Author: Stella Mazzucchelli
Title: Silk Flowers Never Die
Publisher: Dynasty Press
Silk Flowers Never Die is an important and intensely personal memoir, powerfully showing with humanity and humor, the difficulties that exist for any family trying to cope with schizophrenia and mental distress. In a compelling story that reveals how much stranger than fiction fact is, Stella Mazzucchelli describes her determination to preserve her son from the worst effects of mental illness, while his young wife is dying of cancer.
In the process of trying to rise to these challenges, Stella is transformed from a beautiful, over-protected Society woman with alcohol issues, to an impressive, courageous earth-mother who now campaigns to reduce the stigma attached to mental illness by using her privileged position to positive effect. This moving book is informative on a host of subjects, ranging from the lifestyle of the International Super-Rich to the profundities of facing terminal illness and mental disease. Due to its intelligence, insight, and compassion the appeal of this amazing story and struggle should be universal.
London’s winter air was crisp and warm as rays of sunshine burst through the clouds with rare generosity.That morning everything seemed positive; even the gloomiest expressions seemed to be smiling. My son, Fedele was no exception as he headed towards the Thames for a brisk morning walk.
As he recounted the very first time he set eyes on Naomi, my imagination went rampant as I lived the moment hanging on to his every word. I could almost follow his gaze as it swept the murky waters coming alive with tugboats and barges going about their business. For no particular reason he was feeling elated as his mind dwelt on all the wonderful things he was planning to do with his future. His spirits were so high he assured me, that if embarrassment hadn’t gotten the better of him, he would have skipped and jumped, clicking his heels in the air. He was positive that something good was about to happen. Gesticulations accompanied his novella as he recounted the scene.
In the distance, a lonely figure sitting on a bench caught his attention. As he approached his heart skipped a beat. She was the most delicate and beautiful creature he had ever laid eyes on. He instantly noted how her long black hair framed her oriental beauty to perfection. Her full and sensual lips triggered feelings of desire while, at the same time, he wanted to protect her from the world. Her slender legs, with knees pressed together and hands resting delicately on her lap, suggested that she was shy and lonely. ‘Mum, I just had to get to know her. I couldn’t let her slip out of my life.’
Fedele’s obsession with the East had been initiated by Mitzi, his high school sweetheart, who happened to be Chinese. She was a scion of a wealthy entrepreneurial family residing in Hong Kong. While boarding at an exclusive British school in Somerset, their relationship flourished into a roller coaster of passion. Although Mitzi was by no means religious or typical of her oriental background, Fedele became captivated by Chinese
philosophy and went as far as converting to Buddhism. Although their romance came to a shattering end, Fedele remained faithful to Asian women for the rest of his life.
In London, although a cosmopolitan capital, it was not easy to make the acquaintance of Asian girls, especially as they were famed for being introverted and possessing an almost medieval prudishness. Nevertheless, Fedele had devised a cunning ploy to overcome these obstacles. All it necessitated was sufficient knowledge of Japanese and Chinese, enough to handle simple dialogue and a canny eye to pinpoint the girl’s country of origin. Fortunately for him, he possessed both those assets and used them with infallible dexterity.
Having concluded that the lonely girl sitting on the bench happened to be Japanese, he offered her a casual ‘konnichiwa’ – hello – as he passed her by. He did not need to look back; he was certain that her eyes had followed him, very likely bursting with curiosity. By not pausing to offer her the lustful glance of a predator, he had ensured that her guard would automatically have been dropped.With meticulous timing Fedele then did a U-turn, returning to his, now intrigued, beauty with a charismatic smile on his face. His strategy had never failed him in the past, and it had worked with Naomi. He was, however, unaware that he had just initiated a lifelong bond that was destined to be filled with immense love, tenderness – and heartbreaking grief.
Fedele and Naomi formed a bond that was deep and meaningful. Initially they were grateful that her career with Japanese fashion designer Issey Miyaki entailed constant trips between London and Tokyo. But in time it worked against them, and her frequent absences put a strain on their relationship. Fedele, being in the prime of his manhood, found it difficult to resist the Asian beauties that every now and then tantalized his senses, leading him astray. During those extremely bumpy periods of their relationship Naomi withdrew to the sidelines, hoping that Fedele would eventually tire and settle down with her. Her unwavering patience paid off: their on-off relationship matured over a decade, forming a solid foundation that was difficult to break.
Once Fedele finished his degree in economics, he was offered a junior position with an Italian bank operating in Hong Kong. Needless to say, he immediately accepted the challenge. Throughout his education, Fedele had battled dyslexia: a learning disorder they say is hereditary and tends to target individuals with an elevated IQ. As Fedele’s headmaster repeatedly warned us that he would never achieve a respectable academic career, this prestigious job offer not only defied his condemning assumption, but gave us hope that he was treading the path of a lucrative future.
