Chapter 18: “Graziano deserves SO MUCH better.”

WEDNESDAY, 11TH NOVEMBER, 2009

Mykhaylo and I had our second date. This time, I called the shots, and we didn’t break into a building or anything like that. We went to the Royal Canadian Curling Club on Broadview Avenue to watch gay curlers do their thing. I wanted to bring Mykhaylo along because, as you know, I love curling, and well, he had never encountered curling before. When I was at university, I joined the Riverdale Curling League, one of two gay leagues in Toronto. I made my way up the ranks just as I was doing so in bodybuilding. I introduced Evan to the sport in 2003, and he fell in love with it. I stopped actively participating in curling after Evan died, but I never officially gave it up.

Mykhaylo was a little apprehensive about curling. His family did not follow the sport, instead focusing on soccer, like a lot of immigrant families tend to do. I may be shot for saying this, being Italian and all, but I FUCKING HATE SOCCER. I never liked playing the sport in school, and I never enjoyed watching it on television or in person. Why? It’s hard to explain. In my narrow experience, I find that soccer brings out the worst in people. I don’t care if it’s allegedly the most popular singular sport on the planet; a stadium full of drunken straight guys screaming for at least ninety minutes while overpaid athletes kick a ball scares me to death. I once attended a Toronto FC game, and it made my skin crawl. I was perhaps the only Italian in the whole of the GTA who DIDN’T want Italy to win the World Cup in 2006, and yet, they did, and it freaking scared me.

Fortunately, Mykhaylo understood my concerns, and admitted that the sport is hooligan central. As for our curling date, it went very well. I spent a lot of the night explaining to Mykhaylo the basics of the game: leads, seconds, thirds, skips, the house, the button, even where the stones came from. By the end of the night, while he hadn’t become a convert to the sport, he did have an appreciation for it. And no, we did not drink beer, contrary to curling convention. We went to the 7 West Cafe on Charles Street West and had burgers and Diet Coke instead.

THURSDAY, 12TH NOVEMBER, 2009

I spent the morning with my address book. I looked through it and realized that I had not been in contact with many of the people in it: friends, relatives, acquaintances, etc. I decided to give some of them a call.

First, I called my Uncle Wayne, who was Nadine’s brother. He had been living on Prince Edward Island since the 1980s, where he had attended university. He fell in love with Elfriede Messner, who had come to Canada in the 1960s from Austria and whose family ran a cafe in Charlottetown. They married and had three kids: Scott, Natalie, and Martina. I can count on my hand the number of times they visited the family in Toronto, and it was less than five. The times that I did encounter Wayne and his family, I found them to be charming and friendly. The last time I heard from them, Wayne and Elfriede were running the cafe and were expecting grandchildren.

Hi. You’ve reached Elfi and Wayne. We’re not available to take your call, but leave a message and we’ll get back to you.” That was Wayne’s voice. At the beep, I left this message:

“Uncle Wayne? This is your nephew Graziano. I just want to say hi and see how you’re doing. I’m back in Toronto now. If you want to get a hold of me, the number is (416) 468-7588. I hope to talk with you or Aunt Elfriede soon. Take care.”

Then, it was time to call Aunt Tatiana, Joseph’s sister. She had attended university in Italy and married a dude from Florence named Marco Antonio Tedeschi. I only saw them three times in my life, and I was too young to attend the wedding in the first place. Tatiana and Marco Antonio had three kids as well: Giovanni, Maria Elena, and Paoletta. I never ever got a chance to meet them. The family ran a vineyard in the Tuscan countryside.

Vigna Tedeschi. Pronto.” A young woman answered the phone.

Buongiorno. Vorrei parlare con la signora Buonfiglio-Tedeschi, per favore.”

Chi parla?

Mi chiamo Graziano Buonfiglio. Sono suo nipote.

I could hear some conversation in the background, and a few moments later, I heard Aunt Tatiana’s voice on the phone. “Graziano?”

“Aunt Tatiana?”

“Hi, honey. I haven’t heard from you in years!”

“Ditto.”

“That was your cousin Maria Elena you we’re speaking with. She’s the receptionist at the vineyard.”

“That’s nice.”

“How’s everything?”

I tensed up for a few moments, and then said, “Okay. I’m back in Toronto.”

“You’re not with your parents anymore?”

“They kicked me out.”

“What?” Tatiana wasn’t really in the loop with what had been going on between me and the rest of the family, so I didn’t expect her to understand fully.

“Yeah. Things have not been so good at home.”

“I’m sorry, babe. But you’re alright, I gather?”

“I’m staying with a friend. Look, if Nadine and Joseph get in contact with you, don’t say that I called.”

“Of course, darling. Look, I have a tour group coming in ten minutes. Do you have a number?”

“Sure. My number is (416) 468-7588.”

