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Zep Tepi – A Chapter in “Reflections”

by on August 8, 2013

                                Zep Tepi 

                                    By Marco M. Pardi

The mid-September dawn came quietly over Firenze, as if looking for something and hoping not to be noticed. Five weeks short of his 8th birthday, Tonio hopped down the outside steps into the garden. Skirting the large concrete fish pond and fountain, he ran to the base of the high wall separating the property from the street.

Over three months before, his family had packed up everything in Ohio and moved back to Italy.  Grandfather, grandmother, mother, older brother and Tonio had come by ship to spend at least two years in grandfather’s home town.  At first Tonio had missed the monastic boarding school, deep in the northern Ohio woods where he had spent the last two years. He had made a friend there, an odd kid whom the other boys also picked on.  But Tonio’s grandfather seemed to be a friend; at least, unlike the others he actually engaged Tonio in short conversations. And he once took the boys into Firenze to the Thieves’ Market, where they had fresh ham sandwiches and Tonio saw his first amputee. Sitting on a rickety wheelchair, a war veteran waggled the stumps of his legs as he held out a tin cup for donations.

The summer months were eventful from the start. Moving into the large villa they had leased, unpacking twenty four steamer trunks and getting things situated had been greatly facilitated by the household staff. Elvira (el-VEE-rah) prepared three meals daily, her husband “Beppino” performed a variety of heavier chores, and their daughter Anna functioned as maid. Occasionally, Beppino’s brother Ugo would come by to spend time working in the garden. A Partisan fighter in the war, Ugo’s hands had been cut off at the wrist and Tonio watched him as he hooked pails of water over his forearms and went about watering plants.

Tonio and his brother were quickly handed over to Signora Broglio, a widow whose physician husband had been killed fighting Germans as part of Italy’s elite Alpine troops. Sra. Broglio came daily in her Lancia to pick up the boys for the day and refresh their Italian up to grade standards for their entry into school.  As they drove from the villa into Firenze she would point out various buildings and have the boys recite, in Italian, what they could of the history before them. Tonio was fascinated by the number of buildings with numerous bullet holes and other damage. Crews worked slowly each day to patch them. One day Sra Broglio had pointed out that there was a large monastery in the deep forests covering the nearby Apennine mountains. Excited by this enthralling news, Tonio asked to hear more. However, like many Italians aware of the Church’s support for the Axis, she said no more about it. 

In the first couple of days after moving in Tonio had discovered a tortoise living in the garden, near the wall.  Thinking at first it was a large rock, Tonio decided to name it Petra, after the stronghold in southwestern Jordan carved largely from rock. He also decided Petra was female. Beppino told him a tortoise would like fresh lettuce. So, every morning Tonio would bring lettuce to Petra and lay it before her shell, wherein she always took refuge at his arrival. He would lie down nearby, watching and sometimes whispering to her until she cautiously peeked out and nibbled. She never seemed to look at him, but always knew he was there.

A few weeks after they had settled into a routine at the villa, Tonio saw the daily newspaper. The headline for June 26, 1950 announced that North Korea had invaded the south the day before. A few years after the last bombs and bullets had scarred Firenze, the world was being dragged into violence again. Born in Rome, and having survived the war there, Tonio wondered if this was the nature of life, if this was his future.

As summer progressed, adult relatives came, quietly discussed the Korean situation, and left. Even the staff seemed distracted, as if they expected the family to leave at any moment. One of the adults had brought Tonio and his brother a pair of model sailboats, sparking their first real adventure at the fountain. Unknown to them before, a pair of large eels owned that water. As they launched their boats the eels darted away, hesitated, and fell into line behind the boats. Waiting, watching for a careless crewman to fall from the deck. More weeks passed, more lettuce talks with Petra, and a rapidly growing ability in Italian.

Grandfather announced one morning he had to go into Firenze for the day, returning late that evening. The day went as usual. But, as time for the evening meal drew near, Tonio was suddenly overcome with a feeling of deep exhaustion; he needed to lie down and sleep. Elvira looked at him carefully, but no one else minded as he went to his bed and laid down.   

Immediately as he closed his eyes Tonio felt propelled into utter blackness. Feeling more awake and clear than he ever had, he looked back in the direction from which he felt he was traveling and saw what appeared to be Earth, receding in the distance. It was then he discovered he had no body.

“What’s happening? Where am I?”, he thought.

