“Luisa Cloutier’s tribute to her husband, Brandon, is a beautifully written and engaging ‘coming of age’ journey, and the author's distinct personality and perspective are evident throughout, creating a warm and moving memoir.” –Indie Reader
When Luisa’s mother died, Luisa was left to take care of her family. Her dream of leaving Naples for a better life died too. Hard work and sacrifice left no time for dreaming or romance. Until one day she met a U.S Marine stationed in Italy. Though Brandon didn’t speak Italian, he understood what Luisa needed and made her feel like a princess. They fell in love, married and began to build a life together in the United States.
Because of Brandon’s military service, Luisa spent long periods apart from him. Under the stress, their marriage slowly began to fracture, leading to infidelity and separation. During that time apart, both Luisa and Brandon realized what they truly meant to one another. When they reconciled, their love grew even stronger, and Luisa faced something she didn’t think she would ever recover from.
|Publisher:||Black Rose Writing|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.40(d)|
About the Author
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For most of my early life, mornings were always the same. We woke up in the morning to the hiss of the espresso machine as my mom made coffee. The smell welcomed us to the kitchen where we found warm bread and a jar of Nutella waiting at the table. Sometimes my mom had freshly baked cookies. She always made sure we ate well and left happy.
There were four of us. My older brother Paolo, who used to pick on me when he wasn't chasing the neighborhood girls. The older he got, the more interest he had in them and the less in annoying me. I was the second oldest. I had one sister, Angela, who was three years younger than I, and another brother, Rodolfo, five years younger than I. For my mom, we were her life.
After she made sure we all had breakfast, she would start cooking the ragù, the meat and tomato sauce that we put on pasta for most of our meals. The ragù would cook for hours, filling every room with the smell of garlic and basil and wine. While it simmered on the stove, she cleaned the apartment and then made lunch, usually a salad and a side dish, like melanzane a funghetti, the sautéed eggplant that my father loved. At 1:00pm the whole family would come home and eat a huge meal together, and then we would all go back to school. My mother spoiled us.
For years she begged my father to let her get her driver's license. In those days in Italy, wives were expected to get their husband's permission for things like that. He didn't agree until she was almost thirty. It took another eight years for him to buy her a car, a Fiat 126, a tiny, boxy, very popular car in those days. It looked a bit like the modern Cooper Mini, but even smaller. My mom was thrilled with it.
She got the car around the time I finished high school. I found a job at a construction company in town, but since I was only seventeen, I still didn't have my driver's license so my mom offered to drive me to work every morning in her prized car. The road was bad, dotted with pot holes that sent her little Fiat bouncing up and down so much I thought the car and the two of us were going to fall apart.
My job required me to be the first to arrive each morning to open the office. Having my mom drive me meant I didn't have to leave so early. She seemed to like the extra time with me, too.
"Are things getting better at work?" she asked me this morning.
"The boss is good at getting people to lend him money to build, but he doesn't seem to know how to pay it back when it's due. I think a couple of people are chasing him for their money. He hides a lot."
"Oh, my God. You be careful, Luisa."
"Nothing is going to happen to me. I'm just worried that my paycheck is going to bounce one day."
"Just don't get involved in his business problems, you understand?" my mother said.
"I need to find a different job."
"Why don't you get married? You and Nino should start a family and then you won't have to work like this."
"I'm not going to start a family with a cheater."
"You haven't forgiven him?" my mother asked.
"He's a good man," she told me. "He made a mistake."
"He knew what he was doing."
"I'm sure he's sorry."
"How's he going to have sex with his boss's daughter, and then argue with me when I say he has to leave that job? How can I trust him? He still looks at other girls."
"Italian men are like that. It doesn't mean anything. He knows that you're watching him now. He'll behave himself. He's not a bad man, Luisa. He works hard. He goes to church. He's from a good family. I think he'll make a good husband. You'll see. Once you two have your own children, he'll be different."
"I'm not interested in having children right now. And definitely not with Nino."
"What are you talking about? Why not?"
"I'm not you, Mamma. I want to do other things first. I don't want to stay here in Napoli my whole life. I want to see other places."
"Have you talked about this with Nino?"
"I don't have to talk about it with Nino. He doesn't own me. He acts like he does, but he doesn't. He hasn't even asked me to marry him."
"He will. You don't date a girl for two years and not get married."
"You don't date a girl for two years and go sleep with your boss's daughter, either."
We reached the construction company office, and she pulled in front.
"You do what you think is best, Luisa," she said, "but I think you should give him a chance."
"How many chances does he get?"
She reached over and put her hand on mine.
"You have to follow your heart," she said. "Look into your heart and you'll know what to do."
* * *
One Friday I was preparing the payroll as usual at the construction company. Two carpenters stood by the door, waiting for their checks. Everyone had been worried that this was the week the boss wouldn't pay them. So far, he had only stiffed the lenders, but we all knew it was just a matter of time.
