Alessia Tono paused on the long stretch of boardwalk, the soft sand delicately splayed across the wooden slats tingling her bare feet, remnants of the typical windswept nights of East Hampton. She breathed in the scent of the early-morning salt air from the ocean just beyond the steps leading down to the desolate beach. Turning slowly, she gazed down the vast stretch of coastline. Soft waves crashed along the shore, bright, warm sunshine sparkled upon the crystal tan sand.
“It’s the perfect September morning, exceptional actually,” she decided, making her way down the steps, happy the new school year had begun after the recent Labor Day Weekend, the unofficial end of summer in The Hamptons. She had the beach to herself, barring the lone man and his trusted German Shepherd walking along the shoreline, barely visible to the naked eye.
The tourists had gone, leaving Alessia to enjoy the quiet mornings she so loved from September until the end of May, the dreaded Memorial Day Weekend when hoards of people and pets ascended upon her quaint hometown for the summer months. She hated the turmoil of the crowds. They came from all over the world to vacation, marry, honeymoon, socialize and party in The Hamptons.
Alessia lived in the home she was born in, having inherited the old colonial from her parents, who previously inherited it from her paternal grandparents. She never desired to live anywhere else, this was home, it’s where she would have raised her own family, had she been able to sustain a pregnancy. Each of the five miscarriages had taken its toll, but this perfect morning at this special place, “her beach”, helped ease the pain.
She situated her small, pink chair perfectly in the sand just beyond the shade of the boardwalk, sat back and enjoyed the rays of sun warming her face for a moment. “There’s hope, I’m only thirty-five, I can try again, or maybe we will finally consider a surrogate, I will convince Michael eventually. He had finally agreed to at least deposit the sperm, though he insisted on trying naturally again.” Alessia considered the situation, picking up her book and burying her nose deep in the pages. Stories of espionage, terror, and mayhem were so removed from her own life; she became absorbed, forgetting her sorrows for a while.
Michael Abatantuono, now Tono, made the two-hour drive from East Hampton to New York City swiftly. Traffic was light at 4:30 in the morning; he breezed through without a hitch. He didn’t really mind the drive if it kept his wife, Alessia, happy; after all, he only commuted three days a week.
Driving through the mid-town tunnel, Michael thought back to when he changed his name at age twenty-three, much to the despair of his grandfather. “Grandpa, I can’t go into the banking and finance industry and expect to succeed when clients can’t even pronounce my name! This just makes things easier,” Michael explained for what felt like the hundredth time that day. Grandpa was never satisfied with his explanation; causing tension in the household they shared with Michael’s brothers, sisters, parents and an aunt.
He felt guilty; remembering his grandfather’s disappointed expression that weekend long ago, right after the name change was finalized. “I just need to get away for a while, it’s just a three-day-weekend with some buddies in The Hamptons, Grandpa,” Michael had barked at the old man. Sixty-six was old by any twenty-three-year-old’s standards. “You stay with family, you don’t wander, it’s not right,” Grandpa preached, angrily. “You don’t leave the family on a holiday weekend. It’s the most important weekend of the year. July Fourth weekend, the weekend we celebrate being American, we cherish our freedom, our safety, our ability to prosper. Fifty-two people will be here celebrating and you abandon the family, you, the only family member not here. You choose friends over blood!” His words fell on deaf ears. “Goodbye, Grandpa, I love you,” Michael shouted, leaping from the front stoop and hopping into his best friend’s pickup for the drive from Jamaica Estates to East Hampton.
Michael met Alessia on “her beach” the first day of his trip. She stood out, sitting alone on the beach, reading a book, seemingly oblivious to the pandemonium around her. She tuned out the turmoil as best she could; wild volleyball games, groups of teens tossing Frisbees and footballs, children running and screaming, kicking up sand as they scooted past her. Screams from fun-seekers of all ages jumping the huge waves and riding surfboards were heard up and down the beach. The blast of radios resounded through the air. The wind howled and lifeguards’ loud whistles shrieked over the seagulls’ squawks as they dove towards the sand sweeping up treats. Babies cried loudly, their voices reverberating off the boardwalk and concession stand. Bells from an ice cream truck drew crowds of excited children and the squeak of chains from the swings of the playground composed a rhythmic song. There she sat, engrossed in her own world.
