Losing him wasn’t a feeling or a fear.
It was something else: a razor edge I walked on, a tightrope stretched over a chasm, like a bridge oscillating in the wind.
More vertigo than panic, a wound pouring dark blood into my throat and lungs. Invisible.
Without smothering me, though. Without being alien. No. That sentiment came along as a fact of nature. A fact of history.
And it was. I remembered, when my son turned eighteen.
I remembered. It was 1926, she was twenty-four, she bore my name and last name. Or the other way around, if you like.
And the baby, one month old, bore my baby’s name.
No, don’t ask me who came first.
They were on the boat, the boat on the ocean. Can you be any more lonely? More stranded?
The two of them. She was twenty-four, she wore a black skirt, ankle length, a black blouse and a shawl. A scarf on her head, her hair braided. She had never left her small village, she didn’t read or write.
No, the husband had not seen the baby yet, the husband was in America. They were going, now. Don’t ask her how long it takes. She doesn’t know, she can’t count, can’t imagine.
She’s afraid, but it doesn’t truly register like fear. It’s not a feeling, an emotion: it’s a rope bridge swinging right and left in the wind, it’s nausea of the heart and soul, not only of the guts.
Then the baby gets pale, pale and sick. Then the baby stops moving, he makes no more sound. The poor thing: one month old.
There’s a doctor aboard. There must be.
Someone’s taking the baby from her arms. She’s now twisting her hands, clenching her teeth. She can’t utter a word, something’s tightening up in her throat. The blueness is blinding.
Maybe a minute has passed: they’ve put the baby in a whitish little bag. Made of cloth, like a miniature shroud.
The baby is dead.
They are going to throw him overboard, as it is customary. They are not going to keep a corpse for a month. There are no fridges on immigrant ships. Not in the nineteen twenties. Not on those ships.
They are throwing Francesco, my father, one month old, overboard on his way to America.
Finally something breaks the dams in grandmother’s throat.
Grandma who bears my name, now, in 1926, screams like a slaughtered pig, like a fury. She vomits her lungs on that burned out, sunny deck in the middle of ocean nowhere.
She runs forwards, she snatches the white bag from the arms of whoever officer’s about to perform the rite. No, the funeral is not going to be.
“If you throw him I’ll throw myself, if you throw him I’ll jump”, she screams. She holds the bundle against her breast like a roman wolverine with her Romolo.
And the baby, slowly, revives. Miracle. Mistake? Miracle.
She will hang a S. Antony medal around his neck. He will never take it off.
She could not lose him, no. She could not lose my father, dad, her son who bears my son’s name.
She could not.
Don’t ask me who came first.