October 14, 2011
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I woke up; I knew it would be a bad day. I knew because instead of my alarm, the bitter cold of the outside that had managed to seep into the house woke me up. I really wanted to stay in my bed, but I got up because it was already 10, and Manny had to eat breakfast. I walked out my room and I knew something was wrong. Usually Saturday mornings are met with the blasting of the SpongeBob theme song from the living room TV, but this morning it was quiet.
I walked to Manny’s room and there he was: my little boy sitting on his bed, still in his pajamas, looking through his dad’s photo album that I had given him for his 5th birthday. He looked up at me, his eyes a little watery, but happy that I was awake, “Mommy, can we go to the park?” I breathed in and out slowly, mixed emotions in my head and heart. I knew this day would come. After I gave him the album, it’s as if I had incited curiosity that I hadn’t quite seen in my son before. I knew it had taken all of his nerve to ask me because he knew how I felt. He looked scared, poor thing, but relief flooded his face when I responded, “Sure Manny, get your boots and coat on so we can go.”
Usually, I thought of Spring Lake as my backyard a blessing, but this morning it was a curse. I was scared, and as a sixth sense that kindergarteners had, Manny squeezed my hand as tight as his tiny hand could, as if to say “You can do this mommy.” We started walking, and it began. We hadn’t even made it to the first bench when the first question came:
“Where was he from?”
“Here Manny, but his parents, umm, your grandparents (Gosh that was hard to say) were both born, and raised in Spain”
“Ohhh, where is Spain?”
“It’s far away, across the ocean. It’s actually really beautiful.”
“You’ve been there Mommy?” he looked up at me with the excited eyes that only a 5 year old could have.
“Nope, but I’ve seen many pictures; I’ll show them to you later if you want.”
“Okay, mommy”
We walked a bit more until we reached the gazebo, and we sat down. We sat in silence, huddled together to keep each other warm, and him, still holding my hand. We saw the people walk by. We laughed at the lady who sped past us not realizing how ridiculous she looked in bright pink leggings, green leg warmers, and a bright orange jacket. We watched the water, how nice it looked, as if it were encrusted with crystals as the sun shined on it. It felt like forever even though we hadn’t completed a loop around the park yet, so we got up and kept walking. Almost immediately he started again:
“What was his favorite color?”
“Cool, mine too!” he exclaimed with the excitement at finding a similarity between him and his father.
“I know Man.”
“Did he like pizza, soccer, video games, TV, and soda like I do?”
“Yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes. “
“Ohhh, wow, we have a lot of things in common.”
(I hope not)
“So Mommy, where did you and him meet?”

I didn’t respond quickly, it was as if my son was opening a bag of pain I had stored deep inside, so he could finally close his. He squeezed my hand again, encouraging me.
“Well, we both worked at a pizzeria in town-“
“Tony’s?!” he interrupted.
“Yes Tony’s and we also went to school together since we were your age.”

Manny loved Tony’s, he loved going there and hearing Larry tell the embarrassing stories of his mom as a teenager. He had this look on his face, as if he was mixing the stories he heard with the new knowledge that that’s where his parents met. It was amusing, his forehead scrunched up, his mouth closed but slanted, and his eyes, narrowed. (Gosh I have a cute kid.)
“Mommy, did you love him?”

All the air was knocked out of me as if I had just been punched in my stomach. I could feel the warm tears forming on the corners of my eyes. It hurt too much, but the unanswered questions hurt Manny more, than the known truth hurt me. I had to do this for my son.
“ Yes I did Man, very, very much.”
Each word was another healed scar opening up again, Manny knew, but he kept going, he needed this.
“Did he love you back?”

Another punch.
“Yes he did, I know he did.”
This was true; I wouldn’t lie to my son.
“Are you sure?”

(Ha-ha, he doesn’t believe me.)
“One hundred percent.”

He looked reassured but still confused.
“Oh, okay”

It was coming; on the tip of his tongue was the question I’d been dreading to hear. I prepared myself so Manny wouldn’t see the tears that were fighting to leave my eyes.
“Why did he leave?”
He was crying now, not the crying that accompanies the temper tantrums of not getting the new toy at the store; but the silent cry, the one that if you didn’t see the tears slowing falling down the side of his cheek, you wouldn’t know they were there. It’s the cry of pure hurt. Somehow, his tears hurt more than what was about to come out of my mouth. I took a long deep breath and before I knew it I started, and so did my own tears.
“ He was scared Manny; we were both SO young, everywhere we went, backs were turned to us, we had no one else but each other, and it seemed as if it wasn’t enough; I was scared too.”
“But you didn’t leave, he did. Was it because he didn’t love me?”
This is what I was afraid of; Manny thought his father left me because of him. I stopped him, and I kneeled down, looked him in the eyes;
“Don’t EVER think that, your father loved you, he was there when you were born, and HE named you Emmanuel after himself. You were his pride and joy, and he thought you deserved better. He was scared of his age; he didn’t think he could be the father he knew you deserved. Instead of trying, he left. He was weak, but I’m here Manny. I am mom and dad; I have always been and don’t plan on changing that. Your father now is paying the consequences of not being there everyday to see the best thing that has ever happened to me, and keeps happening to me. You are nothing but a blessing, and nothing will ever change that in my eyes.”
We were both crying, but he was smiling. It was what he needed to hear, what he needed to know, but it was also nothing but the truth. He hugged me, finally letting go of my hand.
“Thank you Mommy.”
That’s all I needed to hear.
“No, thank you Manny.”
He didn’t ask why I said thanks, he was smart, he probably knew. My son was as much to me as I was to him. If he hadn’t come into my life, I don’t know where I’d be.
And there we were, mother and son walking hand in hand in Spring Lake Park on one of the coldest mornings of the year. We were warm though, we had each other. We walked back home, finally completing the loop around the park. I felt so much better knowing that my son had the peace I thought I had, but definitely had gotten that cold Saturday morning.

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