Being a first-generation Italian American, no one in my American world told me I was pretty consistently an anxious mess. in my Italian world my mom’s best friend Maria would tell me in a loud whisper, “what the hell is the difference? Anxiety. Passion. Life is fucking hard. You get up. Go to work. or like you go to school. Be honest. Go to Sunday mass. What else?”
I hated high school. Friend groups changed constantly for me. I did not play a sport. I worked after school at the drycleaners where my mother was a seamstress for over 25 years. I smoked camel lights in their bathroom on my breaks. My friendship with Amy, who worked there with me, lasted 18 months. We did everything together. My parents deemed her trustworthy, so I was allowed to go to their beautiful shore house some weekends. When she got a boyfriend, i was not allowed to date, she found friends she could go on double dates with.
Actually, I loved working with my mom’s colleagues. I loved talking to Sylvia and Earnie in the back. My mother hated it. She wanted me to talk to the very rich privileged people that dropped off their filthy jackets and pants.
“Earnie and Sylvia are nice. They never charge us to dry clean or press anything. I need your life to be about the front. Not the back. My mother sat in the middle. Her sewing machine was always between the front an the back. A few days here and there I begged Dot, who ran the drycleaners, to let me sort and bag the clothes in the back. Sometimes she would let me. “I like you with the customers, but okay. Don’t tell your mom I let you.”
i always saw Earnie first as he was by the huge drycleaning machine. Earnie was always smiling with the gap between his teeth and sparkling white teeth. I gave Earnie a big hug.
“You know adriana. the same shit. Dot listens to everything Bobby says (Bobby was the owner) and we never get a raise.” Earnie always wore white t-shirts and these amazing thick black rimmed glasses.
I next saw Sylvia who told me not to hug her because she was doused in sweet from the pressing machine. “Who cares,” I would tell her. I wrapped my arms around her when we pulled apart, we were always smiling.
“Sylvia, how are you holding up.” I had no idea how Sylvia pressed piece by piece standing all day in the heat while pregnant. I think Bobby finally told Dot that Sylvia could have a stool to sit on.
I honestly never knew that passion was so good with boundaries. That anxiety needed therapy and a psychiatrist. Now entering my 51st year I would give anything, anything, to hug my 16-year-old self and tell her:
“My love, I am going to hold your hand and love you forever. i will never leave you. therapy will help you at age 16 even though you think smoking and drinking is doing you just fine. you deserve to say no to the guys who never deserved to touch you. your anxiety and depression will take you into situations you never thought imaginable. we are going to draw this beautiful map of your life. It will not only have thorny bushes with cloudy days but beautiful tropical plants in the bright sunshine. Your life, my love, will be full of the short drenching rain showers that change the plants vibrant colors allowing them to grow.”
That’s I would have told my 16-year-old self. That under no fucking circumstances does anxiety equal passion.