Time To Go Home.

(My mother, Margaret DeSimone Villano (far right), my father, Alphonse Villano (center) and me (far left) at my parents 50th Wedding Anniversary party.)

(My father died 30 years ago this weekend on my 21st wedding anniversary.  I wrote this piece immediately following his death, in 1993. It has even more meaning to me today.)

I watched my father take his last breath; saw his big, generous heart record its’ last beat; and spoke the last words he heard while he was still alive.

“I love you,” I told him for the first time ever. 

He nodded his head as if to say “yes, I know; I’ve  always known,” and he drifted off into a restful sleep from which he would never awaken.

I watched him all that day, the last day of his life.

He died the way he wanted to, insisting on control of his last few hours of time.  When the doctor and the respiratory technician asked him to take a deep breath on the last morning of his life, my father refused.

He shook his head “No,” unable to speak because of the respirator tube stuck down his throat.

“Are you telling me you want to have the tube removed, Mr. Villano?” the doctor asked.

My father shook his head “yes.”

The doctor asked him if he knew what that meant.

Again, my father shook his head “yes.”

For days, my father, suffering from a terminal cancer that was shutting down each system in his body, tried to tell me he was ready to die. 

He knew he was paralyzed from the middle of his back down, where the cancer had invaded his spine and eaten into his bone marrow.  He knew he was bleeding from within and had taken 11 pints of blood in a little more than two days.  He knew his lungs were too weak to work on their own.  And, he knew that his blood pressure—always high before hospitalization—could not get high enough without him being pumped full of so many liquids he looked as if he would burst.  Always alert, eyes darting about the room observing everything, my father knew all these things.

Each day for a week, I carried the daily newspapers into the intensive care unit and read my father the sports pages, telling him how the Yankees did and reciting the horse racing results for him.   Then, my father, always an avid sports fan, lost interest in sports.  When I asked if he wanted me to read to him, he would look away from me and stare at the ceiling, his eyes filled with tears.

Two days before he died, my father tried to tell me what he wanted.  He held my hand and pointed to the wall clock facing his hospital bed.

“Time?” I asked my father, trying to understand what he wanted to say, but fearful of what he meant. “It’s 11:30,” I said.

He shook his head “No,” and mouthed the words, “Time to go.”

I looked across my father’s large body at my brother-in-law, Carlo Lofaro, who was standing on the other side of the hospital bed, holding my father’s other hand.  We were both too stunned to move.  I couldn’t accept what he was telling us.

“Time to go?” I said to my father, choking on the words, looking at Carlo to see if he interpreted my father’s struggle to communicate the same way I did.  Then I looked at my father, and he nodded “yes,” and his eyes glazed over with fear and anger and depression.

I couldn’t accept those words, his wishes.  I thought of asking him, “do you want to die?” but, frightened of what his answer would be, I did not.

“Time to go where?” I asked.

My father mouthed the word “home.”

“Home?” I asked him.  “Time to go home?”  What if he meant to die, I asked myself.

“Time to go home?” I repeated, looking at Carlo.

My father nodded his head “yes.”

“You can’t go home, Dad,” I answered.    “You have too many things wrong with you to leave the hospital now.”

My father looked away from me, disgusted.  His look tormented me.

“Do you want to spell a word, Dad? “ I asked, hoping that he did not; fearful he would spell the words “to die.”   Earlier in the week we devised a word game to help him communicate, where I would say a letter and he would nod “yes,” or “no,” until we spelled the word he wanted.

He shook his head in disgust.  “No, no, no, no.”  He knew I couldn’t accept what he wanted to do.

My father’s eyes haunted me.  Privately, we were all praying for God to do what none of us could bring ourselves to do—make the decision to end his life, peacefully, without pain.   But now those eyes, those accusing eyes, looked at me like it was my fault he was still alive, or that I had lied to him about the cancer that was killing him.

Was it up to me to ask him if he wanted to live or die?  If he wanted the respirator turned off?

The day before he died, my father pointed to the respirator—the ever-wheezing, ever-breathing respirator next to him—and turned the palms of his tethered hands upward as if to say, “What’s the use?”

He kept eyeing the machines that were keeping him alive with nourishment and medicine and blood.  He wants me to pull out all the tubes, I thought, as I held one of his swollen hands, and my brother Michael held the other.

“What are you looking at, Dad?” I asked him, knowing exactly what he was looking at; even what he was thinking.

“You looking at the machines?” I said.  “Let me tell you what each one does.”

