My Name Is Olivia

June 19, 2008
By Elizabeth Ridolfi, Auburn, CA

It was the year 1930. A young man (about the age of twenty five) was sifting through an old suit case. In it he found a copy Leaves of Grass , a sweater and a few pieces of burned paper. He looked at the paper. Could it be? It was! It was Olivia’s diary. There were only a few pages left and they were burned. They were also written in Italian but the young man had one problem translating it. He began to read.

March 4 1920
Dear Journal ,

Something awful happened last night. I had one of those dreams again. I was walking in the public square and I had that “ strange feeling”, the feeling the man had in Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner. Then , the earth shifted out from under my feet and I heard the sounds of breaking bricks and above it , the wailing of an infant.It was such a shock that I woke up in a cold sweat and screaming. Am rushed in , only half dressed demanding to know what happened. For a minute, I thought I had woke up the entire boarding house. I had been having nightmares about he earthquake for as long as I could remember. I was only a few months old when it happened and Am was six. Mama and Papa had died in that earthquake and so we found our way here. I heard a noise and a pang of embarrassment hit me. I had arose somebody. Am hugged me and put on the rest of his clothes. It was five o’clock in the morning by this time and Am was heading out to the cannery. The sun was peaking out from behind the dingy outline of the factory on First and the smoke and coal dust cast a gray misty shadow over everything. I began to see and hear the normal things, squeaking pumps, pealing bells and people rising from tenements. San Francisco was waking up. Am crossed the street in front of the boarding house and headed down Laurel where he finally dissapeared. Others began to fill the streets. Shouts in Italian and spoken words came along with them. The old man that lives in the tenement across the street left coughing and sputtering. I hope I will never end up in his shoes.

The young man had become so engrossed in this diary that he didn’t realize that Americo had come in the room and was reading over his shoulder. “ I remember that day.” he said “ She never said what they were about.She only said they happened.” They both continued to read.

March 7 1920
Dear Journal ,

Am sent me out for vegatables today to help Senora Zia today. I wished he wouldn’t have. The green grocer is a nice man. He conducts orders in Italian. I took up the vegatables and was heading down Laurel when I noticed some boys were following me. I had never seen them before. They sent a shiver down my spine. Then the oldest one fired a slur that was so awful I can’t bear to right it down. “ Say something in Italian.”,he yelled in a brash voice. Without thinking I yelled “Back Off!”. “ Dontcha mean backa offa?” said the youngest. This was to much. At an impluse, I barrled the sack of vegatables into the oldest boy’s chest. He fell and I ran with the two other boys chasing me.I lost them in the alley way and found the side door of the boarding house and ran inside. I left the sack of vegatables on the counter and ran upstairs. I fought the clutter that came with a two room apartment and ment into my room.. From under my bed , I took my suit case full of books and pulled out Leaves of Grass. I read constantly because Am couldn’t afford to send me to school. I had been taught to read and write and do mathmatics up to elementary algebra by Senor Zia’s husband before he died. This was my favorite book because it was Walt Whitman. Nobody wanted his poetry at first because it did not rhyme. Maybe that is how it will be with me? Maybe it will take a while for Americans to accept Italians? Will they ever?

“ I never knew that happened.” said Americo. “ She was always so quiet with her personal life. She only had one friend and…” There was a roar of a siren outside. This made Americo loose his train of thought. The two men continued to read.

March 30 1920

Dear Journal,
Prohibition is driving most of the men in the boarding house stark insane. Three illegal clubs have opened in the past two weeks and people have been moving in and out of the boarding house like mad. Am has something else going on in his life and her name is Madaline Zia. She is a nice girl, about nineteen with long, black hair and the most radiant green eyes you would ever see. She also wears short skirts that show her legs. This all makes Am blush every time he sees her. When she went to Mass with us yesterday, he kept his eyes on her instead of on the priest. It makes me happy to see him like this.

April 14 1920

Dear Journal,
Walt Withman can’t help me now! Merino and the Del Greco brothers have been murdered. Am found them dead in the alley way behind the boarding house. News of their murder has spread and half of the people in the Italian District think and American killed them . This seems likely because none of them were involved in the Mafia. So this is the land of prosperity. Fat chance! It seems “ all men are created equal” doesn’t apply here.
The constitution doesn’t help a third of the people who live in it. Half of me wants to go back to the old country but strangely the other half wants to stay. Why?

April 20 1920
Dear Journal,
It was an American! When Am told me, I keeled agaist the wall then stormed into the alley way swearing and crying. I have know clue what I was yelling but it drew angry glares from some suspicious looking characters. I must have wandered around half the night before I ran into that boy again. Only this time his voice wasn’t as brash and he almost sounded sorry. “ That boarding house you live in might be closed. Look, I’m sorry about before. My father owns the cannery and he was having trouble with a worker. I was angry.My name is Peter Cardill.” “ Even though you didn’t have the right to say what you did, my name is Olvia Arminini.”I said. We shook hands and walked all the way back to the boarding house. When we got there Am was loading up our things in crates. “ We are moving to the tenement across the street. I lost my job at the cannery. You have an hour to pack up your things.” He said. Peter turned and ran away. He was my first American friend and he was gone. Now I am sitting in a tenement home in a ten foot by twelve foot room. I have to sell all my books tomarrow but one Leaves of Grass. I guess that the roots of life are bitter but the fruit of the future is sweet. Saying that gives me hope even though Am is without work and I can’t attend school. Someday I will get out of this, someday.

“ You did get out of it.” said the young man with tears his eyes. On December 2nd of that year, three days before her 15th birthday, a fire distroyed the tenement home. A beam from the ceiling fell on her cause severe damage to her leg and spine. She was never able to walk. The fire also distroyed her lungs. She did see the marriage of her brother and Madaline in 1922 and the birth of their first son in early 1923. Olivia and Peter also remained close and visited eachother almost every day. On November 3rd 1923, Olivia died. She wasn’t even eighteen. Seven years later, the chared remains of her diary were found along with her sweater and her copy of Leaves of Grass.
Am turned to the young man. “ Peter”, he said “ I can’t belive the way you two were and the way you acted.”
“ I wished she could have know that I loved her.” Peter said as he took up the remains of the diary and put them back in the suitcase. “ When I met her she was just an angry girl , when I left her she was free.” He close the suitcase and follow Americo down the stairs. Olivia’s diary would later be published as a short story. “ Where ever she is, she is smiling.” Said Americo and they walked down Laurel.

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