerly one of our nuns managed to irritate me whatever she did or said. The devil was mixed up in it, for it was certainly he who made me see so many disagreeable traits in her.”
If the beautiful St. Teresa could have an issue with another human being, well, then, who was I to think I was better?
As mother Olga would say, “All God asks is 45 minutes a week…and the rest is on him.” If we look at it that way, how can we argue the sanctity and grace we receive in that 45 minutes. That’s if we truly give those 45 minutes to God and ask him to lock the dial…
Six-year-old Linda on prayer:
Believe it or not, I was always a good pray-er. My mom taught me early about its powerful attributes, but a kid uses it for stupid stuff like “Blessed Mother, I promise the Rosary, every day, four times a day if I can get %^&*&^ to like me and kiss me behind the Five and Ten.” (I was older, then, lol). “Or, Malibu Barbie has a new Beach House…I really need it.”
But, in the rudimentary beginnings of our Catholic schooling, it’s all about the scope, right? What else would I be praying for? I was well-versed in every prayer from the first grade on, knew every mystery of the Rosary, every ancillary prayer to the Rosary, and funerals. But I did learn that prayer was important, and it was powerful and useful. Did I really understand its spiritual value? Maybe a little, but not fully. It was a means to an end…always a good end, like something shiny and new. But shiny and new eventually meant a resurgence of faith, and soul.
Fifty-three-year-old Linda on prayer:
The most unbelievable tool we have to keep us in touch with Christ. We don’t need to pray formally. Sometimes I forget my novenas, and think, screw it. Just go with it…If I need to pray, I’ll pray. God gets me, hears me, no matter where I am, or how I say it. As a matter of fact, he knows what I am saying before I even get there. The saints I love were people before they were saints, most of them in desperate need of conversion. Worse shape than I am, and through prayer, through God’s trust that they could be redeemed, they were. All through prayer. Prayer is miraculous. Period. It is our connection with God and his intercessors, and we need it every day, for everything.
God does not care what you are asking for, how much or when. He asked us many times through his Gospels to pray, pray, pray. Sometimes, as I am finding out even now, answers are not uncovered for years, weeks, months, or even the way we intended sometimes. But, when you are aware of the answer, you understand.
How else do you connect if we don’t connect with God in a spiritual way? We cannot connect with him in a physical way because He is not tangible as Himself, yet we find him in others. We find Him in answers to problems that we did not expect. We find him when others speak to us and we are inspired to find solutions or better, bringing us down a notch when we complain about our baggage going over life’s weight limit and yeah, having to unpack some shit and throwing it in another bag. This is all prayer.
It is not limited to the formalities of Adoration, Mass, sitting in church, holiday Masses, novenas, chaplets. God asks us, as His beings, His sheep, to come to Him, call on Him, ask for Him. Remember, he gets us…when Mattel made Barbie and Ken, they created dolls in an image of what they thought were beautiful people. God did the same thing. He knows better, always.
Six-year-old Linda on the devil:
Yikes. Scary shit. The devil. Lucifer. Beelzebub. Saddam Hussein. Bill Clinton, David Berkowitz, Charles Manson, Jim Jones, Jeffrey Dahmer... yes, he is many forms. But the devil I was introduced to in my childhood was a being. He was MF-ing ugly as all get out, that face and that tail, those beady popping out of your head eyes, horns like huge zits and a pitchfork. And all I knew is if I didn’t return the nickel overpayment to the guy who owned the pizza place on Central Avenue in Pearl River, he was going to steal my soul.
He was the vat of temptation and iniquity in its most ever-present form, and the true nemesis of Christ. You did not want to go within ten thousand feet of his pitchfork, and if you sinned once, just once, or looked at Sr. Thomas Joseph the wrong way, you were a goner.
Jesus could not save you from hell if you sided with the Devil. According to our Bible, Jesus did have arguments with the Devil, Matthew 4:1-11 and places Jesus in the wilderness with Satan himself. But Jesus does win every time. I think that was the message to kids…always err on the side of caution.
When in doubt, whip out the Rosary, pray all the mysteries from the joyful ones to those ugly sorrowful ones… and then he might go away. But be careful if you have one dirty or disrespectful thought… you are fair game for that ugly soul stealer.
