Chapter 02: The Tenth Circle of Hell

My full name is Graziano Giancarlo Marcello Buonfiglio. I live in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. I am a third-generation Italian-Canadian, and have lived in and around the Greater Toronto Area my whole life. My parents are Joseph and Nadine Buonfiglio, a lawyer and secretary by trade respectively. I have an older brother named Ryan, and a younger sister named Charlotte. With the exception of Ryan, I don’t consider anyone of the aforementioned my family.

I can’t describe my family without mentioning my grandparents, who filled the role of parents when Joseph and Nadine couldn’t, which was 100% of the time. My paternal grandparents are Pietro and Annunziata Buonfiglio, though most people knew them as Pete and Nancy. They were from Palermo, albeit from different neighbourhoods. My maternal grandparents are Raimondo and Maria Grazia degli Angeli. They were from Naples, and they too grew up in different parts of the city. All four of them came to Canada after World War II.

The Buonfiglio and degli Angeli families initially settled in Vaughan, north of Toronto. They soon moved to what is now Corso Italia, one of two significant Italian neighbourhoods in Toronto, the other being Little Italy near downtown. Corso Italia is located along St. Clair West, further north. Nonno Pietro and Nonna Annunziata set up a deli, and Nonno Raimondo and Nonna Maria Grazia opened a bookstore. Within a few years, the families had three children apiece: Joseph, Nicholas, and Tatiana Buonfiglio; and Nadine, Kendra, and Wayne degli Angeli. With the exception of Tatiana, those were their English names. Legally, their first names are Giuseppe, Niccolò (as in Machiavelli), Anna Dina, Candida Rosa, and Giosuè Angelo, respectively. Uncle Wayne would have been known as Joshua, and Aunt Kendra would have been known as Candy, but they didn’t really like those names, so when the time came, my uncle named himself after John Wayne, and my aunt chose her name because it seemed to be an abbreviated form of Candida Rosa.

Joseph attended Harvard Law School, and afterwards he moved back to Toronto and started a law practice. Nadine, on the other hand, stayed put in the area and flirted with being a nun. Alas, she gave up the habit and hooked up with Joseph instead. They met at a Catholic singles’ retreat, and were never apart. They got married at our parish church, St. Clare’s, in 1978.

From what I heard, my parents never consummated their marriage.  They didn’t even do it on their honeymoon in Capri. My grandparents, on the other hand, were always affectionate with each other up until the very end. One time, Nonno Pietro and Nonna Annunziata were caught making out at Nathan Phillips Square, after one too many bottles of Chianti. When I was a teenager, I found out that my siblings and I had been conceived in a sperm bank. It had little to do with a progressive outlook on sex and reproduction, and more to do with the fact that they never saw each other naked. However, as I learned later, that didn’t stop them from seeing other people naked. Their marriage functioned as a bizarre business proposition: they got married for the benefits, but fooled around on each other almost all the time.

Ryan was born on the 9th of June, 1980. From what I was told, there was much jubilation in the family. Neighbours came over and showered the family with gifts of food and practicalities for the baby.  And then, on the 6th of October, 1981, I came into the world. That was the day that someone assassinated Anwar Sadat, the President of Egypt. That was the time that “Endless Love” by Diana Ross and Lionel Richie dominated the music charts. I was born at 7:45 AM, with my grandparents and relatives in tow. Nadine had opted for a drug-fuelled childbirth as opposed to a repeat of what happened a year earlier with Ryan, where she chose to have a natural childbirth and screamed at all hours of the night.

When she came to, she took one look at me and said, “Fuck”. That was her word exactly. Despite my relatives’ hopes and wishes, my homecoming was a muted affair. Nadine and Joseph didn’t want to celebrate at all. But a year later, they cranked it up when Charlotte arrived days before Christmas. Nadine could not contain herself and showed off her latest creation to everyone.

By now, you’re wondering why I have the name Graziano, and why my siblings have “normal” names. My parents didn’t bother naming me; instead, Nonna Maria Grazia took the opportunity to name me after her maternal grandfather, Graziano Lambruschini. This was the first in a long line of events where my parents did not consider me in the slightest. I’ve never had any personal problems with the name, mind you. Nadine and Joseph went along with it, but as far back as I can remember, they never called me Graziano. Not even a variation on the name. If they did call me anything, it was a pejorative.

In one word, I would sum up my family life thus: HELL. In Dante Alighieri’s The Divine Comedy, there are nine circles of hell: Limbo, Lust, Gluttony, Avarice, Wrath/Sloth, Heresy, Violence, Fraud, and Treason. The tenth circle of hell might as well have been the house on Ascot and Nairn.

