I am dead. I must admit, being dead allows a unique insight with regard to one’s life experiences. For this reason I’m able to relate those events with more veracity than someone still living, telling the same tale. With that said, it’s my wish that you receive this story with a minimum of my editorializing.
My name was Tino Consueño. I was killed as the result of a request made by Alicia Benedetti’s father, Nicolo, when he found out I was spending time with his daughter at school.
His request was made to his union steward Benny Mugnani. Benny did favors for the people he represented and that indebted them to him.
It was Benny who called my mother to tell her he had a job for me, working as a shipping driver’s helper. My family is Puerto Rican so I should have known better, nobody does favors for PR’s, but I was eager to get a job to help my mother raise my two sisters and my little brother. My father wasn’t around. As usual he was in the county lockup where he often spent time; he was a loser even as a petty gangster and thief.
The third day I went to work, when I was told to unlock the back of the truck and raise the truck door, I did it with no concern, feeling my worries were groundless. The driver had parked on a slanted unloading ramp so, when the door raised, a pallet of heavy crates, which was coincidentally, already on the platform dolly, rolled unabated out of the truck and crushed me to death. They said it was an accident.
What they meant was, I wasn’t supposed to get killed, just injured enough to get the message to stay away from Alicia.
Nicolo’s story supports that view, certainly. I know what he claims, even in the drunken state for which he is most widely known these days.
You can watch him now, while I explain.
Today, disregarding the fact he’s only been out of New York’s Little Italy maybe two or three times in his entire life, Nicolo Benedetti no longer sees the shops or the traffic of the neighborhood as he used to.
There was a time when he was younger, the spring rains would come and wash the streets clean, the delivery trucks splashing the water up and outward as they sped down the narrow alleyways after dropping their cargo in the morning, created the nostalgic essence to which Nicolo is now blind.
The produce man who used to throw him a fresh apple from his well stocked fruit and vegetable stand, outside now to give more room for the customers inside, is still there. Yet, Nicolo only slouches by, bent from his work as a loader and the drink which now controls him. The scent of fresh oregano, garlic, and Parmesan from the many ‘ristorantes’ even escapes his attention.
He sees only far enough ahead to recognize the wrought iron encased door with the mottled yellow glass window, beyond which is his world... and his prison.
Come, we’ll go in with him.
It’s a seedy bar with cracked, Naugahyde-covered stools and the dank smell of tobacco burned almost constantly; it’s the ambiance Nicolo currently favors for his confessional as well as his cathedral, the Catholic church being avoided deliberately these days.
A young man drinking a beer is the only other patron in the bar. He’s not ravaged by the drink and despondency dominating Nicolo as he drinks alone.
The young guy looks up hearing the old man mumble something to himself, there you see? "Aren’t you Alicia Benedetti’s dad?"
The old man lifts his head from his drink, barely able to see his inquisitor, he asks, "What damn business is it of yours?"
The younger man, who wants only to make small talk, probably because the day outside is one of those sullen overcast days that often come between winter and spring, answers, "No reason old man. I was just wondering what happened to her. I heard she’d ran away from home. That true ?"
Nicolo, taking a sip of his cheap bourbon, half-focuses on the young questioner. "Fuck your questions and you too!"
He’s buried his story deeply for what seems, to him at least, several years, but is really only two. No punk is going to pry it out of him. Especially some little shit who’s not that far away from his mother’s tit. How could he ever know how a man has to do things?
The beer drinker stares at him for a second and then gives Nicolo a smirk he can’t see and flips him off. "Up your’s old man. I don’t need your load of crap anyway."
Look, the kid slaps a couple of bucks on the bar and leaves.
The bartender knows the old guy will drop most of his paycheck right here so he doesn’t sweat the loss of the younger patron. He lets Nicolo drink in his self-imposed solitary torment.
It’s not always audible, because he nods off from the booze and has a tendency to slur his heavily accented Italian- English, but listen close. Nicolo is simultaneously confessing and dreaming his version of this tale yet again.
Oh yeah, it’s his view of what happened to Alicia and me. But just keep looking and listening.
"For me, Nicolo Benedetti," he’s mumbling, "my daughter, Alicia... she died the day she left my home, years ago." He draws a deep breath and his jaw drops a bit as he exhales. "It could be no other way. It was her sixteenth birthday and she left, gone, just like that." The old man wipes his mouth on his tattered, fading, Pendleton work shirt, the sleeves rolled partially up to expose the long-sleeved underwear top beneath. His eyes are blurry. From the drink? ... maybe.
