I realized early on how perfect my parents desperately wanted me to be.
I’ll go ahead and say the entire planet from our modest Brooklyn apartment appeared more perfect than anything going on in my universe.
However, that didn’t matter. I was the “punching bag” for everything that went wrong. I took it upon myself to be the designated martyr for a bad marriage.
Isn’t that what perfect boys do?
I fought for perfection inside my own head for years. I tried to control outcomes and then my actions which is ass backwards. Stupid. I was controlling the end of the road but not the construction and direction of the path (thank you for the awakening, Kamal Ravikant).
Flashback 1973. Nana’s Sunday dinner: Outnumbered by 30 hairy fingers grasping for semolina Italian bread, feeling overwhelmed before the big guns, the heaping platters of her finest creations were carried out from the kitchen – I was instructed (threatened) to never allow tomato sauce to meet my crisp button-down white shirt.
Ten minutes into the meal uncle Tommy screamed at dad, dad stood up, gave the finger and uncle Tommy would begin hurling Nana’s cannonball meatballs soaked in sauce like we were in the middle of an indoor snowmeat fight.
There I was.
In the red line of fire.
Dead husky boy. Sitting target. Praying. Watching the skies. Catching mom’s eyes staring at me with that menacing “remember what I told you about sauce on your shirt” look.
Awaiting the inevitable saucy fate to treat my shiny buttons a landing strip.
And I was.
Praying, praying, praying…
For a meatball to fall neatly on my plate.
Praying hard because the odds were not in my favor.
When the inevitable happened.
Red liquid was splattered across the front. Hot in my eyes. All I could think of was that scene in The Godfather when Sonny Corleone gets it at a toll booth. My dad dragged me to see the iconic flick at the Marlboro theater in Brooklyn.
I was shell shocked then.
And I was almost every Sunday.
At the toll booth (dining room table).
I believe if Sonny Corleone was smart, his guts and perseverance would have made him as popular as Charlie Gasparino, but what do I know?
“What did I say about getting sauce ON THAT SHIRT?”
Not easy to stay tight white when it’s raining marinara.
Yep, my fault. Again.
Always my fault.
I have no excuse.
Again, a pudgy Sonny Corleone hanging limp like a soaked rag doll from the driver’s side.
I had no chance.
And I lived my life as such.
For a long time.
Always avoiding the splatter that comes with trying new things.
Not allowed to mess up.
Or be in the vicinity of a mess up.
Afraid to fail.
Always stupid until proven different.
I had no chance.
And it almost killed me.
Because life lived with zest is the pulsating exhilaration of a red stain.
If it wasn’t for the fear of god being placed in me about the sauce perhaps I would have ripped that stained white shirt off and sucked on the dripping Sicilian culinary art Nana Rose created with the reckless abandon of a 9 year old.
I would have loved it. Instead I was forced to act like a 40 year-old in a 9 year-old’s body.
Maybe I would have lived for the stain, not for the avoidance of it.
My brain was dying after decades of reliving those dinners.
The rules. So many rules.
- Don’t sit on the couch, you’ll mess the pillows (everything was coated in plastic so what was the big deal).
- Never go out without a belt, your pants will fall down (no they won’t).
- You must wear socks AT ALL TIMES (to this day I’m hairless where the crew socks meet skin).
- All your shirts MUST BE WHITE AND THEY CAN’T GET DIRTY especially during Sunday dinner when your crazy relatives are THROWING FOOD AT EACH OTHER ABOVE YOUR HEAD.
- Don’t leave the Barbie doll alone and naked inside the GI Joe Headquarters.
So many rules my head would swim.
They owned me. I was a rules bitch. Rules created by others.
I carried them through adulthood; it limited my life to a tiny square mental box.
When it came to taking risks.
Because it was always about the stains.
Stains were bad.
And the parents were clear: You cannot have stains on your white life.
And a stainless life is lifeless.
I began to read more.
I started talking to thought leaders like James Altucher.
People in my field told me I was pretty good at what I did.
I started asking questions from those who knew more than me (I still do).
I freely shared my knowledge (regardless of what dad thought or my last employer believed – I’m not cattle, I have a brain).
My teachers have been there. No rules, broke rules. Created new rules.
I realized the rules enforced upon me in corporate America (the worst), married America, financial industry America needed REVISION.
I was out of my own skin with revelation. My mind was gone.
Three years lost in discovery.
I blanked out and was enlightened at the same time.
“Did you know you have a garlic press?” asked my friend Amy.
“Did you know you have spoons?”
“Do you see you have about a thousand ties?”
There was wear and tear to break the chains of the rules.
Real bloodshed. An organ and half. Gone.
My rewards for embracing the stain. Questioning the cooks in the kitchen who were adding poison to the food (that’s poetic license people, nobody got poisoned. Well, perhaps their money did) is not good for one’s health if you continue to swallow it.
To bust apart the rules society established for me (along with Catholic school nuns and deceased parents) I needed to feel and go through the worst.
I learned to love the worst. I felt alive.
I was able to taste food again (I thought my taste buds were gone everything felt dead like cold mashed potatoes).
I began to explore new things.
I spoke up.
I began to write and share my mistakes.
I became aware and appreciative of the present moment.
I slayed my ego (needed a big knife).
