With the jams of Oasis playing in the back, I snuggled contently in my weighted blanket. Thanksgiving was going accordingly. Tucking my knees to my chest, I placed my sketchbook in between that area where my belly fat rolls in on itself. Fortunately, Disney Studios didn’t need any sketches until next week. But still, I was prepared for a spark of inspiration to strike me.
Opposite to me was Todd Richard, my roommate. Even though it was a holiday, Todd was frantically working at the kitchen table. Todd works in accounting for an upstarting record company. It seems like he never stops working.
Yet looking over to him, our eyes met. He smirked. He chucked a piece of popcorn at me. But with Todd’s lousy eyesight, it missed and landed in my knock-off Sprite.
“Nice shot, Todd.”
Todd rose an eyebrow and scoffed, “I’d like to see you try, Frank.”
My eyes searched around for something to throw. Too comfortable to get up, I leaned to the side and picked up my eraser. With great force, I chucked it at Todd. Yet also having horrifying vision, it missed and knocked over his drink. Mike’s Hard Lemonade flooded the tables, ruining Todd’s stack of work.
Todd panicked and hastily try to gather his papers. However, with almost all of them soaked, there was no point. The lemonade began spilling off the table and onto Todd’s pants. After gathering the few papers he could preserve, he cried out, “I’m going to kill you, Frank!”
As soon as he said this, our door burst open. And like that, my comfortable Thanksgiving was over.
Before I had the chance to spin around, my brother came in with a pistol aimed straight at Todd. He shouted, “Don’t you think about it, you son of a bitch!”
Todd let out a terrified scream. He trembled, his heart racing far quicker than it had ever done before. When I looked over to Todd, I realized that not only was my Thanksgiving ruined, but I’d need to get a new roommate.
“Cesare!” I shouted, standing to my feet, “Rilassare! È il mio compagno di stanza! (Relax! He’s my roommate!)”
Cesare immediately glanced towards me. Still wielding his pistol, he muttered, “Cosa vuoi dire che è il tuo compagno di stanza? Non siete due amanti? (What do you mean that is your roommate? Aren't you two lovers?)”
“Oh, shut up, Ceasare!”
“Sembra un personaggio dei cartoni animati che Walt Disney ti ha fatto disegnare! (He looks like a cartoon character that Walt Disney made you draw).”
It was then that Todd, huddled in the corner, interjected, “Okay, I know you’re talking in Italian, but I can definitely tell you’re talking about me!”
“Sorry, can I help you?” asked Ceasare, still aiming his pistol in Todd’s direction. He then looked over Todd, noticing his pants were wet. Ceasare then scoffed, “Did you piss yourself, kid?”
“Put your gun down, Ceasare,” I demanded. But Caesare didn’t listen.
Todd spoke up, “It’s Mike’s Hard Lemonade.”
“That’s neat. You got a roommate that pisses Mike’s Hard Lemonade, huh Frankie?”
It was then that I had enough. I quickly marched over to Ceasare, hit his arm, and demanded, “Put the gun down! What do you want, Ceasare?”
“Papa asked me to come get you. We’re going to celebrate Thanksgiving like a good, wholesome American family.”
It was then that Todd, for God knows why, spoke up, “Thanksgiving is based on the genocide of millions of Native Americans.”
“Did I ask you, Lemonade Pants?”
I retorted back, “We’ve never celebrated Thanksgiving before. What kind of mob family celebrate Thanksgiving?”
It was then that I realized what I had said. Yet, from my brother’s grand entrance, it was already apparent. I then looked to Todd and relayed, “Uh Todd, my family’s part of the mafia, if you didn’t catch that.”
“Yeah,” said Todd, rubbing his arm anxiously, “I could tell when your brother busted our door down and started talking Italian.”
Immediately, Ceasare jumped to action, “Oh! So you think just cause I’m talkin’ Italian means I’m some mobster, is that right? You must think that EVERY Italian is part of the mafia, is that right?”
“...You pointed a gun at me!”
Ceasare rolled his eyes, turning back to me. He asked, “Whatever happened to that other guy?”
