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By Matthew Crisafulli Stephanie T. Dorsey
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2010 Matthew Crisafulli and Stephanie T. Dorsey
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Chapter OneInnocent Eyes
False measures can never diminish the pain, because they can only cover it for so long.
Matthew Alfonso Crisafulli was born on September 21, 1949, in Philadelphia to his proud parents, Anthony and Josephine Crisafulli. He was born into an Italian family that steered away from the white-collar crime scene of the day. Matthew's father made a conscious decision at an early age to avoid any correspondence with the various crime families that ruled the Italian neighborhoods of Philadelphia. Josephine and Anthony met and married after World War II, during which Anthony had served in the U.S. Army. The Crisafulli family moved to New Jersey when Matthew was an infant. Soon after he started school in the early 1950s, things started to get turbulent for him. Matthew noticed that his father was not home for long stretches of time. He would sit up in his bed and hear his mother crying. Matthew would try to go back to sleep, but he focused too hard on this mother's crying, which would grow silent after a while.
Matthew and his mother had toast with grape jelly every day before he would leave for school. His mother would sit at the table with him and just look at him with the deepest love and adoration. She would constantly hug and kiss him while she told him how much she loved him. One day, Matthew looked at her and asked why she was crying. She told him that she was alright. Matthew would often look at her with his innocent eyes, knowing that something was dreadfully wrong. He soon began asking why his father was not home most of the time. Whenever he did ask, his mother would just try to tell him that his father worked a lot of hours. After all, he was a hard worker at a big steel factory in Philadelphia.
As Matthew started getting older, he noticed that his father yelled at his mother when he was home. One of them would tell him to go to his room, and then the yelling and screaming would begin. On a cold January evening when Matthew was eight years old, he remembered hearing his mother scream, "Leave that bitch, Anthony! I know that you have a girlfriend." Matthew then heard a glass shatter and a loud thud followed by a screaming cry from his mother. In a frenzied panic, Matthew then pulled a pillow over his head and curled up in a ball. He immediately began to feel a sense of hate toward his father. When the screaming ceased that evening, he left his room to find his mother crying by the living room window. He hugged his mother's leg and told her that he loved her.
She picked him up and hugged him, unable to release herself from the warm embrace. "Matthew," she said, "I love you, my son."
Matthew then asked his mother, "Does Daddy love you, Mommy?"
His mother replied, "Yes, he does love us both."
He was too young to probe with more questions. He certainly knew from a young age that there was a lot of anger in his home. The irony of this was the degree of love that he felt despite the undercurrent and tension. Anthony was a very loving and caring father. He was a hard worker that provided well for his family. He did, however, have a volatile temper, which tended to surface within the walls of his home. The temper exhibited toward Josephine coupled with her panicked cries would regularly haunt young Matthew. He loved both of his parents, and they certainly showed him that they loved him. It was at this moment he realized the contradictions that existed in his home which created the first of his demons. Demons gained in childhood tend to follow and remain.
When Matthew was ten years old, his mother gave birth to his first brother, Mark. Matthew loved his baby brother so much. He was a big help to his mother in taking care of Mark. His mother began to confide too much in young Matthew. Suddenly, it seemed that his mother started to speak to him more like a social friend who would come over to the house for coffee than a son. In a way, Matthew became a surrogate husband. He did everything for his mother: paid the bills, did many chores, and even helped her clean and wash clothes. Matthew started hearing things from his mother about girlfriends who his father was suspected of having. The anger continued to build within this young adolescent. The physical abuse and screaming filled his mind continuously.
He would sometimes witness his father beating his mother, and this totally killed his spirit. The relationship that he had with his father proved to be one of both love and hate. At this point, Matthew had become an introvert who was slowly being consumed by his own demons. On many occasions, he was picked on by his peers. He was, however, a good listener, and he was becoming very good at hiding the deep, penetrating pain he felt inside himself.