I discovered I owned a garlic press and about 60 shirts with sales tags still attached to the sleeves.
To be the best.
To create your rules.
You’ll need to go through some shit.
Wrestle with ghosts of the past until they let you go.
Because people are going to mock your rules.
You will knock them, too.
Because it’s not normal.
Or is it?
And who defines normal?
To do what society says you must?
Buy a house.
Go to college.
Don’t splash tomato sauce on your white shirt.
On occasion the paved road is a horrible way to travel. Once in awhile you’ll need to hit a pothole, go over an embankment.
1). Be Clean. But understand it’s ok to get dirty when you need to. I’ve enjoyed tussling with a corporate bully, getting dragged through the worst muck of human behavior and beating myself with fear and anger.
I now enjoy the smell. There’s something gritty in the process of choosing and finding yourself. The bruises take on greater significance. I will spend the rest of my life helping others understand what this former employer truly is behind its “wholesome” facade.
“You learn to warrior up,” I imagine my friend Andrea saying that. I’m not afraid of the stains anymore. I greet them, earnestly.
2). Forget White. Be proud of your stains. You can’t avoid them. If you seek to reach a new level of thought, or feeling, or emotion the white shirt cannot remain white. White is colorless. Sure – You’ll fall, get beat, lose a piece of yourself. Marks will fade, scars will heal but they will always be a part of who you were before you were better. Good reminders. Rip open a scab on occasion. Feel the pain.Stain your life a bit. It’s fine.
3). Enjoy Meatballs. I’m not ashamed. I got smacked for eating errant meatballs that made it to Nana’s linoleum floor. Never let anything get in the way of pursuing your meatballs no matter how messy it seems or how bad you look to others. Keep your eye (mouth) on the prize. I learned who accepted me for who I was. Nana did. Who are the people in your life who accept you for who you are, faults and all? Love them. Tell them you’re not perfect. They’re not either. There’s beauty in the rough edges of the human condition.
4). Think Simple. Managing your finances comes down to rules you follow, consistently – Rules based on behavior and attitude towards saving and debt. Even if you suck at investing (investing is icing on the cake, anyway) there are several core habits you’ll want under your belt first to accumulate the capital to invest when you feel comfortable to do so. If your consistent behavior is to funnel most of your take-home pay to reduce debt or make minimum payments on credit card balances; or if you’re an impulsive consumer without a budget, you’re never going to have the cash to invest and increase wealth. No meatballs for you until you face and correct your financial pitfalls. Improvement begins today.
As my friend Linda says “you don’t have to humor me. I’m a godless pagan with a short temper and too much credit card debt.”
Be honest with yourself. Create your own rules that will lead to financial success. Seek an objective financial partner to hold you accountable. It’s ok to employ humor to make it through. Keep it real. So you fucked up. You needed those $300 shoes. It’s ok.
5). Don’t Overthink. As a kid I anticipated the most horrible things going on during those Sunday dinners. Like when uncle Vinnie cursed dad in broken English or Italian slang and the food would fly. Our brains, out of fear, will lead us to believe the worst is going to occur. Most of the time, your brain is wrong and the worst doesn’t happen. I can recall many dinners at Nana’s where everyone was civil. Imagine! And we enjoyed cannolis for dessert.
6). Forgiveness is for suckers. I don’t seek it; I don’t provide it. I’ve learned to appreciate the weakness in the human structure and absorb the lessons. Red stains that never fade. Every lesson adds dimension to the thought process.
To forgive is to ignore the gifts, bypass the wisdom of others. Refusing to forgive sharpens the blade. I’m happier to not forgive my parents for trying to make me “perfect.” It’s helped me appreciate my imperfections and form them into diamonds. Forgiveness saps energy and taps your resources that are designed to help you learn, teach, survive.
You’ll feel better holding on.
To the stains of others.
Converting them to energy.
“There’s bound to be a ghost at the back of your closet. No matter where you live. There will always be a few things, maybe several things, that you’re gonna find really difficult to forgive.”
The Mountain Goats – Up The Wolves.
There’s gonna be a party when the wolf comes home.
Imperfection is a wolf.
You own it.
Train it to fight.
Tear. Create edges.
Embrace the red stains.
And live again.
More to come on the red stain with insights from master wolf James Altucher and The Walking Dead’s Beth Greene and Daryl Dixon.
Your experiences summarized in the concluding six points are full with lifetime’s of wisdom. But come on; that parental rule about not leaving the barbie naked in the G.I. Joe house had merit. This one likely could be modified and used daily. Hey, always enjoy your blog work. keep’em coming.
Love this post. The first half–I am laughing. I live in Rhode Island, the Italian capital of the world. Outside Italy, that is. And maybe Brooklyn. Though I’m Irish (gasp), I was taken in by some kind Italian families when I came here, taught all the bad words and the words about God and given a place at the Sunday table. Imagine their betrayal, when they realized not that they let a Mick into their inner circle, but that they let a vegetarian sit among them. Eventually they forgave me and even taught me to make The Marinara. I never would have been able to stay in this state without those lessons. I’m grateful. (Oh, btw, loved the lessons of this post, too. Thank you.)
Thanks so much! Great story. And thanks for reading the blog post.
Your imperfections make you perfect, dear friend. Xo