Michael was drawn to her; she looked vulnerable, timid, somehow in need of protection. “Hello there, I’m Michael, what’s a beautiful lady like you doing sitting all alone on a holiday weekend?” Michael asked approaching her. Alessia looked up from her book to see the most friendly, caring eyes staring down at her. Smiling shyly, she said, “Well, my parents are working in their restaurant. This is a busy weekend. I’ll join them to help out for the dinner rush. My two friends have stayed at college for summer classes, so, here I am, with my trusted book.”
Michael spent the next three hours sitting beside Alessia engrossed in her life story. She was the granddaughter of Polish immigrants, potato farmers who worked hard to make a new life for themselves. Both her parents were only children as was she. It was a world of difference from his family, filled with many siblings, aunts, uncles, and cousins.
He listened closely as she explained life in a small town; living in virtual solitude in the fall and winter and with masses of tourists during spring and especially summer, the holiday weekends of Memorial Day, July 4th and Labor Day drawing the most crowds. While the tourists were great for local business, boosting the economy, it also had its downside, she explained. “The crowds can create turmoil sometimes. The loud partying, long lines, difficulty parking; it’s not my thing.”
“I’m pretty much a loner, I have the same two best friends since elementary school,” Alessia confessed. “I never wanted to go away to college like they did. I preferred to stay here and help my parents. I’ve only been to the city four times, twice to see The Rockettes Christmas show and the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree and twice to see a Broadway show and then dinner with my parents. We once took a trip to Disney in Florida and my parents took me to Great Adventure once with their friends and their kids, but I don’t remember either,” she chuckled.
Michael was infatuated. Her life was so different from his. He told her of his travels to Europe with his large extended family, cruises, trips to the Caribbean and traditional Sunday dinner weekly at his house, where his grandfather, the patriarch of the family resided. “We have really big holidays. At Christmas, there are usually at least fifty people at my house for dinner, games, and gifts. We go into the city several times during the week of Christmas, my favorite is the Rockefeller tree, I love Christmas trees.” It all sounded a bit intimidating to Alessia, though she found Michael’s love of Christmas trees endearing and was drawn to the tenderness of his eyes.
“Let’s just go check it out,” Michael badgered his buddies. “Come on, man, Polish food is supposed to be good.” His friends relented and that evening they arrived at Alessia’s parents’ restaurant. Alessia made suggestions on menu items as she took their orders. “I think you all made wise choices,” she informed them sneaking a peek at Michael with a half smile as she placed each steaming plate on their table.
Michael and Alessia were inseparable from that first night when he raved over his meal of hocks in beer with mashed potatoes, sauerkraut, and dill cucumber salad. He was there for her a year later when her father died suddenly of a massive heart attack and again when her mother fell ill one brutally cold winter, seven months later, and couldn’t fight off pneumonia ravishing her lungs
Alessia rejected his pleas to move closer to the city after the deaths of her parents. He worried about her alone so far away all week long. Although, he did love his weekends visiting her, a much-needed reprieve from his loud, boisterous family and Grandpa’s ideology. Michael didn’t understand his rules, regulations, and preaching.
Grandpa was even more upset with Michael’s relationship. “Why the hell do you date a girl who lives two hours away? Aren’t there enough girls in this city for you?” he’d complain. “Find yourself a nice law student from Queens. What will you do with an editor of a small-town magazine? Her only experience is being a part-time waitress in her parents’ dinky restaurant? She won’t fit into your lifestyle. How come she rarely comes here to see you and the family, doesn’t she believe in family? How much more Sundays will you abandon the family to live the life of a recluse in no man’s land at the end of the earth?” Nothing seemed to make Grandpa happy and Michael had given up long ago.
Michael and Alessia married exactly four years after their fateful meeting, on the fourth of July holiday weekend, at sunset on the boardwalk of East Hampton Beach. Their reception included dinner and dancing at a restaurant overlooking the water. Grandpa complained about them keeping it small. “It’s an insult not to invite the family, Michael. How can you embarrass us that way?” Michael reminded him that his family was invited; his parents, siblings and Grandfather were there. “We don’t want a big hoopla, Grandpa.” Shaking his head, Grandpa asked, “why a holiday weekend when the family should be together?” Michael, annoyed said, “Grandpa, we chose the three-day-weekend so the family could enjoy some festivities and the gorgeous beaches before and after the wedding.”
