One for the Grads

Education is one of the most important things in my life. I have always been completely enamored with learning, and I hope to one day carry that passion through a career. No matter what inconsistencies exist in your life, no one will ever be able to take away your education. The job market is so unstable that our generation is rotating through positions more than any generation ever before, and women are moving past the permanent “homemaker” label that has taken many of the women in my life as prisoner. Our type of guinea is not the kind that oozes money (those guineas are really really real), so education is pretty low on the totem pole in the eyes of my family. Blue collar, union jobs obtained right out of high school are considered the only worthwhile means of livelihood and education is a “ripoff.” True, education is VERY expensive now, but it is an investment I am willing to make EVERY time. I took advantage of whatever scholarships I earned, but outside of that? I busted my ass, working multiple jobs and taking the maximum amount of credits possible every semester and being an active member of a sorority all at the same time… and I graduated with honors. In short? I’ve EARNED it. I’ve earned every fucking thing I’ve ever had, EVER. My degrees especially… my education is my soft spot.

I’m currently in pursuit of a Master’s degree, and I will be the second person in my entire family to have obtained one. With that, I am only the third person to have obtained a Bachelor’s degree ever in my family… and that is not just inclusive of the people in my household… out of all my aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, parents, and siblings, I am the third.

The funny thing is… that number all depends on who you ask. As much as I love my family, they’re all a bunch of goddamn liars who will go to the ends of the earth to make sure that they cover their own asses. Me? I’m honest to a fault, so I can’t relate. All I can do is call people out on their shit, which causes a lot of problems, which is why I’m the black sheep.

When my mother graduated high school, she shared her graduation party with her two older siblings who graduated college that year. Though they were all different ages, they both somehow managed to graduate exactly at the same time. The degrees never came in the mail. Neither of them walked in the ceremony… suspicious, isn’t it?

Currently, my sister is going through something similar. She will be earning 2 Bachelors degrees and graduating with honors. She subscribes to the same ideas about education as I do, so she works hard for her grades and to be able to even ATTEND school. Neither of us received any federal or familial assistance. Good ol’ cousin Chastity got TONS of both. In addition to my grandparents putting her through 13 years of private Catholic school, the federal government hooked her up with a FULL scholarship and thousands of dollars in stipends. She’s always been a terrible student, the type who had to listen to audiobooks because reading herself “took too long,” so it always struck us as a cruel cosmic joke that we busted our backs while she got paid to go to school.

In her first semester, a hurricane displaced a lot of families in her town from their homes. The school offered a later withdrawal date than the one normally offered to those who were affected, and Chastity learned the joys of withdrawal by playing the system. She regularly withdrew from her classes, leaving her with 18 usable credits at the end of 4 semesters. She put her stipend to use after that and used the thousands in stipend money to pay others to do her papers for her. All while working 10 hours a week at a bullshit job at a rec center. Fast forward 3 years, changing her major COMPLETELY 3 times (from health science to law to liberal arts… fields with no overlap in major requirements whatsoever), and somehow was able to graduate timed perfectly with my sister completing her degrees. (?!?!?!???)

While the verdict is still out on whether or not she truly received a Bachelor’s or is finally walking for an Associate’s, I working on coming to terms with the fact that it doesn’t matter. Since the big announcement of her walking for her alleged Bachelor’s, I’ve felt cheated and robbed… I work so hard, and it comes to her for free? And for our family to celebrate her dishonesty the same way as my graduating with honors? It’s wrong, but you can’t change self-serving people. My family would rather live in a fantasy world than accept the truth, and even with factual, undisputable evidence presented to them, they would rather believe a narrative.

And shout-out to those of you who work hard at whatever it is that drives you!

Having integrity feels shitty, but it is important to shuffle through. This world needs more of it.

The Little Black (Marble) Book

I have a very strong moral compass. If I see an injustice, or potential for it, I get extremely upset and actively try to correct it. It has absolutely taken a toll on me, so I’m trying every day to let things go instead of becoming vigilant. Some people are just beyond fixing.

Enter my cousin, Chastity.  The most self-serving human being to ever exist. My sister and I think she’s a sociopath, but that has yet to be diagnosed by a professional. In short, she’s scum. We’ve never gotten along, aside from a two-year intermission where I must have been suffering from head trauma. The list of atrocities are endless, but for now? We’ll discuss her “appetite.”

