The dinner had been the same as any other night, loud. That’s just how it is in Italian families I suppose. Is it even an Italian family if it isn’t huge and loud? I would imagine not because I have nine siblings.
While everyone else at the table was rambling on about how their days were or how work was, I kept silent. I was unsure of how I was to disclose the news to my family that I had volunteered for the military.
I had seen an article in the newspaper about the Paratroops, a new tactic the military was to test out. Apparently, these men jumped out of airplanes into battle. Crazy right? I know, but it pays well because it’s so new and crazy. Paratroopers get a whole fifty dollar extra for volunteering to jump out of planes. The article mentioned it’s some of the most intense training the military can offer, so I know it’s going to be a challenge. But if we get out into that war I know there won’t just be some draftee in my foxhole that’ll get me killed.
“That poor kid from Chicago got crushed by a cart today, broke both his legs,” Johnny shakes his head. “We had to carry him out of there.”
“Did you see his bones?” Sammy asks eagerly, causing our mother to swat him. He huffs as he sits back down. Sammy is the youngest of us all at twelve years old so reasonably he is very excitable and restless.
My mom and dad both agreed when I was two that they wouldn’t have any more kids but then proceeded to have my sister Helen and then Sammy to top it all off. I guess I should be happy that I’m not the youngest but, Helen prevented me from ever having my own space. I still protect her with my life nonetheless, same with Sammy.
I restlessly bounce my leg under the table trying to avoid the inevitable. I’m naturally more quiet than the rest of them, but today I was dead silent.
My parents aren’t super traditional or anything, they believe in us doing what we want, but they even freaked out when Julian volunteered. He volunteered to save the rest of the boys from getting drafted. He’s deployed in Italy right now going through all types of Hell we may never understand.
Once he found out about Pearl Harbor, he knew the drafting would start as America finally got involved in the war. So instead of letting fate decide he saved the rest of our asses and volunteered for the Marines before the draft ensued.
“Stop starin’ at your food like it’s a Da Vinci and eat it.” My pa snaps me out of my thoughts. “What’s the matter with you? I haven’t heard a word from ya.”
I take a small breath and briefly glance up from my plate. “I uh, I signed up for the military.” I murmur under my breath. I was uncertain if he had even heard me or if my voice had been too small.
In a matter of seconds, the whole room was soundless. “You what?” Adriano perplexed. I take a short breath. “I volunteered for the military after school today. I head out to boot camp in two weeks.”
“Are you fuckin’ kiddin’ me? Are you insane Remi? I mean, what the hell were you thinking?!” I open my mouth to speak but ultimately stay quiet once he commenced going off in Italian. There’s no going back from there.
“Pa,” I meekly attempt to get his attention to allow my voice in for a moment. “Adriano, listen to the girl maybe she has good reasons.” Ma nudges his arm. “What reasons?!” He barks.
“Pa, we have ten children in one house they were bound to pick another one of us. I didn’t want someone who wasn’t prepared to go.” He turns to me, a fire burning in his eyes. “I didn’t even want your brother to go!”
“Pa-” He shakes his head. “Go to the living room, now.”
I sigh heavily and stand up from my seat. I set my napkin down on the table and head towards the living room with my father hot on my heels. I turn around to look at him once we were isolated from everyone else.
“What is wrong with you?!” He booms, not wasting any time before unleashing on me. “What were you thinking?! What made you think this was ok?!” He paces back and forth but keeps his eyes locked on me. “You out of anyone should know I can handle myself.”
“That’s not what I’m scared of, cretino!” He abruptly stops pacing and steps in front of me. “Your brother is already out there, I don’t want two of my children to die before I do!”
My face softens as I notice the tears threatening to spill from his brown eyes. He leans back and sniffles quietly, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. “I can’t send two of my children out to die...I can’t.” He shakes his head.
“Would you rather none of us fight for the cause..?” He lifts his head to look at me. “I would rather you stay home with me, where I can make sure you’re ok.” He disputes stubbornly.
I shake my head slowly. “Pa, whether you like it or not I’m going.”
“No!” He quickly interjects. “You’re not! And you’re going to get your name off that list!” He turns to leave the room. “Pa, I can’t.” I didn’t snap, because he’d kill me if I did, but I spoke firmly to get my point across.
He stops dead in his tracks and turns on his heels. “What’s that supposed to mean?” He hisses. “Once you sign up, you’re automatically put into the forces.”
He tenses and his hands ball up into tight fists. “No, I don’t fuckin’ care what it takes you are not going into this goddamn war!” I jump as he storms over to me. He grabs the collar of my shirt and pulls me close to him.
“I can’t lose you!”
My eyes widen ever so slightly, my jaw clenched tightly as I stare back at him. I release a shaky breath through my lips, not even realizing I had been holding it.
Of course, I knew where he was coming from.
We’ve all been off since my sister, Florence, died when she was eight. I was only five at the time and I had to witness her get hit by that truck without being able to do anything. That moment has forever made me feel useless. I guess joining the military is a way to make that up to myself. Just a way to heal my own internal guilt that burned deep in my soul.
She suffered for months after that too. It wasn’t an instant death on the impact of the truck. It took her three months in the hospital in a coma before she finally lost her grip on life. And seeing his little girl like that hurt my father.
It traumatized him.
And the thought of two of his kids out on the battlefield, toying with death, frightened him even more than it already would’ve to another parent.
His gaze falters, and he looks down at his own hands. He frees me quickly. He seemed disturbed by his own outburst. He takes slow deep breaths as he fixes the collar of my shirt. “Pa.,” I whisper.
“I..” He sighs and shakes his head. “I’ve seen what those men look like when they come back, and I can’t handle seeing you lose that spark you always have.” He meets my eyes. “Especially with your brother on top of it all.”
“I know what it’ll do.”
“The woman registering me made sure I knew that much,” I muse recalling her attempts to get me to change where I would serve. “But I need to do this.”
“For myself. And the greater good of our country.” I struggle to keep eye contact as tears begin to overflow, sliding down his cheeks slowly. “Oh, my bambino..” He embraces me tightly. I wrap my arms around him and accept the embrace.
“I love you.” He whispers. I stare forward at the wall, unsure what to do. It burned me to see him break down like this. Never in my seventeen years of life have I ever seen him this...desperate.
“I love you too Pa..”