The phone on my desk rang. "Luisa, is that you?" she asked. I recognized the voice of Roberta Ombre, the neighbor in the apartment below ours. She was breathing heavily, rushing her words.
"What's wrong, Mrs. Roberta?"
"It's your mother," she said.
* * *
One of the carpenters drove me to the hospital in Pozzuoli, where my mother had been taken. I ran into the emergency room and saw my sister Angela in the waiting room, crying. She jumped up when she saw me.
"Oh, my God, Luisa."
"What happened? How is she? Where's Mamma?"
"She was dead!" Angela said.
I turned to go find her, but Angela grabbed me by the shoulders.
"They said she was dead and they couldn't do anything but I begged her to wake up and all of a sudden her heart started beating again and she opened her eyes and the doctors said God felt sorry for me and let Mamma live and now ...!"
"What are you talking about?" This made no sense to me. "Where's Mamma?" I started toward the doorway to the treatment area.
Angela hurried behind me. "She's going to be okay, they said. She's going to live."
I just needed to see her. I rushed into the treatment area. A nurse took me to my mother's bed. The moment I saw her there in the bed, with tubes and IV's and monitors attached, I nearly cried. But I held it in and barely heard the doctor explain that my mother had a flu, nothing more. They only thing that mattered was that he said she was going to be all right and they were sending her home.
* * *
That evening, I sat with my mother in her bedroom. My father was in the kitchen eating with the others. We were taking turns looking after her. My mother asked me to close the door. She wanted to talk to me.
When I sat back down, she said, "Listen to me, Luisa. This is important."
"What is it, mamma?"
"If anything happens to me ..."
I didn't want to hear that. "Nothing's going to happen to you," I said.
She shushed me and said, "Let me finish. If anything happens to me, you know what you have to do."
I wasn't sure what she meant, and I didn't want to know. "Nothing's going to happen to you, mamma. The doctor said it's a flu. You're going to be all right."
"This time, I know. But if something ever happens ..."
"Mamma, please. The thing is, you do too much. You're always working around here, doing everything. Cooking. Cleaning. Taking me to work. Washing the clothes. Buying the food. It's too much. You need to rest. That's all that's the matter. You've been doing too much."
"Luisa, please, listen to me."
"We'll take care of things, Mamma, don't worry. We'll help you from now on. Things will be better, you'll see."
"If something happens to me," she said again.
"Listen to me. If something happens, you have to take care of the family. You understand?"
"Stop worrying about that. Nothing's going to happen to you."
"You understand what I'm asking you, Luisa?" She strained to push herself up off the bed a few inches. "Please," she said, "tell me you understand."
"Of course I understand, but nothing is going to happen to you."
My mom sank back down on the bed, looking a little relieved. But there was still a darkness in her expression. "I asked God one wish," she said.
"Why are you talking like this?"
"I ask that when it's my time to go ..."
"... not to let my kids see me die."
"For God's sake, stop!" I said.
But she didn't. "Have people from the neighborhood find me, take care of things, so my children don't have to see."
"Stop saying that!"
My father must have heard me raise my voice because I heard footsteps in the hallway, and the door flew open and he rushed in.
"What's going on in here? Lina, are you all right?"
I spun around toward him, angry. "It's your fault!"
"You make her work so hard."
"What are you talking about?" he said.
My mother grasped my hand and said, "Luisa, be quiet."
I wasn't listening. I pulled my hand free and took a step toward my father. "If anything happens to her, I'm going to kill you!"
"Luisa!" my mother said, pushing herself up a few inches. "Stop it."
My father stared at me, too shocked to answer.
A week later, I was at work, answering the phone as I always did, when my older brother called and said the ambulance had taken my mother to the hospital again and I should come.
"Hurry," Paolo said.
When I got there, I found Paolo sitting alone in the hallway, his head bent over, resting in his hands.
I hurried toward him, saying, "Paolo!"
He looked up, and I saw that he was crying. He didn't have to say a word. I knew from the look on his face that Mamma was dead.
"Noooo!" I screamed. The rest is a blur, but I know that several nurses and doctors held me down. I don't know what they gave me, but whatever it was, it was the only thing that could calm me.
My father came from work and drove us all home from the hospital, leaving my mother's body there. He said it would be taken care of. I didn't see him cry when he stood beside her before leaving her for the last time, but I was sure that he was being strong for the rest of us. He had to be as shattered as we were.
When we got home, the house smelled of the ragù my mother had made earlier in the day after she had returned from dropping me off at work. I walked to her bedroom door and just stared at the bed for I don't know how long, realizing that she wasn't going to return, ever. The words she had spoken from there just a week ago reverberated in my memory. She'd be worried about who was going to take care of the family. She'd begged me to do it. Her dying wish ...
"Luisa," my father called out from down the hall.
I walked toward his voice and found him and my brothers and sister sitting in the kitchen. He looked up at me, waiting.
"What, papa?" I said.
"We have to eat something."
I struggled to breathe. "I'm not hungry right now," I said.
He looked surprised. At first I thought he was concerned about me, but then he said, "The rest of us have to eat something."