53-year-old Linda on the devil:
Ok, time to dumb this down. Does evil exist in the world? Oh yes it does. Hugh Hefner, Larry Flint, El Chapo, Pablo Escobar, Al Capone, Harvey Weinstein, Al Qaeda, Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Eva Perón, Jeffrey Epstein, Snow White’s Stepmother, to name a few of the immoral and evil’s most personified. These creepers took what God gave them, be it creativity, power, trust, money and turned it into shiny gold, immorality while luring or destroying the innocent.
They certainly had diabolic plans, and the worst part is they knew it…they didn’t make mistakes, misunderstand, or “accidentally” act immoral. They preyed on the innocent for financial gain and fame, never thinking they would have to answer to a higher being. Yes, temptation at its best, right? They just said yes to “evil,” flat out, not caring about anyone but themselves, morphing into the devil incarnate among us.
But, the Catholic school devil temptation of good, everyday people is, in my opinion, a little overboard. Sometimes, as I have learned, what we might view as temptation, if we listen closely enough to God, is actually God repositioning us and making us think in real time. He’s urging us to listen to what he wants from us, sometimes taking us out of a place we thought was so right and binding.
In God’s world, there is no such thing as cement. We feel so contracted to the written law, like the Jews, that what is fire and brimstone, good and bad, black and white, basing it all on punishment, that we don’t allow Jesus to take the wheel and move us all over the board. We feel it might break a vow, destroy a relationship, promote immorality…(like my kids wanting to move in with their significant others).
But it’s the rigidity that promotes the schism. Not that we should bargain with God, but I think sometimes his message is, “not everything is a sin. Change is not a sin. Weighing things is not a sin. Not loving and fortifying understanding is the sin. Anything pulling you away from God into the lust of the netherworld and dragging others with you is the bigger sin.
Meeting someone, like your kids, where they are, is actually more promising of a relationship with you and them and Catholicism than dismissing them to stand your ground. This has been a difficult one for me. When I met my husband, I was divorced in my mid-thirties with two children, and I still wouldn’t move in with him. Now, I’m getting divorced.
So, keeping those morals 100% in check because I was supposed to, didn’t really make a difference. But God stopped me in my tracks to say, there are greater sins, those which are blatantly committed than allowing me to change your life. The marriage vows you took were with sincerity, but as a follower of mine, I need to pull you out of a situation that is not for you, for there is a greater, more fulfilling, abundant love which will bring you and your family closer to me. This marriage, when you look back, tore you away in small pieces, and trickled onto your children. You are not sinning. You are listening. Don’t push me away.
Six-year-old Linda on clergy:
Yeah, I was around a lot of clergy. Although nuns are not considered clergy, I am going to box them in because between Aunt Lucy and everyone who taught me from St. Margaret’s to AHA has this “special” place in my heart.
They were interesting, that’s for sure. I could not understand, how the nuns could “choose” this way of life. Why wouldn’t you want to put on make-up, do your hair, shop, wear different clothes every day? Why would you want to live with six-foot statues that look like their eyes are following you into the bathroom? Waaaay after six years old, I started thinking about the sex part, and was like, WTF.
I remember overnighting in Aunt Lucy’s convent, and even though the nuns fussed over me, offered all kinds of wrapped goodies, which I thought were a lure into the sisterhood, I could not understand this choice. No good food, old, simple living accommodations, no fluff. No pretty anything.
The nuns who taught me bore the same demeanor for the most part, wore heavier habits, and looked really old, even when they were probably 30. I think they all looked the same, every day, even after I graduated, and they finally passed away. It was like spiritual formaldehyde.
At Holy Angels, some nuns tried to integrate by porting a delicate piece of jewelry, no habit and maybe a change of polyester skirt. Nope. Still didn’t get it. I respected them, but I wasn’t having it. They never seemed to be aligned with real life issues. I mean how could you be when you’ve probably never kissed a boy, used a tampon, shopped for fun stuff, ate anything that wasn’t wrapped in tin foil or came out of a musty cabinet.
Priests, in my estimation at six, probably co-habituated with the Munsters on 1313 Mockingbird Lane, with the same “cuckoo” clock Herman and Lilly had that was a black raven cooing “Never More” at bewitching times of the day.
