Wednesday, November 18, 2015
Amadeo's recovery was quick and he was released from the hospital a week later. He was still a little stiff, and his head ached occasionally, but otherwise he was in good spirits. The only thing that had ruined his good mood was the doctor's orders to avoid any unnecessary physical exertion, which meant he would be unable to participate in any sports. He understood why, he just didn't like it.
A couple of reporters had called at his house and asked permission to get a follow up story and pictures, which 'Deo's parents allowed. He'd posed, wearing his knitted cap, with his family who all smiled happily. One of the reporters presented Amadeo with a scrap book which contained pictures and articles from the papers that had carried the story.
"All over Georgia, Milo?" Amadeo asked, eyebrows raised sarcastically. "Exaggerated a little there, hmmm?" he asked, flipping through the book which was approximately half full and featured articles from the local paper and two others from neighboring towns.
Milo blushed but smiled. "Yeah, well, maybe just a little. But word did get around and more than one reporter came to get the story." Amadeo gave his friend an affectionate but exasperated look and closed the book. He stood up and stretched carefully. Sam and Gary had put him through a workout to get his muscles limber again and had given him a list of exercises to do at home, but he still felt stiff if he sat for any length of time. It was Saturday night, people had been coming to visit most of the day and Milo was the only one left. He appreciated the concern and good wishes of his neighbors and friends but he was worn out and grateful for the relative quiet.
Amadeo glanced at the clock on the wall. "Gonna stay over, Mi?"
Milo shrugged and smiled apologetically. "Can't. Pop's gonna be by to pick me up any minute now."
"Pick you up? Mi, you live just down the street." Amadeo said, perplexed.
"Well, I kinda got in trouble for sneaking out of church early last week and Pop said he's not letting me out of his sight for a while. I'm technically grounded, but since it was you I was coming to see he let me come. It didn't hurt that Mikey came to bat for me and hit him between the eyes with those dimples," Milo added affectionately.
Amadeo huffed a laugh. "So let me guess, you went up for communion and slipped out the back instead of going back to your seat."
Milo tapped the tip of his nose with his forefinger. "Bingo. Lots of people do it, and Father Kelly never mentions it so I figured I'd give it a try. Besides, it was for a good cause, which Pop said was the only reason I wasn't sitting on a sore rump that day."
"Good thing I didn't get wind of it young man, or I'd have done it for him," Amadeo's mother scolded with a smile.
Milo blushed and grinned. "Yes'm, Mrs. Rossi."
She cocked an eyebrow at him.
"Yes, mamma," he revised.
"I just came in to ask if you'd like to take some food home. Laws, I haven't had to cook for over a month now, everyone has been so wonderful and generous since 'Deo was injured, and honestly our fridge is overloaded. I'd be obliged if you'd take some, shame to let it go to waste."
"Yes ma'am. I'm sure mom'd like that just fine."
"All right then, sweetie, I'll wrap some and box it up for you," she said as she turned toward the kitchen.
"Mmmmmm, hope there's some of Mrs. Witt's fried chicken," Milo said, licking his lips.
"Matter of fact I'm pretty sure there is," Mrs. Rossi's voice wafted from the kitchen.
Milo leaned in toward Amadeo and whispered, "You have got the best mother, you know that don't you?"
Amadeo leaned in toward Milo and whispered, "I may be biased, but I'd have to agree."
In the kitchen Mrs. Rossi carefully wrapped the food and smiled.
"Honest, dad, I'll be fine. It's only a little over a mile from here, and if I feel tired or dizzy I'll just sit down for a few minutes."
"No Amadeo," his father replied firmly. "If you insist on going I'll drive you and wait in the car. You've only just got out of the hospital and the doctor told you to avoid unnecessary physical exertion."
'Deo tried to argue but his father raised a hand to stop him and continued, "Plus, Milo said himself that the Di Marco's are nice enough folk but they haven't been accepting visitors so I doubt that you'll be there for more than a minute, so you'd just have to turn around and come right back. I will drive you," he said with finality.