Riding the express elevator, Michael’s thoughts briefly switched from Grandpa’s misery to his current clients and new position. “This is really mine,” he paused at the doorway to his office, proud and amazed at himself at the same time. He sat his briefcase against the side of his desk and placed a small brown paper bag on the sleek, shiny desktop. “This is the life,” he whispered to himself as the sweet fragrance of dark roasted mocha coffee tickled his nostrils.
The bacon, egg and cheese sandwich squished softly as he took his first big bite, spraying ketchup and runny, yellow yolk all over his large desk. The quiet of his office building at 6:45 a.m. was peaceful and helped keep Michael prepared for the hectic day ahead. He’d rather arrive early and relax with coffee and breakfast than sit in rush hour traffic for hours.
Glancing at his watch he contemplated, “Should I call Alessia before the day gets insane or leave her to enjoy the beach without any distractions or reminders of recent events?” He wiped the mess off his desk with a soft cloth. He wanted to keep his new office furniture perfect, sparkling and clean. He refused to let anything or anyone ruin it, he despised stains and scratches.
After breakfast, Michael put his feet up on a small, black filing cabinet, leaned back in his chair and took a cat nap. It was 8:15 when he popped up and reached for the phone. He dialed Alessia, deciding on a call after all, it might ease her sadness just a little bit.
“Hey, babe,” Michael exclaimed, trying to sound cheery for her sake. “How’s my best girl?” Alessia smiled, placing her book on her lap, the light ocean breeze gently flipping its pages. “I’m fine, just enjoying ‘my beach’ and fighting off the bad guys in my latest book. I always try to figure out ways to stop the lunatics. You didn’t know your wife was an international government spy!” she giggled.
He was glad to hear her sounding a bit happier. The last miscarriage four weeks earlier had really gotten her down. “I’ve been thinking, babe, maybe you are right, maybe we should try a surrogate, we do have several frozen popsicles ready to go!” Michael chuckled. Alessia shook her head, smiling, “A lovely name for cryopreservation,” she teased him. “Well, we won’t tell Grandpa we’re using the popsicles, he’ll be happy to become a great grandfather, hopefully, why spoil his excitement. He doesn’t understand modern science and popsicles would be way too much for him to handle,” Michael ribbed her, insisting on using the nonsensical term. “Deal,” she replied, smiling, her eyes bright with amusement and filled with love for Michael and his silly sense of humor.
Michael hung up with Alessia and stared thoughtfully out the long window of his corner office. “If we make my grandfather a great grandfather, maybe, just maybe, he’ll finally be proud of me.” Grandpa would often ask why they’d never had kids. “After all, I’m not getting any younger at eighty,” he’d admonish them. Michael and Alessia ignored his comments, always changing the subject. “Who am I kidding, if we had a baby, Grandpa would ask why it wasn’t two babies? Pffft, one baby, come now, Michael, there’s more, reach for the stars, two, I say, two babies is what you should go for,” Michael grinned, shaking his head. Nothing was ever good enough, Grandpa always wanted more.
He remembered telling his grandfather about his promotion. “I was given the corner office, Grandpa, on the 101st floor!” Grandpa scoffed, “The view would be even better from the 105th floor.” Michael sighed, bowing his head. He worked hard at Cantor Fitzgerald, a well-respected financial firm headquartered on the 101st to 105th floors of The World Trade Center, the heart of the financial district in New York City, and yet, it wasn’t good enough. One hundred one wasn’t high enough for Grandpa, hell no, there was always more, always better. “One hundred five and twins,” that will finally make him happy, Michael decided, with a smirk, opening his first folder of the day. He shrugged, “well, at least he’s warmed up to Alessia, he secretly likes her, though he won’t admit it, I can see it.”
Michael was on his second folder at 8:46 a.m. that gorgeous morning, September 11, 2001, when what felt like a powerful earthquake erupted below him. No one will ever know if Michael survived the initial hit of the commercial airliner flown by terrorists into the 93rd to 99th floors of the North Tower that morning. They do know he died, along with 657 other Cantor Fitzgerald employees that day, part of the 2,996 total deaths. Michael was thirty-seven years old.