Calm down. We’ve done this before. The voice in his mind was his, but somehow different. When you were two you got a virus that almost killed you. At 2 1/2 you got whooping cough and there was no effective medicine because of the war.

“Who are you?”

I am you, the real you, the you that people call spirit, soul, essence, and other things.

“But I, we, have no body.”

We don’t need one now. We are the real you. Nothing has been lost. Was that man at the market any less who he was for having no legs? Is Ugo not really or fully Ugo because he lost his hands?

“Where are we going?”

Nowhere. There is no place to go. The vision you had of Earth, the sense of movement you had, were just symbols to help you understand the shedding of attachment to physical things, and what you think of as real.

At that moment Tonio sensed a presence, a person beside him. But this presence had no gender, no form, and no age. Still, he knew it was a human and he felt it was “dead” and “alive” at the same time, but the person was confused.

“Who is that?”

That’s unimportant now. It is important that you be with this person.

Suddenly Tonio saw a ball of orange light in the blackness. He could not tell if it was a small light up close or a big light far away. As it grew in size, he could not tell if it was indeed growing or if they were moving closer.

 “What’s that? Is that God?”

There is God, there is no God. God is nothing, no thing is God. God is everywhere, God is no where. There is no thing you can point to and say it is God. Putting God in one place or person, with likes and dislikes, is taking God out of everywhere and everything else. Even thinking the word God limits God to the meaning you have put on that word. God is like the water to the eels. Do they know they are in water? People make Gods. Then they claim to know what the Gods like or dislike. The reason is simple: Those in charge of knowing God’s likes or dislikes are in charge of judging people’s behavior; it gives them power over other people.

“So we aren’t going to heaven?”

No such place as heaven or hell. Think of those words as you just now thought of the word God. Those words are made up of what we like and what we don’t like. Your heaven could be someone else’s hell.

“Why are we here? Why are we doing this?”

Because you and this person are inter-connected. We are all inter-connected, but you will sense this in only a few cases. We will do this many, many times throughout your physical life. Some of these people you will know, many you won’t. This person is shedding the attachments to the physical. You are one of those attachments. Being here allows that person understand the transition and accept it.

“Do other people do this, like we are now?”

Some people are born asleep and stay asleep. Others are born awake and are put to sleep by society. Some are born asleep and awaken at some point, often suffering for it. A few are born awake and remain awake. Those few are almost never known, never understood.

“Are we dying now?”

It is not our time.

As those last words were spoken, the unseen person next to Tonio seemed to pass on ahead, moving into the light. Immediately as he recognized this, Tonio awoke on his bed. Being early evening, it was still quite light out.

Tonio lay on his bed, completely recovered from the sudden tiredness which had brought him there, but so deep in thought that getting up or lying still was not yet an issue. But in less than an hour, outside his room he heard the telephone ring and a rush of voices soon thereafter.

Within minutes his mother opened his door and, seeing him awake, told him his grandfather had collapsed and died in a hotel lobby in the city. He looked at her, saying nothing.

After his mother had left for the hospital to which his grandfather had been taken, Tonio arose and quietly entered the kitchen for some of the dinner he had missed. The household staff were still there, but they were busy hovering near his grandmother and his brother.  He gathered up some left-overs into a basket and, suddenly thinking of something, included some lettuce.

With evening darkening, Tonio slipped out into the garden, skirted the fountain, and went quickly to Petra’s area by the enclosure wall. Choosing the cover of some bushes to reduce his visibility from the house, he sat and looked for Petra.

For the first time, he did not have to go to her. She came toward him with greater speed than he would have thought possible, craning her neck fully out of her shell and seeming to look straight at him. He put the lettuce before her, but she held her head erect, just looking at him.

As darkness fell Tonio quickly finished his food and went back into the house. Unnoticed by anyone, he went back to his room to think. What had happened to him? Why did Petra behave the way she did?

Over the next few days Tonio stayed out of the way as people came to negotiate the breaking of the lease, distant family and friends came to console the widow and her daughter, and a man came from the American Embassy in Rome to prepare the family for a problem on the return to the U.S.

The Embassy official – Tonio did not know his exact duties but he seemed to be an old family friend, explained that since Tonio’s grandfather had been such an immensely wealthy man the family would get extra scrutiny from Customs and the Internal Revenue Service would assign two agents to oversee any and all banking transactions conducted on the grandfather’s accounts.

