by James A. Avitabile

A lot happened that summer when I turned four. I heard talk about the upcoming wedding of Commare Gigi. I didn’t know that Gigi was her nickname. She was baptized Louise. Why do parents do that? They give you a fake name and they call you that all your life. Look at me, I was baptized James, but for a good part of my life, they called me Juny. It was OK with me until I went to kindergarten. Mrs. Quintavalli would call out ‘James’. I didn’t know she was calling me so I kept on playing. She thought I might have a hearing problem. One week I had to write My name is James 100 times. So now I had two names: James in school and Juny at home. My parents should have been writing: Our son’s name is James, not me. I guess learning is for kids, not for grown-ups.

One night Gigi and her boyfriend, Vincent paid us a visit. My mother knew they were coming. After all the hugs and kisses, Commare Gigi sat me on her lap and bubbled:

“Juny, Vincent and me would like you to be the ring bearer at our wedding.”

My mother cried; my father, being hard of hearing, missed what she was saying. I didn’t have any clue of what this meant.

“Juny, say thank you to Commare Gigi and Compare Vincent.”

“Thank you.”

“Now, I’ll make black coffee. I baked some fresh biscotti.”

What was I thanking them for? What’s a ring bearer? As they sipped their coffee and dunked their biscotti and talked amongst themselves, I soaked up more information. Joanne, Vincent’s niece, was going to be the flower girl. My imagination wandered. Was she going to be dressed in flowers? Why couldn’t I be dressed in flowers too?

As the biscotti melted into mooch in the delicate demitasse cups with gold dragon heads, Commare Gigi gave us details about what me and Joanne were going to look like.

“Joanne’s gown was going to be hand made. And she’ll carry a bouquet with flowers that will match the flowers on her gown. We’ll rent a tuxedo for Juny. He’ll carry a heart with rings sewn on it and little red ribbons will stream down the sides of the heart. The rings will be fake.”

I hid my feelings of disgust behind a goofy mask. So Joanne would be dressed in something new and made especially for her and she’d carry a bouquet of real flowers. I would be wearing something that someone else had worn before me and carry something that was fake. Would these rings be like the rings that you find as a prize in a Cracker Jacks box? Why didn’t they ask me what I wanted? I guess flower girls are before thoughts and ring bearers are afterthoughts.

After they left, I asked my mother: “What’s a ‘tuckseato’, mommy?”

“It’s what daddy wore when we got married, Juny. Go look at our wedding picture hanging over our bed.”

Whenever I looked at that tinted photo of them, I really never saw my father and what he was wearing. I obsessively gazed at my mother and how beautiful she looked. I dreamed that someday I would be wearing a white lace dress with a long flowing train and a veil that was nineteen feet, yes nineteen feet long. I wanted to look like her and not him. If I was going to look like my father, then a ring bearer doesn’t wear white; he wears black. He doesn’t wear lace; he wears wool. He doesn’t wear light; he wears heavy.

Their big day came. The sun got up before me. I awoke in a pool of sweat. Oh boy, I could already feel that this was going to be a boiler of a day. As I rubbed lingering sleep out of my eyes, I looked up at the black suit with the shiny lapels hanging on the closet door. Eerily, it became alive and leered down at me with an evil smirk.

“You’re not going to like this scorcher of a day, kid, or me.”

I already knew that. We had met a few days before the wedding, when I had to try on the suit to make sure it fit. I was pushed and pulled into it. I felt the scratch and weight of the wool. We didn’t like each other from the start. What bad thing did I do to deserve this kind of thermal punishment? In those days, except for a scattering of movie houses, the relief of ‘air cooled’ was nearly non-existent. The air was going to be ‘as is’ that day.

My father took great pride and care in dressing me. He glowed. He had been a marathon tango dancer during the depression. He knew what went where and in what sequence. He checked and double-checked that everything was in place and I was ready for my marathon. He took a daub of olive oil and gently rubbed it through my curly locks with his leathery hands.

I remember walking slowly down the main aisle of Sacred Heart Church. Joanne and I led the procession of six bridesmaids and six accompanying ushers. Some off key soprano was singing an ‘avay’ to Maria from the choir loft.

I heard onlookers whisper: “Oh, aren’t they the cutest little couple you’ve ever seen.”

I may have looked cute; but I didn’t feel cute. The ‘tuckseato’ controlled my every painful movement. The uncomfortable day seeped into a stagnant and stifling night. There wasn’t even a hint of a breeze; it hadn’t been invited. I wanted the celebration to end so that I could get home to peel off the soggy somber suit and the limp ‘Fruit of the Looms’.

Finally it was over. I was exhausted. I had wilted; Joanne hadn’t. She looked as fresh as she had at the beginning of that blistering August afternoon. All day I had imagined how beautiful I would have been as the flower girl; how comfortable I would have felt with the air breathing freely underneath my gown.

When we got home I unglued myself from the used suit that terrorized me all day. I dumped the punishing munchkin costume on a heap of light and lacy curtain panels waiting to be hand washed in Ivory Snow Flakes and Niagara starch. The newly weds were going to honeymoon at Niagara Falls. How fitting that these ladylike and delicate panels lying listlessly on the hall floor would soon be going to their Niagara too.

A wisp of a breeze teased me with a refreshing thought. I’m too tired to think about it right now. I hugged my pillow of feathers and floated into a dream of flowers and lace.

James A. Avitabile: Thank you, Carmen for encouraging me to find my ‘Voice’. If it wasn’t for you, Leyla and our class, I might never have found it.