If I have a boy, I’d give him your name – Marco.
I miss you, Marco. I miss waking up in the middle of the night when you’d cry for Mama, when I would hurry to your room and hug you and sing to you and show you my pretty dolls and wooden animals to hush and calm you, and your pout would become a smile and your eyes would twinkle at me and you’d hiccup, and I’d laugh and tickle your nose and we’d play with my toys, quietly so Mama wouldn’t hear, until you went back to sleep.
Remember when Papa brought home paints from the factory, and I took some of them to our playroom and we painted with them? I painted lipstick and eye-shadow on my dolls, and gave some of them blond flecks of hair, and added blue strokes to their silver dresses. It made them look so beautiful.
Then I let you have a turn at the paints, and you giggled and painted my cheeks white. I laughed. Then, thinking of how beautiful it had made my dolls look, I started painting my lips red, my lashes blue, added brown streaks to my hair.
Mama came into the room, got so mad, slapped me then pulled me to the sink and held my head under the running water as I felt the paints wash away. She yelled that she wasn’t raising me to look like a whore. It was the first time I’d heard that word. I didn’t know what it meant, then.
I wonder if you’d recognize me now, Marco, with my lips even redder and fuller than they were that day, my hair in shades of cinnamon, my eyes shadowed deeper than the moon. But I don’t wear a silver dress, not like the dolls. I’m out late at night, most days, though sometimes Paulie wants me and Angie by the Nettuno before sunset, where people in the crowds see me and stare. Some of them – especially the boys my age – crinkle their eyes at me, which hurts, but others give me a glint and a smile, and sometimes that feels even worse.
They’re nothing compared to the men in the night hours, when Angie and I round the Vittorio Venetto, and I feel knives in my pit as soon as they show their teeth.
I wonder if you would defend me, Marco, from some of them. I remember when Mama and Papa, after arguing and shouting at each other for so long about money, gave in and sent me to Paulie for the first time. When I came back the next morning, even with my eyes dripping blood and tears, the only thing they talked about was how you’d cried and kept them up the whole night, because I wasn’t there, and so they wouldn’t send me to Paulie again – for the moment – so I could stay home with you. You helped me then, Marco. I was so happy. I hurried to your crib and hugged you and kissed you to make up for being away, and to thank you.
Would you help me today, Marco, like you did then? Would you be big and strong enough now to protect me? But maybe no – you’d still be ten since I’m sixteen. But I still wish I could come home to you and hug you after every night, like I did that day.
I remember how after that day, I enjoyed playing with you even more, Marco. I never minded when you’d chip my animals or chew my dolls, I would just laugh. And then – because they couldn’t get money from Paulie, and because the factory still wasn’t letting Papa come back – I remember Papa calling his other romani friend, who took all of our toys away, and lied and sold them to rich people who thought they were rare expensive things, so Papa and Mama could have some money. I’d found and bought those toys with my own pocket money, from carvers on the street years before. Oh, Marco, how we both cried when they were gone. Mama and Papa didn’t pay any attention to us.
I found it so hard to understand them sometimes, Marco. I think that was the worst time. Even worse than when they sent me to Paulie. But now I’m older, and I almost understand them now. I know how sometimes you have to hurt and give up to get what you need to live.
I almost understand why, now, after that second time they gave in and sent me to Paulie, after I had an even worse night than the first time, after I came running back home the next morning just wanting to see you and hold you and put your cheeks to mine so we could play together even without my dolls and animals…and I came home to find the polizia all around our house, and saw Mama screaming in tears and Papa shouting at them with a scared white face, and getting the knives in my stomach and my mind and pushing my way through all of the men so I could get to your crib, my breath running thin…and finding the polizia in your room, checking the crib carefully…and seeing you there, not crying at all, and one of the men keeping me back as I kicked and screamed and cried even louder than Mama and Papa, louder than even you ever cried, Marco, my lips spewing red, my deep eye-shadow running to the floor.
I miss you, Marco, I miss you so much. So please don’t feel mad when I tell you I almost understand why they did all the things they did. And there are some mistakes, especially since I work for Paulie, that I can’t help making. Please don’t be mad, Marco.
If I have a boy…I would give him your name, Marco. But I think I won’t have a boy, because I should just tell Paulie so he can send me to Dr. Guerra and get it over with. Some things we have to give up, even if we hurt. And if I don’t tell Paulie right away, it will hurt even more later on.
I will never see Mama and Papa again – I don’t know where they took them – but I hope I will see you again, Marco. Maybe I will see both of you, and I will get to sing to and play with and hug and kiss both of you, if I can still go to heaven when I die.