Tonio had no idea what the Internal Revenue Service was, or did. But, he was pretty sure he would recognize the agents. Eels.

The evening before they were to leave, Elvira asked his mother how Tonio was handling the death. With Tonio standing nearby, his mother had simply dismissed the progress he had made in Italian and answered her that, “Tonio does not understand death.” Touching her finger to the side of her head, she said, “He is pretty slow here. But, he is strong, and when he is old enough the Army can take him and keep him.” Elvira looked at him, something in her eyes he had not seen before.

And so it was that, at that mid-September dawn, Tonio hurried into the garden to say Good-bye to his beloved Petra. She was there. She seemed to be waiting. And, Tonio could not tell if it was the dew, or if she had tears in her eyes.  

  1. Rose Palmer permalink

    This is an easier read than our introduction to Tonio in “Reflections”, slower and more intimate. What a sad and lonely little boy he is; his feelings of disenfranchisement undeniable. Again, as in “Reflections”, I see sparkling shards of conversations held long ago. You leave me sad for him, and wanting to hear more of his story. Rose


  2. jkent33 permalink

    Lovely story! As a young boy once myself, your story recalled some of my own memories reflecting on despair and pain brought forth from the stages of youth. Much like Tonio, they have endured throughout my lifetime. Until it is told, we have only to guess who may have known the level of pain, from changes we felt from things we cannot control from our youth. It was only after going back to read Reflections again did I better understand both of your stories!
    Kudos for the pleasure received! I will be looking forward to reading future installments…


  3. jkent33 permalink

    BTW – I almost forgot! I prefer my eels nicely sauteed in EVOO with garlic, salt and freshly ground black pepper! Any other way, I become ill at the mere suggestion they are present or even nearby!


  4. Marco, words always seem to fail me when I try to describe “Reflections” and how I feel when I read it (and I’ve surely read it dozens of times by now). I feel much the same way about Zep Tepi.

    While it might sound like a selfish request, I would love to read more about Tonio. Somehow I imagine him to have had a few fun and wild adventures as a teenager too, but the child Tonio is the one I wish I could “mother.”

    Must be those motherly inst– oops. You and I both know human beings do not have instincts.

    Am I able to say that I’m looking forward to hearing more?


    • Thanks, Dana. Those fun and wild adventures began well before the teen years. I’ll think about what I dare write. After all, this is fiction – right?


      • Dana R. Seiler permalink

        To quote Elaine Benis from an episode of Seinfeld, “It’s whatever you want it to be!”

        “…what I dare write.” Sounds, well, daring.

        I quadruple dare you.


  5. diannejoydiamond permalink

    Marco, I am just discovering lots of emails that I seem never to have opened. Is this a story or is Tonio really you? Did you have this experience? Quite remarkable either way.


    >________________________________ > From: mpardidotcom >To: >Sent: Thursday, August 8, 2013 7:59 AM >Subject: [New post] Zep Tepi > > > > >mpardi2013 posted: “ Zep Tepi By Marco M. PardiThe mid-September dawn came quietly over Firenze, as if looking for something and hoping not to be noticed. Five weeks short of his 8th birthday, Tonio hopped do” >


  6. Oh Marco, how did i miss this ? i am realizing now i missed many of your posts. must come check more often.
    To me, this is maybe the one story that i am not going to forget. It resonates inside and speaks to my heart in so many ways i still feel a bit confused… and not only because the Italy part brings back memories, but especially because, as you can imagine, i can so easily relate in many ways.
    I have copied/pasted this on my Favorite Scribbles ( 🙂 ) file.

    Thank you so much for sharing again, and I so agree with the others…want a second episode, and third and more !! Looking forward to that, and no need for editing with us !!

    By the way, a few years ago, i had an …eel problem (when my mother passed on). I so don`t like eels in any flavor …lol !


