“Complicated things” wasn’t nearly so complicated as I worried about. It has changed things but at the same time they are pretty much the same as they were before … besides the obvious of course. It would have been nice if we could have had a honeymoon period to play and get used to the extreme new intimacy we were experiencing but life doesn’t always give you what you want; I was grateful that at least so far we had what we needed.
Tony wasn’t kidding when he told me he wanted me to wear his ring. He took that literally. It was an old Italian wedding band that he had inherited from his mother’s aunt. I’d never seen anything like it. It was a thick band carved in what Tony told me was Florentine fretwork and with an antique ruby set in the top. “I know it is not a traditional ring Josephine,” he said when he put in on my finger. “But my mother’s aunt was a wise woman and … and good to me in a way that my mother and Nonna were not. She said that I would find someone someday that would make me want to be the best man I possibly could. And she was right. She told me when I found that woman to put this ring on her finger, not because the value of the ring but to remind myself of the value of what I seek to build.”
Brains, brawn, and romance … Tony is quite a package. Of course he is also mule headed and a little dictatorial but I’m not going to complain about it … not much anyway. If he can accept me as I am I should be able to respect him enough to do the same. Actually being “married” is more fun than I ever expected it to be. A wall that I hadn’t known was there isn’t there anymore. I’ve got a self assurance when it comes to dealing with Tony I hadn’t realized was missing. Of course turnabout is only fair; he should be able to expect from me the same things I do from him.
I will admit that Tony is going a little overboard. I’m not sure whether it is being “married,” him getting better, or the news that we hear but he is too intense, occasionally a little overprotective. OK, it feels like a lot overprotective. OK, he’s driving me up the freakin’ wall. Not everything is perfect and there are things about it that make me want to throw things on occasion. There, I said it. Doesn’t make me feel any better but I’ve finally admitted it. I’m not use to this much physical closeness with someone, I’m not sure if I’m handling it too well.
We can never go about our day separately. When I’m out in the orchard he is right there too. When he isn’t helping he is standing around with the rifle on his shoulder glaring at the world as if daring them to come anywhere near me. It was cute the first time I noticed him doing it. The cute factor had died by the end of that same day.
“Tony! I lived on my own for three years and don’t need you babysitting me every second. I know there are things you want to do … so go do them. All I’m doing is picking fruit and hauling it back to the kitchen for processing.”
His nostrils flare every time I tell him that and I get the same one word response every time. “No.” Not “no” with an explanation. Not “no” with a rationalization or justification. Just “no” and a stony face. Grrr. How is it possible to love someone so much and want to slug them really, really hard at the same time?
At least he has given up trying to do all of the heavy lifting. “Tony!”
“Joey!” he said mocking me.
I gave him the same look my mother used to give my brothers when they were treading on thin ice. “Watch it Buster. Look, I know you want to help. I also know that you don’t like the fact that I’m quote ‘working like a dock hand.’ But the truth is Tony that I’ve worked like this ever since I started working; first at Mr. Stenheim’s market, then at the Deli. I know what I’m doing. I don’t carry too much and I don’t do anything to strain my back or any other part of my anatomy. Sure I get tired and maybe sore at night but that’s just life.”
“I saw that bruise on your … er … hip,” he growled.
Great. The one stupid stunt I pull he gets to see the rainbow surprise I fully deserve for doing it. “I went up one too many steps on the ladder. I should have secured the ladder to the tree but I didn’t. That was a one off Tony, not a regular occurrence. My bumper landed on the stub of a pruned off branch. No big deal. I know it’s ugly but it’ll go away.” He snorted but finally laid off when he saw I was serious about being cautious.
Another bit of zazzle we had was after an early dinner we sat down to listen to the radio but turned it off fifteen minutes later, both of us too irritated to listen to any more of the political posturing that was going on. Tony looked tired and just because I felt like it I got up and started to massage his shoulders. Looking over to the paper he was doodling on I asked, “Whatcha drawin’?”
“Remember the old clothes lines that were there before they were taken out to make way for the community garden?”