When Matthew was twelve, his second brother, Anthony, was born. Baby Anthony was quickly given the nickname Nino, which meant Little Anthony in Italian. Josephine and Anthony loved their boys very much. Matthew was so much older than his brothers that he assumed great responsibility for them, especially when his father was away. When he was fourteen and beginning high school, Mark was only four years old, and Nino was two by then. There was not much that Matthew had in common with his young brothers. He was very protective of them from day one. That was evident when Matthew was getting changed in gym class one day and one of the students who he had clashed with made a crude, derogatory comment about his brothers. Matthew quickly grabbed his peer and slammed his head into a toilet and flushed. Matthew then grabbed the boy by his throat and yelled, "Don't you ever fuckin' talk about my brothers again!" He did not hear any more comments from this peer again. The anger that was building inside Matthew was apparent even at this young age. He was very protective of those he loved without care for himself or the consequences he may receive. By this point, the first of those demons was beginning to take hold, as apparent by his growing temper. He still had respect for his parents and family, but the deep hatred that pulsed within him was capable of emerging with any provocation.
He developed a sly, cool approach with the girls in school. He would receive phone calls from girls and try to carry on conversations as Mark and Nino ran around the house. They adored their big brother. Matthew would listen to Motown music in his room and hang out with his friends on weekends at the local drive-in theater. He was just a basic teenager who lived in an era where drug use was a social norm. As a result, he began to experiment with marijuana. Matthew had several close friends in whom he started to confide. He started hanging out with Joseph Disilvio, who was known to his friends as Spivie. Matthew and Spivie would sit and talk about issues that weighed heavily on their minds. Even at such a young age, there was definite evidence of the slow erosion of his soul. Little did he know that this innocent experimentation with marijuana would open the door to the greatest demons he would face in his lifetime. Matthew often told Spivie that he would wake up with nightmares of his mom and dad fighting. Spivie always told him that his parents were so strict that he couldn't breathe at times. They both escaped their worlds for hours each night by using drugs and revealed their deepest thoughts about the trials and tribulations that contaminated their young lives. It was evident to those close to Matthew that he was much older in mind and spirit than his friends. He possessed a weathered soul.
As Matthew approached his senior year in high school, he had already observed much of the verbal and physical abuse his father had inflicted on his mother. This had a greater impact on him than he realized at this time, and it would ultimately lay the tenuous foundation for his relationship with his father. He had experienced immeasurable love by his mother and brothers-an unconditional love, which at times became smothering. Young Matthew had been thrown into the role of "man of the house" while his father was frequently out fraternizing. This was more than his adolescent mind could absorb, and as a result, he became a man in mind but not in body. He had been forced to assume the caretaking responsibilities for his younger brothers. This was a task that he readily took on but one that would mold his mind in ways that no one could comprehend at the time. At the same time, he was taking care of his mother's broken spirit. Matthew's spirit was breaking as well. He was forced to be a man while still in a child's body with the reasoning and understanding of a child. The circumstances he had endured up to this point in his young life-protecting everyone around him except himself-would pave the way for his self-destruction. He was unaware of this at this point in his life, but looking back, his destiny was predictable.
He adored Mark and Nino, as he called them. He was getting prepared for his high school graduation already. It was the spring of 1967, and Matthew looked in the mirror as he got ready to walk across the stage and wondered what the world would have in store for him. He was nervous as he approached Triton High School with his parents and brothers. Mark and Nino sat on either side of him in the backseat as they argued with each other. He was not in the mood to hear two kids argue and quickly said, "Shut the hell up!" Even on this happy day, his patience and tolerance had been challenged by those he loved. Matthew's father gave him an evil look in the rearview mirror. He had seen that look before, and it reminded him of the rage that saturated his father's inner being. Matthew returned a similar look. The tension was a lot to take, especially because it was supposed to be such a memorable day. It was memorable but for reasons that had nothing to do with attaining a diploma. One minute, there was anger, and the next, there was love and pride deeper than one could measure.
As they were seated for graduation, Spivie looked over at Matthew, smiled, and yelled, "We did it, Perk!" Perk was a name that had been given to Matthew by his close friends.
Coined for his personality, this nickname provided a mask for the deep, penetrating pain that he felt. He smiled back at Spivie and thought, Yes, we did do it. He also thought, What will the future have in store for me? When they called his name, Matthew Alfonso Crisafulli, he walked across the stage and looked out at his family. His mother cried and yelled, "Matthew!" She had a big, proud smile on her face. She loved her Matthew beyond anyone's belief. He was her best friend and oldest son.
He spent the summer running with different girls and enjoying the fruits of teenage lust. He also continued to look after Mark and Nino when his mother was busy shopping. Mark was now eight, and Nino had turned six. He loved the Philly sound, soul. Matthew and his friends hung out at the Twinkiss. This was the ice cream hangout of the '50s and '60s. All of the teens brought their hot cars and socialized. Life seemed simple at this time. Little did he know that he was about to make the biggest decision in his adult life.
