by Andrea Lena DiMaggio
There once was a boy named Vinnie who lived at 16 Belmont Place on Staten Island, New York with his dad Johnny and his mom Carmen and his sister Louise and his dog Carlo. Vinnie liked baseball. Every year on his birthday (or close to it) he and his dad Johnny and his mom Carmen and his sister Louise would go see his favorite team play…the Staten Island Yankees.
Carlo stayed home because he was a dog. And every year his Uncle Vito would come by the stands and sign autographs.
“That’s my Uncle Vito,” he’d yell and all the kids and even some of the moms and dads would clap and pat him on the back. Vinnie loved his Uncle Vito.
Just before his tenth birthday, his dad called him into the den and said,
“Vinnie, your Uncle Vito won’t be at the game on Friday.” His dad looked very sad, like something was wrong.
“Will he be at my party on Saturday?” Vinnie asked.
“No, Vinnie…no, Uncle Vito will not be at your party.” His dad looked even sadder, like something was really, really wrong.
“Is he okay?” Vinnie asked; his Uncle Vito was his favorite Uncle.
“Yes, Vinnie.” But his dad put his head down and began to cry; his dad hardly ever cried except when Grandma Petrone went to heaven to be with Grandpa Petrone.
“Is Uncle Vito going to die?” Vinnie was scared; I bet you’d be scared too, but I promise I won’t tell anyone.
“No, Vinnie, Uncle Vito isn’t going to die…” Vinnie knew that everybody died sometime, so he figured that his Uncle Vito was safe for the time being. But his dad kept crying. And Vinnie got scared all over again.
Friday came and they went to the game like they did every year. The Staten Island Yankees beat the Brooklyn Cyclones 3 to 2, and everybody ate hot dogs (the really good kind) and drank soda and everybody had a great time. Except Vinnie. He had an okay time, but it wasn’t the same.
“My Uncle Vito used to play for the Staten Island Yankees,” he yelled out loud, but nobody clapped and nobody patted Vinnie on the back. He told me I could tell you but please don’t tell anybody else, but when nobody was looking he cried…a lot.
The next day was Saturday and they had a birthday cookout in the back yard. All of Vinnie’s friends came and they all ate hamburgers and potato chips and drank lemonade and ate birthday cake. He got lots of presents, including a new X-Station and some games and a new baseball bat (real wood) and even a new MP3 Player from Louise. I told her I’d tell you that she used her own money that she saved.
At the end of the day, when almost everybody had gone home, Vinnie was picking up stuff off the ground to throw in the trash when a lady walked up and smiled at him.
“Happy Birthday, Vinnie,” the lady said. She handed him an envelope and a package.
“Thank you,” he said politely, just like his mom told him to. She smiled at him and he looked at her sorta funny and said,
“Who are you…do I know you? You look like you could be my dad’s sister, but I know he doesn’t have a sister."
“Vinnie," his dad said, “Let’s go over and sit on the deck. Your mom and I have something we need to tell you."
Vinnie walked over and sat at the big table on the deck next to his mom. His dad came over and sat down on the other side of the table. The lady sat next to his dad. She looked very, very sad. I bet you could figure out she had been crying.
“Vinnie,” his mom said, “This is your Aunt Nikki. She’s your dad’s sister.” His mom smiled with a big smile, and Aunt Nikki smiled back, but she didn’t stop crying.
“Dad? You told me you only had Uncle Vito in the family besides you. Did you tell a fib?” Vinnie looked surprised and puzzled.
“No, Vinnie, I didn’t fib. But I didn’t tell you the truth, either.”
“What your dad is trying to say is that I’m your Uncle Vito.” Aunt Nikki said. Vinnie’s dad put his arm around her and hugged her.
“I don’t understand…you can’t be Uncle Vito…Where is my Uncle Vito.”
“Honey,” his mom said, “Your Uncle Vito is right here. And he is very, very sad.”
“I don’t understand. You can’t be my Uncle Vito. Uncle Vito is a boy and you’re a girl!”
“Uncle Vito was always a girl, but only on the inside, where his heart was. But his body got mixed up when he was born. He went to a nice doctor who helped him make his outside match his inside. Do you understand?” His mom put her hand on his shoulder and squeezed. Vinnie cried. He was confused.
“The doctor helped me, Vinnie. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you. I was so scared that you wouldn’t like me anymore.” Aunt Nikki was crying again, and she got up.
“I guess I should go. Maybe another time.” She was very very sad. People told her all the time that she wasn’t a girl when she knew all along that she was. But it hurt more that Vinnie didn’t like her. If you want to cry about this part…maybe you feel the same way as Aunt Nikki? Go ahead. I promise I won’t tell. This part makes me cry, too.
“Uncle Vito?” Vinnie didn’t know what to call her so he called her by the name he already knew.
“Please don’t go. I’m sorry. I was scared that you died or went away or worse. And when you told me who you were, I was afraid you did go away. But I can see that you didn’t. Will you stay? Please.
“If you want me to, Vinnie. You’re my favorite nephew.” Aunt Nikki said.
“I guess you’re still my favorite Uncle, even if you are my aunt.” Vinnie laughed and Aunt Nikki smiled.
“Uncle Vito?” Vinnie stopped and thought for a moment.
“Aunt Nikki? Do girls like to play catch?”
“This one does, Vinnie. Go get your glove and ball and I’ll show you.
“Okay!” Vinnie said and ran off and got his ball and glove and they played catch until the sun went down. And the next day after church they all went to the ballpark and watched the Staten Island Yankees beat the Brooklyn Cyclones 6 to 1.
And just so you know, when they went got home, Aunt Nikki played dolls with Louise, too, and you can tell everybody I told you!
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