In the fall of 2013 I began writing my first book as part of NaNoWriMo. Yes, I say my “first book” because I intend on writing more than one. This can be argued since I still haven’t finished said first book. In any case, it’s a WIP: Work In Progress.
This WIP (working title: Juliet’s Window) is based on a major thread in my life that spans three decades. Tommy Aquino is the WIP’s protagonist (aka: Me) and the story Pulp Fictions its way through Tommy’s life (thus far) with a significant regard towards a relationship with his first love and first best friend, Nicola Rose Martinucci (aka: A.R.M. referenced in this post from two years ago).
When I still lived in California I would visit her at the cemetery fairly regularly, but since moving to Indiana, I haven’t been able to sit and chat with her like I used to (the drive is a little far).
However, a couple weeks ago, at the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes at Notre Dame, it hit me. She was there. And so on my late night walks (because #MakingGoodChoices #BeActive) I would often stop at the Grotto to sit and chat with her like I used to.
This past Monday (Memorial Day, the 30th) marked 10 years since she passed and I stopped by to light a candle in her memory, all the way on the left, towards the fence, second row from the top (since the top row was taken).
On my way home tonight I stopped by again and replaced the empty candle holder in the top row with a new one.
Sharing something I’ve written isn’t new (#blogging) but sharing a piece of my WIP is. I’ve shared with close friends, but nothing as of yet for public consumption. Ten years is a long time, and so much has happened in that time. Among the many crazy things that I can think of and/or realize is the fact that she, alongside the Father above, knows exactly how far I’ve come in the last decade. There are stories that need to be told. What good are stories if they stay locked away? And so, I’m sharing below a (raw, unedited) section from Juliet’s Window that illustrates a bit of my perspective from the events of ten years ago.
An Excerpt from Juliet’s Window, WIP by Marlon D. Deleon.
There is a cemetery in the town Thomas Aquino was raised in. He didn’t know it at first, but in his early teens his neighbors across the street had passed and his mother insisted they visit their burial site at Holy Cross. They had been married for over fifty years, and had four children, one of which lived down the street from them. Like Johnny and June Carter Cash, they died within six months of each other. Life without the other was not a life worth living. Thomas didn’t come back to that cemetery for years, and what brought him back was one of the last things he thought would lead him there.
It was his first musical in college, and when he was cast in a Rodgers and Hammerstein revue, he envisioned classic renditions of traditional favorites. What he failed to realize is that the guest director for the show wanted to do just the opposite: the goal was to modernize every single classic American musical favorite in hopes of bridging the gap between generations.
In the very first rehearsal, director Greg Newman informed his cast that he was going to take this group of young college artists and push them in the cultivation of a musical that could never be duplicated by another cast. He was going to do that by presenting themes and motifs in the numbers that were reflective of the cast member’s lives. The songs were the only piece of the show that was written. As he got to know the cast he would decide how each individual number was going to come to life.
When Mr. Newman discovered that there was a veteran in the cast he knew exactly what to do with him. With 9/11 still fresh on every American’s mind he took Petty Officer Aquino to the edge with a scene that placed him at a cemetery, approaching the gravesite of a fellow sailor.
“Mr. Newman, with the emotional journey that you’re expecting me to take being so close to home, I’m concerned I won’t be able to perform the song.”
“And I completely agree, Tom. So that’s why Jessica will be the one singing in this scene. You’ll be the visual focus, and Jessica will be at your side telling the story of the wife who feels like her husband is still overseas even though his person has returned home. She wants to console you and be your rock, but you deny her because there is no way she could understand the loss that you feel in this place.”
“So all you want me to do is walk on stage up to an imaginary gravesite? I think I can handle that.”
“That’s the type of openness I want you to have, but if you approach it this casually it will diffuse the entire scenario. Does your uniform still fit? Because that could help you sink into it.”
“Could? Good lord. That would make it too real. I would be literally stepping into a different world when I put those on. If I can still fit into it, that is,” and he chuckled with an uneasiness that confessed he hoped he didn’t fit.
“And do you have an American flag? Because I was thinking about having a couple of guys in camouflage folding up the flag in the background to present to your wife.”
“I can bring it tomorrow, but only if I can teach them how to fold it and ensure that it never touches the ground.”
“Petty Officer Aquino, if I can call you that, you can absolutely instruct your fellow actors to take whatever means necessary to ensure the proper handling techniques and to honor the American flag. Likewise, I’ll take whatever means necessary to ensure the most brilliant performance you didn’t know you could have in this scenario. This could be the number that brings the house down.”
