Bad Sister

by James Avitabile


I was an only child until I was eight. I was OK with that. I was the youngest of five cousins and I was spoiled rotten. If I wanted a special toy and my mother said “No,” I’d go to my grandmother or to my aunt and plead for whatever it was and bingo, I got it!

Then in August of 1950, I was no longer an only child. I had competition. My 110-pound mother gave birth to an 11 pound seven ounce baby girl. They named her Bernadette.  “What’s her name I grumbled, Burn to Death? I had lost my status as next in line to the throne. All the attention I once had now fell to her. Overnight I went from the head of the class to standing in the corner in the back of the room. They treated her as if she were a delicate demitasse cup.

“Be careful Juny, don’t hurt your baby sister. Mommy had to go through so much to give you her.”

My inner voice cried out, Give ME her? Who said that I wanted her? It was YOU not ME who wanted her.

I publicly sulked no matter how many Charlotte Russes my grandmother or my Aunt Grace bought me.  I remember when the intruder was christened, I wouldn’t take any photos with her unless the guests came with two gifts, one for her and one for me. Then overnight my attitude quickly changed. I had to survive. My mother had everything to do with that.

“If you don’t want to accept your sister, I’m going to put you into a home.” That did it. I didn’t know what that was, but it didn’t sound good. It sounded like she would give me up if I didn’t change. And sadly, I yielded.

I began to wonder if my sister and I had been switched in my mother’s womb. They say that little girls are sugar and spice and everything nice. That was me! It wasn’t my sister. At the age of six she was knuckles and scraped knees and spit and dirt. She was a tomboy looking for her next fight. She was tough. The only thing that made her look like a girl was her Shirley Temple locks. Every night my mother would wash her hair, then use stove pipe cleaners and meticulously roll up sections of her hair. ”Ouch! You’re hurting me Mommy!” she’d bark. I’d gloat when I heard her.  By morning my mother would unwind her locks and her dark brown hair would bounce up and down like Shirley’s did on the Good Ship Lollypop.  She hated the name ‘Bernadette.’ “Bernadette is a sissy name. Call me Jean.” I wished I’d had her name instead of ‘Juny.’

Whenever I had the opportunity of pointing out the bad sister to my mother I would do it.

She’d pick up smoldering cigarettes off the street and puff on them.

“Look Ma, she’s smoking a cigarette.” My mother wouldn’t even stir. Her precious little girl couldn’t do anything wrong. My mother would warn me, “Don’t make trouble.” I watched and waited and hoped that maybe one day my mother would see for herself the bad sister her precious daughter really was.

My mother had an expression, God will get you for that. She thought I was the bad one God was going to get even with when I hadn’t doing anything wrong. But many times I had and He didn’t get me. Once my mother told me to watch my sister while she ran out to the butcher. My sister had just come home from the hospital and was sleeping in her bassinet. I thought she might want to read, so I took a small lamp that was plugged nearby and put it close to her bundled up feet. Just then my mother came back. She screamed, “What are you doing? You could have burned your sister.”

“I just thought she wanted to read, Mommy!”


There was a summer day when my Mom, my sister with her springing hair, and I walked down Castleton Avenue to Woolworth’s  5 & 10 Cent Store. My sister was about four. My mother needed some ribbon. When we got into the store, my mother bent down and told both of us.

“You each have ten cents to spend on anything you want. That’s all I have. No more! You understand?”

“Yes Mommy,” I answered.

My sister’s locks bobbed ‘yes.’ I looked around and saw a box of colored pencils. They were fifteen cents. I had an extra nickel in my pocket. My sister pointed to a puppet. It cost more than a dollar. My mother told her, “I told you, you  have ten cents to spend!” My sister began to cry loudly and cause a scene. Her hair was bobbing all over her face. My mother got all nervous and began to try to quiet her down by pulling at her locks. Now my sister was stomping and causing more of a scene and some of the customers were watching. My mother pulled her hair harder, as she talked nervously to the saleswoman. Her calm façade was quickly crumbling. Now the screams seemed to be coming from two sources. Was my sister crying in two different octaves? My mother wasn’t pulling my sister’s hair! She was pulling the hair of a little girl that was standing next to her.

“Lady, why are you pulling my daughter’s hair? I should call the cops.”

“Oh, please excuse me. I thought it was my daughter’s hair I was pulling. I’m so sorry”. Then she turned to my sister and snarled,“Wait till I get you home, I’m going to pull out every hair on your head.”

While the crowd of onlookers dispersed and no one was watching, I leered at my sister and whispered, “When we get home, Mommy’s going to make you bald.”


