by Paul Rega
Paul Rega's The Syndrome is based on a true story.
More books by Paul Rega: How To Find A Job: When There Are No Jobs (read my blog post), 12 Steps to Freedom (read my blog post), and Trail of 32 (read my blog post).
Inspired by a true story, Nikolas Renzetti's life is not how he had planned it. Alienated from his children and on the verge of divorce, his escape from what was now reality, seems all but certain. For the first time, Nikolas begins to question his own mortality. His only daughter, Annabelle, has been killed in a terrible car accident. Her death was instantaneous - at least that's what authorities told him. The accident was unavoidable, or was it? His search for the truth may alter the course of his life forever.
His wife Maria, having survived a cancer operation in the first year of their marriage, has turned on her staunchest supporter. Embroiled in a torrid affair, Nikolas is on the brink of a nervous breakdown. How does he survive his wife's attack on his character and her ruthless use of one of the cruelest forms of child abuse? A brutal fight ensues; will it threaten the freedom of Nikolas and his oldest son?
When they made the first cut, it was 7:00 a.m. and our life as we knew it would be changed forever. The room was cold. It was a feeble attempt to ward off any bugs which might hinder the procedure. Fourteen hours later, they would be finished—or would they?
A month earlier, the baby woke us from a deep sleep. Maria jumped out of bed to see what all the commotion was. It was apparent from the way he was crying that our son, Nikolas, was unhappy about something. After a minute or so, he and Maria were snuggled up close to me and we fell back asleep. The next morning, Maria could barely make it out of bed. “What’s wrong?” I asked, concerned.
“My knee really hurts. It started last night when I went to check on Nikolas.”
“Where does it hurt?”
“Just above the knee cap,” Maria responded, looking anguished.
“How did you hurt it?"
“I don’t know. I felt something give last night when I went to grab the baby, but didn’t think anything about it until this morning. Hurts like hell though!”
“Well, let’s get some ice on it and see if it gets any better. It does look a little swollen. Let’s just keep an eye on it,” I responded.
The next morning, like clockwork, Nikolas let out a yell that startled us. Maria started to get out of bed but fell backwards, yelling out in pain. Her knee was not getting any better despite a heavy dose of Advil and several ice packs. Nikolas was just under a year old and still nursing, so it wasn’t unusual for him to wake us.
Nikolas was an old family name. He was Nikolas the IV, named after me, my father and late grandfather. He was the most beautiful baby I'd ever seen—as far as babies are concerned. His eyes were a shade of blue I'd never seen before and his hair was blonde, almost white. People often stopped us in the grocery store and marveled over his good looks. His overall demeanor, other than his impatience when he was hungry, was serene in nature—he was clearly a special child in many ways.
Later that afternoon, we dropped Nikolas off with his aunt, who lived down the block from us. Maria had made an appointment to see the doctor at the local clinic. Maria and her sister Rose were close, inseparable really, and like their Italian parents along with their siblings wanted to live near one another in the same neighborhood. Rose and her husband Donny, who worked for an auto repair shop, had been married a few years before us. They didn’t have any kids yet and loved to babysit. Maria and I had discovered the area only a few months earlier, then Rose and Donny moved in shortly afterwards.
At first, it was okay especially since Maria was petrified of leaving the baby with anyone but her family. No one on my side had any children and there was a rumor that my sister, Amanda and her husband Hank were having difficulty conceiving. Besides which, everyone in my family lived too far away and either didn’t have kids or didn’t like them.
As time went on, living so close to Maria’s sister was a bit much to stomach. It wasn’t uncommon for us to be watching TV or eating dinner and Rose would come strolling in. She was usually by herself, but occasionally Donny would show up with her. They never knocked, even when it was late in the evening. Maria would never let me lock the door, out of fear that she might miss a visit.
Maria came from a large Italian family of six kids. Her father Mario, who worked as an engineer for the railroad, was a decent person despite having grown up in a tough part of Chicago’s South Side. His father Tony, now retired after thirty years on the railroad, was nasty, often beating his wife and kids. Every night before sitting down at the dinner table with his five children and his wife Elizabetta, he would draw his belt from his pants, fold it, and rest it in clear view on the table beside him.