The actual drive took less than five minutes, but the Rossi's were so amazed at what they saw that they drove a little slower after they'd turned down the hilly dirt road which lead to the Di Marco home.
To the left was wild forest and overgrown shrubs. But to the right was a wall of stone that began at about knee height and steadily became higher as they went further down the hill, creating a tier which seemed to be filled with a variety of fruit trees; pear, peach, plum and apple as well as a couple of others which Mr. Rossi couldn't immediately identify. At the end of the road it was either turn right or drive off the edge of a small cliff, also edged with stone, so they turned. The wall to their right was now twice the height of their car. To the left, growing behind the stone ledge, was a bank of mulberry trees, already bearing the sweet berries.
Just past the mulberry trees was a barn. The sounds of hogs and chickens met their ears. Straight ahead was the Di Marco home, an old gray farmhouse which was tall and narrow and which seemed to have been added as an afterthought. A station wagon and a pickup truck were parked along the right side of the house. They parked near the fence and got out to admire their surroundings.
Past the fence was another, lower garden, this one planted with various vegetables. 'Deo and his father recognized many of them, all growing in orderly rows, a large patch of corn off by itself possibly so that it's shadow wouldn't impede the growth of the surrounding plants. The same was done with the peas which curled up around stakes set in the ground. Broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and lettuce, escarole, onions, carrots and many others which they could only guess at.
Beyond and beneath that was yet another tier which contained more trees. Mr. Rossi recognized the pecan and chestnut but wasn't sure about the others. Concrete stairways allowed access to the lower gardens and the barn, but neither Rossi had yet seen a way to get into the upper garden. They did see the two stout wooden poles which supported the wires which supplied the electricity and phone service for the house.
"OK, kiddo, get a move on. I'll wait here for you."
Amadeo gave his father a wry smile and walked into the enclosed front porch. To the immediate left as he walked in was a wooden stairway leading up and he wondered if it were a two family house and if the Di Marco's lived on the first or second floor. There was a door directly in front of him so he knocked on that. The worst they could tell him was that he had the wrong apartment.
A young man answered the door with a friendly smile. "Can I help you?"
"Hi, I'm sorry to come without calling first but I was in the neighborhood," Amadeo lied, knowing that God would forgive it. "I was wondering if I could see how Angelo was doing? Maybe see him for a just a few minutes, if he's up to it?"
"I'm sorry, Angelo isn't available right now?" the boy said as he began to gently close the door.
"Um, ok, if you could just tell him Amadeo came to see him, please?" he said before the door could close completely.
Suddenly the door swung open with such force that it hit the wall behind it. "Amadeo!? Rossi? Mom! Pop! He's here! Come in! Please come in? Who is that outside? Mom! Pop! It's Amadeo!" the boy said excitedly as he dragged Amadeo into the kitchen by the hand.
A man and woman, obviously Angelo's parents, came running into the kitchen. The woman took Amadeo by the face and soundly kissed both of his cheeks. "È meraviglioso, ragazzo meraviglioso! È coraggioso, ragazzo magnifico! Benvenuti a casa nostra!"
(You wonderful, wonderful boy! You brave, magnificent boy! Welcome to our home!)
The man grabbed his hand and pumped it vigorously. "Welcome, Amadeo, I'm sorry. When my wife gets excited she loses her English, she said..."
"Ho capito, signore. Grazie." Amadeo said with a smile.
(I understood, sir. Thank you.)
While Angelo's parent's had been welcoming him, the boy, who had to have been Angelo's brother, had run outside and shaken Mr. Rossi's hand while simultaneously dragging him into the house with repeated entreaties to come in.
Mrs. Di Marco reached into her apron pocket and fished out a lacy handkerchief to wipe away the tears that had been running down her cheeks. Mr. Di Marco went to the kitchen table and pulled out two chairs. "Please, please, make yourselves comfortable?"
Mrs. Di Marco happily offered them tea or coffee, then wondered if Amadeo might prefer milk, "We have homemade wine if you like? Can I offer you something to eat?"
