I had expected the typical "God is great, God is good." or "Bless us, O' Lord." but instead Gerard went for something a bit more personal.
For the past few generations most families sent their children to Saint Bernadette's Catholic School from Pre-Kindergarten to Eighth grade, after which they would go to Pope John's in Sparta. (You all remember the school Frankie got kicked out of? Yep, that was it.) Anyway, we all went to Catholic school, and were brought up by heavy handed Nun's, and Priest's with an affinity for afternoon "cool drinks". From the age of four we learned that God was great and good, but that if we ever fell out of His grace we had better throw ourselves at His mercy and hope that whatever it was we did wasn't enough to get our miserable asses tossed into hell. I wish I had a dollar for every time I overheard the sister's talking about how "Frank Anthony is the greatest and cruelest test" God had ever sent them. Unfortunately, the things they said behind his back were far more kind than the things they said to his face. I think that's why Frankie became withdrawn, and has "fallen from Grace" in terms of his beliefs. Sometimes I think Frank got kicked out of Pope John's on purpose. At least once a week he'd come home from school with bruises on his knuckles or back. Catholic school sucked. Private schools were not required to follow state laws because they weren't paid for by tax dollars, so they still very much believed in hitting students. One time I got caught giggling with another girl during daily mass, and we each received five spankings, one for each year we were alive. Granted that was back in 1982 before paddling students was banned, but it doesn't change that fact that it hurt like a bitch.
At any rate, the church was freezing, and I was grateful that we were required to cover our torso's in church up to our necks. It was Thanksgiving, and I sat bored out of my mind waiting for the service to start. For any of you who have ever been to church I'm sure you know that one must arrive an hour early to service in order to get the "good seats" i.e. right in front of Father Leviticus who, true to his name, was obsessed with rules. He was the Head Master of Saint Bernie's if that gives you any clue as to how much of a jerk he was. Naturally, our grandparents loved him, and our parents liked to pretend that all the crap he put them through only seemed cruel because they were children and "All children think all adults are cruel. He is really a very nice and practical man who is simply looking out for the wellbeing of his charges." They all needed medication, but I digress. Looking down at my Reptar watch I saw that there were forty five minutes until Father would come out to tell us that our unworthy heathen souls should bow down before God and give thanks that He led us to safety in this New Land when we had to run away from England and religious persecution and blah blah blah. I looked over and saw all the Catholic School students sitting together according to rank while their proud parents chatted to one another how Jimmy Jesus Junky was learning his hymns, or Sally Sad Slut was treading a dangerous path and needed prayers. Bernie's and Paul's made students come in on Thanksgiving for a half day, and they could then go home after church. It reminded me of the time in eighth grade when Frankie stood up (high on ecstasy) and yelled at Father Levy saying that it was the Native Americans, and not God, who should be thanked for our survival. That had it not been for them we would have died, just as we deserved for coming over and bringing with us war and disease and the obsessive compulsive need to convert every living being to Christianity. I remember an awkward hush falling over the congregation while Mamma Iero hung her head in embarrassment, and Adam snickered drunkenly to himself.
"I asked you not to wear that." My mother snapped, giving a look of disgust to my watch.
"It's just a watch, Ma." I said
"Father won't like it."
"Father Leviticus LIKES to hit small children and drink copious amounts of brandy, so I'm a big fan of things he DOESN'T like." I hissed back
"You watch your mouth." her eyes darted about nervously
"It's bad enough you look like you got into a street fight."
"Mom, I fell. I didn't get into a fight.
"Well it looks like it."
"It was three weeks ago, and it was an accident." I wished she'd drop the subject.
"Well it still looks terrible. A big gash on your nose. You better hope it doesn't scar. Your agent will kill you."
"Doubt it. He won't make any more money off of me if I'm dead."
Finally, my mother dropped it. The church was beginning to fill. Stephanie walked in hand in hand with Richard, followed by their families. Her dress was seriously pushing code and the Nun's were glaring at her. For a moment I wished that teachers could still beat children. Stephanie for being a skank, and Richard for being a dick head. When they saw me they gave me nasty looks, and Stephanie's mother shook her head sadly as if she knew what had actually happened. Stephanie and I used to be good friends, until one day I got hormones and Stephanie got whoremoans and tried to sleep with Frank. We were in seventh grade...