This was the same man who had raised pigeons for sport. If they didn’t return when they were supposed to, he would just break their necks for the hell of it. I once asked him, after having been given a tour of the now-abandoned pigeon coops in his garage, “You’ve been married a long time, Grandpa, what’s your secret?”
“I take a walk, so I don’t commit murder,” he said, with a look that scared the hell out of me. He was serious and his words, although seemingly harsh at the time, would be a lesson I would always remember.
Elizabetta, or Grandma as we all called her, was a sweet woman and often instructed me on the finer points of Italian cooking. Her hair, now white as snow, seemed to suit her and her dark brown eyes reminded me of Maria’s. They were warm and inviting, but her gentle smile masked what had been a difficult and dark past. It was something almost no-one in the Puricelli family spoke of.
Elizabetta and Tony were products of the Depression and kept stockpiles of food in their basement, stored neatly on wooden shelves. Several dozen Mason jars of canned, home-grown vegetables lined the shelves. It was apparent that some of the jars had been in storage for a long time, as they were completely coated in dust but still clearly marked. There were several gallons of extra virgin olive oil on a small wooden table along with many kinds of seasonings and spices.
When Elizabetta took me into her basement, to show me her stockpile of food, I was instantly immersed in the smells of Italy. It reminded me of my uncle Pete’s grocery store, where my own grandmother used to take me as a little boy. Elizabetta was proud of her food stash, especially her many different brands of olive oil. She knew that I liked to cook and it was just her way of passing on to me what she had learned during her lifetime. I always enjoyed her company at the many Puricelli family gatherings.
Maria's family had their issues, but mine had its share of problems too. A number of years earlier, my mother had been whisked off to Georgia with her not-so-friendly second husband, who had been stationed there several years before in the Army. Everyone in my family, including me, hated this guy Mom seemed to adore. He was such an ass, and no matter how nice we tried to be, he just seemed to get nastier. Nearly everyone in my family made honest attempts to be decent to Richard. After all, he was my mother’s new husband, but after several failed tries, we decided to stay clear of him. He had my mother exactly where he wanted her—several hundred miles away from her family.
Praise for the Book
"True, Raw, Gritty Real Life ... filled with honest and raw emotion. You could literally feel the pain this man was going through and experiencing." ~ RaeAnne Hadley, author of 119 Days
"... one story that will remain with me for a long time. I was constantly turning the page to see what happens and eager to read the outcome, that's when you know you have a good book in your hand." ~ D.G. Torrens, author of Amelia's Destiny
"I loved this book - it took me on a roller coaster ride of emotions." ~ L. Calell, author of Reconnected
"Paul Rega has spun an incredibly emotional story that has dramatically tugged at my heart strings. I could feel Nikolas' pain, frustration, and overwhelming sadness as if it was my own." ~ Michelle Ann Hollstein, author, Vegas or Bust
"... a masterful job of extracting what can only be described as raw emotion from his audience, in his most compelling novel yet." ~ Joseph Sager
"The Syndrome is one of those moving stories that stay with the reader until the last page is turned, but not forgotten." ~ Olga Guseva, Russia, Moscow
"A book that holds nothing back. If you are looking for reality, you find it in this one. This is no sweet love story with a traditional happily ever after." ~ Lisa Gillis, author, Jack Who?
About the Author
Paul Rega began his writing career in 1980 while attending Western Illinois University as a staff reporter for the Western Courier. Upon graduating with a degree in biology and journalism, he spent the next thirty years in business having started an executive search firm in 1984.
Paul's passion for writing stayed with him throughout his business life, and he started writing his first book in 1993. He published, How To Find A Job: When There Are No Jobs in December 2011. The book was an instant success, and hit #1 on Amazon's bestseller list for job hunting books in March 2012. He published 12 Steps to Freedom in August 2013, Trail of 32 in September 2013, The Syndrome in April 2014, and A Two Pedal World Book 1 and Book 2 in May 2014.
Paul lives in a small town along the Gulf Coast of Florida, where he is working on his next book.