"Thank you," said Mr. Rossi politely. "Coffee if it's not too much trouble." He'd smelled the coffee brewing as soon as he'd entered the kitchen and had to admit it smelled wonderful.
"Milk is fine, ma'am," Amadeo replied.
"Paulie, go get Angelo, please? Let him know he has company?"
Paulie turned with a grin and ran into the room to the left of the old wood burning stove which took up part of the center wall of the kitchen. Mr. Di Marco opened the door of the refrigerator which stood next to the oven and pulled out a pitcher of milk. Mrs. Di Marco went into a tiny cubicle which contained a sink and cabinets, taking out the sugar bowl, spoons, cups and saucers and glasses for milk for her sons and Amadeo. Mr. Di Marco expertly went around his wife as she came out, a dance they were both obviously masters at, and brought out a plate of cookies.
"Hey, monello! You have company? Mamma says come on out."
"Tell em I'm asleep or something?" said Angelo who lay on his bed reading.
"Not this time, sour puss. Get up off your rump and get out into the kitchen."
"Tell em I'm sick?" he said, turning his back to his brother without taking his eyes from the page.
"Ange, get up and get out there. Now." Paul ordered firmly.
"Why?" Angelo argued, grumpily.
Angelo made a rude gesture.
"Don't make me get Pop, Gumdrop. You don't want to be dragged in there by the scruff of your neck with a hot seat."
"Who the hell is it and why the hell do I care?"
"It's Amadeo?" Paul replied.
Angelo turned slightly to look at his brother from the corner of his eye. "For real?"
"No, I'm lyin'. It's actually Santa Claus, he wants to know what you want for Christmas." Paul said sarcastically.
Angelo turned back toward the wall. "Tell 'im I died. Tell 'im Pop used me as fertilizer for the fig trees."
Paul took three steps across the room and smacked his little brother hard on the bottom.
Angelo jumped up. "Son of a..." he growled, glancing toward the door and listening just in case his parents had heard what he'd been about to say. "What'd you do that for?!"
"That kid nearly got killed defending you!" Paul hissed, "The least you can do is go out and be polite."
"I didn't ask him to defend anyone!" Angelo said heatedly. "They'd 'a gotten tired of it soon enough and left me alone."
"You ungrateful little... We've been trying to be understanding, we've been putting people off for weeks, but enough is enough! You get your ass out there now or I'm tellin' you I won't wait for Pop and I'll beat your skinny little butt myself, then I'll drag you out there!"
"You can try!" Angelo countered, fists clenched by his sides. Paul was taller, broader and older than he was, but he would give as good as he got before his brother finally took him down.
"What is your problem?!" Paul demanded.
"What's my problem?!" Angelo asked disbelievingly, "My problem is that for the past eight months I didn't exist unless someone decided I might have a little scratch or a better lunch than them! And if they didn't like my lunch, Paul, they'd dump it on the ground and grind it into the dirt rather than leave it for me to eat later!
"For eight months no one would talk to me!"
"For eight months no one knew who I was and no one wanted to know! For eight months, if anyone cared to call me anything at all it was 'The Cootie' or the Dago, cuz God forbid anyone find out what my real name was and call me by that! For eight f***ing months I'd find spit balls in my hair, chewed up wads of gum, or tacks, or even puddles of ink on my chair. For eight friggin' months they'd trip me up and then they'd walk around me while I lay there and they'd laugh and say 'Did you have a nice trip? See you next fall!' My things would be scattered all over the place, and rather than help pick them up they'd step on them, sometimes grinding my homework into the dirt and tearing it. They'd use my books for a welcome mat and wipe their f***ing muddy boots on them and ruin them! And you want to know what my problem is?!" he was breathing hard and shouting at this point.