Look, he starts again.
"Her mother, my Anna, says she was just a baby. Yeah, sure." Nicolo looks for a second as though he might want to add something to the last, but only nods and seems to drift off. Now, barely audible he says, "She left us because her Mama could not stop her... or, maybe my Anna did not want to.
"If I was home that day she would not have left, I would make sure of that, she would have stayed with us, I would have made her stay, here, at home." He is waving his hand around as if he is showing us his upstairs flat, not the squalid bar which is what we are seeing.
"I live here with her mama, my Anna, a good Catholic woman who knows what her marriage vows mean. We are part of the parish, right here. You understand?" He’s blubbering badly, see, half crying. "We are good Catholics. Good I tell you."
He’s clearing his throat and trying to remember his point.
"Yeah, Nicolo knows... I know...this is Little Italy, not Italy. There the Puerto Rican could not get away with what he tried to do with Alicia. There are no PR’s for her to run to there. That boy Tino who caused all of the trouble would not turn her against us." His eyes are glistening now and he is recalling a flood of things he normally tries not to think about. You might guess he senses us and is trying to make sure we know his truth.
"As God is my witness," he is thinking out loud, "that Consueño punk was given a job to keep him away from my daughter, that is all I know. Benny Mugnani knows, he will tell you, he will.
"When the boy opened the door of the truck, the pallet would only knock him down and Benny’s friends would tell him, ‘you are lucky, PR trash boy, we could have killed you. Stay away from Nicolo’s daughter. She is not for you.’"
See, Nicolo is running his left hand through his uncombed gray hair, he isn’t certain, in his present stupor, if I know it was a planned accident.
Yeah, I do know, a planned accident... pardon me if I’m not too sympathetic.
Nicolo must now somehow justify his story so he shrugs and tries to straighten-up, but he only leans in a different direction. "I guess it was too late for Alicia, the PR boy had done his dirty work.
"I hit her, hard, because she blamed me for killing that punk... she tried to make it sound like I was a bad father, even a murderer. That is why she left. How could she do this? No! She is not my daughter.
So that, first hand, is Nicolo’s misery and his responsibility. I cannot make further comment without damaging my soul with earthly anger and pity for the person I was.
Next is the complete story, I will narrate for those who lived it, without the awkwardness of my comments. You can judge for yourself what lead to this tragedy.
When Alicia Benedetti was fifteen years old she lived in an area of New York City known as Little Italy. She was pretty and very Catholic.
She attended St. Bonaventure High School and was a reasonably normal teen, susceptible to anyone giving her a lot of attention because her Mama and Papa were so strict with her. This too was normal for many young girls with the same kind of Italian- Catholic heritage.
What happened between Alicia and Tino Consueño was not all that extraordinary. At least, not in the beginning.
Tino was almost eighteen and waiting for his junior year to end. His plan, he’d told Alicia, was to go to work in the fall. He didn’t need any more schooling.
He’d already established himself as a Beano, he said, and this upset Alicia. The Beanos were from around the south end of the St. Bonaventure parish. They were mostly Puerto Rican, and considered to be macho-tough guys. Like any gang with the reputation of tough-guys, some counted on the association with their gang brothers for their toughness.
Not so with Tino, he was rough and bull-headed with or without his gang-members.
In spite of this, he wasn’t so frightening at all when it came to Alicia. He suffered from a highly visible case of unrequited love.
She was, to Tino, the most beautiful girl he’d ever seen. She knew, even before they met, he went out of his way just to stare at her walking between classes. He’d even walked into doors opening as he trailed behind her in the hallways.
Once, and this embarrassed Alicia, he’d been in such a trance he actually walked into the girls bathroom behind her. When he heard the screams and realized where he was, he tried to reverse back through the door without opening it, nearly breaking his nose. His affliction was total.
Sure, Alicia was aware of him and thought he was kind of cute, but a little strange. She knew, of course, her parents would forbid her even to talk with him, they would say, "He is Puerto Rican and the PRs are low lives not to be trusted. The Catholic Church was wrong to have taken these animals into the fold. God could not possibly love them."
