The other morning I woke to the sound of my radio alarm clock just in time to hear the entertainment news from a local radio station that James Gandolfini, mob boss of the hit HBO show, The Sopranos, had died at 51 of a heart attack. I screamed aloud, startling my boyfriend who lay asleep next to me, "Oh, my God!" He woke and asked what was wrong. "Tony Soprano just died," I burst out into tears as I made my way into the kitchen for a morning cup of coffee. Then later that night I called my mother and said, "It's a very sad day. Tony Soprano died," I cried to her. "I hate to say this, but I feel sadder then when my father passed away five years ago.” My mother replied, "Well, you get to know the actors, and they become a part of your life."
She was exactly right. Tony Soprano, Carmelia, Paulie, Christopher and the rest of the New Jersey mob gang had been a part of my life for the last six months. HBO had begun airing episodes. During these six months, I had also given up alcohol, deciding to take a much-needed break as I entered into therapy to work on myself. I would attend an open discussion AA meeting in the evening and then afterward come back home to my rented, one-bedroom condo and serve myself a small helping of ice cream and play my DVR episodes of the show.
My obsession with celebrities and identifying with the characters from a show or movie didn't start with the infamous mob boss. I grew up the second oldest of seven girls with a strong desire that one day I would venture to Hollywood and become a famous actress. Movies but particularly television was my way of escaping the feeling I didn't quite fit in with the world or running from my parents’ perilous fights.
I remember going to school in the seventh grade and telling people that Dudley Moore was my Uncle. My innate talent to convince people of whatever stories I conjured up created an envious response from my fellow classmates. It was only when one girl, Kelly somebody, called me out and said, "I meet Dudley Moore before, and he never mentioned you!" My balloon was deflated at least for the time being.
The lack of a brother among seven girls caused a strong desire to have a male figure around to lean on and feel protected. I had an easy fix for that and quickly imagined Richard Dean Anderson a.k.a. MacGyver as the brother I yearned for. Being second born and always feeling second best among my parents, I created my own world where in addition to the "handy/get out of any situation with a thread of string an a pencil sharpener" brother, I adopted Karen and Mac Mackenzie from Knots Landing as my parents and Robert McCall from The Equalizer as my grandfather. Of course, this time I chose not to broadcast my new family at school should someone discover my little white lie.
As the fights and arguments between my real parents worsened when I was 16 and living in a suburb of Chicago, I decided to add a boyfriend to my imaginary family. Only one man, handsome, fierce, street smart and a fighter would fit the bill — Sonny Crockett from Miami Vice. I fell into a deep obsession with him. I audio-recorded the show by placing my cassette player up to the television. These tapes helped me escape when I went jogging in the cold Chicago winter on a track course at a nearby school. I used these relentlessly to escape the hell I found myself in. Aside from the screaming, fighting parents, I lacked self-confidence in school because of my hairy upper lip and my acne. Isolating me with my television family and friends was my only salvation.
A year and half later my mother left my father and moved herself and the kids down to Santa Rosa Beach, Florida. It wasn't a situation where she told my Dad that things were not working out. She just left. He didn't know our exact location for over a year. It was only her continued use of his credit cards that gave him some knowledge of our whereabouts. I didn't care though where we were at least the fighting had stopped.