Chapter TwoA Childhood Lost
Matthew was out of school and just beginning to think about what his future might hold. The Vietnam Conflict had its stronghold by 1968. Many young men were being drafted or choosing to join the battle overseas. Matthew started thinking that maybe he should join the U.S. Army and fight for what his country believed in during the late sixties. He was tired of his home life and enlisted in the army to get away. He had also sought solitude through drugs and friends, neither of which could fill the void of the childhood that he never seemed to experience. Joining the army seemed to be the prime opportunity for him to escape. Escaping from what was never a question in his own mind; however, escaping to what had yet to be determined.
His mother was very upset with his decision and cried to him about her concerns. He hugged his mother and told her that he would be fine and that he would come home soon. His father told him that they were supportive of his choice. Mark and Nino, who were approaching the ages of ten and eight, really didn't understand. He walked each of his brothers out to the front yard separately and told them that he loved them very much and that he would be leaving home for a while. Mark became very solemn, and Nino began to cry. After all, the greatest male influence in their lives was about to leave for reasons that they were too young to understand. He assured them that he would be home again, not knowing whether that was a certainty or not. Matthew's cousin, Rosario "Roy" Campbell, who was as dear to him as his brothers, also enlisted at the same time. Together, they left, scared of what was to come but excited about the challenges that awaited their young, fragile minds.
Matthew packed up and was preparing to leave for the Blackwood bus station when his mother approached him and said, "Matthew ... I love you, son. I love you so much."
Matthew smiled and hugged his mother and told her that he loved her. He told his mother again that he would be home. He gave his brothers a big hug and told them to be good boys. Mark and Nino both grabbed a hold of him and told him that they loved him and would miss him. As he was leaving the driveway with his parents, he stared and waved to Mark and Nino, who both stood on the front lawn with the next-door neighbors. They were far too young to understand the reasons for war and leaving home. On the way to the bus station, Matthew began thinking about the turbulent times that he had already endured. Could this be worse? He couldn't be sure, but he felt that he had been well prepared. He carried his anger and pain with him to Vietnam.
His cousin Roy, who was also going to Nam, had spent a lot of time with Matthew during their childhood years. Matthew was only a couple of months older. Matthew's father had been the disciplinarian for Roy, because Roy's father had been totally absent from his life and Roy's mother, who was Anthony's older sister, relied on him to discipline Roy. Matthew was thinking about some of the pranks that they had been in over the years. One time, they took a Chrysler on a joyride and sped down Blackhorse Pike. They laughed uncontrollably as they took the vehicle. He also thought about Mark and Nino and how much he loved them. His eyes welled up with tears as he thought. The thought of becoming a casualty on foreign ground crept into his spirit like a dark cloud. How would Mark and Nino manage without me? How would my mother deal with losing her son who was also her best friend? Would my father be upset or disappointed? He wanted desperately to have children of his own one day so that he could raise them in a home that was peaceful, unlike the one in which he grew up. Once again, the demons began to creep into his mind with overwhelming guilt and fear. He knew that he had to have faith that he would see his brothers again and go on to have his own kids. His brothers were prominent in his thoughts. There was a great deal of resentment and hate in his heart toward his parents intertwined with undying love and devotion for them as well. As they approached the bus station, his mother started sobbing uncontrollably. His father also began to cry, and his parents then embraced him. Matthew embraced them, too, and told them that he would write and send home gifts for the boys. At this point, his mortality was looming in his mind. Death was a definite possibility based on all of the reports. Yet, he felt he was more than prepared.
As he walked toward his bus, he turned and said, "Con amore sempre," which was Italian for "with love always." Matthew blew them a kiss and then stepped onto the bus. He was on board and headed to boot camp in Fort Dix, New Jersey. He continued to think about his family and the love-hate relationship that he had for them. He also was dwelling on the physical abuse that he had so often observed in his home, the place where he should have felt the safest. Matthew vowed that if he ever had a son or daughter, they would never be exposed to such turmoil within their lives.
Excerpted from False Measures by Matthew Crisafulli Stephanie T. Dorsey Copyright © 2010 by Matthew Crisafulli and Stephanie T. Dorsey. Excerpted by permission.
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