I just ignored them, slouching in my pew wishing we were at least one row back so that I could put my feet on the kneel bench. Someone poked my back. Nervously, I turned.
"Anyone sitting next to you?" It was Frank. I'd never been so happy to see his stupid smile. We hadn't spoken much since the day he got beaten up, because I didn't want people thinking there was truth to the rumors. Staying away from Frank, only made people believe them even more. Made us look guilty.
Slightly shocked, "Uhm I don-"
"You may not sit here, Frank Anthony." My mother jumped in shooting a death glare at Frankie
"Oh, hello Contessa." Mrs. Iero timidly approached, aware of the tension between her son and my mother. Italian women were known for three things: Their cooking, their baby making, and their fiery tempers. The only reason my Mother wasn't dragging Frank away by his ear was because we were in church.
"Hi, Annette. How are you?" My mother asked through tight lips.
Mamma Iero took this as a good sign and scooted past me to sit in between my Mother and I then she told Frank and Adam to sit down on my other side. As if on cue Georgia and Lucas walked in with their families, and upon seeing Stephanie waving like a fool they began heading toward her. Georgia and Lucas weren't dating, but they still hung out just as much as they did before I was kicked out of the Muskateers. "Shit." I mumbled getting a dirty look from an Elderly nun who was walking past me. I sank down in my seat.
"What?" Frank whispered, looking around. "Oh. Wonderful." he sank down too, but Stephanie was kind enough to point us out. We looked as guilty as fools, and so I waved awkwardly at them, only to have them glare threateningly at the pair of us.
"Awesome." I said
"Happy Thanksgiving." Frank said. I thought I caught the corner of Adam's mouth twitch into a smile, but I could have been wrong. He looked really awful. Adam had always been lanky and thin but he looked sickly. Like he needed a shower and a haircut, and some rehab.
Just as I was about to look at my watch again, Gerard walked in. I knew he had a family, duh, but I'd never seen them before. Behind him was a boy who looked as if he could be his brother. The boy was a carbon copy of Gerard, if Gerard had been put through Wonka's Taffy Stretcher, and his hair was cut short and gelled into a messy half mohawk. He had mousey brown hair and wore obnoxiously large Coke Bottle glasses, but he was still very attractive. It was difficult to tell if he was older or younger. Next to the boy was a petite, slightly chubby middle aged woman who had to be their mother. The two young boys both had her eyes and cheek bones, but it was Gerard who had her wide bone structure. She had large blonde Jersey Girl Hair and a black dress that belonged in the 1960's. Holding onto Gerard's arm was a pleasant looking elderly woman with a very tasteful dark blue dress that was Old Hollywood chic complete with hat, gloves and tiny little shoes. Gerard was talking to her with a huge smile on his face. I'd never seen him like that before. So, so...animated and alive. My stomach did a slight flip, and I was suddenly very aware that I was dressed in a hideous sweater and micro jersey dress with faded tights and socks with beat up Doc's. I at least had proper makeup, and I managed to shove a knit beret on my head.
Without warning my mind brought me back to that awful morning when I fell over Gerard and destroyed his painting. We hadn't spoken since. At school I kept my head down, and kept my mouth shut.
Gerard's mom suddenly looked up and her entire face lit up with a smile. Following her line of vision and I realized she was looking at Mrs. Iero. She bee lined for us. Gerard made to follow his mother when the elderly woman gently tugged his sleeve.
"Toots," her accent was delightfully old fashioned. She sounded like she belonged in an old 1940's gangster movie, "Why must you always have your hair in your face? You're so handsome. No need to hide it." she smiled sweetly as she brushed his hair behind his ear and patted his cheek.
That was when it hit. The memory came crashing down like a tsunami on an Indonesian village. The blood drained out of my body making me afraid to look at the floor for fear I'd ruined the carpet.
"Jesus, who killed the family pet?" Frank whispered. But his voice sounded far away.
Gasping for air, I couldn't respond. I remembered. Touching Gerard's hair. Pressing my face against his. Staring into his eyes. Oh God. Then Sky came. Where was Sky? He wasn't in church. It was too much. "Frank, I need to get up." grabbing my purse I started to stand, but didn't get far before I felt myself yanked back down into my seat.