Tatiana repeated the number. “Okay. I’ll talk to you again soon. Ciao.”

Ciao.” That was the first civilized conversation that I had with a blood member of my family in a long time. I felt relieved and happy. The next number that I looked up was that of my Aunt Kendra. I saw more of her in my life than I did of any other aunt or uncle. Her chosen name aside, she was the spicy, sensual Italian goddess that the Western world thinks that all Italian women are. She had presence, she loved life, and aside from Ryan and my grandparents, she was the only relative that I was in constant contact with who had my back no matter what.

Kendra lived near us in Toronto until 1995, when she had a huge falling out with Nadine and moved to Vancouver. From what I heard, she opened a clothing store and adopted a child. Nadine hated the fact that Kendra was doing these things. She expected her, as her younger sister, to get married and be a housewife. “One career woman in the family is enough!” I heard Nadine roar one time, the irony being that Nadine herself was never that committed to her job as a secretary, never mind her longevity.

Hi, this is Kendra degli Angeli. Leave a message.” Kendra had a voice reminiscent of balsamic vinegar: dark, sweet, tart, and delicious all the same me.

“Aunt Kendra? This is Graziano. If you get this message, call me at (416) 468-7588. Thanks.”  I hung up and leafed through my address book one more time. I came across Uncle Nicholas and Aunt Denise’s listings, and I shuddered. I had not spoken to or heard from them since the incident at the hospital, and I doubted that they wanted to hear from me. But something inside of me wanted to contact them. And that eventually won out. I picked up my phone, and dialled the number.

You’ve reached the Buonfiglio residence in Oakville, Ontario. If you are not that fucking waste of space called Graziano Buonfiglio, please leave a message.” That was Uncle Michael’s voice. At the beep, I left this message:

“This is Graziano Buonfiglio, and I am NOT a fucking waste of space. I am calling to tell you all what horrible people you are. The way that you’ve treated me, not just recently but since you first came to know me, shows a lot about your character and how you treat people. And obviously you’re lacking in that department. I do not deserve and did not deserve the amount of abuse that you’ve deemed fit to throw my way. Nicholas, I hope you never sell a Mercedes again. Denise, I hope you get fired. Ashley, I hope you bomb your final exams. Vaffanculo, tutti voi!”

I promptly hung up, put my phone and phone-book away, and went to make a sandwich. Later that night, over take-out sushi, I told Brandon about my misadventures talking with my relatives. After I finished, he had only one question:

“What does ‘vaffanculo, tutti voi’ mean?”

It means “Fuck all of you.” And I meant every syllable.

FRIDAY, 13TH NOVEMBER, 2009

“Tell me about Evan,” Claire said during our Friday session.

I took out my wallet. “Can I show you some pictures?”

She nodded. I flipped through the wallet and had a sudden change of plan. I took out three wallet-sized photos: one of Evan and me in a photo booth, one of Nonno Raimondo and Nonna Maria Grazia on the Amalfi Coast, and one of Nonno Pietro and Nonna Annunziata at a party.

“These are the most important people in my life,” I said, handing the photos to Claire, “even though they’re dead.”

Claire studied the photos. “Your grandparents remind me a bit of mine.”

“Really?”

“I’m from Cornwall, but my maternal grandparents are from Wales. My paternal ones are from Michigan. They came to Canada before World War I. I only saw them through photos. They died before I was born.”

She handed the pictures back, except for the one with me and Evan. “Where was this taken?” she asked.

“Canada’s Wonderland,” I said. “It was in 2003, on his birthday. We rode every ride there and ate funnel cakes. Before we called it a day, we went into this photo booth and made out. That photo is my favourite from the set.”

Claire returned the photo to me. “Now, tell me about Evan.”

Sitting back on the chair, I said, “He was everything to me.” I looked at the photo again. His eyes were deep and green, and his hair was softly mussed and brown, and because he was in fact a blonde, I attributed that to questionable lighting.

“Whenever I had a problem,” I continued, “even if he didn’t have the solution, he was always there for me. I remember, whenever I got sick, he made chicken noodle soup from scratch. He’d buy the chicken, the vegetables, the low-sodium broth, and the noodles. Always No-Yolks noodles, because for him, that was the way to go. He’d roast the chicken, make the broth, cut the vegetables, heat up the broth, boil the noodles… it took about three hours for the whole thing to come together. When it did, it tasted so good, and I’d feel better the next day.”

“He must have been something special.”

“He IS,” I said. “Sometimes, I think of him in the present tense. Since he died, I’ve slept with a special pillow. It has buckwheat hulls and a royal blue case. He loved Japanese food, and royal blue was his favourite colour.”

I began to tear up, and Claire handed me a Kleenex. “What was it like after Evan died?” she asked.

“I couldn’t function. I shut down big time. I stayed in our apartment for months. I made sure that the rent and utilities were paid, but other than going to the gym, I barely went out at all. Eventually, the Smart family came in, took everything, and kicked me out.”

