“Try to remember the times that were good”
In the final scene of the HBO hit series “The Sopranos,” A.J. (played by actor Robert Iler) utters the above line to his father, reminding Tony (albeit sarcastically) that those were his own words – a notion that makes Tony’s face brighten in his recollection. However, with the tragic and sudden loss of James Gandolfini this week it was not the above line that the millions of devoted followers of the series recalled most. It frankly wasn’t a line at all, but rather the lack of them, along with the absence of sound, noise, music, and color. It was very simply the sudden appearance of a black screen signaling the end of an American television legend.
Tony Soprano is my uncle. He’s my best friend Vanessa’s uncle, too, but she and I aren’t related even though my kids call her Aunt Nessa and they call her husband Uncle Jeff. He’s my friend Phyllis’ older brother. He’s my deceased Aunt Rose’s son-in-law. Tony was my Uncle Joe’s best friend. He once dated my mother’s girlfriend Marie. He was my nemesis’ father and my ex-boyfriend’s step-father but they’re not related either. Tony Soprano was a cousin to all of my cousins. And we all loved him and hated him, just like we do with all the members of our family because that’s what he was – he was family – and today we are mourning him as we would our own fathers.
I was in the bathtub – literally – when I learned this week that I would never see Tony Soprano again. As I think about it now I imagine I’m watching myself in my own episode of the series, maybe one directed by Michael Imperioli or Steve Buschemi, and it all seems fitting in some strange fictional character/David Chase sort of way. The Jacuzzi jets are on. A glass of pinot grigio is at my side. I put my head back against the white porcelain tub and look at the grey and pink marble tile that reaches up almost to the ceiling. I take a sip of the wine and based on my expression, start thinking to myself that I’m drinking more than I’d like to be these days. I put the glass down and reach for my phone to scroll through tweets and check sports scores. That’s when I see my face change. I see myself mouthing the words “no, no, no” and feel tears well up in my already reddened eyes. I dry off my other hand with the towel so that I can hold the phone tightly over the steaming basin of water as I read what the news outlets know up until now. Tony is dead. There will be no sequel. There will be no movie. No return of the murderer who was gentle enough to fall in love with. He won’t be at my kids’ communion parties. Won’t give a speech at my uncle Nicky’s funeral while smoking a stogie and holding a glass of homemade red. He is gone. He is over. And everyone I’m close to is going to be devastated.
In the blink of an eye a screen can go black.
When the Sopranos ended I will forever remember how the twittersphere and facebookiverse went batshit. “Worst ending ever!” “WTF WAS THAT??” “FUCK YOU, DAVID CHASE!” Even my own husband – or as I call him, “the NON-est Italian Who Ever Lived” was greatly disappointed in the sudden jump to black and prolonged silence that followed before the credits rolled. But me? I wasn’t. I remember looking over at him and saying a single word…. “Brilliant.” “How?” he responded. “Babe, don’t you see? Chase leaves us with the opening. The song alone is ‘Don’t Stop Believing’ and the final two words heard are ‘don’t stop.’ He knew what he was doing by making Tony look neurotic and having everyone who stepped foot in the diner appear shady. That was, in my opinion, the single best finale this country has ever seen. Mother fucking brilliant beyond belief.” And I stand by that statement. What we, not just as devoted followers of the series but also as characters in The Sopranos of Our Mind, were left with was hope; hope that forced us to rely on faith. For that, I am grateful to David Chase because in a sense, unlike when I closed the back cover of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” I felt that Chase had prolonged the life of Tony Soprano for me, even if he had sent him into hiding for several years. Knowing that there was a chance that Tony might come back kept me and most of the Italian community going. We’re Catholic, remember? We give money in the name of a man who we can’t see, touch, hear, smell, or taste. For us, believing in the return of the prodigal son was easy. Dealing with the fact that he really won’t be back is going to be the hard part.
I will go on record now as saying that there was something about Tony Soprano which I found incredibly sexy. I will even go as far as to say that I would probably have had sex with him (even though above I said he was my uncle – I know, eww – clearly that was to make the point about how we’re all related), had I been a character on the show. I could see myself above him in a pretty piece of lingerie that he bought for me, wiping the sweat from his increasingly balding brow and fixing the clasp on his gold Figaro chain that was tangled up in the hair on his chest. I would have looked in his eyes and felt loved by him. I would have dressed afterward and felt protected by his embrace. And I would have smiled when he smiled because it was his smile that had made me fall for him in the first place.
For all of my Italian friends who are still thinking about him as the days pass by us, know that I am feeling your hurt alongside you. Our hero is gone. The man who gave us a voice unlike any other character in the history of screen or literature including Don Corleone is never to return and that is something we will have to deal with in our own ways and in our own time.
Tony Soprano, your family misses you. And if our God is a forgiving, fun-loving God, he will be smoking alongside you right now watching the girls at the Bada Bing and laughing at Paulie’s obsession with the cat.