Every seven years, my father’s italian family meets in a small village, Tasola, in the north of Italy, near Genova. It is a celebration of community, religion, family, love. Three days of spiritualism during which we kiss the cheeks of many people, drink lots of wine out of white small cups, eat two plates of polenta with a mushroom, thick, buttery sauce, and dance on old folklore songs, played in other villages of the south in the last century during weddings.
This year, I was coming back from a year abroad, a year of not seeing so many faces of a family that I am supposed to belong to and yet, I can’t shake off the feeling of being a stranger next to them when I talk to them, when I hug them, or even when I look into their eyes. There is distance establishing itself between us, an embarrassment that I seem well too accustomed to. I drink coffee to their bewildered eyes, their eyes who still see them as a seven-year-old, I dance with them, but I feel far away.
“Are you happy?” asks my father, while I’m sitting next to him on a lanky bench.
“Why do you keep asking me this question?”
“Because you rarely smile and I am your father, it’s a legitimate question”
“I can’t answer yes or no, I’m sorry”
Each night, the streets leading to the house we are staying for the occasion are empty then. There is almost something serene about emptiness, knowing that nothing and everything can attain me. A shadow can catch me, a person can come out of the darkness and greet me, or simply wonder who I am. I feel more complete, walking up and down the hills along the abandoned houses holding forgotten tea cups, wandering cats and spider nests. I go into the house, open the door with the two locks requiring to turn the keys five times each, and sit on the grass with my dog, eating peaches I collected in the morning from the trees in the backyard. After an hour of petting my dog and eating, I go back to the festivities and sit next to my parents, waiting for the hour everyone will be allowed to go to sleep in humid beds and cold blankets.
While sitting on the grass, I thought about previous festivities, the ones I would go to with my grandparents only. My parents did not want to drive to the suburbs to another retirement announcement, or another baptized baby.
Before my father came into our lives and our two-piece apartment, my mother and I celebrated nothing, except for another peaceful day spent together. I went to the festivities to see how it was to have a big family. Yet, every time I went, I was disappointed and cried in an isolated room on the phone calling my mother, asking her why I was treated this way. The aunts, cousins and old friends rejected me with their eyes, their questions about me and my mother, their touch on my shoulders, a feeble sign of affection. Over the years, the gap between me and them closed a little but it remained present for others. My mother felt it too but she doesn’t care. She speaks loudly, hugs everyone, takes photos with them, and holds my father’s hand. She has nothing to lose.
On this grass, I know I have something to lose, an estranged sense of a family.
“Are you happy?” asks my father.
Sure, I am, I suppose, realizing that I feel like a burden in his family.