I'm leaving because of it. I'm eighteen and in love for the first time - with a woman.
Right after high school graduation, I'm leaving my family, New York, and everything
I've ever known. I just shelled out ninety-five bucks for a one-way bus ticket from
Manhattan Port Authority to Texas.
I'm leaving because of her kiss. It was delicious. With Dee returning to Texas,
it feels like someone has pulled the plug, sucking everything down to the Southwest. My
destiny is down there with her, and nobody is gonna fuck with that.
I met her in high school English. A native Texan, born and bred. So different from me,
an Italian from the Bronx. I wanted to know all about that lilting, chicken-fried accent. I
looked up Texas in the library. Checked out a stack of books on the Lone Star State.
But soon printed matter wasn't enough. I wanted more.
I flash on that night in Dee's room, the night we first kissed. She started it, but I
reciprocated. Her lips were soft and warm. She kissed my neck and earlobes and I thought
I'd reached nirvana.
So I scrimped and saved money from part-time jobs, bought myself a few pairs of
shorts and a bus ticket. I was young, ripe and ready for a change. I got my father, Mario, to
drive me to Port Authority Greyhound Station, which was no small feat.
The two of us are speeding down the highway in the family station wagon. He's
talking my ear off, telling me I'm making a big mistake.
"What the hell ya gonna do in goddamn Texas, stronzo?" (It means turd.) "You got
rocks in your head?" I stare out the window at the cars and cabs speeding by, everyone
racing on to the next important thing in their life. Now I'm racing too, but I'm also scared.
My father looks over his shoulder, about to change lanes. He doesn't know why I'm
leaving. Or does he? Poor Mario. All his kids are turning out wrong. Now this one's a
dyke. I feel sorry for him.
"I'm over here breaking my ass to give you kids a few things, and teach you what's
right." On the word right, he steps on the gas pedal and the car lurches forward. I knew I
wouldn't get outta town without a lecture. I may not get out alive.
Yesterday I got a lecture from my mother. She's positive Dee's been brainwashing
me. She thinks I’ve been doing drugs. I caught her snooping in my stuff one afternoon.
"Ma, what the hell are ya doing?"
"I'm looking," she says defensively. "I'm your mother and I'm looking."
"I know you're my mother. What are you looking for? You run out of underwear?"
"Don't get smart with me young lady. Are you on something?"
"I'm on my period."
"You keep giving me answers," she says, shaking her finger in my face. "But you
ain't giving me the right answers." The sweat is beading up on her lip. "Ever since you've
been hanging around that girl you got all these crazy ideas in your head. Now you wanna
go down there with her. Whatsa matter? Everything she does, you gotta do?"
"I'm eighteen years old and it's my life," I yell. "Stop snooping in my stuff!"
"I have a right to know what the hell you're doing," she yells back. "You're not
telling me the truth!" She grabs my arm like she's gonna hit me. "And you're
getting too free and easy with that girl, hanging around, talking a lotta crap."
"Get off me!" I say, pushing her away. Then she hauls off and slaps me right
across the face.
"Ow! Stop! Get the fuck off me." I push her away. She's screaming and hollering.
Says I'm selfish to move so far from the family.
"You only care about yourself. You think you're better than the rest of us."
"Leave me the hell alone!" I shout, and run out of the house in tears.
I didn't come back till past midnight. Who does she think she is? She'd run my life
if I let her. That was two weeks ago. Now, I sit back and brace myself, expecting
more from Mario, with less fanfare and more guilt.
"I'm breaking my ass," he says, "and for what?" He flicks the fingertips of one
hand under his chin."Va fan' culo! They'll piss on my grave when I go!"
He keeps driving. "Gesu Crist!" he says under his breath. I don't utter a word back or
it'll extend the lecture.
It figures he'd try guilt. Them and their martyr complex. They work and work and
never feel appreciated. I'm sick of it. Who told them have so many kids?
We approach the exit and he looks at me, shaking his finger in my face. "You got
thick skulls!" he says, and I know immediately he means all of us, all his wayward kids.
Vinny's been getting drunk at the bars every night. Rosemarie's off to school. She moved
out early, after that big fight about boyfriends. Screaming and hollering in front of the
neighbors. Last month she moved outta the house and into the Y. She enrolled in college
and she’s living at the Y. Thank God I never had to have boyfriend fights with Mario, like
my sisters. But we've got other fun issues to fight about.
"Gotta do things your own way," he says, gassing the pedal. We pass a
Wonderbread truck in silence. I stare at the red, white, and blue dots. I never knew what
Wonderbread was till I went to school and saw kids eating baloney and cheese sandwiches
on sliced white bread. I never envied them, nor felt like I was missing anything special.
Mario always bought Italian bread with sesame seeds, whole wheat or dark rye, and that's
what I prefer today. Red peppers fried in olive oil is a lot more appetizing than baloney.
Actually, I love the traditions of my culture. I'm proud to be Italian. But they'd never guess
it, especially lately. When I'm angry and feel suffocated, the last thing I wanna do is
Mario tries a new angle. "If that girl wantsa go down there, let her go. That's where
she's from. Isn't she?" I don't answer. "Well, isn't she?"
"Yeah, she's from there. Her family lives in Texas. Some of 'em."
"Well you ain't from there. You're from here," he says, pointing at the floorboards.
"Your family's here. What the hell ya gonna do in goddamn Texas?"
The more he talks, the more I feel like a liar, a gutless liar. He doesn't know the real
reason I'm leaving and neither does Ma. I can't tell them I fell in love with a woman.
"You gotta make your own decisions," he says, pointing at me. "Don't let nobody
"Influence me?" I yell. He looks surprised, prepared for a fight. "You piss me off!
Both a you. Would you just let me do one thing for myself? Would you?"
"Yourself, yourself! All you think about is yourself," he says, getting louder. "All
you kids are alike. The whole buncha you. What about your family? What about us?" he
goes on, but I'm blocking him out. My mind is gone. I'm tripping so hard on the
assumption that I can't make my own decisions. If he only knew the half of it! I've got
cousins my age getting married and multiplying like rabbits. Mario, I'm making my own
"Tu sei pazz', Fran. You're outta your mind." He taps the side of his head and
continues driving. But the whole time we're arguing, he never once refuses to drive me.
When we get there, he helps me with my luggage and a huge cardboard box of stuff
including my dismantled ten-speed with a few pairs of socks, some t-shirts, and shorts
packed around it. He’s protesting the plan he's helping me carry out.
We say goodbye and he stuffs some money in my hand. "You got a head like
concrete," he says. "I don't know why you gotta do this."
I hug him goodbye and get on the bus. I throw my backpack on the floor and find a
seat, grinding my teeth. Mario's final question rings in my ears. "I don't know why you
gotta do this." Damn him for making me doubt myself! You think this is easy?
The bus pulls out of the station. I wave to Mario as he gets back into the car. He has
a way of holding his shoulders that always looks like he's burdened by so many
responsibilities. He is, I guess, with five kids and my mother. They work their asses off. I
know they do. Work for their kids, work for the family.
But now I need to grow in a way they don't understand and can't help me with. As I
watch him drive away, tears flood my eyes when he leaves.
Previously published in Queer View Mirror: Lesbian & Gay Short Short Fiction, Volume 2,
Arsenal Pulp Press, c. 1997, edited by Karen Tulchinsky and James Johnstone