If asked to describe my son, I would portray him as a sensitive and loving human being who was always ready to help and take care of whoever needed a shoulder to cry on. I suppose being an only child encouraged Fedele to adopt the world as his brother. His boyish blond hair was beguiling, and his amber-coloured eyes projected kindness, even when angered. His spontaneous smile had the capacity to brighten his surroundings. If destiny had been kinder, he would most probably have whistled his way through life, finding ways of shedding light onto the darkness. He possessed an endearing aura and was loved by all.
My emotionally charged marriage to Fedele’s father, Riccardo disintegrated around the time Fedele celebrated his eighteenth birthday. I recall my son’s words as he staggered through the front door the day he received the news: ‘My world is over, my family is finished!’ His smile darkened as his universe rumbled with anger. Nevertheless, time spent in his beloved Hong Kong helped heal the pain, and our divorce slowly became nothing more than a bad memory.
Although Fedele’s interest in Buddhism had been initiated by Mr Tan, his martial arts teacher in London, in Hong Kong he began showing a great deal of interest in Taoism. When Chiu Ling, his new spiritual mentor, began cropping up all too frequently in our conversations. I soon realized that he was slipping deeper into the world of the supernatural as his career faded into the background. Words such as power, energy and eternal life dominated his every sentence as Fedele fell under the spell of his newfound faith. It was a mistake that would cause him a great deal of suffering in the future.
Throughout his early youth, I couldn’t help noticing Fedele’s extraordinary sixth sense. He seemed to tune into people’s thoughts with uncanny precision, and his touch generated miraculous warmth that had the ability to ease pain. Of course, I had never made an issue of these strange phenomena. In fact, I tried to dismiss them as coincidences or products of my imagination. Little did I know that Taoism stimulated these energies by drawing them to the surface, creating a situation that could be extremely dangerous. It was easy for Chiu Ling to convince Fedele that Buddha had singled him out and to offer, for a fee (or ‘donation’ as they preferred calling it) to teach Fedele how to utilize his powers so as to heal the world and achieve immortality.
My uneasiness increased as Fedele’s telephone calls ranted endlessly on about Taoism, while his career at the bank sank very much into the background. I realized that his life had spiralled out of control the day he announced: ‘Mum! I heard bells! They came from the heavens! You should have heard how beautiful they sounded!’
Although his words caused me to jump to attention, it was the following phone call that convinced me that I had to fly to Hong Kong: ‘Mum, I have just seen Buddha sitting amidst an aura of light. I died today and he brought me back to life. I have now become immortal!’
It was obvious my son had lost touch with reality.
My flight to Hong Kong seemed to take forever. Apart from my usual nervousness when flying, my thoughts were occupied with the situation I was about to encounter. Did Taoists hear bells and see Buddha? Would my son be dressed in robes, head shaven and chanting like the weird Krishna sect that roamed the streets of London, looking totally out of place? I clung to my whisky-filled glass.While nervously swirling the ice cubes, I tried to blot out the frightening visions that kept jumping before me. When the pilot announced ‘Ladies and gentlemen, we are about to land in Hong Kong’ I instinctively peered out my window. Skyscrapers began appearing through the scattered clouds, giving the impression of Lego pieces thrown closely together.
Having passed through Customs, I entered the Arrivals lounge. Disappointment hit me as I searched the crowds. Where was he? Had he altered his appearance to the point where I no longer recognized him? Fear caused my stomach to flutter. There must be something extremely wrong! I felt a sudden hatred towards this country and its people: I held them responsible for transforming my son into a freak that heard bells and hobnobbed with Buddha. I climbed into one of the many cabs forming a queue outside the terminal. When the driver asked for my destination I realized that I had forgotten to book a hotel.
‘Take me to a good hotel,’ I replied. ‘I don’t have an address. Just take me to a good hotel! You know…the Hilton or the Marriott!’
The driver gave me a blank look. I had not yet realized that I would be doomed to encounter a lot of those blank looks in Hong Kong, as very few Chinese understood English.
The Hilton was a tower of glass, impeccably clean and the view from my room was breathtaking. Under different circumstances I would have reveled in the excitement; now all I could think of was getting to a phone. Fedele’s mobile answered with a Chinese recording.
‘I’m here!’ I responded with an audible sigh. ‘Where are you? I’m at the Hilton. Please call me, I’m sick with worry!’
The minutes rolled sluggishly into hours. The view beyond my glass encased room no longer held the same fascination. The skyscrapers scintillating in the sun seemed to enhance my loneliness and deepen my fears.The messages I kept leaving on Fedele’s voicemail became more and more desperate. CNN news was turned on and off as I scoured the television channels. It was only the mini-bar with its variety of miniatures that seemed to ease my frustration. As the empties cluttered up my bedside table, fatigue spread over me like a veil of comfort, causing my mind to blur. A welcoming numbness transfused my body, and I sank into darkness.
A repeated knocking penetrated my unconsciousness. I sprang off the bed as my heart quickened. Please God! Let it be him! Holding my breath I opened the door. Fedele stood tall with a smile on his face and a sparkle in his eyes. I leaned against the doorframe, torn between anger and relief; it was relief finally that tipped the scales as I opened my arms to him. I held him in my embrace for as long as it took to blink away my tears. Having taken stock of my emotions, I scrutinized his face, searching deep into his eyes. Had anything changed? I did not detect any sign of abnormality. But I was wrong. Nothing would be normal again.