    • Thank you, Lory. As ever, I’m very glad it was meaningful for you. It should be a chapter insert in Reflections. I know you caught the meaning of Zep Tepi, the Classical Egyptian mystic term for “First Time”. I chose it for the mundane meaning of the first time I remember having a sympathetic death experience, but also because “first time” speaks of the timeless plane from which all things manifest. I did try writing another chapter, bringing Tonio back to the States and eventually into the military. However, I was faced with two unacceptable choices: accurately portray the circumstances that developed that boy into someone you would not want to meet; or, paint some bland, two dimensional fiction simply to fill in the time gap. I don’t do fiction. And, people can develop perfectly successful Potemkin careers and personas on a public level while being a career someone else on a more factual level. Remember the double meaning of Janus? That’s where it will have to stay. So, I dumped about 8 pages. I’m looking forward to spending more time with your blog, and I hope others following this one will too. Marco


      • I think we all do have a `me` in some chapter of our lives that we would not like to meet. Sure, the intensity can vary from person to person, yet what is important is that we grow `out of them`and into someone better….more `meet-able 🙂 `
        Besides, writing is a healing process in itself!
        PS. well, admitting my great ignorance, must say that knowing about the meaning of Zep Tepi was a zep tepi for me 😉 thanks for letting me know !


  7. Jessica S. permalink

    Tears again. Thank you Marco. What wonderful story. Love the conversation outside of this realm.

    I used to think tears were a sign of weakness, only for me. It didn’t bother me nor did I judge anyone else when they cried. Obviously programming, but not anymore. Tears are beautiful.

    I’d love to read your book Reflections. I’ll look for it.

    Thank you again for the touching story.

    ps I can’t wait to watch the latest of you and Jamie.


  8. Thank you, Jessica. Sometimes I have to pause as I write, waiting to be able to see the screen clearly again.

    Reflections is a short story (I presented it as a fiction just as I presented this as fiction). Thanks to Dana, Reflections is on this site in the archives as well. If and when you find it you will see how Zep Tepi fits in as a chapter, although written much later.

    The last tv show with Jamie, June 2nd, was not at all satisfying to me. The format was changed at literally the last minute and I failed to regain my balance. The change was a good one; it’s just that I would have done better knowing it before I walked in.

    If you have trouble finding Reflections in the archive, let me know.


  9. I have always felt connected to everything but some more than others. It took me a long time to figure out to explain this but I was busy with other things, that life stuff that gets in the way dulling us to sleep. Sometimes I think I am here playing hide and seek with other contractors. I feel I know people I’ve never met just from a certain look, be it an aura or look in their eyes. Maybe this is why I am an ‘eye guy’ with females. Or maybe that would be a mating call.


  10. Thank you, PM. Life stuff often is distracting, and sometimes it seems intentionally so. I guess we always play hide and seek in a way, some more than others. Sadly, some hide and forget where they put themselves.


  11. My Journey Out of Darkness permalink

    This is so amazing! Thank you for writing this!


  12. My Journey Out of Darkness permalink

    Reblogged this on Ethereal Beings In My Life and commented:
    This beautiful piece is a companion to the one I just reblogged.


  13. Thank you, MJ. I do hope people enjoy Reflections and Zep Tepi, and comment.


  14. Dana permalink

    Marco, I just read this again for the first time. It seems forever since you posted it. And you’re correct in saying it should be a chapter insert in “Reflections.”

    I experienced similar thoughts as a child, although to my knowledge no one visited me. They mostly occurred when I was alone outdoors which was the majority of my childhood. I never minded the solitude or these thoughts when I was connected to nature. Or any other time, really.

    At six years old in my back yard I decided that life as we know it is only a movie some unseen force is writing as we “go along.” For years I felt odd about that idea, but as an adult discovered others have posited this as well. While I don’t think that anymore, it was deep enough a thought given my Roman Catholic upbringing at the time.

    I’ve never felt any connection to a god and still don’t. This won’t change. That leads me to wonder about the numerous people over the decades who have prayed for my “salvation” and continue to do so. How much precious time they’ve wasted praying for me. In the end, their prayers are only an effort for them to feel better in the moment. It’s not about me.

    I have a nice, fresh lettuce mix I’m about to eat for part of my dinner. I’ll be thinking about a turtle named Petra, and Tonio.


  15. Thank you, Dana. Imagine us a children together. What a pair we would have made. I also think of Petra, and see her clearly.


  16. Liz permalink

    I find it interesting that you chose Zep Tepi as the title. Very apropos.

    I like Tonio. He’s an interesting young fellow and very insightful. My god, what 8 year old has ever experienced accompanying spirits? What any year-old for that matter? I wish I could do that.

    I enjoyed reading this piece. The Adventures of Tonio.


    • Thank you, Liz. I see you discovered the meaning of Zep Tepi. This chapter is a late addition to the story, Reflection, also on this site. Marco


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