They reminded me of ghosts, or spirits that floated around, appearing only for Mass, were sermonizing zealots who were as perfect as Christ, and the more important, intimidatingly unapproachable.
I never understood their homilies, found them long, boring, painful and irrelevant to the life of a kid. I used to think unlike the nuns, they were born this way. They had no youth, or understanding of it, and akin to a groundhog defying death to cross a busy road to get back to their den, they skirted in a circuitous movement, serpentining from church to rectory to avoid the congregation.
They were impenetrable, and taboo, melting like the Wicked Witch of the West to the human touch. Aunt Lucy revered them as though she was their faithful subordinate. But looking back, it was the nurturing nuns who did more to cultivate my relationship with God and definitely the Blessed Mother than any priest.
Fifty-three-year-old Linda on clergy:
Nuns. I thank the nuns, and certainly my aunt, who was a teacher, earned her Master’s, and started the first Catholic Montessori nursery School in the state of New York, for allowing me to connect with my nurturing prowess.
Women nurture, and even the strictest of nuns I encountered had some particle of maternal instinct. In their hearts they are married to the Lord…he’s the husband they are dedicated and faithful to.
They are allowed to have jobs as nurses, teachers, and most have the innate desire to nurse, which served me well. I found the nun who slapped your ass with a ruler or who wickedly drooled and smiled like Annie Wilkes in Misery when your wrapped knuckles bled are either ficticious or few and far between. I never encountered these nuns. Ever. Ok, a scowl, yes, always.
Sister Norice, my principal at AHA probably wouldn’t smile even if Jesus himself wanted to reenact the Transfiguration in front of her eyes. Personality is personality, but I learned to respect their devotion to the Lord. I learned that, contrary to what I learned about priests, their devotion was pure. They would not participate in the Angels and Demons set up of power the priests were. They were never even given that opportunity to lead a parish, when actually, they probably would have done a good job leading a congregation and coming down to a lay person’s meeting point. Do I regret not being a nun? Um, no. But, as an adult, I have learned to understand and respect their choice to serve the Lord, and admire their simple lifestyle.
Priests. Still a little daunting, but we are getting better as time goes on. Unlike the nuns, I do think, a thought even fifteen years ago I would have choked on, that priests should marry. To be reverently idiomatic, men are hunters. They are not nurturers. They need….um, let’s say, flesh. Yes, they need sex, and celibacy is completely unnatural to ask of any man, no matter how they “roll.” How can you ask a man, (yes, a woman, too, but I think that’s easier), to “keep it in his pants,” and perform his job and duties naturally? It’s a complete contradiction and I am sure, an uncovered frustration to what God created man and woman for: procreation.
The Garden of Eden started out with Adam. Alone. Then, God, yes God, thought he needed a mate…so he gave Adam a…car? A chalice? NO! A woman! Why? To be his mate and make babies! Read between the lines… and this is God…for Pete’s sake!
Did I think this as a kid? No.
Priests were untouchable eunuchs, not even human enough to be looked at as attractive or let alone a sexual being. However, as priests have become more human, interacting more with the outside world, leading parishes and migrating among the congregation because they feel less separated than they did at the turn of Vatican 2, it’s becoming apparent, that by choice, they should marry if they want to. A friend of mine who is a bishop has always said to me, “we should have the option.”
My girlfriend from childhood and I used to laugh that “Father What a Waste” never existed during our time. But leave it to the Italians, at Vatican/Basilica central to come up with this: https://www.thetalko.com/12-hottest-priests-that-make-you-want-to-confess-your-sins/
Even Pope Francis admitted he fell in love during his teens but had to turn off what came naturally in order to enter the priesthood. When approached about priests and celibacy, he admitted the Apostles were probably all married:
“Certainly, the majority of the Apostles were married. In this modern age, the Church must observe these things. It has to advance with history.” Indeed, while Archbishop of Buenos Aires, the future Pope Francis acknowledged that “the celibacy rule is simply one of tradition and is flexible.”
If a priest falls in love, as nature intended a man to do, he is more likely to suck at priesthood if he is kept away, and if he leaves the priesthood for the more natural path of marriage, is he punished for his honesty?