Feeling renewed after enjoying some beach solitude and optimistic hearing Michael’s surrogate comment, Alessia strolled along the narrow path towards their house. “Alessia, Alessia, come here, hurry, now,” her neighbor, Sarah, beckoned, her voice distressed and panicked, as Alessia stopped to collect the mail. “What, what’s wrong, are you ok, are the kids ok?” Alessia hollered, running towards her neighbor’s house.
Alessia sat silent, transfixed on Sarah’s television set. “I’m seeing this, I’m hearing this, I just can’t believe this, my God, do you think they will get them out? Please, please tell me they will get them out Maybe from the roof?” she sobbed. Sarah sat, her face wet with tears, entranced. “I don’t know, let’s pray,” she responded. Hand’s clasped, they prayed, together, Sarah leading the way, “Our Father, Who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name…”
“No answer, Alessia said to Sarah, tightly gripping her cell phone.” Tears still streaming down her face, Sarah responded, “the news is saying it’s difficult to get through, don’t worry, he’ll call when he can.”
The call never came. Alessia lay curled on Sarah’s arm chair, sobbing, deep, heaving sobs. They’d watched it all; the second plane hit, the collapse of the South tower, then the collapse of the North tower; by 10:30 a.m. both towers had crumbled to the ground. “There’s no hope, Alessia,” gasped. “He’s gone, it’s done, it’s over, I’ll never see my Michael again,” she wailed as Sarah held her, slowly rocking their bodies in unison. “It’s ok, it’ll be ok,” Sarah soothed her, gently stroking her hair.
Alessia stood in her kitchen doorway facing Michael’s relatives crowded around the living room. “I have nothing, no face to see and caress one last time, no lips to give a final kiss, not a body to bury, nothing,” Alessia yelled at Michael’s grandfather, who had come with his family two weeks after the attacks. She felt terrible yelling at an old man, but she knew even in death, Michael probably didn’t please him. He didn’t know how to die in a terrorist attack the proper way, good enough to make his grandfather happy! “I can’t hold a funeral,” she argued. “Stop telling me to give him a funeral,” she said firmly through her tears, eyeing Grandpa, waiting for a retort. None came, to her relief. “I’m alone now,” Alessia whispered, mourning both Michael and any hope of future children.
She was relieved when they finally said their goodbyes and she was again alone; sitting in Michael’s leather chair, inhaling his cologne, remembering their last night together when he held her close and told her he loved her and she was his best girl. Michael was always filled with such tenderness; she’d never know that again, her life was turmoil now.
Alessia placed the star atop the five foot, fresh, Douglas Fir Christmas tree, its soft, flat needles brushing against the back of her hand and cheek. Stepping back, she admired the twinkling lights, red and green bows and shiny blue, green and soft yellow Christmas balls she’d strategically placed on various branches. The white ornament, decorated to look like falling snow, sported a picture of her and Michael smiling, dressed in red and white sweaters. Alessia gently placed it up front, on a large branch. “Michael would love this tree,” she sniffled, wiping her red eyes with the sleeve of her sweater. Each year, after placing the star on top of the tree, Michael would sit in his leather chair, admiring his work. “It’s beautiful, and this house smells like we’ve died and gone to Christmas heaven!” he’d say as he sipped a hot cup of mocha coffee in front of the picture window.
Putting up the tree was essential to Alessia; it made her feel as if Michael were close. She had placed the star perfectly, just like he would, in his memory and for his family.
Steam slapped Alessia’s face as she basted the roast, the comforting scent of beef, potatoes and onions swirling around her. White Christmas played lowly in the background; Michael’s favorite song. Alessia fantasized about Michael sitting in his leather chair, their young son in his lap, a puppy at his feet.
The clang of the heavy door knocker startled her back to reality. Michael’s family had arrived. “I’ll get through this, I must,” she tried to convince herself. “This is Michael’s memorial, the way I want it, quiet, just the immediate family, on his favorite night of the year, Christmas Eve.” She opened the heavy cherry wood door. Cherry wood was Michael’s favorite and she found herself polishing the door three times a week lately, keeping it shiny and free from scratches.
The group toasted Michael before dinner, taking turns honoring him. Grandpa spoke last. He stood, proud, strong, glass in hand. “My grandson, Michael, was such an intelligent, ambitious young man with a kind heart and a deep devotion to his family. In his short life, he accomplished much and was well on his way to conquering the world. Like his parents, siblings and all his family, I was very proud of him,” Grandpa stated in a crackling old-man’s voice, eyes bold and strong, shoulders back, staunch and rigid. Alessia sipped her wine, stunned, by both the recent events and Grandpa’s speech.