I proceeded to explain to him what each of the elaborate computers connected to him was pumping into his body.  He looked away from me and stared at the ceiling with a despairing gaze that cut right through my soul.

I knew what he was thinking, but I could not bring myself to ask him if he had had enough.  So, I asked him something I knew would lift his spirits.

“Dad,” I asked.  “Do you want to see Mom tonight?”

He shook his head “Yes,” emphatically “yes,” and a chill went up my spine.  I tried to qualify my offer.

“We’ll see how her leg feels, Dad, but if we can, Vera, Carlo and I will bring Mom to see you,” I told him.

My mother, a polio survivor, was bedridden from knee surgery and had come to visit my father twice in her wheelchair.  The last time she was in the hospital, my father suffered a major setback during her visit, forcing him back onto the respirator for the last time.

My father saw my mother that night for the last time, the night before he died.

She held his bloated hand tightly, through the side rail of the hospital bed, her wounded knee sticking straight out from the wheelchair through a tangle of tubes and wires which kept my father alive.

I saw him laying flat on his back, his breathing labored, his eyes watery and distant, transfixed on the ceiling, holding my mother’s hand while she grasped his.  All I could see was both of them dancing, oh so briefly, at their 50th wedding anniversary party, my father’s eyes filled with tears of joy, his arm around the back of the only woman he ever loved.  I saw them then; I saw them now, and I had to leave the room.

Before we left the hospital, my mother told my father she loved him, and I knew why my father wanted to see her one last time.

I knew my father would die the next day, my own 21st wedding anniversary, and after seeing my mother with him, and seeing his eyes staring at me throughout the night, I finally accepted my duty to him to ask a simple yes or no question the next morning that he could nod his head to: “Dad, do you want the respirator turned off?”

I drove to the hospital in my father’s car, looking at my father’s sun glasses and baseball cap on the front seat, with my father’s plastic Blessed Virgin and Christ child proudly perched on the dashboard of his 1979 Dodge Aspen, Special Edition.  When I arrived at the hospital, I saw my brother Vincent’s name already signed into the Visitor’s log at 9:50 am.  Something is wrong, I thought.

I took the elevator up to the second floor and dashed into my father’s room where I saw him, propped up in bed, with my brother Vinny on one side of him, and the respirator, unplugged, on the other.  My father was wearing an oxygen mask to help him breathe.  The bloated look he had the night before was gone; the anger in his eyes had disappeared.

I leaned over to him and kissed him on the forehead.  I could not speak.

“That wasn’t doing no good, Steve,” he said to me in a barely audible voice, motioning to the now silent respirator.

“I know, Dad, I know,” I said, swallowing my words, my brother standing next to me with his hand on my shoulder.

I held my father’s hand and rubbed his shoulder just above his WW II tattoo, as the doctor explained my father’s decision.  The nurse came in and gave my father a shot of morphine to help him sleep.  Just before he closed his eyes, I told him two things.

“We love you, Dad,” I said.  My brother walked away from the hospital bed, stared out the window and then walked out of the room.

Alone with my father, I spoke to him the last words he would hear:  “I love you, Dad.”

My father nodded his head and never woke up again, sleeping peacefully for 12 hours before his breathing, his pulse and his heart all stopped, snoring at times, reminding me of how he slept on his chair at home, in front of the television, when anything but “Perry Mason,” was on.

My father had given all of us a great gift, bittersweet as it would forever mark my wedding anniversary.  He made the choice none of us could make, and died with dignity, worthy of a hero.

Adonis Died Today.

(Paul DellaUniversita, North Babylon Senior High School, Class of 1967)

Adonis died today,

3,000 miles away.

My perfect sweet bird of youth,

Body sculpted to perfection

That it must be the truth

Of how all men should look, upon reflection.

Flash frozen in my yearbook,

His kindness cloaked by football jersey,

Forever young, forever athletic, forever heroic…

“Go Bulldogs”, we cheered, as he ran for daylight, ever stoic.

Adonis died today,

And with him our dream

Of playing on his team,

Or being part of his circle of friends

Who celebrated our time,

In ways so differently than mine.

His dress, his casual beauty and smile,

Made me long for such ease and grace,

And one sweet smile from his face

Made me think that maybe high school

Wasn’t such a terrible place, after all.

I saw him twice in 55 years,

His smile hiding pain and fears,

Of getting older, and no longer running downfield,

And yet, I failed to tell Adonis

How the light of his life,

Helped me get through mine.

Adonis died today,

And, I had so much more to say,

And he, many more turns

At love, and life, to play.

