“Almost trafficked: my mother’s desire to become a movie star, and how my Sicilian family saved me.”
Yes, I was almost sex trafficked at 5 years old because my mother thought we were going to become movie stars.
“What a nightmare you both gave me,” Nonna now says. “When I think about it, I want to shoot her. If I could go back in time, I would’ve killed her right then and there for all the things she did.”
“What did she do?” I ask.
There’s always a new story
This might be the worst.
For around one month, my mother had been boasting to my family about a movie she found in the Backstage, a newspaper that advertised casting calls and was the go-to for rookie actors.
My mother was a background actor who had gotten all of her three SAG waivers in one day on the set of The Last Days of Disco. She exclaimed “Oh my God’’ during an exterior shot, so they waivered her into the union.
When my mother saw a casting call for a film in the Backstage, looking for a mother and daughter to star in a movie called Betty Rooney about a dog in a window, she jumped on the opportunity to be featured. My mother called the director immediately. He answered the phone and gave her an address. She was to send him an eight-by-ten photo of herself only, not of me. My mother thought that was strange. Since we were to both star in the film, why did he only need a photo of her? And where was his accent from?
My mother was a head-turner, and not only because of her larger-than-life personality. Most of the men from my aunt’s Upper East Side hair salon, where my mother worked part-time, wanted to date her. And these were well-to-do men: famous actors, ambassadors, and politicians seen on television today. Therefore, it was no surprise when the director called her back immediately and said she got the part. She didn’t even have to audition.
I was five years old at the time and desperate for a mother. She had left me when I was a baby to live with her boyfriend in the Bronx. After my father went away to “college” Upstate, she divorced him, her ego taking on a life of its own. She was always in the city, never home, and worked out ferociously. When she would appear, she was anxious to depart again. My mother would leave me in the bathtub crying so she could run out the door and go to Manhattan clubs.
She left me to live with my grandparents, yet she’d sometimes become inspired to take me away when they weren’t looking, sneak me out of the house, and bring me to random places. I’d be found on windowsills and front porches alone, a toddler, waiting for her mother to return.
At my grandparents’ house, I would sit by the window and wait for my mother to turn the corner and head up the block, hoping she had just gotten off the subway and was finally coming home.
Nonno would stand next to me, peek through the blinds and say, “Stop looking for her. Who told you she’d come today?”
“I just know she will,” I replied. “Two weeks have passed.”
“No. You’re waiting for nothing.”
A clock ticked inside me. It knew my mother’s routine, and how long she was usually gone before she’d make an appearance again.
Yet my internal clock was wrong that day. Nonno tried to console me. But all a child wants is her mother or father, and I had neither.
Therefore, when Mom barged into my grandparents’ house all excited, saying she needed my passport, and that we were going to star in a movie together, I was all-in. She lavished me with attention, doted on me, bought me clothes, and practiced movie lines with me. She spoke about all the amazing things that would transpire once we became movie stars. I thought that for sure, we’d never be separated again.
I don’t remember caring about being an actress. The only memory in my gut is of wanting to be with my mother. We would finally spend more than two days together. It would be me and her; not me, her and other men, or my grandparents. I wanted to live a life with my mom. I wanted to be a movie star to please her, to gain her approval, and be worthy of being her daughter. Kids come into the world and are loved as they are. I needed to be famous to be loved.
Maybe that’s why I write today.
When my mother barged into the house, demanding my passport, saying that we were to fly to another country to star in this movie, Nonna refused to hand over my life. “You can have your passport, but the minute you try and take my granddaughter out of this house, I will kill you,” she told my mother.
My great-aunts and uncles — my cousins, and family friends all begged my mother to leave me out of her plans. They never let their eyes off me. On New Years Eve, after watching the ball drop on the television — after my mother exclaimed that 1996 would be her best acting year yet, prompting my family to argue with her about the movie abroad that would for sure make us disappear — my great-aunt Sara asked me, “Bianca, be honest, you won’t get on a plane with your mother to do this movie, will you?”
My mother looked at me with expectation gleaming in her eyes.
“Yes,” I said. “I am going with my mother wherever she wants.”