Chapter 14: “Fucking bitch.”

THURSDAY, 5TH NOVEMBER, 2009

The last day of my gig at the Royal Bank of Canada came and went with little fuss. I finished filing the last boxes of documents ahead of schedule, just after lunch. Levon reviewed my work and was very impressed. He thanked me for my work, and allowed me to leave early. Overall, I enjoyed working at the RBC, even though at times it was cold and impersonal.

I spent the rest of the day working out, but I couldn’t stop thinking about my run-in with Mykhaylo. I was still in awe at his transformation from a pasty immigrant kid to a smoking hot stallion. It occupied so much of my mind, that at one point, I fell off the treadmill and didn’t even know it.

Later that night, Brandon brought home some tabbouleh and falafel. Over our Middle Eastern dinner, I told him about my last day at the RBC and some stories about me and Mykhaylo.

FRIDAY, 6TH NOVEMBER, 2009

I was already up by the time that the first morning rays of sun had greeted Toronto. Friday marked my second session with Claire, and even though it wasn’t for some time, I was still anxious. I channelled that anxiety into cooking breakfast for Brandon before he left. It wasn’t anything fancy, just an egg-white omelet with cheese, brown bread toast, and fresh orange juice. He never seemed to have enough time for breakfast; just a cup of coffee, and he was out the door. If he couldn’t have it at home, I figured, he should at least take it with him. So, I placed the omelet and toast in a Rubbermaid, the juice in an aluminium bottle, and handed them to Brandon as he made his way to the door. I felt like I was on the sidelines of a marathon, handing out refreshments. Fortunately, he did say, “Thanks.”

The time was finally right for Britney to roam the apartment. She had been confined to the bedroom since I moved in, though I had made sure that her bed and litter box were there as well. For the rest of the morning, it was just me and her. As Britney napped next to me, I went on the Internet and watched AM Canada.

After I ate some leftover tabbouleh and falafels for lunch, I left Britney in the bedroom and made my trek back to the intersection of Yonge and Empress. This time, Claire collected me in the waiting room promptly. She was wearing a tasteful lilac pashmina as opposed to the garish poncho of the previous week.

The first ten minutes were devoted to general conversation, as well as Claire refreshing my memory on what to expect in our sessions. And then, she said:

“I thought that we could talk today about your family.”

Part of me wanted to run out of the room screaming. The other part wanted to keep put and unburden my soul in that regard. And it was the latter part that won.

“What do you want to know?” I asked.

“Well, I don’t want a dossier on them. Save that for the police. Let’s simplify things: what comes to mind when you think of your mother?”

I stretched my legs and arms, sinking into the chair a bit. “Can I call her Nadine?”

She nodded.

“Okay. Nadine, Nadine, Nadine… she was always with a bottle in her hand. She… she reeked of alcohol. And not just alcohol: she smoked and she turned to drugs almost a decade ago. There were times when I found her passed out on the sofa, a cigarette in her mouth and a bottle of tequila in her hand. In recent years, I would also find her with cocaine powder around her nostrils. The funny thing is, when it came time to be around family and other social events, half the time she cleaned up well, and the other half she was a royal mess. And no one gave her shit for looking like crap.”

“Has she ever been to rehab?”

I shook my head. “I complained to my grandparents, to anyone who would reason. They tried to make her go many times, but she was so hard-headed. She bitched and moaned and said that she was too ‘classy’ for rehab. Bullshit.”

“What about your father?”

“Joseph? He never once asked her to clean up her act. In fact, I don’t ever recall them having each other’s best interests at heart.”

“Why?”

I looked out the window and saw some birds perched on the windowsill, cuddling with each other… or something. “Do you see those birds out there? Do you see how intimate they are?”

Claire took a look. “Yeah. They’re really cute.”

I took a deep breath. “Joseph and Nadine were never even close to that. Their whole marriage is a simple excuse for financial benefits and the prolongation of the human species. They don’t love each other. They never did. I’ve never recalled them saying ‘I love you’ to each other. Not even a ‘I care for you’. They never even fucked. When I was a teen, I learned that my parents conceived me and my siblings in a sperm bank!”

Claire shot up, startled. She shook her head in disdain. “Let’s talk about Joseph. What images come to mind?”

A lump formed in my throat, and I swallowed. “He was the most abusive person in the world. He never laid a finger on Ryan, Charlotte, or Nadine, but he always singled me out. Joseph would beat me up anytime, anywhere. Nadine hurt me, too, but she mostly insulted me. Though when she did hit me, it was just as brutal as when Joseph did.”

I felt tears form in my eyes. I don’t know what came over me, but I stood up, turned around, and lifted the back of my shirt. I was showing her my scarred back, perhaps the one part of my body that I hated the most. I said earlier that I loved every part of my body, but I loved my back the least and hated it the most. It bears a variety of lashes, bruises, and bumps. It’s basically a topographical map of my personal catastrophes.

“Oh my God…” Claire muttered.

“When I was competing, I tried to minimize the scars with tanning lotion, makeup, cocoa butter lotion, Mederma… and they still haven’t gone away.”

I sat back down. Claire didn’t know what to say at that point.