“How could I forget? Some of the older people in the neighborhood on that side were really bent out of shape about it. I don’t know why though, most of those old pulleys didn’t even work.”
A little frustrated because I wasn’t seeing the picture fully formed as he already was he said, “Yeah, but that’s not … look, you know how the pulleys worked?”
“Of course. There were pulleys on both sides. A big circle of clothes line ran over each pulley. You pulled on one line to push or pull the line away to pin the clothes on or to take them off. That way clotheslines were strung between buildings and used the empty space above allies and stuff rather than taking up the green space at ground level.”
He nodded his head and kept doodling. “Exactly. It was what Aunt Belinda called a labor saving device. It reminds me of the ski lifts of North Carolina.”
I was still waiting for him to fill in the blanks and just kept massaging his shoulders. “Never been,” I admitted.
Disgusted he said, “I know. It was one of the things I wanted to … Oh never mind. Look, what do you think about making one of those clothes lines … or ski lifts … for hauling stuff from the orchard to the house?”
I kissed his ear and said, “You really are looking for a project aren’t you?”
Still aggravated at his doodling he was erasing it hard enough to put a hole in the paper so I told him, “Tony I carry the fruit up because it takes less time but there is a road to take the tractor on if you wanna help me pick a loader full or wagon full. I’m just not sure if I could process that much fast enough so the fruit wouldn’t spoil.”
He threw the pencil across the room and got up so fast that I near fell off the back of it where I had perched. “Hey!”
He ran his hands through his hair and started to say something three times before storming out the kitchen door and slamming it behind him. I didn’t know whether I was supposed to run after him or not. I decided not. If he was going to blow up he could be the one to let me know why.
An hour later I was still down in the basement pretending to myself that I was getting some work done. I had gone from worried to upset and was now simmering in my own bit of anger. Tony came down the stairs and sat near the bottom. He sighed, “My temper got away from me.”
I shrugged nonchalantly and said, “I noticed.”
“Do you want to know why?” I shrugged again. “Joey?”
“Would you feel better if you threw something?”
Tony was trying to be charming so at least I knew his snit was over with whatever it was but now I was fast approaching one. “I’m not going to throw anything ‘cause I’ll just have to clean it up.”
He was silent for a while then got up and came over. “You’re not going to fight are you?”
“Why should I?”
He sighed. “You aren’t making this easy.”
Looking at him dead on I said, “Again, why should I?”
Subdued but not as over his snit as he was trying to act he said, “It was stupid, I admit it. OK? Can we just let it go? Just please don’t say ‘why should I’ as an answer.”
“Fine.” I almost said “whatever” but instead I really did decide to just let it go. Tired and still confused I said, “I’m done in. I’m going to go wash up and go to bed.”
A little unwisely he asked, “You gonna make me sleep on the sofa?”
Truly angry I finally turned on him and said, “Geez Tony! I don’t make a stink about you storming off. I don’t make a stink about you coming back. I don’t pick a fight. You say let it go and I say fine. Now you’ve got the nerve to ask me if I’m gonna send you to the dog house? Exactly what is it you want from me?!”
I stormed upstairs and straight to the shower, inconveniently forgetting that I’d done a couple of loads of laundry while we dinner and that there was no hot water. I stepped in and shrieked at the very cold spray hit me and as I’m trying to jump out I catch my foot in the shower curtain and fall out of the tub taking the curtain and rod down with me. The rod hit me in the head and I saw stars.
I must have passed out for a second because I came to as I was being wrapped up in a blanket. The water was off so I knew there’d been a little time elapse. There was a little streak of red on the bathroom tile floor and when I brushed some hair out of my face I found it was in my hair as well. That’s when Tony’s worried voice penetrated. “Joey? Come on Ragazza, talk to me.”
Groggily I said, “I’m … I’m fine. Stop waving your hand in my face like you want me to count your fingers.”
“Grazie Dio. Joey stop wiggling; you’re wet and slippery.”
I shook my head and it started to pound. “You are not carrying me anywhere. I’ll get blood all over the place and there will just be a bigger mess to clean up.”