“You know, the guy with the tools.”
“What tools?” It was then that I realized, “Oh, you mean my old roommate Richard the Exterminator?”
“Shh!” exclaimed Ceasare, “Keep your voice down!”
“Who do you think is gonna hear?” I asked, “Ant-Man?”
Todd piped up, “Ant-Man’s a really good film.”
To which both Ceasare and I yelled, “Did I ask you?”
“Look Ceasare,” I said, trying to calm the air, “I want nothing to do with the family business. And quite honest, unless Papa and Mama are on their deathbeds, I want nothing to do with our family.”
“So what?” asked Caesare, “Am I supposed to just tell Mama that you won’t be here this Christmas?”
“I dunno… tell her I’m Jewish!” I joked.
“Now that’d kill her, Frankie.” Ceasare then lowered his voice. Gently, he placed his arm around my shoulder and spoke softly, “Frankie, come home just this once, alright? The whole family misses you… I miss you! Puoi portare Lemonade Pants con.”
“Yeah… again,” interrupted Todd, “I can tell you’re talking about me.”
“You owe our family, Frank.” As soon as Ceasare said this, he was filled with instant regret. I glared straight at him, my veins pulsing.
I hissed, “I don’t owe our family shit!” Knowing this, Ceasare nodded.
“All I’m saying is, Frankie,” Ceasare took my hand. Though I tried to pull away, he unraveled my sleeve. On my wrist was a spade tattoo, the symbol of the Calistro Family. He unraveled his own sleeve, revealing an identical tattoo. Ceasare whispered, “We’re family. I know you were put through so much shit as a kid that none of us had to go through. But Frankie, we’re family.”
I paused for a moment. Although I shared the last name Calistro with them, the ties between my family and I were cut long ago. For years I had ran as far as I could from the Calistros, even moving to a different State. But here was Ceasare, my second oldest brother, who traveled three hours to bring me home. No matter how far I was, there wasn’t an escape.
“Alright.” I relinquished, “Alright. I’ll go with you to the family home.”
“Under one condition,” I said.
“Shoot.” replied Ceasare.
“I get to bring Lemonade Pants.”
As we drove closer to our family house in Belleville, my heart began to pound. It had been three years since I stepped foot in New Jersey, let alone Belleville. There was so much undelt resentment I had towards the Calistro Family, in particular the Godfather, my Dad. There isn’t a shrink in the World that could help me cope with the shit I faced as a kid. Even to this day, the slightest hint of a Jersey accent scares me to death.
After the never-ending car ride, we came to the outer gates of the Calistro Estates. As we drove to the horseshoe driveway, we were greeted by three, larger men. At first, I could hardly recognize. It wasn’t until they opened my doors that I realize who they were.
“Well, if it isn’t little Frankie Calistro!” shouted Vinny, embracing me as soon as I stood. Vinny was Papa’s consigliere, our family “lawyer”, if you will. Vinny was always a bit on the eccentric side, but he was loyal to our family unto death. Vinny exclaimed, “Dear God, you’ve grown so much since I’ve seen you!”
Another voice called out, “Good to have you back, Frankie.” Once I was released, I noticed the two other men: Vito and Tommy. Vito and Tommy were some of Papa’s loyal advisers. Vito, Tommy, and Vinny were apart of the Calistro Family more than I was. In fact, Vito took my bedroom when I moved out.
“Your father wants to see you in private,” said Vito as we were escorted inside. Our coats were taken by Serenella, who has been our maid for as long as I could remember. Before I had the chance to escape the conversation, Vito placed his hand on my shoulders. He spoke quietly, “He misses you a lot, Frankie.”
“Lay off Vito, alright?” I brushed Vito away and turned to face Todd. But when I didn’t see Todd, I panicked. Immediately, I ran outside to find Todd surrounded by Tommy and Vinny.
“Forget about it!” shouted Todd, making a complete fool of himself.
But Vinny asked, “Forget about what, exactly?”
I muttered under my breath, “Shit.”