“When I see or even talk about these scars, it scares the shit out of me,” I said, breathing heavily.

“Has anyone else seen the scars?”

“Only a few people. Evan did. But he didn’t have problems with it, and we worked around it. But since he died, whenever I’ve been intimate with another guy, I’ve kept my back to the wall or the bed. It’s not just the sexual and aesthetic sides of me that these scars have compromised.”

“What is it, then?”

I inhaled and exhaled, grabbing the sides of my chair. “I don’t respect authority figures, for one. I fear them. I fear that they’ll hurt me next. In school, I was scared of all my teachers. At university, I wasn’t as scared, but I was still terrified.”

“Including Brandon?”

I nodded meekly. “Please don’t tell him that.”

“Don’t worry,” Claire said. “Just one thing: are you scared of me?”

I thought about it for a moment, and nodded. “Somewhat. I mean no disrespect to you, but I still fear authority figures to this day. The police, the church, George W. Bush, Stephen Harper–”

“Stop!” Claire interrupted me. “Graziano, Dubya’s not in power anymore. Barack Obama is. But we can’t get rid of Harper until the next election.”

She moved her chair forward and touched my arm. “I’m sorry that your parents left you with such a negative impression. I’m sorry that you have to carry these scars with you. But you should not have to fear authority or intimacy.”

And then she stood up. “This is not what I usually do with my patients,” she said.

I thought that she was going to do a strip-tease or something. But instead, she widened her arm span. “Hug?”

Nadine never hugged me. A woman hadn’t hugged me since my grandmothers died. Claire nodded in encouragement.

I sighed and said, “Hug.” I stood up, and Claire embraced me. She had a taut but comforting grip. She smelled of some flowery perfume; I’m not sure what the scent was. It was strange at first, but it eventually felt nice. It was a hug that a mother should give her children. I had never felt anything like that. It brought me to tears.

“You know what, Graziano?” Claire said. “You can cry. You can let it out. But just know that there are people in this world who love you; people who will be there for you, even you are done crying.”

She let go of me, and we both sat down. I took out a handkerchief from my pocket and wiped my eyes.

“Let’s talk about your sister, Charlotte. What images come to mind?”

I groaned. “Fucking bitch.”

“What?”

“That’s what comes to mind: fucking bitch.”

Claire’s eyes widened. “Why is she a, um, fucking bitch?”

“She’s younger than me, but she’s always been able to get her way. Even if it meant breaking the rules of good taste. Joseph and Nadine spoiled her like you wouldn’t believe. Whatever she wanted, she got, no questions asked.”

“How so?”

I could feel my blood start to boil at that point. I stood up again and walked around the room. “You would not believe the stuff that she pulled! She screwed around, got into fights, and had terrible grades. Yet her parents were always there to pacify the authorities, and she never got punished for it. Whereas the moment that my parents found one bad grade on my report card, they beat me up and wouldn’t let the subject drop for a month!”

I sat back down and sighed. “She hasn’t changed one iota. A few years ago, she moved to New York to pursue a modelling career. A few months later, she came back pregnant and out of work. You’d think that motherhood would make her more human, more of a human being. Wrong. She spends a lot of her time hanging out with her friends, banging boyfriends, partying with Nadine… she barely has time to take care of her daughter. I am so fucked up beyond belief, and I could do a better job as a parent than she can!”

I noticed that Claire was writing up a storm on her pad. “Is this too much?” I asked.

“Nah,” she said. “I’ve done a lot more. One question: what has she done to you?”

“She called me names. She hit me at least once a week. She even got her boyfriends to beat me up at times. Did you know that she has never called me by my real name?”

“What has she called you?”

I clenched my fists. “Ass-iano. Sometimes GrabAss-iano. Bitch.”

“I notice that you have a brother named Ryan.”

I suddenly began to soften up. This was the first time that anyone had discussed my brother with me for some time. “Yeah,” I said. “I miss him.”

“What was he like?”

“He was my only means of support at home,” I said, getting wistful. “I adored him. He was athletic, intelligent, and fun. In high school, he was always busy with stuff. But when he was home, he always had my back. Trouble was, there wasn’t much he could do to prevent Joseph, Nadine, and Charlotte from hurting me. But afterwards, he was the one who tended to my wounds, who kept vigil over me, who held me in his arms as I cried.”

“How did Nadine and Joseph treat him?”

“Like the sun rose and set with him. He and Charlotte were their greatest accomplishments, and they said that to anyone and everyone.”

“What happened to him?”

I shook my head. “In 1999, he graduated and went to Notre Dame. I haven’t seen or heard from him since.” Sinking further into my chair, I said, “I don’t even know if he is still alive. All I know is that the night before he left, something happened between him and Nadine and Joseph. They were screaming at each other. That had never happened before. The next day, he was gone.”

Claire put her pen down. “Why were they screaming?” she asked.

“If I remember correctly,” I said, “I heard my name come up. If I had to guess why–” And then I stopped. Why? Because I was starting to realize WHY the fight had happened in the first place, even though it had happened 10 years earlier.

“And?” Claire asked.

“On second thought, I’m not comfortable with telling you why. At least, not yet.”

“That’s perfectly fine, Graziano,” Claire said.

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