He should be lauded for his honesty, allowed to preach as a deacon, and the church should say, “Psych! Look at this, a happy guy, with a faithful wife who will get more involved in the church on a layman’s level, more relatable to the congregation, and get this…bring more Catholics into the world…cha-ching!” My God, isn’t that a win-win?
From six-year-old Linda, to fifty-three-year-old Linda, I think this is a better move to open up the doors of the church not only for its leaders, but from the standpoint of a cradle Catholic who believes that priests need to come off the throne, and sit on one of those hard, cold, stick up your butt chairs used in every alary church gym or cafeteria around the world.
A priest can certainly argue they are “approachable” or “understanding,” of real-life issues, and are bound by the Catholic dogma or margins of the church, which is good. But to relate to genuine dilemmas of a layman, they must be able to relate, and I don’t think they can appropriately or authentically do that “if their kingdom is not of this world.”
Christ came incarnate to relate to us, to understand us, and in turn for us to relate to Him as a human being. If He did not suffer “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” as he did for us, we could not call him the true savior of mankind. We love Him because He was human. We love Him because we can relate to His pain, to His doubts, to His tears, to His joys, and understand His teachings because they were based on love and simplicity.
This fifty-three-year-old cradle Catholic believes with true and adoring faith in the Lord, that in order to truly love God, we cannot look at him, or the Church as dictators of the Church in the 1500s, but as is the entire point of Christ’s life in the New Testament, rather than what we were waiting for as descendants of the Jews in the Old Testament. The Messiah was not the pontificating, unapproachable priest on the altar, or the nun with the wrapped Twinkie and bloody ruler. He was a human being, and without moving towards that element, the Church, I believe will lose more and more of its congregation.
Am I advocating a free for all? Absolutely not. I am advocating for reasonability in a time when people have lost faith. Come down to the humble, more human level of those who want to love God in their way, whether they are divorced, gay, clergy who want to marry, fallen away Catholics who are afraid to return because of chastisement.
The Lord God made imperfection. We all sin, but as Catholics, we need to see Jesus as the Shepherd who will not turn us away, and if the Catholic church is what we believe to be the most powerful representation of Jesus Christ, they need to lower to those standards of judgement and call clergy, nuns, and layman to forgive, be forgiven, and most importantly, the greatest Commandment…To Love One Another.
So, for those who know me…some call me sensitive, lots say I’m dramatic, but those who truly know me know I am devoted, driven, goal oriented, and love harder than anyone they know.
But, the one who knows me best, and has opened my heart and my eyes to myself is the Lord.
I pray. All the time. Sometimes they are formal prayers, like Novenas, my mom’s legacy, the gorgeous Memorare to Our Lady and now my new bestie, St. Rita’s novena, (she absolutely has me in her registry as a nutcase), my ancient Act of Contrition, which, btw is waaaay off base with the one my kids know.
Mostly though, my chats with the Lord are in the vernacular, the way he made me…chatty but real. Deep thinking, but deep loving.
When I busted my achilles, in the middle of a very difficult, emotional time in my life, I was angry. So angry. I was beginning to heal, piece by piece with ardent self persuasion every day, trying to inject myself with reflexive feelings of self worth, determined to self soothe. I thought I was going to start sucking my thumb again.
I asked God every day for new life, new love, and more importantly, acceptance of a difficult situation, trust in his new plan for me, and the most important, appreciation of the blessings around me, which, admittedly, I was ignoring.
So, here is how this very devout layperson segued into an even stronger relationship with God.
GOD to LINDA on DIVORCE:
Look, I gave you beautiful children. You were made by me to nurture and love, and care. Your choice of men to give you those children was not the best for you, but you took one for the team in order to bring these new, precious, talented, healthy lives into the world.
Now, as you have matured in your thoughts on candy-coated love, I will send you someone eventually, who has already been through the wringer, made tough life choices, but is as deeply rooted in family and faith as you are.
You were too busy raising the family I sent to truly understand marriage love. You deserve a partner…even if it is for the next thirty years. You will continue to raise your children with an even deeper faith, no combativeness regarding Holy Days of Obligation, receiving Communion, and Mass will be a holy, amazing part of your weekend. You have followed me, cared for the fragile lives I have sent you, and continued to pray, even though it was at times to lose weight and gain muscle. And, you did gain muscle. Spiritual muscle. You continued your devotion to my mother Mary, and my word, even when you could have ditched us at the bad times. Your blind faith has led you to an amazing reward, which has not been revealed yet. It is coming. I promise.
