From the Sky - Part XV

The heart of the problem was that Evan's life revolved around wrestling and building model cars. He always had model catalogs with him, two or three at a time sandwiched between his math and history books. At lunchtime Evan and his wrestling buddies would leaf through the thin, dog-eared catalogs as they sat at their table in the cafeteria. They would gawk at kits for Camaros and Mustangs while ignoring their watered down mashed potatoes and hockey-puck hamburgers. When they weren't talking model cars they were talking about wrestling: takedowns, reversals, penalty points, escapes and whether their coach would give them Friday off from practice. Mind-numbing snippets of conversation that drifted across the cafeteria and fell into my ears as I ate the mortadella sandwich I brought for lunch. I refused to believe there was no room in his life for me. Surely I was more interesting than plastic cars or some obscure wrestling technical violation!

Believing desperate measures were called for, I went momentarily insane one Friday afternoon and rushed up to him as he was walking toward his bus. I spun him around and planted a fat kiss on his cheek. His eyes seemed to grow as large as ostrich eggs and then to my horror he laughed at me. So did half a dozen other kids who saw the whole failed escapade.

I fled, humiliated, tears streaming down my face, and ran toward Uncle Gio's house. Aunt Rae was driving home from the grocery store and saw me. She pulled over, got out of her car, and I ran to her arms. I cried, and she held me, and then she walked me over to the car and opened the passenger door. I climbed in and put my face in my hands, the tears wetting my palms. Aunt Rae got in the car and said: "Tell me what happened, Renata." She listened silently as I poured out my heart to her. When I finally ran out of tears she reached over and patted my cheek.

"It's a frightening and dangerous thing, to gamble with our hearts," she said softly. "It means risking everything. If we're spurned, it crushes us."

"Well, I feel so stupid," I said, the words sticking in my throat as I looked out the window. I turned back to Aunt Rae, and said: "Everyone will be talking about me. Stupid little Renata! Silly, chinless Renata! That lovesick puppy Renata! I'll never live this down."

"Hold your head high, Renata, always. If someone laughs at you, laugh with them no matter how much it hurts. Have a joke at your own expense. Don't let anyone see weakness. Whatever you do, don't cry. Cry when someone is born. Cry when someone dies. Otherwise, turn the faucets off. Do as I say, and in a week I promise you no one will remember your little disaster. You may never forget, but they will."

"But what if they don't forget? What if they keep teasing? What if they call me names? Some girls are called terrible things after they kiss a boy."

"If someone calls you a bad name you punch them in the mouth. You can't talk that way to a Tarentella woman."

My first thought was that Aunt Rae had just called me a Tarentella woman. A woman at last! My next thought was that she was kidding about punching people, but one look at her face told me she was dead serious. It surprised me at the time, because I don't remember my aunts ever raising a hand to anyone.

"I mean it Renata," she continued. "Smack them right in the kisser. They can't pick on you if they're picking up their teeth."

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