He stared again, waiting for me to bring lunch.
Still too stunned to react, I trudged across the kitchen to the refrigerator, not knowing what I was going to do about lunch or anything else. I opened the refrigerator and saw the large dish my mother always put the raw meatballs in. She'd prepared everything, seasoned them and stuffed them with mozzarella, but she hadn't fried them, expecting to be here right now to do the cooking.
The devastation came over me so suddenly I wasn't prepared. My legs gave out beneath me and I collapsed to the floor. I started to cry. Through my wailing, I heard my father's voice.
I turned my head, still weeping, and looked at him for comfort, sure he would come over and hold me, tell me that everything was going to be all right.
"Let's go, Luisa," he said. "The kids are hungry." He gestured with his chin toward the dish of meatballs in the refrigerator. "We have to eat," he said.
I looked at my brothers and my sister staring down at me, my father waiting. He turned and peered into the refrigerator. I knew what I had to do. I wiped the tears from my face and pushed myself to my feet. Taking the dish of meatballs over to the stove, I filled a skillet with olive oil and began to fry them.
"Take care of the family," my mother had told me. I could not let her down.CHAPTER 2
I had seen how much work my mother did for the family, but I didn't fully realize the extent of it all until everything fell on me to do.
With my mother gone, someone had to prepare breakfast, lunch and dinner for my father and my brothers and sister, seven days a week. Someone had to clean the apartment, wash the clothes, hang them on the line, iron my father's dress shirts and then iron all of the bed sheets. Someone had to go to the different markets to buy food, deal with my youngest brother Rodolfo's school, drop Angela off at her work. The list never ended. It was a full time job.
I had to leave the construction company.
On top of all the work, someone had to be the support for Angela and Rodolfo, who were younger than I was, so they were struggling even more with the loss of their mother.
Only a few nights after we buried my mother, I walked past Rodolfo's room and heard weeping. It was late, I was tired, and I didn't have the strength to deal with that right then. But I knew that if I felt this bad, imagine how he was feeling. What would my mom have done? What did she expect me to do? I knew the answer.
I tapped on Rodolfo's door. When he didn't answer, I inched it open. Light from the hall behind me cut into the darkness of his room. I saw him in bed, tears soaking his face and the pillowcase.
"What's the matter?" I asked, though I knew the answer. We all missed my mom and couldn't imagine going on without her.
"I want to sleep with Mamma," he said.
"It's going to be all right," I told him. "It takes time, but everything's going to be okay."
I didn't believe the words myself. How could he?
He shook his head and kept crying. "I miss her."
I came in and closed the door, sealing out the light. The dim glow from the streetlights gave the room a sad grayness.
"We all miss her, Rodolfo," I whispered.
He didn't answer, just wept.
I walked to the bed, and bent down and stroked his hair. "Mamma's watching us from heaven," I said. "She'll make sure we're all right."
"I want her to be here, not in heaven."
So did I. But what could I say? He continued to weep. Even though I had no more words to tell him that would make him feel better, I couldn't leave him like this, so I lay in bed on top of the covers and held him until his weeping faded away and he drifted off to sleep. When I knew he wouldn't wake up, I left and went to my own bed. There, alone, it felt as gray and dismal as Rodolfo's had been, but I had no one to hold me and comfort me and remind me that everything would be all right.
Earlier, I had tried to call Nino but couldn't reach him. Maybe tomorrow we could be together and he could give me the strength I tried to give Rodolfo and the rest of my family. As I lay in bed, I kept telling myself that with time, things would get better.
But things didn't get better. In fact, they got worse.
My father quickly got used to my doing many of the things that my mom had done around the house and he began expecting more. If he came home from work when I was at the fruit market or the butcher shop or picking up his suits at the dry cleaners, he would question me about where I was, looking annoyed, as though my not being home was something against him. It was almost as though he never wanted me to leave the house.
Maybe this is why I never went out, to do something for me. I didn't want to hurt him. That, along with being sad that mom was gone, and tired with all the work I had to do around the house.
Nino was no support. He took a job in Brescia, in the north of Italy, only coming down to Giugliano every few months for a day or two. I rarely saw him when he was here, and when he did come over to the house, we never did anything together. We sat in the kitchen or living room, talked a little, never really alone, never able to get close. It was like I was still by myself. Sometimes he brought his laundry for me to do, and I guess I was so used to doing everything for everyone that I did it. Then he'd go back to Brescia.
He hardly ever called. He always had an excuse, too busy, the phone weren't working, he wasn't feeling well. I couldn't help but wonder what the real reason was. Mamma had said that he was a good man and he loved me, but I could never make peace with his lack of faithfulness, even if that was what all Italian men did. Maybe I wasn't meant to be with an Italian man. Sometimes it seemed that maybe I wasn't meant to be with anyone at all. Nino made it easy to think that way.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Until Forever"
Copyright © 2018 Luisa Cloutier.
Excerpted by permission of Black Rose Writing.
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