Sal couldn’t count many a happy day in his life of 33 years. It seemed like tragedy had been a constant companion since his birth, where he was born in a blackout in an understaffed hospital running on emergency power. His mother, having gone through a 74 hour labor, was exhausted with the strain of birthing him. Having insisted against an epidural for fear of any negative impact it might have on her boy, she endured hours of grueling pain to ensure him safe passage into the world, only to depart it herself shortly thereafter. It was a sad start to an overwhelmingly sad life for Salvatore LaFerrara.
Sal’s father, Maurizio, didn’t take to well to his wife’s passing. He hadn’t exactly been thrilled when Maria had come to him declaring her pregnancy, but was urged into an ill-fitting marriage by his overbearingly traditional parents. So now, he was stuck, alone, with a kid he’d never wanted in the first place. The autobody shop where he’d worked for three years didn’t provide him with much in terms of health insurance, so the hospital bills for the delivery were another blow to his already unfortunate circumstances. The cherry on the sundae that was this series of events? He was fired from the job a few months following Sal’s birth. His boss said he’d been “inattentive” at work. Not surprising, considering that Sal seemed to require near-constant attention, so sleep was nigh on illusory for Maurizio.
Maurizio started claiming unemployment, which kept him and baby Sal afloat for a while. But that well eventually ran dry, as it does, and then Maurizio moved to food stamps. He found a local bodega that would cash him out in exchange for the stamps, and at first he reasoned with himself that the cash would make it easier, less awkward for him when he was doing the grocery shopping and bill paying for their home. He made weekly trips to the unemployment office looking for work. Sometimes, he got it. Mostly, he didn’t. When it did come in, it was short-lived. Sal had developed severe asthma, and Maurizio’s mother’s home was a dusty, cat-inhabited one-bedroom. At 68, she was a subscriber of the old-world school of thought that all Sal needed was to toughen up, and have his small lungs get used to the world. This resulted in more ER visits than Maurizio could afford, and the bills kept piling up. Then the collection notices. It was a spiral, and it became too much for Maurizio to cope with.
The drugs came pretty easily at that point. On the same block as the cash-for-stamps bodega was a Gino, a horse peddler that Maurizio came to know very well. At first, Gino lured him in with a few free samples, letting him sample the product on days that Maurizio looked particularly downtrodden. Maurizio kept swearing that it wasn’t his game, he wasn’t that kind of guy, he didn’t want to be that kind of father. Gino would always agree with him, and said that hey, maybe Mauri could sell it for him, make some extra cash- y’know, for the kid? This made it easier for Maurizio. He tried slinging the dope, and for a little while he made a small bit of extra scratch to put food in Sal’s mouth. It still wasn’t enough, though. He couldn’t make enough to keep the small family afloat. So he’d ask Gino for more, and then more, hoping to get ahead on the debts he was rapidly accruing.
One night, he was peddling his wares, when an old customer brought a new friend by to pick something up. Maurizio thought he could make a little extra off the new guy, swindle him for a bigger price. Mistake. This guy didn’t take kindly to the scamming, and so he pulled a blade on Maurizio. Mauri figured it wasn’t worth losing his life over, so he handed his stash over to the guy. He decided to get out of the game then. Only, Gino wasn’t too happy about losing the money, and he berated and threatened Mauri to make up the cash. Mauri figured that Gino was a friend, so he’d give him a little leeway to get the money together. Another mistake. Gino set his goons after Mauri, broke both his knees in a derelict parking lot. Unable to move, Mauri stayed there, broken, until a few officers found him. They pieced together what must have happened, and figured Mauri was a dope slinger. They took him into the ER, and after he’d been seen to, they set in with the questions. Told him he’d be royally screwed if he didn’t roll over on his supplier. With thoughts of Sal at home waiting for his father, he decided to give Gino up. He thought that could be the end of this particularly brutal chapter of his life.
That was his last mistake. The cops brought Gino in, but with only Maurizio’s staements for evidence, they couldn’t pin him with anything that’d stick. If Gino had been mad before, he was downright furious now. This time, his goons didn’t come for Mauri’s knees.