A light knock on her bedroom door startled Alessia. “Come in.” The door slowly creaked open. “Excuse me, dear, I just wanted to check on you, how are you?” Grandpa asked. “Um, I’m ok, I think,” Alessia responded, astounded. “I just needed a little break, I snuck in here for some quiet, I hope no one minds.” Grandpa sat on the edge of the bed. “That’s understandable, dear. You know, there are no guarantees in life, sometimes we need to be strong when we don’t believe we can go on one more day. I know how you feel,” Grandpa told her. Alessia stared at him. “Why didn’t you ever tell Michael you were proud of him?” she demanded. “I didn’t want him to be weak, to give up, to not succeed, to not want more. I knew he could do it,” he said solemnly. “I wanted him to be able to reach his full potential, make the right choices, never have regrets.”
Grandpa grasped Alessia’s hand. “Dear, I’m going to confide in you something I’ve never confided in anyone.” Alessia stared intently into his deep brown eyes, weathered yet still bright, though they had a certain sadness tonight. She searched his wrinkled face. He had strong features, high cheekbones, square jawline and full lips, similar to Michael’s. She’d never noticed that before. She nodded for him to go on.
Grandpa continued, “I was a young man in Italy, a long time ago. I was married, to a lovely young lady, Angela, and I had a son, Nazario. He was the light of my life, for the two short years he lived.” Alessia sat astonished, listening intently. “Angela and Nazario went to the market. As they walked home, they were killed instantly.” Alessia whispered, “How?” Grandpa wiped the tears from his eyes with the back of one hand, “War atrocities during the Invasion of Italy, World War II, my dear, a horrible time in history. Many civilians lost their lives, not purposely, a casualty of war.”
“I didn’t want to live,” Grandpa wept. “I had no reason to go on. My Grandfather, bless his soul, got me on my feet. He sent me here, to America, with instructions to start over and make a new life for myself. He told me to never look back, go for gold, settle for nothing less. He warned me it wouldn’t be easy, being an immigrant in a new land, but I should stand proud, never forget who I was. I would face difficult battles; language barriers, discrimination, hate, ridicule, but none of it would be as bad as war on my own soil, as losing my wife and child.”
Sitting up straighter, shoulders squared, Grandpa confided, “Most importantly, I should always be sure to honor the family name, stand proud of who I am and what I can be. My grandfather told me never to faulter, not to get in with the wrong crowd, never to go for the quick buck, to stay honest and honorable and to be a good representative of the family. He said I should carry on the name in the new land, and our traditions and that I should always remember how precious family is.”
“I never mentioned any of this until today, only to you, my dear, I trust you to keep this between us.” He forged on, “I thought if I survived the crossing to America, I’d be safe, if I had a family, they’d be safe, no one lost family to atrocities, not in America, not in the land of the free and the home of the brave. My Grandfather and I were wrong, very wrong,” he hung his head.
Grandpa collapsed into Alessia’s arms. Tears fell from their eyes as they held each other tightly. “I’m sorry,” they both said. Grandpa continued, “You can do this, dear, you can be strong. You can still have part of Michael. I know about the frozen sperm, I have my ways. Use it, dear, trust me, you won’t regret it. Michael would want you to continue on your quest, he’d want you to be happy.” Alessia didn’t attempt to ask how Grandpa knew the things he knew; Michael hadn’t told him, they hadn’t told anyone, yet Grandpa knew, he always knew.
As Alessia read Michael’s name at the one year anniversary ceremony of the terror attacks in lower Manhattan, she trembled behind the podium. She glanced at Michael’s family, saddened by their agonizing whimpers and the muffled cries from the crowd. She fixed her eyes on Grandpa, he looked old, he’d never looked that old before. “I wonder if he knows,” she pondered, “he seems to just know.”
