...was hard, let me tell you now, it came with a whole lot o’ pain. I know now that most decent people would look at me an’ say I was a piece o’ shit if I told them who I’d been, but they could never understand that feeling you get. See I had a big family, like a lot o’ us, so to me; it was an extension to that family. Ha, the cool side. It’s hard to know just how important family is to my culture. So as bad or as fucked up as we were, I loved my new brothers and sisters because, like I said, we were family.
I was the fourth child to be born to my parents. My Ma had given birth to three girls, but what she really wanted, was a strong, healthy, Christian Boy to take the family name. She had plans for me and she made that clear in ways that were unclear to me at the time.
They were hard on me. If they ever caught me doing somethin’ wrong, if I didn’t get full marks on tests at school, Ma would beat me black and blue. Then when Pa got home from his work at the local Baker’s, he added a couple more bruises. Half the time he didn’t even know what I’d done, being frugal, I think he just liked havin’ a free punchin’ bag.
As I got a little older, I had to get a job. My parents would make me give them money so that I could stay at home. As they saw it, if I was another mouth to feed, I needed to pay my way. We never did have much money with all those many mouths to feed. My sister’s never worked, their plans involved marriage with little Christian whimps that had glasses and went to Church and knew all the lines. I didn’t like my Drama lessons at school so I sure as hell wasn’t gonna do it in my spare time, or at Church.
Ma didn’t like that. She tried to share all these Philosophical ideals from this huge book she wanted me to read back to front. After the first twenty names I told her where to put that book, and by god she did.
Eventually I turned 12, yeah I was a troublesome kid even at a young age, workin’ too and I got a job at the butchers. I'd never forget the first time I saw him. He was huge, like I'm talkin' as big as a bear, and his apron was covered in blood. My job was mostly lifting boxes. I was a great box lifter even if I do say so myself. In fact I did such a good job that my boss, Alessandro, who I called Al, and later Big Al, gave me a promotion. I would become his personal assistant of sorts, doing whatever he wanted me to. At first it was small things. Picking up money from people he knew. I figured he was quite a popular guy, because I got a lot of money from a lot of people and the minute I said his name, they moved so fast to their wallets, I swear, lightning has struck slower.
This one time, he even let me pick up his car from the local car wash, it wasn't very far so the cops never saw. They tried to stop me but when I said that Al wanted me to get it for them; they practically cheered me on and let me have my Twinkies for free. They were the best damn Twinkies I ever tasted. When I got back, he congratulated me on a job well done, his idea of a reward for breaking the law, was introducing me to his friends.
The next day I stayed with Al till late at night. When the store closed and the sun started to go down with the shutters, his friends came in the back way. They were a real bunch. Alfeo came first, he was little Al though there wasn’t much little about him, unless they were talking ‘bout other places. Then Dario, a kind of quiet guy who I learnt was their bookkeeper. He did look like a geek so I imagined he had a big collection of books at home, so he was probably rich. After him came Franco, who we called Frankie, and Giovanni at the same time. They sat there for a while, talkin’ ‘bout all kinds of things I guessed they’d seen in movies, since they sounded pretty gruesome. They never got on with their card game, like they were waiting for someone, and they’d never even noticed me, till I made the mistake of coughin' half way through Frankie’s story about a guy who got his legs broken for lookin’ at another guy’s girl. Let me tell you now, there are two things that Frankie hates most in this world, little kids and guys who interrupt his story.
“’Ey, Big Al, who brought this runt along?” He had a high pitched voice for such a big guy, did Frankie. Though Big Al had the deepest voice I knew, so maybe I was a little biased.
“I did, got a problem with that?” I didn’t know why at the time, but I could have kissed Al for that comment.
“Naw, I aint got no problem, c’mere runt,” I didn’t like that name, an’ I didn’t like people tellin’ me what to do less I worked for 'em. “What, you born without ears? I said c’mere, less you want broken legs too.” My eyes widened so much they began to water. “Aw look, I scared the little runt of the litter and now he’s cryin',” the guys laughed, but Frankie wasn’t laughin’. “I said get here, now,” I got so angry, I was shaking and my knuckles had gone white from being clenched so hard. I moved a step closer. Frankie turned to his friends and now laughed. I took another step and he said, “look’s like the little runt knows how to follow orders.” He turned back to me, with a lazy, evil smile. I took one more step and he started talkin', “good little—“ I punched him. Right in the kisser and he fell back from his chair landing in a weird position. I didn’t know why I did it; an' I thought I’d be beaten to death right then and there. And if I’d known the position I was really in at that point, I never would have done it; in fact, I would never have gotten involved with Al at all.
I was surprised. Instead of jumping me, his friends were smiling and nodding their head.
Frankie got up, a mixture of anger and surprise filling his smug face. “You got balls runt, real balls,” he felt his lip where it had cracked, and laughed. Then before I could do anything, his fist pounded my face to pulp. Nobody moved to help either him or me, they just stood there watching.
I thought this was it, I thought I was dead. In fact I probably woulda been if he hadn’t shown up.