He grumbled and growled but I refused to leave the bathroom until the mess had been cleaned up, including the dent I had gotten in my scalp. “Stupid thing.”
In exasperation Tony asked, “The shower rod or you?”
I guess I was more of a mess than I thought because I felt my bottom lip quiver. I tried to hide my face but Tony must have seen. He did some fast talking that buzzed right over the top of me and then said, “I’m sorry Ragazza. My mouth … you can kick me later … after I take care of you.”
“I’m not kicking you or throwing anything at you. Just move so I can go get my clothes and get dressed.”
“You don’t need to get dressed. You need to let me put you to bed so my heart will stop pounding like a friggin’ jack hammer. You could have a concussion, a broken bone …”
“I don’t have any broken bones or a concussion but my backside is bruised from landing on the plunger handle.”
“Here, let me see.”
Of course I squawked. My dignity was affronted enough as it is. And as crazy as it sounds we both wound up laughing and heading for the bedroom to make up. After a while I asked him, “Exactly why were you so angry?”
With an arm under his head and holding me with the other one he said, “I don’t know. I feel so … so freakin’ useless. I’m like a fish outta water.”
Trying to get comfortable without pinching the sore spot on the top of my head I said, “You think I know what I’m doing? I’m just repeating what my parents did, doing what my mother taught me, remembering what it was like when I was little before we moved to New York. All I’m doing is replicating stuff Tony, none of it is something I came up with on my own.”
Still frazzled and tired around the edges Tony said, “I don’t have that Joey. You know I was on the street for a couple of months before Uncle Nicky and Aunt Belinda took me in but this isn’t the same thing. I feel like I’m … I’m wasting something … time, resources, energy. I don’t know, it is just frustrating.”
Thinking I said, “You haven’t complained about the food you are eating even though it is different from what you were used to.”
“No. Why should I complain when it is all good?”
“And I haven’t seen you looking wistfully at your suits and ties that are hanging in the armoire even though you lived in them before, even when you came to see me.”
He snorted, “No. What is your point Joey?”
“That you should give yourself time. You are adapting and you will find your niche. Just don’t beat yourself up over it while it is coming to you.”
Sighing he said, “I don’t like feeling like I have no control. This mess going on in the world …”
“I know. It’s just for me I can’t seem to figure out a way to do nuthin’ about that other stuff. I’m not hiding my head in the sand I just don’t have anything but frustration, fear, and anger to give it. I’ve found that to be a waste of energy. I have to prioritize and right now that means tryin’ to set us up for winter and early spring. You were right when you said we couldn’t survive on fruit all winter long but I don’t know what else I can do about it right now. I … I’m worried Tony. I never grew up rough like you did. I’ve never gone hungry … not really … not like the cupboards are completely bare hungry, not eating out of garbage cans hungry. I’ve had to eat Ramen noodles at every meal for more than a week but I still had it to eat. I’ve got to …”
The more I let the worry come to the surface the more agitated I became and Tony saw it, maybe understanding what motivated me for the first time. “Shhhh Joey. Don’t get upset. I tell you what, tomorrow I’ll look at your dad’s library downstairs. There are a bunch of books on this area … history and stuff like that. Maybe there is something in there to get ideas from.”
Quietly I said, “Things are so broken Tony. I’m scared. I know I … I act like I’m not sometimes, play at bein’ a clown, but if I didn’t have you here I’m not sure what I would do. I’d survive but it would be so cold and lonely and depressing. You help me keep myself sane. You give me something to focus on.” After a moment I made a face in the dark. “Geez I sound like a needy whiner. Toughen up Balducci.”
“That’s MacGregor,” he said sliding down beside me.
“You sure about that?” I said smiling challengingly despite knowing he couldn’t see me.
“Yeah. Balducci-MacGregor maybe but if … you know … we have kids I’d like ‘em to be just MacGregor … them hyphenated names give me a headache.”
“Geez Tony … you are such a guy.” And from my point of view that was a good thing.