I came over to Vinny and interrupted, “Lui è con me. (He’s with me)” Before it could get out of hand, I grabbed Todd his his arm and led him into the home.
Todd turned around and shouted at the men, “You better watch yourselves!”
In a hiss, I whispered, “Do me a favor, Todd, and stop strutting around like Al Pacino, alright?” It was apparent that the only thing Todd knew about the mob was from The Godfather.
When we returned into the house again, my Mama waited with her arms wide open. Mama is a plump Italian woman, about as stereotypical as you get. But standing at 5 foot nothing, she could still whip your ass with a spoon. Grinning from ear to ear, she cried aloud, “Mio figlio è tornato a casa! (My son is back home!)”
Although reluctant, I approached my Mama. She immediately kissed and embraced me. She cheered, “Finalmente il mio bambino è a casa! (Finally my baby is home!)” She would not release me, even though I tried to squirm away.
“Well look who it is! Little Frankie Calistro!” A voice shouted from the kitchen.
I looked over Mama’s shoulders to find my two other brothers: Rosario and Joey. Joey was the closest to my age, only a year older than me. Out of all of my brothers, Joey was the most uptight and stingy. Thankfully for Papa, Joey was too young to ever be the Godfather. To his left was Rosario, the oldest of the four boys. Rosario was well-kempt, sophisticated, and wise.
“Mom, you’re going to strangle him!” shouted Joey.
Mom turned around and smack Joey on the chest. She retorted, “I’m going to strangle you if you don’t get back in the kitchen and help your sister with dinner!”
I grinned. Sulking, Joey turned and went into the kitchen.
“Good to see you Frankie,” spoke Rosario, embracing me briefly. As he kissed my cheek, he whispered, “‘Bout time that you showed up.”
“Better now than never, wouldn’t you say, Rose?” I whispered back. Rosario said nothing to this, but released me with a pat on the back.
I turned away to introduce Todd, but as before, Todd was nowhere in sight. I then turned towards my family to find Todd shouting, “You must be the Godfather!”
Todd was right. Holding Todd’s hand was Alphonse Calistro, my father. Alphonse carried an uncomfortable smirk on his face as Todd kissed his hand. Papa was about to say something, but his eyes glanced up. When our eyes met, I immediately wanted to turn. But for some unknown reason, we locked eyes.
“Frankie,” said Papa, his voice shrill and breaking, “Welcome home.”
The dinner table was set as I always remembered. Papa was at the front of the table. To his left was Rosario and Joey, to his right was Mama and Ceasare. I sat close beside Ceasare, my sister Lucina next to me, and Todd at the other end of the table.
In a mannerly order, the food was served by our faithful maids. The dinner was a three-course meal, beginning with salad, bread, and wine. I could feel everyone’s eyes on me as I passed the salad around. I glanced up once more to find Papa staring at me. Quickly, my eyes darted away.
As we began eating, Todd was the first to speak up, “This is great, Mr. and Mrs. Calistro! It’s like Olive Garden!”
Papa’s eyes shot at Todd and he bellowed, “We don’t talking about fucking Olive Garden.”
“If I ever see any of my sons at Olive Garden,” continued Papa, “I’ll shoot him.”
Todd immediately went silent, proceeding to stuff his mouth with salad.
I, on the other hand, didn’t eat most of what was on my plate. Mama noticed and said, “Eat, Frankie, eat!” It was then that I glared at her. She knew I had stomach issues, but continued to say, “Eat, Frankie! It’s your favorite salad!”
Refraining from snapping at her (and knowing she would kill me if I did), I silently forcefed myself. She smiled contently and said aloud, “We’re all proud of your new job, Frankie. Disney Studios… isn’t that amazing!”
I nodded, but didn’t respond.
“Oh, you better believe it Mrs. Calistro!” exclaimed Todd, “Frank is the best animator they’ve got! Walt Disney is applauding in his grave!”
Papa spoke up, “They’re treating you well, Frankie.”
Papa nodded, “And this uh… David Michael. He’s paying you enough, right?”