Through the first half of the six-week rehearsal process, the gravesite number was only tended to twice. Mr. Newman’s reasoning was that he wanted everything else to be blocked and rehearsed first, and that he didn’t want to burn Tom or Jessica out in the repetition of what was sure to be an utterly exhausting scene.
A week before dress rehearsals were set to begin and there was one scene left to finalize. The marks have been marked, the cues have been rehearsed, but something was missing. Jessica’s voice was one thing they knew they didn’t have to worry about. Tom walked on stage with a confidence and conviction that his senior chief would be proud of. What lacked was the relationship between the two. This didn’t seem like a problem to the young actors because, as they were told early on, there was supposed to be a rift between them. The rest of the cast also noticed what Mr. Newman meant, but no one could really describe it other than a lack of a connection. It was as if each of the young artists were so focused on the magnitude of their contribution that they forgot the most basic responsibility—the relationship.
Thomas knew exactly what he had to do. He had to let Jessica in, into his mind and his heart so that they could really take this journey on stage together. He assured their director that they would be performance ready during dress runs next week, but to still let them run through it a couple more times during this final week before costumes, make up, and sound came in.
That Saturday he asked Jessica to meet him on campus, because he needed to show her where he was going each time they rehearsed. What she didn’t realize is that he literally wanted to show her where he was going. The twenty-six minute drive from campus was silent except for the air that rushed in through the slightly open windows. As the gates came into view up the street, Jessica let out a gentle gasp and immediately covered her mouth as if attempting to swallow it back up and refrain from tainting the silence. When he turned into the property of Holy Cross cemetery she asked quietly, “What’s her name?”
Thomas did not respond and slowly drove past the office, turning past statues of saints and passing fountains and mausoleums. As he parked the car near some newer plots, Jessica watched patiently, ready to follow the unspoken cues of her husband on stage.
“I’ve only taken one person here, and she walked up with me the first time. But when we left she made a request to never ask her to do that again. She’s open to coming with me, but she preferred to just sit in the car and ‘let me do my thing’. If you don’t want to walk up with me, you don’t have to. I understand this is very personal place…”
She laid her hand on top of his, which still held onto the gear shifter. She then slowly unbuckled her seat belt, holding onto it to guide it towards the door instead of letting it zip back, reached over to manually unlock the door, stepped onto the sidewalk, and closed the door with a gentle thud that seemed to say, “I’m right here. You aren’t making me do anything.”
When Thomas walked around the front of the car to meet Jessica on the curb, she took his hand and as he looked down at it she assured him, “Like any good wife would do.”
With nothing but the sound of the trees brushing against themselves, the couple walked past headstones, monuments, and bouquets. Many of these memorials are for people who lived for more than eighty or ninety years. Couples buried together that lived through a depression and two world wars.
Thomas slowly lowered himself into a cross-legged, seated position on the cold ground. For a moment, Jessica stood behind him with her hands on his shoulders, but then she slowly lowered herself onto her knees, moving her arms around the front of his chest until she was holding him.
He felt her breath warm past his neck, and he closed his eyes and leaned back into her arms. It was then, when he leaned back, the Jessica saw what he was looking at. It wasn’t long before she noticed something that couldn’t go unsaid.
“She was only twenty-three years old? What happened?” The pain in Jessica’s voice leapt into the sky.
“Semi rear-ended her on the highway and she lost control.” The words were deliberate and shaky, but he continued. “The truck driver had swerved right after he made contact, and he opted towards the shoulder as to avoid oncoming traffic, but by this time she had spun off the road and the truck drove straight through her.”
She lifted a hand from his chest to catch the warm tears on his cheeks and wipe them from his face. She brought her hand back down until she found his resting on his stomach. Their interlocked fingers rose and fell with each long breath.
“They said that he was speeding up to pass her, and when he swerved he was quote, ‘in an understandable state of panic,’ but was lucky enough to not cause any additional injuries. What’s understandable about any of this? And what was lucky about ‘just one’ fatality?”
Jessica held him tighter as his voice became angrier. She didn’t want to be rude, but she wanted to learn more about this life that was ripped from Thomas’ soul. She asked, “How did you find out?”
“It was on that trip I took to New York last summer.”
“The one to Broadway with Professor Miles and all the old people?”