"Now all of a sudden I'm someone because I got the crap beat out of me? Now all of a sudden people want to know me? Now people know my name? Now people want to talk to me? Well I don't want to talk to them! Eight months ago I'd have killed for their friendship, but what they're offering me isn't friendship, it's pity, and I don't want their f***ing pity! They can take their get well cards and their stuffed animals and all the rest of the crap they've been giving me and shove it up their..."
"Angelo! Guardare la vostra lingua!" came the sharp remonstrance from the doorway. There stood his father, arms crossed and frowning. His mother stood beside her husband with a sorrowful expression, wringing her hands.
(Watch your language!)
"I don't care, Dad! I don't *f***ing* care!" Angelo was yelling and crying freely. "I never wanted to move out here in the first place! I told you I coulda stayed with Matt and Martina in New York! Even Iggy and Nat said I could stay with them, but no, you insisted I had to come here! 'Don't worry,' you said, 'You'll make new friends. People down south are very friendly.' Friendly my ass! If this is what's considered friendly then there's any number of punks back home that woulda qualified as my best friends!" he shouted. "Oh, hell, for that matter, Freddie and Brice are my bosom buddies! When can I invite them for a sleep over?!"
Giosua advanced on his son who swallowed nervously and backed up a few steps. In Giosua's experience, teenagers were an emotional lot, and teenage boys were naturally volatile so he expected the occasional outburst. However, he was raising not only boys but gentlemen, and intelligent gentlemen at that. He frequently told his boys that an intelligent man didn't need to curse to make his point, and a gentleman never cursed within hearing range of women or children.
Angelo's calves hit the edge of the bed which stopped his retreat. Giosua took his son by the arm, turned him and gave him several sharp smacks on his bottom. Angelo grimaced, tried to arch away and cover his behind but his father pushed the hand aside and delivered several more.
Angelo immediately stopped his rant and turned tear filled eyes toward his father. Seeing the look of misery on his youngest son's face he pulled the boy into a fierce hug. Angelo buried his face in his father's shirt front and sobbed inconsolably.
"Hush mio piccolo angelo. E 'tutto a posto. Se riuscissi a trovare un modo per prendere un po 'del tuo dolore lo farei," he whispered, close to tears himself.
(Hush my little angel. It's all right now. If I could find some way to take some of your pain I would.)
Angelo's mother wasn't nearly as restrained and she wrapped her arms around her husband and son, tears running freely down her cheeks.
Paul retreated, embarrassed and overwhelmed with guilt because he hadn't known how bad things had been for his little brother. Angelo had never complained, his usual response when asked how school was on any given day had been, "It was there." Then he'd give them a little smile and retreat to his room to do his homework and read for a while before dinner.
When he went back into the kitchen to check on their guests he found it empty. He looked outside and saw his older brother Giani talking to them beside their car.
"Please, Mr. Rossi, Amadeo, I'm sure things will be all right soon. I know my folks would appreciate it if you could come back? Tomorrow after school, maybe? Amadeo, I think you're the best thing that could happen to Angelo, really. If you could come back and talk to him when he's calmer?"
"We did come unannounced," Mr. Rossi explained apologetically. "Tomorrow would be fine, if that's convenient."
"Amadeo... 'Deo... if Ange knew I'm telling you this he'd kill me but I think it'll make a difference? Angelo isn't much of one for talking, he's a pretty quiet kid usually. But all last week all he did was talk about you. How you approached him in the cafeteria? How you were kind to him, and talked to him? How you sat with him and read and didn't demand anything from him. How you seemed happy with nothing more than his company. That meant a lot to him."
"I... I know you heard what he said," Giani continued with an embarrassed expression, "But I know he didn't mean it? This is something that he's been holding in for a long time apparently. He never said a word about any of it to any of us, we had no idea."
"Yeah," Paul added, "Mom would ask him if he wanted to bring some of his friends home for dinner someday but he'd always give her some excuse about them having to go to band or sports practice, or chores or family obligations? He never let on. Dad thought maybe Ange was ashamed of the house? I mean, it is kind of old and beat up, so he figured that Angelo didn't want to bring anyone home because of that."