"Sit. Down." he said through clenched teeth nervously, trying to stay hushed. My mother was staring at us. I waited until she looked away.
"Frank I can't." Gerard locked eyes with me. Breathing stopped. Panic set in.
"Yes you can. You fucking hit and run on a painting he worked on for weeks. Suck it up and sit the fuck down."
"How do you-? Oh, never mind." I said, irritated, "Christ, Frank, let me go!" I hissed angrily.
Frank made me sit there as the three of our mothers chatted with one another until mass started. Gerard, his look-a-like, and the elderly woman stayed silent and somehow or other we all ended up invited to Mrs. Iero's house for Thanksgiving Dinner. Something tells me she was desperately looking for a way to not be alone with her two sons. I felt bad for her then, and I still do now.
Church was awful as usual. We were all going to burn in hell according to Father and also we needed to thank God for sending the Indians. (That bit made Frank smirk) After the service Father came up to my mother and I to discuss the Homily, and he once again told me how Catholicism frowned down upon the acting profession so Frank told him it wasn't 1455 anymore so he could shove it and leave me alone.
"Frank Anthony, rules are rules for a reason." he said brightly, as if Frank were a four year old "I'm merely answering my calling by trying to save Miss Magnoli's soul."
"Your calling?" Frank asked. Quickening his fall from grace.
"Yes. I'm answering the call that God sent to me. He told me that it was my job to lead His sheep to pasture. Your souls are all in peril, my children, and I only want to save you." It was all so stupid.
"Really? God spoke directly to you? You must be important, I hear he is pretty busy."
"He speaks to his chosen ones."
Frank scoffed. Even Lucifer took longer to lose his footing.
"Well, Catholicism doesn't allow for the acting outside of a religious pageant." Father then looked pointedly at Adam who was staring off into space before turning back to Frankie. "Or substance abuse."
"This is fucking bull." Going...going....
"Frankie, stop." I whispered
"Frank Anthony!" Mrs. Iero scolded
"What? He's full of shit, his HOMILY was shit, this is ALL shit." he gestured angrily around the church. People were giving Frank the look they always give him, the one that said 'Your poor mother' I hated them for it, "and it's about time someone called him out on it." he turned back toward Father Leviticus, "Father, I think you are full of shit, and you better leave Bri alone. She isn't one of your students anymore so just shut your God Damn mouth about her and Adam you filthy hypocrite. I recall a certain "cool drink" or two or FIVE that you like to have in the middle of the day, so do us all a favor and go drink yourself into a coma and never wake up. You have NO right to say anything about my brother you miserable old bastard." He was gone. Frank was going to Hell.
Father looked like he was going to suffer an aneurism, and my mother was visibly regretting going to the Iero's for dinner.
Trying to save some face, Mrs. Iero managed to sputter out "Father I am SO sorry. He hasn't been himself lately." Looking betrayed, Frank turned and stalked out of the church. I made to run after him but my mother grabbed me and dug her nails into my arm through my sweater. There was no use trying to pull away.
"Well thank God someone had the guts to say something. That service WAS bullshit."
With a gasp we all turned.
At that moment I knew I would like the old woman.
Eventually she would treat me as her own.
It didn't bode well for Frank in the parking lot. "Christ, Frank! What the hell is wrong with you?" curse words always sounded so odd coming out of such a tiny, breathy little woman. She smacked Frank hard upside the back of the head. "Jiminy Crickets. I have to go to this church every Sunday. How can I show my face there again?"
"Then I guess I did you a favor." Frank spat unapologetically, rubbing his head.
The smell of Thanksgiving Dinner was incredible. The rich aroma of gravy danced around my head, making my mouth water. I could almost taste the crunchy skin of the turkey, and I couldn't wait to get my hands on the mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce. With my feet propped up on the wall I let my head hang off the side of the bed. Everything was upside down. Frank fiddling with the Stuck Gum at his desk as Gerard fiddled with his hair in the corner by the closet. The sweatpants I'd borrowed to put on under my dress were making me sweat. Shannon Hoon's lovely voice was drifting quietly out of Frankie's boom box. A roar of laughter came from the kitchen. "Oh! OH! And then he said, 'Mommy, I'm just a kid. I don't need that kind of trouble." Their cackling was cut off as Frank threw his shoe at the door, slamming it shut. The song changed to the acoustic version of No Rain.