Alessia’s mood was somber yet enthusiastic as she made her way to the designated restaurant that afternoon, walking briskly through the lunch hour crowds on Fifth Avenue. The family was seated when she arrived; she’d told them she had to stop on a quick errand. Grandpa watched as she held the door for a young woman, his eyes squinted, a small smile forming on his lips, those sweet lips that reminded her so much of Michael. “He knows,” she was sure of it as she approached the table, greeting everyone and thanking them for attending. “Everyone, I’d like you to meet Mandy.” They all nodded at the two women in succession. “Hello!” Mandy was upbeat and friendly. “Mandy is going to join us for lunch,” Alessia announced pulling out a brown wooden chair and gesturing for Mandy to have a seat. The slight scent of salmon crossed her nostrils, Michael’s favorite. She’d order it for herself, in his memory she decided.
Ignoring the question on each of their faces, she pulled out her own chair, making herself comfortable between Mandy and Grandpa. Taking a long, deep breath, Alessia said, “I want you all to know that Mandy is four months pregnant.” The silence was almost too much to bear. Mandy smiled brightly, looking around at their confused, stone faces. Alessia continued, “She’s pregnant by Michael, well, with, our, well, it’s…. Mandy is our surrogate.” Mandy took Alessia’s hand. Patting it gently she said, “What Alessia is trying to say is we used Michael’s sperm and we retrieved Alessia’s eggs. I’m due February 22nd. We thought today would be a good day to make the announcement, it might take a bit of the edge off, maybe give you all something to look forward to.”
“Hurrah,” Grandpa cheered, breaking the silence, reaching for Alessia, pulling her close for a huge bear hug. Slowly, everyone else congratulated her and Mandy. “Let me tell you all a bit about myself,” Mandy offered, “I’m the mother of four, the wife of a New York City Fireman who was lucky enough to have her husband survive that awful day.” All eyes were fixated on her.
“My sister suffered with infertility. I was going to be a surrogate for her but just as we got started, she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, you know, like Michael J. Fox?” They nodded in recognition. Mandy continued, “She chose not to have children after her diagnosis.”
“Thank you, thank you so much for helping our dear, Alessia,” Grandpa chimed in. “You are very welcome; it’s the least I can do. If I couldn’t help my sister, I wanted to help another woman. When I heard Alessia’s story through the agency, I knew she was the one.”
Alessia and Mandy smiled discretely at one another, convinced they had picked the right time for their announcement, as they listened to the lively conversation around the table. “Do you know what you are having yet?” Grandpa inquired. They glanced at one another. “It’s a surprise,” Alessia said. “You dirty dog,” Grandpa chuckled as the rest of the table moaned and sighed.
Light flurries fell early morning of January 30, 2003. After the clamor of the delivery and assembly of the cherry wood crib she’d carefully chosen, Alessia sat in Michael’s large leather chair near the picture window, petting Randy, her three-month-old mixed Lab puppy curled in her lap. The lady in front of the supermarket had assured her that Labs were great with kids when Alessia stopped to look at the puppies scrambling around the small box. “They are free,” the woman added, handing her a fluffy yellow male who had squirmed to the front of the box. The chubby puppy licked Alessia’s nose. “Nothing is more precious than puppy breath.” Alessia was in love. Kissing one of the puppy’s floppy ears, she agreed to keep him. “You are a randy little thing, aren’t you, pushing your way up front to make yourself known,” Alessia quipped clutching the puppy close, rocking him slightly. “It’s ok, I love a man who takes charge,” she winked at the woman.
Randy and Alessia loved to cuddle together on cold, snowy days. They were practically entwined; Randy breathing steadily as Alessia gently stroked his belly. He also loved to sleep by her side as she worked at her new cherry wood desk daily. “So many things have changed, I have a surrogate due any day, a puppy I adore and my boss agreed to let me work from home full time. Michael wouldn’t recognize me!” Her thoughts were interrupted by the chirp of her cell phone.
“It’s time,” Mandy shrieked into the phone. “I’ve been laboring several hours, the contractions are getting closer.” Alessia jumped to her feet. Randy leapt down onto the hardwood floor, spinning circles. “I’ll meet you at the hospital.” She kissed Randy goodbye, securing his kennel tightly and rushed out the door.
“Push, just one more, push, come on Mandy, one more push, you can do it,” Alessia persuaded. Filling her lungs to capacity, Mandy gripped the sides of her hospital bed, bore down and screamed letting out a stream of air. With a crimson face, she gasped for another breath and gave one more hard push.
The loud wail echoed off the metal apparatus in the delivery room as Alessia peeked down from Mandy’s head. “It’s a girl, a girl, Mandy, she’s all pink and beautiful, thank you, oh My God, she’s gorgeous, look, look at her Mandy, look!”