“What were his parents like?”

“Ass-holes!” I exclaimed. “Aside from Nadine and Joseph, Bridget and Walton Smart were the most horrid excuses for parents on the planet. They hated him for not only being gay, but for moving to Canada and for being a dancer. And they hated me, too.”

Claire put her hand on my knee. “Do you think you’ll ever find love again?”

“I don’t know,” I replied. “I’m seeing a guy now, and he’s really sweet, but… I don’t know.”

“What’s his name?”

“Mykhaylo. We went to secondary school together, but we parted ways after graduation. We met again last week.”

“Have you been on a date?”

“Twice. I’m happy that I’m not indulging in meaningless booty calls, but I still don’t know if we’re meant to be lovers or friends.”

“Graziano,” Claire said, “there are no guarantees in life. That being said, I would stick with Mykhaylo and see where the relationship takes you. If he turns out to be more than a friend, that’s great. But even if it doesn’t, being friends is fine, too. Besides, having good friends is more important than finding a lover.”

“How do you know that?” I asked.

“I’m twice divorced, but I still have my friends,” Claire said with a smile. I chuckled.

LATER THAT DAY

Claire left the office around five o’clock. By then, the sky had darkened, and the sun had dipped halfway under the horizon. With another work week in the books, Claire hopped into her Kia and sped off.

As she drove down Yonge Street, with CBC Radio One playing, Claire muttered, “What can I do? What can I do?” She felt guilty. She had known Graziano for only a few weeks, but there was something different about him. Of all the clients she had, she felt closest to Graziano. Of course, being a medical professional, there was only so much that she could do for him. Still, the fact that his thick folder, with his surname in bold red ink on the tab, was atop the pile that sat at shotgun, spoke volumes.

She stopped at Shoppers Drug Mart, at 728 Yonge Street. Every Friday, she would arrive at the very same area after work, and pick up coffee from the nearby Second Cup and a few things from Shoppers. This time, she skipped the Second Cup and walked straight into Shoppers.

She roamed about for a few minutes, unsure of what to get. Finally, she landed in the personal care aisle, and took a box of Kotex U tampons (the ones marketed to younger women). Just then, she heard a hissing voice:

“Aren’t you a little too OLD for those tampons?”

Claire turned around and saw a 50-something blonde, weathered woman in a blue pantsuit, standing in front of her and smelling of booze.

“That’s none of your business,” Claire responded calmly. She walked to the hair colour section, with the pantsuit lady hot on her heels. She found a box of Herbal Essences that matched her hair colour, only for the same hissing voice to come back:

“Hair colour only colours hair; it doesn’t colour ugly.”

Claire was beginning to fume. She made her way to the snacks section, and took a few cans of Pringles, her favourite snack.

“Junk food is BAD for you,” said the pantsuit lady.

“WILL YOU SHUT THE FUCK UP?!” Claire roared, turning toward her adversary.

There they stood, in the centre of the snacks section. The music on the intercom stopped. All eyes were on these two.

“Who the hell are you?” Claire snapped.

“You may not know who I am,” the woman replied, “but I know who you are, Dr. Claire Breedlove.”

“Excuse me?”

“I believe you’re seeing a client who happens to be… well, technically, he is my son, but I don’t see it that way.”

Claire thought for a few moments. Short, blonde hair? Stinking of alcohol? “You must be Nadine.”

“The one and only, bitch.”

“Look, Nadine, I don’t want to start a fight with you. I don’t know you from Adam. And I’m not willing to risk patient-doctor privilege. But let me tell you this: as a mother and as a woman, you leave a lot to be desired.”

Nadine pointed her right finger at Claire. “You watch yourself, bitch. I can have you eliminated with one phone call.”

Claire rolled her eyes. “Who do you think you are? Sophia Petrillo? Carmela Soprano? By the by, have you washed yourself recently? You smell like Grand Marnier and grappa left out in the sun.” She turned around and headed for the cashier.

“Be like that, bitch!” Nadine screamed. “Try anything, and I’ll have your barren ass thrown into the Don River!”

Claire finally reached her breaking point. She stormed back to Nadine. “Listen, you drunk whore. You don’t want to mess with me. I may look Bohemian, but I know Krav Maga. I will flatten you, Tony, Big Pussy, Paulie Walnuts, even your dead mother-in-law Livia if I have to.”

Nadine responded by attempting to slap Claire, but she backed away just in time. Nadine tumbled ass-first onto the floor.

“Graziano deserves SO MUCH better,” Claire said as she finally made her way to the cashier. After paying for her tampons, hair colouring, and Pringles, she got into her car, and drove away quickly. Later that night, in her Kensington Market apartment, she did what anyone would do: she looked up “Nadine Buonfiglio” on Google.

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