“That’s the one. It wasn’t all old people, though. There were six students including myself. It was only the second full day we were there, and we had the entire day open until dinner when we would all meet and get our tickets for the show that night. We walked up and down 5th Avenue, and being the only guy of the group, I tagged along to all the stores the girls wanted to go to. Eventually we came up to Rockefeller Plaza and we all decided we’d go all the way to the top. Right after we bought our tickets, my phone had rang, but since I didn’t want to hold the group up, I put it back in my pocket, figuring I’ll have time to call whomever it was back while the girls went into another huge store where they won’t buy anything.”
“Yeah, even as a girl, I don’t get that. I don’t like walking through stores when I know I can’t buy anything. Don’t get me wrong, I love jewelry and nice things, but sometimes girls just go crazy wanting to just be around them. That’s neither here nor there, so we’ll get back to our regularly scheduled program.”
“Well we went to the top, took some cool pictures, hung out for a bit, but then of course, there were a billion more stores and places they wanted to see, so we came back down. At one point we came up to this huge cathedral–”
“Saint Patrick’s. The one with the two spires and the giant doors.” The certainty with which she said this was unsettling, but only because he felt like she already knew what he was going to say.
“Yes, that one. How did you know?”
“My grandparents renewed their vows and celebrated their 25 th wedding anniversary there. It’s absolutely gorgeous inside, but of course, you already know this.”
“Well, actually, I don’t. I never went inside. The girls wanted to go in and check it out, but I was still on my ‘I don’t go church anymore’ kick and told them I’d just sit on the stairs and smoke a cigarette. After I lit up I realized I missed my friend’s phone call from right before we went up to the Top of the Rock, so I checked my voicemail.”
“Hey, Tommy, it’s Kathy. Just wanted to call and see how you were doing. Not sure if you’d heard about Nicola Rose, but I’m sure you’re having fun since you’re in New York! Give me a call back when you get a chance. Bye!”
“It had been a while since I had talked to Nicola Rose, so I was thinking maybe my friend was calling me to tell me she got engaged, or married or something. I knew she was getting ready to graduate at the end of the semester, so it would make sense for something cool to happen like that. The phone conversation I was about to have, I absolutely did not see coming.”
“Hey, Kathy, it’s Tommy. What’s going on?”
“Hi, Tommy. Didn’t think you’d call me back so fast. Aren’t you running around the city in actor heaven?”
“Her voice was much shakier that the voicemail she left me, so I became a little worried, because she’s usually the one person that you don’t hear being in a mood any less than joyful.”
“Yeah, we’re having a blast out here, but the girls wanted to run inside more places than I wanted to, so I’m just hanging out on the stairs of this huge church right now on 5th Avenue.”
“Saint Patrick’s? With the two huge spires in the front?”
Jessica jumped in, “Did she really say that?”
“No, I just added that to make you feel weird.”
“Well, Kathy finally told me why she called.”
“Um, I don’t know how else to tell you this, but did you hear about Nicola Rose?”
“No. What, did her and boyfriend get married in Vegas or something? Are they engaged?”
“No, Tom. She’s gone.”
“And I didn’t believe her at first.”
“What do you mean she’s gone? Like she’s missing?”
“No. She isn’t missing. She died. In a car crash on Sunday on her way back to school early to beat all the Memorial Day weekend traffic.”
“She’s gone, Tom. She got in a wreck on Sunday. Died at the scene before paramedics got there. Nicola Rose died.”
“And that’s when I lost it. Right there on the steps of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. I don’t even remember hanging up. I collapsed back, laid out on the stairs and started crying. It wasn’t long before the tears blurred out what was a bright blue summer sky not two minutes before. Gemma was the first one to come back and I heard her run up behind me, and she picked me up in her arms and I turned and curled up in her lap and then I really let go. I don’t know how long it had been, but the others had come out by then and they asked her what was wrong and she whispered, ‘I don’t know.’ And other than finally explaining to them why I was such a mess on the stairs of what’s probably the most amazing church I’ve ever seen, I don’t remember much of the rest of that day.”
Jessica didn’t know what to say, but Thomas didn’t need her to say anything. He needed her to know. He needed her to see what he sees when he’s on that stage. He needed her to hold him when the only thing that caught him was the cold ground at Holy Cross cemetery.
That next week during dress rehearsals, and during every performance in the three week run, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house that watched the sailor’s journey at the gravesite.
R.I.P. Angelina Rose Malfitano 12/12/83-5/30/06