The Embarrassment

It’s already generally embarrassing to bring a new beau home. Something in it that forces your parents to unwillingly acknowledge that you’re a “sexual being.” Which, though they don’t you want to end up a spinster/black widow, is also the last thing they want to face. Something taboo about the thought of picturing the little girl you raised and once knew as an asexual entity being just one of life’s many strange heartbreaks. Of which there are countless ones, but, for a parent, this might rank among the top. Along with realizing you’ve raised a lazy piece of shit that’s never going to get a real job–realness entailing that it compensates well enough to warrant the surrender of one’s time and dreams.

In any case, Chiara, an Italian-born 28-year-old who was damned to the consequences of being returned to the United States at the age of two, before she could have any concept of what was being ripped away from her, had a number of misgivings about bringing her overly American boyfriend, Paul, a 30-year-old cartoonist, to meet them over Christmas after a year and a half of being together. Those misgivings amplified tenfold when taking into account that she would be introducing him to her entire extended family on an abroad trip to the hub of all things family-oriented, Napoli. A place isolated in theory but where it was impossible to be isolated, so many relatives peering into Chiara’s business all the time–the subject most interesting to them on this trip being, of course, Paul. Lumberjack Paul, as they called him behind his back, for there was still no translation of the word hipster in Italian. And it is one’s hope that there never will be, for that would mean the infiltration of the country by those who don’t truly understand it. Like Paul (as Chiara would come to learn over the course of sharing her close quarters with him, her parents and her sister), who didn’t seem to comprehend that to leave skid mark traces in the toilet is considered gauche in any country.

Upon noticing it the first time, Chiara wanted to give Paul the benefit of the doubt, not immediately assume it was him. Maybe it was Caterina, her elder and therefore more entitled sister. Not wanting to address the culprit too intensively in her mind, she simply cleaned it and put it out of her thoughts until two days later, when her already obsessive-compulsive mother pulled her aside to “discuss something” with her–that something being the not so mysterious culprit responsible for the fresh daily streaks left behind in the toilette.

“You’re gonna have to talk to Paul. I don’t want to see any skids in there again,” Maria concluded with staunch seriousness, looking as though she might retch at the mere suggestion of the image conjured. And, indeed, she did begin to hack slightly as she finished her sentence, taking out her hand sanitizer reflexively to rub on her palms. Chiara felt the sense of shame that Paul ought to have, as though it was somehow her fault for settling for someone with such a lack of decorum and hygiene. Was it merely the curse of falling prey to the white male and his sense of always having someone take care of or pick up after him? Or was Paul just simply doomed to be disgusting as a result of being a cartoonist? Toady and hairy to a tee of the stereotype. Chiara now had to go about the humiliating task of essentially informing Paul that her mother thought he was repulsive. To her surprise, however, Paul was almost shockingly nonplussed at being told he was caught–or rather, his bowel movements were. After so much hemming and hawing, trying to phrase what she needed to say in the exact right and most polite way, all Paul could say was, “Well, what do you want me to do about it?”

Chiara was stunned, preventing herself from snapping, “How ’bout fucking cleaning your own shit resin when you turn around, see it and choose to ignore it as you flush the toilet?” Instead, she took a breath and said in that sweet, sugary voice she had grown accustomed to speaking in when trying to make Paul see the light about something, “Could you maybe…clean it? You know, when you’ve…finished.”

Paul nodded slowly. “Sure…” he offered in a manner not at all convincing or assuring that he would amend his flagrantly inconsiderate behavior. By now, of course, news of Paul’s bowl treatment had spread throughout the entire House of Ferrara, where jokes were being made to Chiara almost every second when Paul wasn’t around to pick up on it. Not that he probably would have, now that Chiara thought about it. He was rather oblivious, constantly staring at a blank page and waiting for something to come. Something that would make other people laugh. It was ironic considering how he was doing just that without trying at all at his job.

Things came to a head regarding Paul’s toilet trashing at dinner one evening, about a week and a half into the trip, Christmas Eve still not even upon them. Paul’s behavior had altered slightly in that, instead of caked on shit, one could instead see smears–the attempts at which he had made to scrub away after employing use of the bagno. Chiara had a 34-year-old cousin–one of many–named Roberto, who frequently went on tangents about his own domestic partner, if she ever so happened to leave so much as even a trace of her “humanity” in the toilet bowl, practically screaming, “People who leave streaks in the toilet should be jailed or shot.”

Paul, listening to the diatribe with a smile–a shit-eating grin, if you will–glanced over at Chiara and then to her mother, sister and father–all glaring at him with the fiery stare that only Italians can produce.

In the cold night, after dinner had been consumed and the toilets throughout the house might soon fall victim to the after effects of eating, Roberto invited Paul out to smoke a cigarette. People still do that in Italy.

Washing the dishes inside with Caterina, Chiara heard the sound of a gunshot that jolted her to her very core, prompting her to drop the plate she had just dried.

Caterina, clued in already on what was going to happen, consoled Chiara, “He’s a streaker. Is that the kind of person you want to be with? The kind of company you want to keep?” Caterina demanded with true and vitriolic sincerity.

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