Nothing is impossible with me.
But, listen, seriously, cut yourself some slack and be patient with yourself. All that is coming is a TBA without warning. Just keep bugging St. Rita. She’s an Italian woman who gets you…
LINDA to GOD:
Oh, I see...so all this transient pain, death of my parents, my brother, my cancer, failed marriage was leading up to a better life at 53? God, seriously? If I wasn’t so immersed in my Catholic faith, I would have gone evangelical…less rules, better music.
But, I have learned to trust you more and more each day. There is no verbal conversation between us ever. It’s usually me ranting in my head like a madwoman begging for peace. I get it. It would be really weird and unstable if I heard your voice on the phone or through my computer. Your responses come vis a vis mini epiphanies or a sudden revelation of some skewed path I don’t understand until it straightens. You did say your true followers would endure more than the less faithful. These are all crosses, but can I be done, please?
GOD to LINDA on INJURY:
As a follower of mine, you are never “done.” My followers don’t take breaks. But, I did say to hand me that cross, and I will walk with you and take care of you. You need to learn for once, that it’s ok to be cared for, and despite the fact that you feel unloved and completely worthless because you couldn’t “fix” your marriage, I had to detach your achilles to contain all your pent up adrenaline, give you anesthesia and keep you off your feet and dependent for weeks so you could finally understand how Linda’s love, her faithfulness and parenting has inspired others.
You needed to be shown the love you doubted, and feel valuable. Someone once said about me, God, I don’t make junk. You were very easily throwing yourself on the junk heap. Cut the crap…yes, I am God, and I said, crap…because it is. I have watched you grow your entire life. I created you in my image...even the Italian curves you possess, and the cellulite you hate. Even when Aunt Lucy made you crazy spitting out your breakfast an hour before Mass, I had you pegged for my spiritual team. You have not failed me. To doubt is human…and, may I also tell you that not every doubt, or question you have is fueled by a tug of war with the devil.
It is me, showing you a different life and a different path you were not aware of. A life you were made for, even if I instilled a holding pattern into your 50s. Your best life is just beginning.
LINDA to GOD
Boy are you tough…we did not have to go to these lengths to renew my life. But, as you said, you created me and you know me, so I needed to get hit over the head “with a 2 by 4, as Mario used to say…” which is really the only way to get my attention.
But, I will admit to you, I have seen more and more love, genuine love and caring every day I have been disabled. I am loved. Period. Those around me have given me unbridled comfort. Relentless care, renewed friendships and unconditional kindness and emotion. Some say I inspire them, which I find quite dubious…how can I inspire anybody beyond taking a shower, wearing make up and getting lash extensions.
I inspire because you infused me with love that I share? Is that it? Doesn’t everybody love this much?
I thought love was love…isn’t that what that Lib Lin Manuel Miranda said? I think at Confirmation each candidate needs to write a thesis on St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians…1 Corinthians !3. It is clear that “love” isn’t just making out in the backseat at a drive in…it is harsh, yet beautiful. It is sacrifice coupled with the purest emotion we can share. I think pre cana couples need a week to understand this content and believe it. But, in the four short weeks since my injury, and seven months since my separation, I got the Evelyn Woods version from you of what it means and doesn’t mean.. romantic love, mother/child love, friendship love, girlfriend love, neighborly love, and God love. I am surrounded and appreciated by so many, and in turn, I feel more confident and whole every day.
GOD to LINDA on MARRIAGE:
Ok, knock this off. Like now, ok? I created you to be a wife and a mother.
You flew through acadamia as a Summa Cum Laude graduate, published writer, and almost owned a company. But, you were not created for those roles…you were created to show love to others, even when it was not accepted.
You were created to go through the trials of carrying and delivering new life. You embraced it with immense fervor and passion…you called on my mother for help every step of the way, even when you lost your own mother when Devin was born. You never said no to life, even in your late forties. We cut a deal, remember? You said healthy, and I said “how many?” Together we accomplished the task of procreation and new life…that was your purpose.
