Changing perspective: the story of Andrea
We called him “Andrea the Ugly.” There were five boys named Andrea in the complex where we lived. There was Andrea the dark-haired, Andrea the blonde, Andrea the ‘roscio’ (that’s what we Romans called those with red hair), Andrea the handsome. And then, precisely, Andrea the ugly. The nicknames were bestowed by the eldest amongst us. He wasn’t a bad kid but had a bully’s exuberance. Although bullying was a term we barely understood in the early 1980s, the derogatory connotation of that label, “Andrea the Ugly,” was crystal clear.
Then again, he was “a weird guy.” He had tics and at times appeared to talk to himself. He was prone to outbursts when he’d been fouled in play, so some of us would provoke him just to see his reaction. “Strange” also defined his family from our spoiled teenagers’ point of view: two disabled parents who commuted by public transportation (we came from families that owned two cars). Among my memories of adolescence is their limping step as they came home, dragging themselves slowly through the square our apartments overlooked, like a theater of asphalt and concrete.
To win our acceptance, Andrea organized a soccer match between our gang and his classmates at the end of 8th grade. The brawl that ensued lasted longer than the game itself. After that, things only got worse for Andrea. He found himself completely ostracized by us. We no longer spoke to him or greeted him at all, and we excluded him from the only activity that had once united us: kicking the ball around.
Over the next few years, as our group dissolved and I was one of the few left living in the complex, I rarely said “hello” to Andrea. When I saw him from a distance, I usually changed direction. I pretended not to, but he knew: he was “strange” but he wasn’t stupid. I wasn’t oblivious to Andrea’s psychological distress. I observed it in some of his behavior, and perhaps I even caused some of it, contributing to his marginalization, making him pay for not being like the rest of us, and treating him with the insensitivity we are capable of in adolescence.
Years later, when working for the Di Liegro Foundation, I came across photos taken by Andrea whose last name I still remembered. I recalled the past and our youth, but with a new perspective.
His shots, realized during the photography art therapy workshop organized by Di Liegro Foundation, looked at the city geometrically, drawing interactions between means of locomotion and their urban context. People are blurred, representing an almost negligible part of the landscape, until they disappear completely.
I realized the photographer was indeed the Andrea I knew during a Foundation meeting on Zoom. I recognized his voice, his facial expressions, and his almost-obsessive desire to relate to others. I remembered the adolescent Andrea and noticed the signs of discomfort which, before my time at the Foundation, I had ignored or was incapable of seeing in people.
At the Di Liegro Foundation’s Summer Festival which brings together users, volunteers, and family members, I encountered Andrea in person. We talked until the party was over, catching up on the decades gone by. Andrea still lives with his parents in the apartment overlooking the square. A square that is no longer a theater or a soccer field, but just a parking lot full of cars.