Ryan and Charlotte were the apples of my parents’ eyes. They were the sun, the moon, and the stars. Ryan was the all-American boy – well, the Canadian equivalent. He did it all: hockey, lacrosse, Canadian football, soccer, and basketball. He was incredibly intelligent and was aces in school. He had strawberry blonde hair and could have been Mark-Paul Gosselaar’s body double in Saved by the Bell. He was also an altar boy at St. Clare’s, which gave the family even more bragging rights in the neighbourhood.

Charlotte was spoiled beyond compare. She wanted for nothing, even if she got it illegally. When she was a kid, she competed in child beauty pageants. They’re not as popular in Canada as they are in the States, but that’s beside the point. Charlotte dominated the competition, and never came home without a crown. After she retired from the child pageant scene, she took advantage of her success and became just as competitive on the social scenes at school. She was the captain of the cheer-leading squad beginning in GRADE 9, and won Prom Queen in Grade 11 and Grade 12. She never made any secret as to how she did it: she knew how to manipulate people to her advantage. Charlotte was already a psychopath before she turned 18.

Even on their worst days, Ryan and Charlotte could do no wrong.  As for me, well, I was pretty much the family’s whipping boy. I tried to please my parents all the time, but no matter what, I ended up on the receiving end of their blows. Not a day went by that my parents and even Charlotte went to town on me. The first incident happened when I was 5. I wanted a Teddy Ruxpin for Christmas. I was at a toy store with Nadine and Nonna Annunziata. I pointed it out, and Nadine slapped me across the face and dragged me out of the store crying. Nonna Annunziata did get me the toy for Christmas, but Nadine intercepted it two days before the holiday and donated it instead to Toys for Tots, the fucking bitch.

Nadine was an alcoholic and a drug addict. Substances and libations were her lovers, her friends, and her confidantes. She started after breast-feeding Charlotte. As the years passed, I would see her go to work all polished and preen, and I would arrive home to see her passed out on the sofa, a bottle of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc in one hand and a joint in the other. Outside of her stupor, she would scream and slap and throw things at me. One time, I tried to force the issue by pouring bottles of booze down the kitchen sink. She found out and beat me up in the wine cellar, which was also our basement.

Joseph was just as worse. He would come home from a hard day at work, or fucking one of his many girlfriends he had throughout the GTA, and just beat the living crap out of me. I would be doing my homework and he would storm into my room, grab me, and hurt me until I was black and blue. For years, I ended most of my nights in my closet, crying and screaming in the darkness. As I got older, I didn’t even bother staying at home. I would sneak out and hide somewhere else for the night. One time, in 1999, after Joseph and Nadine tag-teamed against me, I sneaked into the same toy store from which Nadine had deprived me of a Teddy Ruxpin, and hid next to the teddy bears. The following morning, security guards found me there, clutching a revamped Teddy Ruxpin. After I pleaded with them not to report me, they let me go, and no charges were ever filed.

My grandparents were there for me, though. Nonno Pietro and Nonna Annunziata were fun-loving, feisty, and colourful. They were resilient in the face of adversity, and always kept their spirits up.  I was the only person in my immediate family who spoke Italian, and I learned through them. They also taught me how to cook; whenever I was home alone, I may not have been the happiest person on Earth, but I was never hungry. Nonno Raimondo and Nonna Maria Grazia were the cerebral, intellectual, and relatively reserved grandparents. I was never bored at their house, though. They exposed me to art, classical music, and literature, and always sought to make it enjoyable as opposed to a bloody dirge.

While they were from different parts of Italy and had different personalities, when it came to me, they were always on the same page. They encouraged me to do my best in school. They always offered constructive criticism and never disciplined me at all, certainly not like Joseph and Nadine did. They always took me to the doctor, they took me on vacation with them, and they would have been my legal guardians had it not been for Joseph and his connections in the legal system.

They weren’t perfect people. Nonno Pietro and Nonna Annuziata easily got into it with people, and rare was the day that there wasn’t an argument between proprietors and customers at the deli. Nonno Raimondo and Nonna Maria Grazia, too, had their foibles: Raimondo was obsessed with Catherine Deneuve and wanted Maria Grazia to look like her, and to her credit Maria Grazia had a reputation in the neighbourhood as a “fucking gossip”, as Nadine put it once. But after all, Grace Jones sang, “I’m not perfect, but I’m perfect for you”.

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