But marriage…you think you failed? How? Broken vows? Where does it say I will punish you for broken vows when you entered “willingly and without reservation?” You are a human being, and foible. You did not predict a change of events, cause them or ask for them. That’s my job. You went into marriage with your whole heart…and I know that.
Vows are not always broken on the side of sin, sometimes I need you to be somewhere and then, somewhere else. If you entered into your commitment with full intent and purpose, there is no sin. Entering knowing it was not your commitment is the sin. But trying to hold on to your commitment and realizing I have other plans for you is more faithful than playing the game of commitment. with doubt, or in your case, farce.
Remember, surrendering to my will, no matter how it looks on the outside world is the challenge.
You have not failed. Love comes in many forms, and you are worthy of great love, for you have shown me what you are made of.
LINDA to GOD:
Sometimes I don’t get you. But I’m not supposed to get you all the time. I’m supposed to give in to your plan. And, these past few weeks have made me do just that. I have changed my view of myself and my circumstances. I don’t bitch about the little things anymore. You have given me the gift of a resurrection within myself. And, the gift of recovery, not just physically, but emotionally. Some people are in a place where they cannot recover, physically or emotionally.
You have to know I tried. I tried to make my marriage work…I feel guilty for failing at my vows, but you are right…vows are not always broken for wrong, cheap reasons. Sometimes they need to break in order to move on to new life. A more valuable life.
I did not walk away. I tried, even in moments of sadness and darkness I tried. I tried for my children.
I had a revelation while I sat under St. Joseph at May Crowning yesterday… St. Joseph did not speak in the bible. Would you? I mean, wow, first you haven’t even kissed this woman, then you find out she’s pregnant, and not even because she was messing around in some desert dune, but because, um, God made her pregnant with the Savior of the World? What a mind “F”. Like really, this poor guy…he was like 15…
And, what does he do? He becomes the poster boy for stepfathers. Faithful, faithful, faithful. Trusted in God’s odd plan, and went with it. I prayed that he would send me someone, some day that would share my faith, my intense devotion to the Lord, go to Mass with me, pre cana, deliver the Gospel in its many forms to others, and for my children, solidify the faith in my home from a father’s platform.
St. Joe is the strong silent type, so I didn’t hear back, but some day I will.
LINDA to whoever is out there:
I made a new hashtag…it’s called :
I told a friend recently that whoever puts themselves in my path again looking for my never ending love has to be able to “abdicate the throne.” King Edward abdicated for Wallis Simpson. The abdication was just symptomatic of how deep his love went for her. No walls. No boundaries. No bargaining, abandonment, no question.
Because whether love is romantic love, friendship love, child/parent love, it needs to be selfless, all encompassing, passionate, doubtless and unconditional.
After the love I have been shown in these past few weeks, I will no longer “sell” myself as a parent, a wife, a friend. I know I am worth walking through fires…because whoever I chose to love is worth it, too.
All I need is God’s plan, and God’s hand. We have been talking a lot…we’re good now.
Check out this feature in Bergen Magazine.
Maybe I am a kindred spirit with Selena Gomez.
We are both July 22 babies, she had lupus, so did my grandmother, she needed a kidney transplant, and I lost a kidney to cancer. I think she is a lovely girl, seemingly different from the pot-smoking, pill popping Starbucks clutching, Patron shooting celebs of today. I wish I was her age; I wish I looked like her, but, wait, she’s been through a lot of shit in her 28 years.
She probably thought her life would end with Barney… because as the mother of two young thespians, the goal is achieved at the time it is achieved… the lead in the school musical, the bit paid employment gigs, and boom…you are defined by fourteen or eighteen because there is no Baba Vanga and Jean Dixon meet and greet to tell you the life you bob and weave through now may be totally different than it will ever be when you are thirty. Enter wisdom… enter hindsight… enter the hungover Monday morning quarterback still wreaking of Doritos and Bud Light. Smelly, vile, but it got your attention.