With that being said, neither strict Italian parents, nor the Catholic Church, possibly not even God, could correctly estimate the attraction for the pretty little Italian girl of this one particular Puerto Rican boy.
He was relentless. It seemed to Alicia that she was never out of his sight, especially after the bathroom incident. After many weeks, the constant vision of this guy stumbling over himself, and everyone else, just to be close to her, was more than she could bear. She decided to see if he could talk.
She turned to him one morning and asked, "Why are you following me?"
His face flushed and he looked to the left and then to the right; there was no one else within earshot, so, she must have been talking to him.
He sucked in some air and answered as intelligently as he could, "Well, I uh, ahh, I umm, you knowww, I... hooeeeh, it sure is hot today, no?"
Her hands were clasped in front of her, and she looked up at him and shook her head slowly, she was embarrassed for him. She said quietly, "Why don't you walk with me? Maybe this way you won’t keep walking into people and things."
"Okay." It was a complete sentence, of sorts.
From that day forward they were inseparable at school. Tino, although older, was her captive. There was nothing he would not do for her. But she asked for nothing. They walked together and they talked together.
She found out, within a reasonable length of time, that Tino really could form complete sentences.
"Tino," she’d once asked, "tell me why it is that you are not going to finish school."
"You ask this of someone like me, a PR who is not much above an animal in the minds of people like your parents, a man who’s family will need him to work for a living long before he could finish high school, let alone some kind of college?"
Ironically, there was a certain toughness in Tino that Alicia could relate to her father. What the two men sensed in Little Italy, with its streets emitting the smells of the old-country Italian cooking, the markets where the vendors with their dirty aprons only smiled once you’d paid for your linguini, the rickety bland rental flats above the stores and the noise of the streets, wasn’t a place for a scholar to flourish. It was tough on these streets. Alicia knew that, but still she persisted.
"Father Tomassina says God wants all his children to learn everything they can."
She didn’t say this to refute Tino’s need to be a man. She knew, somehow, if he could build on his inner-strength, not like her father, who always struck out at what he couldn’t understand, Tino would see he needed as much schooling as he could get.
"Alicia," he told her, "you are as pretty on the inside as you are on the outside, but, Father Tomassina says those words for your family to hear, not for mine. He knows Puerto Ricans are not likely to go beyond where they live. We make only pennies for the lousy jobs the rest of Little Italy won’t even do. We have no time for dreams." Finally, he said, without looking up, "And besides, the Beanos are like a family, we help each other."
He knew she wouldn’t like this because she refused, most of the time to discuss the gang with him.
Tino had known he loved Alicia from the beginning, the first moment he’d laid eyes on her. She knew this because he told her, practically every day. She resisted anything more and treated him as a friend.
Inevitably, the constant contact with him, his attention, his funny stories, his serious side, all the things a girl notices about a boy that tell her of his honesty as a person, made her begin to feel love for him. But still, they saw each other only in the antiseptic, scrubbed halls of their Catholic High School.
Her parents would not let her date anyone, let alone a Puerto Rican. Even so, it wasn’t long from the first time they began walking together in the halls when some bigoted, resentful classmates told their parents that Alicia Benedetti was going with a PR.
Word got to Nicolo, Alicia’s Papa. He waited, his anger building, until his daughter got home from school that day.
"You will never see this scum of a PR again, you hear?"
He was shouting in her face, holding her arms so tightly she couldn’t move. His words spattered her and she flinched and shut her eyes.
"He is just a boy. He is a friend?" It wasn’t a lie, but neither was it the whole truth. It scared her that her father might see inside her and know her real feelings.
Her mother came into the room and pleaded with her, "You can not see him again, Alicia, please." She tried to separate her husband’s iron grip from Alicia’s arms; Anna, herself, had experienced those hands and the blinded red-rage-filled man to whom they belonged.
He shoved his wife aside with little effort, much less concern, and ordered, "We do not beg this tramp of a girl. She will do as I say."
For Alicia, where she lived, the small walk-up flat with its cross of Jesus on the wall over her bed and the aging print of the Last Supper, even her Rosary hanging over the edge of the small mirror in her room, was now her prison. So too, were the familiar streets of all of Little Italy. Everything she now did would be reported to her father, she would have only the life he permitted her to have.
Alicia tried to avoid Tino at school, but it wasn’t possible. She was truly afraid of what her father would do if word got to him she was still seeing the Puerto Rican.