Telling my story has been a happy/sad experience. It took me awhile before I found my voice. But once I did,  I couldn’t stop talking.




by James Avitabile

I placed a personal ad on Craig’s List in the Men Seeking Men section.

Mature 4 Mature East End Suffolk

72/ Seeking a fun kind of man with an imaginative mindset who feels free to explore his sensuality. Must be flexible to travel to East End without baggage. He might be retired from a job but not from life.

It was a cold and gray January morning. A light snow was beginning to fall. From my window I watched as a few fragile snowflakes floated lazily toward the earth. The beauty of the holidays had gone as quickly as it had come. Like I had done in years past, I began to think about what the New Year would hold for me. On this bleak January morning, sipping a cup of tepid coffee, I remembered Bill. I was 15. He was my Henry Higgins and I a thirsty sponge soaking up so much of what he was trying to teach me.

It seemed like only yesterday when we had sat looking out his window at a vacant lot where NYU’s Bobst Library now stands. He said to me, “James, in life there may not be many happy endings, but thank God for the many wonderful beginnings.” Years earlier, I had shared wonderful beginnings with both Dolph and Robert that had lasted a total of 28 years. And now at nearly 73 I didn’t think that that would ever be possible again, but I wasn’t ready to raise that white flag. The comfort of friends and family is healing and has helped me get through to where I am today, but I also like to make the new and the unknown my allies. I have never been one to eat a boiled potato without spicing it up a bit. So on this bland, dull day at the beginning of the New Year I decided to add a bit of salt to my life.

I posted my message on January 4th. I got about five replies those first few days. None of them really did it for me. They were sheep looking for a shepherd or married or both, or they came with complicated fantasies. I was looking for an unencumbered man who had chemistry compatible with mine, but of course one can’t read that in a few lines. It’s like shooting craps blindly. And with anything like this, people lie to put their chip next to yours. It’s a game for them. But once in a while someone puts much more of himself out there. It’s not often, in fact, it’s very rare.

A few days later, I received an unusual reply from a man with a fully clothed photo of himself. He was masculine, with a buzzed cut and a quiet smile.

Hey OK 72. Older 50 here. Happy 2015, divorced, straight- acting, Italian seeks older. I am discreet, non-smoker, and find older very hot. Landscaper on North Fork. Please hit me back if you like my pix. I give great massages too. Thanxxxx. Dean. This is my cell#. And a pix of me n my @ Foxwoods 1992. Call if u have any interest.

I wasn’t going to wait. I replied right back.

Hello Dean, James here. Mature 72 finds you very hot. My weekend place is in Amagansett. We’re almost neighbors! Can we talk on phone? This is my cell. Who calls whom?

As I began to punch in his numbers on my keypad my phone chimed.

“Hey, Mister Man, what’s up? Dean here. How are you? Gotta tell you, I like mature men. Am I too young for you? I’m really 56. Too young?” He had a deep smoker’s voice filled with the ‘dees and does’ of the Sopranos clan which was hot for me. I wanted to be cool and encouraging and seductive, but he was immediately warm and welcoming and upbeat. We were comfortable with each other in just those first words. I liked that a lot. Mid-fifties seemed good.

I wondered if we should meet over coffee? No! My place would be best. I could have soft music playing, votive candles lit, and the fire glowing. For me it was more about seduction and mood than anything else.

“When can we get together”?

“How about next Wednesday”?

“So far away? Can’t make it sooner”?

I really couldn’t. I had my great nephew’s first birthday party and a Broadway musical.

“I can’t, Dean.”

It seemed like years before that next Wednesday came. I heard the ruptured muffler of his car before I saw it. With my cell phone, I guided him into my driveway. He parked and got out and leaned against his car.

“Hi, Mister. What do you think? I look okay”?

“Yep. You really do. You look just like your picture.

We both broke into smiles. Under the lights of the garage door we hugged each other. He had a full crop of salt and pepper crew cut hair. Blue eyes. About 5’10”. He wasn’t masquerading as a man. He was the real thing. He ran his sandpaper hands over my face as he pulled me closer against him.

“Am I okay”? I asked.

“Oh Yeah, Mister Man. You certainly are.”

I opened the front door. I had already set the mood before I went out to guide him: votive candles lit, Yo Yo Ma playing Ennio Morricone on the cello, the fire glowing.

“I love all of this. What else do you have in your bag of magic, Mister?”

I uncorked a chilled bottle of white wine and filled two glasses.

“Let’s make a toast. It’s nice to meet you, Mister.”

As we clinked our glasses, I smiled and said, “To beginnings.”


Write like you speak. Feel what you write.  Read aloud what you’ve written. That’s how to tell your story.