So, Selena. I guess she offered her world and her “old soul” to Justin Bieber a few times, and although he didn’t roll down his limo window to spit at her like he did an adoring fan, he buried her beauty in his own insecurities, and like we oh so nurturing, insecure sensitive July babies tend to do, we take it on. We believe who Justin says we are…and we just keep trying harder and harder to conform, to make Justin happy, and then, the pivotal moment of destruction, the implosion of all that is good in our souls results in the interment of our heart in a shallow emotional grave via rejection… and we take it on because we couldn’t do enough, be enough, jump harder, more hoops, more energy, like an exhausted poodle and PT Barnum. And when you are done performing for the day, all energy expelled, waiting for the treat and the accolade of acceptance and obedience, it doesn’t come. Your only job is to try harder, because maybe tomorrow is the day.
Obviously Selena and I do not know one another. Through the magic and filth of social media, I know her very well, and this cute little Latina, through her trials at only 28, gave me a gift: her song, “Lose You to Love Me.”
We are all told we need to “love ourselves” in order to be loved. It sounds like just a trite little crumb of pretty advice to get you to self empower, kind of of like Stuart Smalley’s Affirmations on SNL. But, I am living it more and more as I crawl out of the catacomb of divorce. What did my love Keala Settle scream to the world in The Greatest Show…”I am brave, I am bruised, I am who I’m meant to be…this is me.”
I am Linda. I am a writer. A great writer. I am not an angry writer. I am truthful. I am an overbearing, nurturing pain in the ass mother who lives for her children every day of her life. I am funny… I have a good sense of humor and can initiate humor and not just laugh at someone else’s jokes. I’m chatty, but I can talk to Mr. Bean and still have a conversation. I have body shaming issues since I was twelve because I always had boobsand an assnow I’m proud of those Italian curves. My father gave me money to live the rest of my life comfortably because I was his child, and I will spend that money on others who may never, ever have the opportunities I did or give to their friends and family like I can. I will cook and give to others and not be ashamed because it is what I was given by the Lord…the gift of kindness and talent to bestow upon others. I will no longer be embarrassed by my generosity… from the smallest task to the most gargantuan show of love. I don’t care if I haven’t cleaned out my closet or my office in a decade… I was busy taking care of my family. I chose, instead of running a business to be a wife and a mother. I am not a failure… I have learned my level of giving and dedication and devoirs to my vows is unprecedented. I don’t walk away from commitment or obligation. I stand firmly in that promise to my children, and I will not walk away from them. My dedication to the Blessed Mother and the Lord will not waiver… it is genuine. I don’t care if the sermon at Mass sucked or was pontificating and condescending. I was there to receive the Lord. I am proud of what I have accomplished as a Summa Cum Laude graduate and the choice I made to be a mother and wife instead. If someone does not appreciate the beauty that is Linda, well, I have learned to. And, the most amazing part is that my mirror was delivered by others… those who have shown me love at a difficult time in my life. Those who came out of the woodwork to offer help. Those who call me strong, and my friends who love me for who I am and who call me an inspiration. I made a difference in someone else’s life. Even the smallest difference is my purpose on earth. My purpose is not to bolster someone else’s insecurities or be a punching bag, it is to give all I am warts and all to someone who loves me unconditionally, cuz guess what, nobody is wart free.I have learned that love and forgiveness are not easy sometimes, yet, are easy… and liberating. So liberating. I will not promote hatred or sneers… it is uncomfortable. I am human. I fail. Every day, but I will not be defined by a messy closet or unfinished paperwork or clutter. My focus is on other things… I am a cancer survivor with a penchant for living. I will not waste my life or wallow in pity.
My Italian guilt and tears will initiate my reactive demeanor, but after that, it’s all hands on deck. So, to those who put me down, see me as a Real Housewife of NJ..FUCK OFF. You don’t know me. For the first time in about 30 years, I am proud of who I am, and what I have to offer, and I will never, ever be a salesman for myself…if you want me, you need to work for this…give up what I am willing to give up for you, compromise like I compromise and love so fucking hard…like I do.
And, remember all you Nostradamus' out there….not so fast…just when you thought the Lord had you firmly planted in your life…think again. Not every temptation to change your life is the devil, or evil…sometimes God is bringing you on a journey you did not expect because you deserve better…or different…or because someone else needs you. Let Him take you there.
Yes, Selena, thank you, because, after 30 years of conforming and giving in to someone else’s happiness, I had to “lose you to love me.” And, I did.