During my Sweet 16, she took a liking to one of my friends (really, friend of a friend that we invited in order to fill seats last-second) who was entering his sophomore year of college while she was entering her sophomore year of high school. He became her first boyfriend because of her persistence. Okay, whatever. My family did not see a problem with it. They went on one date in the mall, they kissed, and then they broke up shortly after because she “couldn’t handle the distance between them.”

And it was all downhill from there. She is the embodiment of “boy-crazy.” Although she allegedly did not lose her virginity until she was 17, that did not stop her from the 1st through 3rd base (yes, ALL of 3rd base!) experiences she had with multiple partners. How do I know? She was so willing to share the graphic details of  it all!! She took a lot of pride in her sexuality, which is fine! I’m all for women doing their thing and being comfortable in their own skin, but here’s where things start to get a little shady.

She became (for lack of a better term) a groupie for the local music scene. My friend happened to be apart of the local music scene during this time, but as a musician and not a groupie. He attended a family gathering and knew her before I could introduce her. The reason? In his delicate, fragile way of putting things: “Yeah, all the guys who would go with her would come back scratching their nuts.” (In other words, she was spreading STDs!)

Somehow, along the way, band kids turned into their drug-addicted devotees which turned into their drug-dealers which turned into gang members. She has an interesting way of introducing these people into the family though… “Oh, he USED TO smoke crack” … ‘Oh, he USED TO sell drugs to middle-school kids” … “Oh, he USED TO be in a gang, but still likes the gang’s colors and wears them anyway.” Yeah. Bullshit.

Stay with me, reader.

While she was dating the gang member for about a year (with casual partners in between), she started rekindling the fire with her first boyfriend! Homeboy had since joined the military and had done several tours. He was coming home and wanted to see her because they had been speaking for a few months. She picked him up from the airport and sparks flew. However when he asked her, “Chastity, what are we?” she answered, “Comfortable. Don’t push it.” By the end of his leave, they were visibly more than comfortable. My family was thrilled that he wasn’t a gang member (or worse, in the eyes of my Italian-American Roman Catholic family… black!), so they cheered them on.

One problem… She was still dating the gang member and hadn’t told the soldier.

And another problem… he asked my sister for Chastity’s ring size as soon as he got on the plane. He was going to propose when he was home again in a month.

My vigilance kicked in and I contacted him. I said something to the tune of, “I’m rooting for you guys but give the relationship some time to grow if you’re in it for the long haul!” because I knew she was still figuring out how to end things with the gang member. I got in return (basically) “fuck you, I’m going to do what I want.”

The engagement took place. I couldn’t stop it. And then the wedding plans commenced.

In the middle of discussing her participation in a wedding expo, Chastity confessed to my sister that she was tired. Tired of her lifestyle, but specifically tired of being noncommittal. She then unearthed a little black marble notebook, in which she kept her past experiences.

Dozens of pages filled.

Containing the names, numbers, and a star ratings of each sexual experience she’s ever had.

The star ratings were broken into two categories: How far, and how enjoyable.

She was so proud of it, in spite of her confession! She flipped through the pages, also providing information not seen on the page about the hook-ups.

This helps her to keep organized, should she ever consider double-dipping.

And she did double-dip. Frequently.

My poor innocent sister just sat there with her mouth open.

Chastity’s act of playing tired did not last very long though… The engagement lasted 3 months before she cheated on him (at least twice) and he caught her. They broke up, she continued to date one of the gentlemen she cheated on him with, and then when he was back home on leave, she cheated on the new gentleman with her ex-fiancé. Back and forth, until the ex-fiancé had enough and called it quits. She told the whole family he was crazy and had PTSD. She was probably right, but the PTSD may have been from enduring the roller-coaster of a relationship she put him through.

She is the only person I know who kept a little black book. “Kept” is past tense here, because the black book is sadly no more…. it’s been upgraded to a word document. Easier to reference, and now it’s alphabetized! Her new man knows about it, and has been heard saying, “all those men, and I won the prize!”

Congratulations! You’ve won chlamydia!!

