By Sean Hooks
Once upon a time in America there was a sad little boy. He was sad because all the other children called him fat. And he was fat, but in a way that would grow into a handsomeness, a charisma, a quality possessed by Louis C.K. and Nicolas Cage and James Gandolfini. His only classmate who didn’t call him fat, not counting the other fat kids, was named April. He felt there was something pretty about being named after a month. His mother was named May and he liked his mother. His father, Ed, was a stingy man, and all through the boy’s life Ed never showed him any generosity. Though Ed was not physically cruel, the only thing he seemed to enjoy in life was golf. When he came home after a round, he was always smiling. “It gets me away from your mother,” he once whispered to the little boy.
One day, April came to school and it was clear she’d been crying. There was a bump on her head and though the boy had heard her tell the teacher that she’d slipped getting out of the tub, the boy asked her during lunch, with a squeaky voice and eyes averted, “What really happened to your head?” There was no one around and the boy didn’t know he had grape jelly from the sandwich that May fixed for him that morning leaking from his lip, so April told him that her father pushed her across the room because one of her shoes was untied and she slammed into a radiator. She said that her father often lost his temper with her, but the peroxide her mother used to clean her wounds didn’t hurt as much as her mother said it would.
The boy decided he didn’t want to be so fat anymore. He’d noticed that a lot of images of Italian people involved eating. They were always smiling too, as if to say, “We’re fat because we have such good food.” Sometimes those images were on television, and sometimes they were on boxes and cans and jars in the supermarket, one of the boy’s favorite places to go with his mother. But Ed never allowed May to spend much money, so the meals in the boy’s house were solemn occasions consisting of cheap ingredients from a cardboard box stirred slowly in a pot.
By high school the boy had lost a significant amount of weight. He had clear skin and good hair. By senior year April smoked a lot of cigarettes and had gotten her first tattoo. Ed often shook his head at and made derisive comments about people with tattoos and girls who smoked. The boy, now a young man, frequently congregated with his friends outside the Italian-American Club. When he saw April at the Homecoming Dance she was with Molly McArdle, an Irish girl, sassy and pigtailed and with alcohol on her breath, confirming stereotypes the young man had heard about her people. Molly squealed with excitement when they played the hit song of the moment, “Come On, Eileen,” and danced with two boys at the same time, shaking her posterior rather suggestively. He took this opportunity to talk to April, who was not a dancer, who was reserved and soft-spoken. Part of him wanted to yell at her to speak up and stop being so mousy. “But I felt like breaking cycles that day,” he explains it now as a man, to his psychotherapist, a forbidden fruit in his field. Back in 1983 he complimented April’s tattoo, of a fanged snake coiled around her wrist. She said “I don’t know why I got it. No girls I know have tattoos.” The boy said “Maybe that’s why. To not be like everyone else.” He looked her in the eye and saw she had the remnants of a shiner, covered up fastidiously with make-up and hard to notice in the dim light. He was proud that he’d grown up to be the kind of fellow who looks girls in the eye. He asked her, in a deep and confident voice, what had happened and she replied, “I still live with my father.”
That was the night the young man tapped three guys on the shoulder, his classmates Vinny Fantacone and Bobby Smeragliuolo, and also Therese Costigliani’s older brother Lou. Vinny and Bobby had called him fat when they were younger, but by high school they were sheepish, dealing with acne and unconfidence. Therese had been one of the most malicious taunters of his former self, but word was that her brother picked on her as much as she’d picked on the boy. Lou was tall and well-built, he had a gold chain around his neck and wore Drakkar Noir cologne and the grown men from the Italian-American club always talked to him on their way in or out. The young man figured, correctly, that Lou would be up for getting into trouble that night, and that Lou knew people who could get you out of trouble.
As Lou stood over April’s father with the crowbar, the young man stepped between them and took out a handkerchief. He wiped the blood off the man’s face. Then he leaned over and spoke into his ear so the others couldn’t hear. “We broke into your house and beat you bloody,” he said. “When you try to do something about it and nothing happens, that’s how you’ll know I’m not someone to be trifled with.”
Lou had only jabbed the man in the stomach with the crowbar, to knock the wind out of him. Vinny and Tommy mostly just helped hold him down. It was the teenage version of the sad little fat boy who’d swung his father’s 6-iron, with great panache, into the head, neck and back of April’s father.
He never returned the club. Ed had to buy a replacement.