Mandy peeked down at the beautiful newborn. “Oh Dear Lord,” she screeched tensing her back and arms. Alessia clasped Mandy’s forearm, holding her tight. “Come on, you can do it,” she prodded. “What are they doing to me?” Mandy cried. Alessia, calmed her, “They are just helping you along, come on, look at me, look at me Mandy, you can do this, just a little bit more.”
Loud newborn cries overlapped, echoing throughout the room. Alessia kissed Mandy’s forehead and looked over at the basinet where her two beautiful babies lay side by side. “Look how perfect they are, Mandy,” Exhausted, Mandy collapsed backward onto the delivery table, soaked with sweat, her legs shaking uncontrollably, unable to admire anything at that moment.
Alessia looked down ecstatically at the two squirming babies, now silent, their eyes shut tightly. They each had one hand in a fist, the other stretched above their head. She never felt such love, yet such sadness; Michael should be here, seeing this miracle. “Can I hold them?” she asked the nurses, her eyes filled with tears. “Soon,” a smiling nurse replied.
“Have you finally settled on names,” Mandy inquired weakly. “Yes, Michelle and Michael.” Alessia responded, her heart heavy with so much love and sorrow at once. Gleaming down at her perfect babies, Alessia breathed in their sweet scent, cherishing every coo and cry. She gently touched Michael’s soft, plump leg. Excitement and joy overcame her.
“I’m going to make a call while they are cleaning them up. I’ll be back soon; I will see you in recovery, I love you, Mandy. Thank you, thank you a million times over.” Alessia had decided that Mandy and her family should always be in the babies’ lives. “We have a lifetime to share these beautiful babies,” she kissed Mandy again on the forehead. Alessia scurried out to the waiting room, eager to share her news!
Grandpa answered the wall phone on the second ring, everyone else ignored it. If the call didn’t come on their cell, it wasn’t for them, so why bother. Alessia dialed the house phone purposely. “Grandpa!” her tone excited, “It’s Alessia, Happy Birthday!” Grandpa smiled, happy she remembered. “I have an 82nd birthday surprise for you!” Grandpa listened excitedly. “You have a great grandchild, five pounds, seven ounces, nineteen inches long, a pretty little lady. Her name is Michelle. Michelle Bozena Abatantuono. Bozena after my mom! It means divine gift! ” Grandpa gasped, overjoyed. “Congratulations, dear, I’m so happy, that’s the best birthday present I’ve ever received. Oh, Michael would have been so happy.” he lamented.
“I have one more present, Grandpa,” Alessia told him. “Oh, that was enough, trust me, dear. I’m thrilled. I can’t wait to see her. I will tell everyone here for you,” he offered. “Oh, Grandpa, trust me, you will like your second present just as much.” Grandpa said, “Yes?” slowly and curiously. “Well, Grandpa, you also have a great grandson, six pounds, three ounces, twenty inches long! His name is Michael Nazario Abatantuono.” Grandpa shrieked, “I knew it, I knew it was twins, no one believed me, they said you would have told us.” Alessia beamed, “Grandpa, you were right, you knew. Happy 82nd birthday! You became a great-grandpa at 1:05 p.m. today! To the most precious angels I’ve ever seen.”
Grandpa wept into the receiver, “thank you, thank you dear, for carrying on the family name and for honoring my Nazario, our own private tribute.” Alessia bawled, “You are welcome, yes, our private tribute. You are all the only family I have, you are my children’s family, I want them to know you all and for all of us to always be close. A wise-old man once said, ‘you stay with family’ and I always will.”
Walking down the hallway towards the nursery, Alessia saw signs for the Chapel. She followed them slowly. “Thank you, Jesus,” she said crossing herself as she entered. “Michael,” she whispered, kneeling at the altar, “we did it, together, we did it, I knew we could. Michael today is a good day, babe, we had twins, twins at 1:05! Grandpa is so happy! Oh, Michael, today has brought us all from turmoil to tenderness.”
Disclaimer: Turmoil To Tenderness is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and the Invasion of Italy during World War II, however, were very real. For the purposes of this story, I condensed some of the historical events and took creative liberty.
Dedicated to all the lives affected by the terrible tragedy that took place on September 11, 2001. We will never forget.
By Doreen Campisi