Mom and the Satellites

In the spirit of Mother’s Day,  I feel like it’s a good time to share with you a few highlights about the mothers in my life.

Italian moms are their own species. These women take love, nurturing, and protection to not only another level, but out this atmosphere. Mom is the planet, and her children are the satellites trapped, mindlessly orbiting around. Slave to the one another’s existences.

And dads? They coddle the mothers of their children. More of the men in my family have impregnated their significant others out-of-wedlock than those who were married before procreating, so they feel obligated to make sure moms are well taken care of. There are easily more aunts in my family than uncles, which sadly is the result of widowing more often than divorce. The single aunts make it work, but some look to their fathers as the defacto caretaker. One of my single aunts has had my 80-year-old grandfather, who has had a plethora of surgeries (hip replacement being one of them!), remodel her house and repair any damages, even if that means going on the roof of her house. My mother has not worked a job in my entire life, and decided she wanted to earn some income of her own about a year ago. This was the biggest blow to my dad’s ego you would’ve imagined. He never misses an opportunity to remind EVERYONE, whenever my mom working is brought up, that she did not have to work for 20something years and still doesn’t have to, it’s completely her own doing, blah blah blah.

My grandma has everyone terrorized into succumbing to her every whim. She worked right out of high school as a secretary in a branch of the military until she was married and makes sure everyone knows she was apart of a workforce at one point. She’s about 90 lbs, wears heels and pantyhose every day, and has extreme OCD. At 7 am, breakfast is one cookie and a coffee. At 8 am, she begins her daily errands, chauffeured around by my aunt. She travels with a lunchbox so she can have lunch at 12 pm promptly, regardless of where she is. At 3:30, she’s at home and starting dinner. (She’s also the only Italian grandma I’ve ever met who hates food, which translates a terrible taste when it comes time for her to cook! We’ve given her the nickname “Jesus” because she can take 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish, feed 5,000 people, and still be able to collect leftovers for the rest of the week. This comes less from her ability to portion and more from her inability to produce an amazing meal, so everyone only takes half a serving) She finishes her day with either (purposefully) burnt popcorn or Neapolitan ice cream in front of the TV, and then the rollers go in her hair and she begins it all the next day. Anyone who presents any threat to this routine is subject to the biggest temper-tantrum they’ve ever seen.

I have not ONE, but TWO aunts whose first-born’s baby books feature umbilical cord stumps. You read that right. The part of the umbilical cord that remains on the baby for two weeks after birth, fell off their newborns 20+ years ago… And instead of going in the trash, they hold a spot taped in a plastic baggie next to baby’s first hair cut… Also worth mentioning about these aunts, they have never lived further away from my grandparents (their parents) than upstairs and next door, and they’re each about 50 years old.

On the other side of the family, all of my adult male cousins have lived at home until they were at least 30 years old, rent and responsibility free. COMPLETELY the result of their mothers insisting. One cousin is approaching 40, living at home, about to get married and host a $100k wedding, and has full intentions of moving his bride into his bedroom at his mother’s house after the wedding. This is a theme amongst Italians, though. Living further away than 30 miles from any given member of your family is a mortal sin, and any violators of this unspoken rule will result in “givin’ yo’ motha a haht attak” and a lifetime of guilt will surely follow. The only way to ensure access into paradise is by living as close to Ma and Dad as possible.

The women in my life are so full of love, it’s truly unbelievable.

And that love is fueled by keeping everyone as tucked under their thumbs as possible.

Lessons in Team-Building

The U.S. Marine Corps has this saying: “Once a Marine, always a Marine.” My dad, who served in the early ’80s, never let us forget it. The Marine Corps had a huge impact on his life and carried the values imposed onto him with immense pride.

If you weren’t aware, the Marine Corps boot camp is the most difficult of all the branches and the punishments for falling out of line are the most intense. The idea is that the Marines break their new members down to build them back up in their likeness, and the group’s combined hatred of the commanding officers will carry them through every hardship. We never really got hit as kids, but my dad LOVED team-building exercises and implemented them whenever the opportunity presented itself. All punishments assigned to us were to be done together.