"We were going to start to scrape and paint it last month but then Ange got hurt so we kind of put it off." Giani said self-consciously.
Amadeo smiled. "Honestly, when I saw the house for the first time I thought it was pretty cool looking! I've never seen one like this before."
Giani grinned. "Our uncle Pasquale, mom's oldest brother, he built the place? He died in February and left the house and the land and everything on it to us."
"I'm sorry to hear about your uncle," Amadeo and his father replied at the same time.
"Thanks. Us kids never met him in person? We'd get letters and pictures, and a couple of times a year we'd go to the corner store and use the public phone to call him, or someone would come get us if he called. Mom was thrilled when we finally got a private phone and could talk to him without the neighborhood knowing about it," he laughed.
"So he planted all of this by himself?" Mr. Rossi asked, impressed.
"Ah... yeah," Giani replied. Mr. Rossi could swear the boy was being evasive but felt it would be bad manners to ask for clarification.
"Well, the gardens are beautiful."
Giani smiled again and said, "Dad saw the gardens and was in heaven. Mom saw the trees and started making plans for all the kinds of jam she could make," he laughed. "In New York we had a garden on the rooftop of our apartment house? But it was nothing like this. This is... amazing," he said, looking appreciatively out over the land.
"I suppose we should be heading out now, gentlemen," said Mr. Rossi. "Please give our regards to your parents and ask them to give us a call to let us know if tomorrow is inconvenient for them." He pulled out his wallet and removed a rectangular white card with his name and number on it. "It was very nice to have met you all," he said, extending his hand.
The Di Marco boys shook his hand and turned toward Amadeo to do the same to him. "See you tomorrow then?" Paul asked.
"Tomorrow," promised Amadeo.
He and his father got into the car and backed carefully down the driveway. They hadn't noticed the indentation at the end that would allow them to pull the car back far enough so that they wouldn't have to drive backward the entire way to the end of the dirt road.
Mr. Rossi turned the car onto the dirt road and glanced at his son before training his eyes back on the road.
"Want to talk about it?"
"Talk about what?"
"I can see the wheels turning in your head. There's smoke coming out of your ears," his father teased.
Amadeo sighed. "I feel so bad for him, dad. He was there since last September and I never noticed him at all. I didn't even know he went to our school. Milo had to tell me."
" 'Deo, mi amato, there's no way you can possibly know every student who goes to your school, is there?"
"Well, no, but you'd think I'd have seen him, or heard about him. I mean, the stuff he went through you'd think someone would have been laughing about it or talking about it afterward. It's not that big a school, you'd think I'd have seen people acting like that, treating someone like that..." he replied, becoming increasingly upset.
Mr. Rossi pulled over to the side of the road and turned off the engine. He looked directly at his son and said sternly, "Amadeo Christoforo, you are not going to blame yourself for this, do you understand me? There is no way you could be everywhere in that school at once. There is no way you could have defended him, or any other student who had been being victimized, every time someone took it into their head to pick on him. The school is not big, as you say, but there were plenty of people who could have stepped up and stopped that boy from being abused, and I find it highly unlikely that it was being done where there were many witnesses, or else I'm sure the teachers would have stepped in as well. This was not your fault. You have nothing to blame yourself for."
Amadeo looked uncertain.
"What happened to Angelo was wrong. It was unfortunate. It was cruel and that poor boy suffered alone and silent for all that time. But the fact is that when you did see what was happening, you stepped in and stopped it. You said something. You did something when no one else would. As a result you started something good in your school," his father said earnestly. "I'm proud of you."
"Now don't get me wrong." he said, suddenly stern. "I don't ever want to get another phone call like that as long as I live. You are not responsible for everyone in that school, you can't protect everyone, all you can do is what you did and either help, as long as you're not outnumbered," he said significantly, "Or get help. No one can ask you to do more than that. Understand? You are not responsible for everyone in that school."
Amadeo thought about his father's words for a moment. No, he thought, I'm not responsible for everyone in the school, but I am responsible for that which I have tamed.