‘Mum! I’ m so happy to see you!’ Fedele enthused. ‘How was your flight?’ His eyes clouded with a sheepish expression as he continued: ‘I’m sorry I wasn’t there to meet you…I was held up with my Master. He was performing an important ceremony I couldn’t miss!’
Fedele must have caught the odour of whisky on my breath.
‘Oh, Mum!’ he declared ‘You haven’t been drinking, have you?’
I shrank back. Somehow the tables had suddenly turned, and I had to explain myself. ‘I couldn’t help it, I was sick with worry…. waiting and waiting, not knowing what had happened to you!’
I could have prolonged my defence with a self-pitying sermon, but I preferred to hold my breath in an attempt to minimize the fumes.
Fedele’s disappointment was evident as he made his way towards the mini-bar. After investigating its contents, he retrieved a handful of chocolates. Holding onto his loot, he sunk into the numerous cushions scattered on the king-size bed. Having composed my appearance, I decided to join him. While Fedele devoured his candy, we sat huddled together, gazing at the magnificent skyscrapers as they sprang to life with multicoloured lights. Soon the whole city twinkled in the darkness.
With a pang of jealousy I felt like an outsider peering at a metropolis full of vibrant energy that I was somehow banned from joining. Memories of Fedele’s boarding-school days came flooding back. At that time the family was residing in Zambia, a country land-locked in the heart of Africa and I would fly thousands of miles to be with him in England during his half-term exeats. We would often cuddle up in hotel rooms with boxes of chocolate between us on the king-sized bed as I listened to his gossip about the ‘mean old maths teacher’ or his current flirt. Fedele abhorred boarding school, even more so after enjoying breaks filled with motherly pampering. He found it difficult adapting to an environment that lacked warmth and focused mainly on rules and regulations.
Returning my focus back to the present which was plagued by Buddhas, ringing bells and eternal powers, I knew that I was now faced with a very different kind of problem, a problem I wasn’t sure that I could handle.
Disregarding the empty candy box, Fedele sprang off the bed as his body quivered with excitement and his words ignited with passion.‘Mum! You have to meet my Master! He’s soo powerful. Believe it or not, he’s performed a special ceremony that has given me special protection. Nothing can kill me… not even a car running over me! A bullet from a gun will just bounce off me!’
Observing my dropped jaw, he added urgency to his voice, ‘If somebody stabs me with a knife, nothing will happen. Look! I will prove it to you if you don’t believe me. I’ll take you to meet him so that he can demonstrate how he can strike me with a sword and absolutely nothing will happen to me.’
After pausing for a breather, he stated with an expression of grandeur, ‘Mum, I’m immortal! Your son is immortal!’
Fedele’s senseless words confirmed my worst suspicions and I wanted him to stop. I needed to clear my head, yet he continued like a boxer pounding a punching bag. ‘I’ve already told my Master that you would like to meet him!’ before concluding with, ‘Oh, by the way, did I mention that I can eat glass?’
This bit of information was the knockout blow.
‘Stop it! Stop it!’ I cried, putting my hands to my head and willing the Master, the glass eating and sword tricks to disappear.
‘We’ll see, OK? Now just let me relax! I’m exhausted!’ I rubbed my forehead, aching for a drink.
‘All right, I’ll stop,’ he said, ‘but only after I tell you one more thing.’ He stretched his torso for the finale. ‘You know, Mum, I have actually died and seen Buddha! He showed me a beautiful bright light before bringing me back to life!’
I woke up with a feeling of urgency. The hands on my watch indicated it was 5.00 am. I propped myself up on my cushions and let my gaze linger on the horizon. I followed the sun’s gentle rays as they sneaked between the tall glass buildings spreading a pink aura of tranquillity. The fairytale image didn’t last for long: within minutes the crisp sunlight dampened the softness, bringing forth the harshness of reality.
I looked at Fedele lying peacefully beside me. His face was so young and angelic. My heart tightened as I pictured the future. Was his relaxed and contented face just a facade? What was going on in his mind? It would not take long for the demons and phobias that were hiding there to reveal themselves. They were festering, thrashing about ready to torture him for the rest of his life.
Stella Metaxa Mazzucchelli was born in Athens, Greece and married, aged eighteen, Riccardo Mazzucchelli, the famous Italian businessman. During their twenty-two year marriage, they lived in Zambia and London, where she became a well-known figure on the social scene, and had a brief and successful modeling career at the unusual age of 28. Fedele is their only child. After their divorce, Riccardo married Ivana Trump in 1995, though the marriage was short lived. Stella now lives in Athens where she brings up her granddaughter Katerina. As well as being involved in the property and renovation business, which ensures she maintains connections with London, she is also a tireless campaigner for the better understanding of schizophrenia and mental illness. Silk Flowers Never Die is her first book.