If we whined too much, my dad would have us “do stairs.” He would assign a number to it depending on how much we misbehaved. So if we were to do 300 stairs, we had to run 300 flights of stairs. The minimum was usually 100 stairs. And if one messed up, all were responsible for completing out own sets.

Light punishments involved organizing his childhood collectibles – comic books, baseball cards, football cards, etc. And he had thousands of everything, and each session was a minimum of 6 hours. My sister absolutely hated it and would get overwhelmed easily. Because I was a weirdo who LOVED organizing things (and still do!) I looked forward to these punishments.

When we moved to a bigger house, the first thing my dad invested in was a truckful of decorative rocks. The rocks became the new stairs. If two of the siblings were fighting, all three of us would be outside moving the rocks from the front yard on one acre of property to the backyard. The next week, if someone made a mess in the living room, rocks would return to the front yard from the backyard. Back and forth. Forever.

The next summer, mulch was added to the collection. This complicated the rocks punishment because we’d have to constantly move the mulch out of the way to make room for the rocks. Mulch in front, rocks in back. Rocks in front, mulch in back. This would easily take a day long punishment and extend it into two days. We weren’t allowed to get any dirt mixed in with the mulch, even though mulch is pretty dirty by nature.

My younger two siblings were change-of-life babies so they did not have to endure punishments of any kind. And it shows. A few years back, one of the younger ones threw my brother’s iPhone at the ground (in an Otterbox and onto carpet) AT FULL VELOCITY. It shattered. She had to surrender her iPhone to him “as punishment”, and then at Christmas, she got a better one. Recently, the youngest spilled food coloring all over new toys that Santa brought her, and my dad responded to it with, “Kid, you REALLY need to get hit…” in the saddest, most defeated voice we’ve ever heard, and walked away. When I asked what happened, my sibling goes, “don’t worry. I honestly made it look better.”

It’s amazing to see the difference in parenting between the younger two and older three. My sister, brother, and I all have this unspoken mutual respect for one another because we weren’t lucky enough to get a toy taken away or sentenced to isolation in our bedrooms where we can enjoy silence.

Instead, we learned the importance of team building.

The Beginning

I had an interesting upbringing, to say the least.

Not a bad upbringing. I don’t want you getting the wrong idea.

At face-value, it seems pretty normal. I am the oldest child in a larger-than-average family, meaning I’m super awkward in social settings and my younger siblings are all good looking (but I’ve managed to terrify my family with my independence, so that’s something, at least). My parents are still married and live on a single-income in order to make sure my mother would never have to do anything besides raise her children. Outside of my nuclear family, I have some aunts, a few uncles, too many cousins to count, and we’re all pretty tight-knit.

My upbringing was one that was filled with health, safety, and a lot of love…. a lot of love. I mean, like non-stop (side note: that’s how I live my life these days… endlessly showering people in the love they deserve, as long as they do actually deserve it. And it might not the way normal people express love, but we’ll get there).

Oh, and we’re Italian. Like, only Italian. But not JUST Italian either, we’re Sicilian. That might not seem like a bold statement, but I assure you, it is. I’m convinced we would all collectively have identity crises if we ever did one of those Ancestry.com family trees and found out that our heritage stemmed from anything other than Italy. We’re 2nd generation on one side of the family, 4th generation on the other. Unlike a lot of the whiter parts of Europe, our heritage is our everything. We live for the subculture.

It is one that a few of you out there will identify with – wooden spoon punishments and relentless family gatherings and life revolving around a good meal.

But the rest of you will read this with your mouth hanging open.

All my life, whenever I’ve shared stories of my family, no one believes that my words are true. There’s no way that your cousin got away with saying that at a funeral! There’s no way your sweet, quiet relative got arrested! I can guarantee that even my fellow millennial guineas will cringe at some of these stories. I swear to you, reader, that nothing on this page is a tall tale… they’re true retellings of the shit that went down in my childhood, my teenage years, and now my adulthood.

The word “guinea” has it’s roots as being a racial slur against us Sicilians, but it’s used playfully in the community. We know that other Sicilians have seen some shit, too. It’s inevitable, really. I’d like to think my family is a special circumstance, though.

Life’s boring without the bullshit, anyway. Growing up guinea was a privilege. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.