ARRESTED: Georgy Santos Has No Pantos

(Back in December, 2022, I wrote about the blizzard of Trump-like lies swirling around newly-elected Republican Congressman George Santos, who fraudulently stole the New York Congressional seat in the district where I lived for 20 years. Santos was the poster-boy for the “Next Generation of Republican Leadership,” and campaigned with House Republican Conference Chair, Rep. Elise Stefanik, from upstate New York. Stefanik even helped raise money for Santos, and used some of those funds to support other GOP Congressional candidates, giving the GOP control of the House of Representatives.

This morning those lies, fraud and alleged crimes caught up with George Santos when he was arrested by the FBI, and indicted on 13-federal charges including money laundering, fraud, and theft of public money—COVID money. 

Like many law abiding Americans, I love the sound of GOP frauds, liars and cheats being handcuffed in the morning…

Here’s my original piece, entitled “Georgy Santos Has No Pantos.”

He never went to Horace Mann,

He lies and lies as fast as he can.

Baruch, a goof;  Citibank, a prank.

Georgy Santos has no pantos.

Deaths in the Holocaust? 9/11? Or Pulse?

Surely such horror was meant to repulse.

No one will fact check; no one will question.

To grift on such grief,

Is to cause indigestion.

Georgy Santos, has no pantos.

Ukrainian-ISH, Jew-ISH, or just a tad gay;

The lying was pure TrumpISH,

Even Elise would say.

To them, one big con game, so ripe to play.

An overnight wonder, like Elizabeth Holmes or Crypto;

Santos source of $$$, didn’t come from calypso.

From Brazilian fascists? Putin? Stefanik, perhaps?

Just cook up a fake resume, and goddamn the facts.

A dash of Latino, a gay man, a Jew—

A rich man, a poor man, anything for you.

A Grand Ole’ Prevaricator (that’s the G.O.P),

Santos is whatever you can imagine him to be.

If you can believe him,

Santos crashed the Insurrection,

So maybe Steve Bannon (friend of Lee Zeldin’s)

Funded his political resurrection.

Now, he’s exposed,

Like Mar-A-Lago’s Emperor, with no clothes.

Georgy Porgy with no pantos?

The only thing more cringy,

Is a Naked Ron DeSantos…

When You Wish Upon A Pinata…

Perhaps it was growing up poor, or just appreciative of every little thing, but we didn’t believe in wasting anything.

We repurposed as much as we could, giving our toys, and our creations, multiple lives and meanings.

A few years ago,, I searched for the best Pinata I could find, to celebrate Cinco de Mayo with our three granddaughters. I discovered a cornucopia of these beauties hanging from the ceiling of a bright, abundant Mexican market, in our Northern California town which is roughly one-third LatinX.

I filled it with candies and toys and we invited some of our granddaughters’ friends over to help us break the Pinata open. We had fun that day, and I rescued the battered Pinata and saved it for another time, another celebration.

Last year, our granddaughters planned an inspired, hopeful, “End of COVID” Party. All we needed was a replica of a COVID virus, prickly spikes and all.

Well, Voila! I re-dressed the Pinata in new garb, and this time, we smashed open the dastardly COVID virus to beat it out of our lives, retrieving the treats inside. We knew there were better days ahead, and that we could overcome any hardship, which is a wonderful meaning of this special holiday.

If only it were that easy to beat COVID, which, as of today, has taken 1.2 million lives in the U.S, and 6.9 million worldwide.

In our family, COVID stole the life of a beloved Matriarch, and laid me low 3 times. We are vaxxed, double vaxxed and triple vaxxed and are planning to get vaxxed again, knowing that without those life-saving vaccines, our bouts with the disease would have been much, much worse.

So, it’s kind of serendipitous, or ironic depending upon your perspective, that today, on Cinco de Mayo, the World Health Organization (WHO) is declaring that the COVID crisis is over.

Perhaps our COVID/Pinata Punching Bag had something to do with it’s demise. It would be nice to believe there was some kind of Karmic Connections, and that we were able to exorcise evil with such a simple act.

Just in case Karma does count here, it’s time to, once again, start repurposing our Punching-Bag Pinatas into the shapes of AR-15’s, Anti-Trans bigots, Racists, book censors, Clarence Thomas, Donald Trump, Nazis, Proud Boys, White Supremacists, Leonard Leo, Kevin McCarthy, Christian Nationalists and a host of other hate-mongers and fanatics infecting our lives, like communicable diseases.

As we used to say when I was head of a terrific national HIV/AIDS action and education organization: “We’ve Got A Lot of Work To Do.”