Tino, though, was as iron willed in his love for her as was her father in his vengeance to keep them apart.
Tino’s character, when Alicia tried to dissuade him from becoming a target for her father’s wrath, deepened her love for him. Yet, it was also a warning of an impending conflict, which could have disastrous consequences.
Once, they went to the library during the lunch break to sit and talk, quiet and serious talk.
"One day," Tino said, "I will stand before your father and ask him for your hand in marriage. By then he will know that I too, can protect you from all the bad things in the world."
"I would rather run away and never return to this place. My father’s mind is like a heavy piece of lead, once he has made it up, nothing will budge it," Alicia answered. "There are people he knows that are evil and will enjoy hurting you even if I promised to marry you."
Tino straightened up in his chair as he thought, and then a look of tender strength enveloped his face. He said to Alicia, "when we are ready to become man and wife, there will be nothing that your father can think of that can keep us apart. He will understand as a father, I’m the only man you could marry."
Just before the Easter break at school, Nicolo had a private talk with his union representative Benjamin Mugnani.
"I have a favor to ask of you Benny." He didn’t get to finish his request.
"No need to ask Nico. We will find a job for the PR. He will not bother your little girl again."
A savvy union representative kept his eyes and ears open. There were many things for which he had connections. A word here and a hint there, things got done. Favors given were favors owed. Little Italy, as in the old country, had its system.
The only person that saw the accident that killed Tino was the loader who had placed the rollers under the pallet and shoved it, precisely when Tino raised the door of the truck he was told to open.
It was unfortunate he died, it was only supposed to injure him. Nicolo heard this from Benny and they both shrugged, a real shame.
For Tino’s family, both his birth family and the Beanos, there was genuine grief along with seething hatred. Alicia grieved with them.
She missed almost a month of school after the accident, and when she finally returned one of her friends told her the story of her father arranging the lesson for Tino to learn from Benny and his friends. Her grief immediately turned to hate and distrust.
When she confronted Nicolo, he beat her and said, "You have disgraced our family name with that lowly PR and he got what he deserved, even if he did die." As far as Nicolo was concerned, that was the end of it.
"You should be happy," he said. "What I have done for you is to save you from shame." He walked from the room and left to join some friends at his neighborhood bar.
From that moment, Alicia was as stubborn as her father. She silently went about finishing the school year and planning for her revenge. She refused to talk again to her Papa, enduring several beatings from him.
On her sixteenth birthday she packed a few things and left her mother’s immaculately clean flat and the imprisonment imposed on her by her father. Her mother made only a token attempt to go after her. It would have made no difference, she knew Alicia was never coming back.
The rest of her plan was simple. If her father thought her association with Tino was humiliating, she would destroy him with humiliation. She made it a point to be seen with her new family, the Beanos, the drug dealers, pimps and users of every ilk. She would tell her former friends and classmates to say ‘hello’ to her Papa and let him know how much she missed him as she laughed.
She got her revenge; in the process, she destroyed herself with drug addiction and disease from indiscriminate tricks as she prostituted herself.
Schoolmates and Nicolo’s friends recounted to Father Tomassina what had happened to her.
The brothers and sisters of her gang family, the Beanos, laid her to rest beside Tino’s own grave. It was one month beyond her seventeenth birthday, and eighteen months from Tino’s accident.
They never bothered to tell her parents of the final humiliation she dealt them.
Nicolo refused to believe it when the priest told him what had happened. He insisted, "She will have to come home and beg my forgiveness." His denial included this condition, which everyone knew could never happen.
That is the entire event as it happened in Little Italy.
A horrible, tragic story you say? Well, yes, for you who remain, as you must, inhabitants of the physical universe, you are correct. I can’t tell you I supported Alicia in her revenge, it was not something I would have wanted for her or helped her to do.
But the content of all our lives, the tragedies, the set backs, as well as the happier things we must experience with, not just our brain, but also our heart, are a vital link in a much higher realm of reality.
The human I was- Tino Consueño- exists in the context that each of his experiences survive as an integral part of the whole, and in that sense, Alicia exists here as well. For our purposes, Tino and Alicia are forever together. Nicolo and Anna’s story, though not yet finished, is here. My mother and father will finish out their story as well. Both of our families have much to give and to learn. It will be the same for you and yours.
Even with tragedy, life evolves and becomes part of an eternal love story.