Upon hearing my boss’s name, my eyes darted up. I was left astonished, “How do you know…?”
It was then that I began to piece things together, “You set this job up, didn’t you?!” Of course he did! I didn’t have the right credentials to get into animation, let alone Disney Studios; yet, I was hired within one interview. My blood began to boil.
“It’s the job you’ve always wanted, Frankie!” exclaimed Papa, “I wanted what you wanted!”
“I thought I got that job because of my talent,” I yelled, “Not because my Dad paid Disney to hire me!”
Mama piped up, “You are a talented artist, Frankie! Disney just needed a little push, that’s all.”
“A little push?!” I shouted, “Mama, you have no idea how--”
Then, without warning, my stomach churned. It was as though knives were stabbing into my intestines. I yelped, the pain flooding over my body. I always got this way when I was upset.
“Frankie,” Papa hollered, noticing my stomach pains, “How about you lay down for a while, alright?”
“No!” I shouted. I stood from my chair and once more, another knife stabbed into my stomach. I could feel my stomach lining ripping from the inside. Withholding the pain, I uttered, “You never were there for me as a kid. And now that I have the chance to prove myself, you butt in!”
Papa shouted, “Siediti! (Sit down!)”
“Would you give it a break, Frankie?” Joey shouted, “Papa did the best he could during that situation!”
My eyes shot daggers to my brother Joey.
“Really now?” I then looked to Todd and said, “Todd, you’re an accountant, right?”
“Yeah, I dabble in finance. What’s it to you?” said Todd in a poor Jersey accent.
“Crunch these numbers for me, alright?” I pushed my chair from the table and threw my hands to the table. I glared at Papa, “Imagine you’re a wealthy Godfather of a large-scale mafia, spanding in over six states and three countries. Your net worth $82,520,000, with a 5% interest rate each year.”
“Go on,” said Todd.
“Quit it, Frankie!” shouted my brother Rosario.
“Imagine you’ve got yourself a lovely wife, 4 sons and 1 daughter. Kids cost about, what, Todd? $15,000 a year?”
Papa stared deeply into my eyes. I could tell that his eyes were watering as he muttered, “Frankie, please.”
“And imagine, Todd, that in the middle of the night, your youngest son is kidnapped and held for ransom by an equally sized mafia. He’s being held hostage for $82,500,000 and for each day you won’t pay, this 4-year-old child is being tortured and starved. Now tell me, Todd. If you pay your son’s ransom, how much are you left with?”
“$20,000,” totaled Todd, “But since I’ve got 5 kids, that’s going to make expenses rough.”
“But would you do it, Todd?” I asked, my eyes beginning to water, “Would you pay that much money to save your 4-year-old son?”
“Without a doubt.”
I then turned back to Papa. The rage within me was spilling over. I stuck my finger towards him, but as I opened my mouth, a final shot of pain exploded from within. I tumbled over. The pain became so bad that I collapsed, hitting my head along the way.
I was out cold for fifteen minutes.
When I woke up, my eyes took a moment to adjust. I then realized that I was back in my old room. As my eyes scanned the room, I saw Papa in the corner. His eyes were dark, sorrowful. When our eyes met, he approached me.
“Damn it, Papa,” I stuttered, turning away, “I don’t want to talk about it, alright?”
“Frankie,” uttered Papa as he sat at the foot of my bed, “I live with regret everyday about that situation.”
“Six months,” I scoffed, “Six months of torture until the Russo Family lowered the ransom to just $6,000,000. Don’t you realize, Papa, that still live with nightmares about their house? About New Jersey? And for what, Papa, so you wouldn’t have to fork over the family business?”
I then turned to my father. It was then that I realized his face was running in tears. He looked to me, his face flooded. Unable to speak, he cried aloud as he was curled into a huddle, “God I’m sorry, Frankie! I was wrong, Frankie!”
“I was a selfish, selfish man!” My father cried aloud, whimpering as he tried to piece it together, “I could never apologize to you after that, which makes me even more selfish. God, Frankie. I’m so, so sorry!”
He began to tremble. I placed arms around him and held him there.