"Blind Melon, man. They're straight out of the sixties." I said dreamily. Shannon Hoon was such a sex god back then. I was leaving boot prints on the wall, and didn't care. Frank's dress shoe sat below the door. It left an angry mark just above the knob.
A few minutes later someone dropped something glass downstairs and let a long string of Italian curses follow. I silently hoped my mother had finally broken the hideous ceramic rooster platter. "Thank God. I hated that ugly thing!" the women fell into a fit of hysterics.
The cassette ended and we sat in silence with the exception of the occasional cackle from down stairs and some static from the boom box as the taped clicked, waiting to be flipped to the B Side. Gerard cleared his throat as if he wanted to speak, but no other sound came out of his mouth. I stared at him from my upside down position. I needed to apologize for the painting, but not here. There was a knock on the door. Thinking it was Mrs. Iero I immediately took my feet off the wall, but stayed upside down. Looking up with a slightly bored expression, Frank seemed to debate with himself as to whether or not he was going to answer the door. "What?" he said. No answer. No second knock. "What do you want mom?" Still nothing. With a sigh Frank got up to open the door. I thought he was going to fall on the floor. I did. I fell right on my head, and my dress went up past my belly button, making me thankful for the sweatpants. Adam stood sheepishly at the door, trying not to stare at my exposed midsection as I struggled to get untangled and right myself. After shooting an eye roll at me, Frank turned to his older brother who was holding out a yellow envelope. Frank stared at it, puzzled.
"Take it." Adam's voice sounded tired and hoarse. The boy sounded sick.
"What is it?" Frank whispered, looking up at his brother. Gerard and I sat perfectly sit, afraid to breathe, afraid that if we made the wrong move Adam, like a scared rabbit, would bolt and Frankie would hate us. The cassette tape continued to click.
"Don't open it yet." Adam took Frank's hands and placed them over the envelope, and he turned to leave.
"When-" Frank practically shouted. He was trying to keep his brother there. Adam turned, slightly alarmed. Frankie quieted his voice, "When do I open it?"
Adam smiled a sad sort of drained smile, and didn't answer. He just ruffled Frank's hair and walked out. Chucking the envelope on his desk he ran after Adam, throwing the door closed behind him. Stunned, Gerard and I sat there silently. We never did find out what Frank and Adam talked about.
"Who wants to say grace?" Mrs. Way asked.
"I'll do it." Gerard mumbled into his water. He was sitting across from me and my mother. Frank was on my left and Adam was next to him. Elena, Gerard's Grandmother, sat at the head of the table opposite Mrs. Iero, and Gerard's mother and the other young boy (who hadn't introduced himself to anyone) sat by Gerard. We all held one another's hands as we waited for Gerard to thank the Lord for our meal. I had expected the typical "God is great, God is good." or "Bless us, O' Lord." but instead Gerard went for something a bit more personal.
"I went to therapy the other day," a tension went around the table. We weren't sure where any of this was going, but Grandma Elena looked calm, so I decided to stick it out. "and my therapist asked me what I was thankful for this year. In my whole life I never had anything to say, and I was about to tell her this year was no different, when it hit me. I had something this year." he paused. Was he done? "Growing up I never had friends. Nobody ever cared enough to stick up for me," he looked at me for a moment, "or get to know me." he looked at Frankie. "No one invited me over to their house or asked me to hang out after school." his voice was so quiet. I liked it. My stomach did that weird flip again, and I didn't know why. Was I coming down with something? Great, I thought, just in time for December with the Christmas shows and everything. "I realized that for the first time when someone asked me who my friends were that I could answer them, and for that I'm more thankful than words can express." he stopped. I began to let go of my Mom's hand's when he started talking again. "Thank you, God for this meal. Bless the hands who prepared it, because it looks incredible. Thank you for my Grandmother's health, I wouldn't be here without her. Thank you for Frank, who you made just as weird as I am. And thank you for Bri, who saved me from becoming just another social outcast the second she bought my lunch that first day. Amen."
We crossed ourselves, and started to fill our plates. For a moment Frank, Gerard and myself shared a smile. I knew he forgave me for the painting.