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- Growing Up Bronx
I remember when I was a young kid, my parents used to fight often. There was this one time though that things were really getting out of hand. My mom and dad were fighting, screaming loudly at each other. They were cursing each other, and going so far as physically assaulting each other. This night I recall physically coming in between them to stop them. My father had a hammer in his hands, and my mother was daring him to do it.
This was the first time in my life that I can remember exerting physical strength, and to a degree, violence. I remember screaming at them to stop, and coming in between them. They were in a trance, they were not paying any attention to me. So in a rage I went and kicked the front door with all my might. BANG! The echoing of my kick, and some obscenity was all that could be heard. At that point it seems that they came to their senses and stopped fighting for the time being.
Back then, I didn’t really know what was going on. There were so many nights that my mom would throw my pops out of the house. It was such a common occurrence that it wasn’t strange for us to come out of the apartment on our way to school, and seeing my dad sleeping on the floor inside the building. It was a normal thing to see him fully dressed, laying down by the door that led to the building rooftop. He had a tiny little mattress that he would bring out when mom had enough, and that was his bed for those nights. He slept there until mom let him back in the house, usually within a day or so.
You ever heard the saying “You are sleeping on the couch tonight?” Well, my mom and dad took that to a whole other level. He had this old, raggedy mattress with blue stripes. One of those tiny things that would be on those metal fold up portable beds. It’s kind of funny, or not, that he still had one of those when I last visited him. I guess old habits die hard.
My pops was always prepared to be homeless, he always kept the essentials he would need on the go. I guess he was a prepper of sorts, on a smaller scale. Pops was from the streets, and he was always ready for something to go wrong. Even when I was over there, dad kept looking out the window, claiming he was being watched. So he kept this small portable mattress just in case. While I was over at his place, it was nice to see that he actually slept on a queen size bed. I guess some things will never change though, gotta keep those small mattresses handy, cause, well, you never know. Do you?
As I spoke with my dad, I found out that on one of those many long ago nights, the reason my mom threw him out of the house was because he came home with “dirty money.” See, my dad had a lucrative career as a car thief. During his last days he shared many of those stories with me. The stories remind me of Lemon Andersen’s poetry, where he tells us how his dad could steal a car in a matter of seconds. My dad confessed that he could hot wire a car, in 15 seconds flat, and those were even the ones that had some form of electrical short circuit security to them. Meaning that he could pretty much steal any car in those days, and he did. Mercilessly.
My mom, well, she did not approve of his career choices. She knew that on average, as a gypsy cab driver, which was his “honest” way of making a living, he’d net about $70 a night. There were occasions when he came home with $300, and he handed it to mom expecting her to be happy. However, my mom knew, she knew that if it was this much, then it was dirty money! He told me that she would throw the money at him and kick him out of the house.
“Yo no quiero ese dinero sucio en esta casa.” I don’t want that dirty money in this house. My mom didn’t play, she didn’t want stolen money, or drug money. She was doing her job as mama bear, protecting her cubs. I’ve always been grateful to my mom for all that she has done. I know my dad’s intentions were good, but they were misguided. It was mom’s job to set him straight back then.
My dad had his share of problems, some more serious than others. Cocaine, heroine, and other gateway drugs were a part of his everyday life. My pops was a hardcore addict. He’d blow everything he had on drugs. He’d even sell our little home possessions for drugs. And he stole cars for money to buy drugs. Pops served many short prison stints due to his career as a car thief, and for being a straight up street hustler. I’m not ashamed to admit it, what can I say? That’s my dad.
You would think that I would hide all this? Right? Why would I tell you guys about my dad’s criminal past? I should be ashamed of all this, but you know, I’m not. He cleaned it up later in life, and lived his later years in peace. He paid all his debts to society, and was even able to get his license reinstated after decades driving illegally. He stopped doing drugs, he procured gainful employment, and became a productive member of society.
Now that I was all grown up, I could advise him, and help him sort out all of his financial matters, and any legal issues. Better late than never I say. I was proud of him for doing the right thing, lord knows it was a challenge for him. People were afraid of my dad, some would say “Ese hombre es peligroso, ten cuidado.” That means, “That man is dangerous, be careful.” Those were the words that were said to anyone attempting to cross my old man, even my little sister’s dad heard those words way back when he started seeing my mom. My dad threatened to hurt him if he did anything to us, and if you knew my dad, those were not empty threats.
In any case, what do I have to ashamed of? Look at me today, look at where I am. I am the legacy, I carry our name now. As we spoke during his last days, my father said these words to me, “I was so afraid that the streets would take you. I was always afraid you would take the wrong path. I truly feared that you would become like your old man.”
Yes, so was I, dad. But look at me now, pops. Are you proud? Can you see me from heaven? I am a world away from that life that you feared I could have. I’m writing this on my laptop, while my son is working on another laptop. He’s making some of his cool art work. I can afford to provide these luxuries to my family. I have a nice roof over our heads, too bad you never saw it, pops. I always help my family, and loved ones, just like I flew over to help you in your last days. I have never seen the inside of a jail cell. I guess I didn’t let you down, pops.
No, I’m not ashamed. That very same man who did all those things, during his last days leaned on me for strength. The woman who threw him out of the house all those nights, my mother, she knows that though I am not “at home” anymore, she too can always count on me. My sisters, nephews, son, and friends all know that if they ever need a helping hand, that I’m here. No, I didn’t succumb to the streets, and I did not follow in my father’s footsteps.
There were moments I came close, but I always had a guardian Angel to steer me away. I wonder who that was? The only person I can think of, the only face I see when I think back to those decisions is my mom. The thought of hurting her, disappointing her, these thoughts kept me from going over the edge. They probably also kept me from slashing my wrists during times when I didn’t believe I could go on. Mom, always my mom.
I wonder sometimes if maybe part of the reason that I walk like a duck was the drug abuse? Perhaps that’s why my teeth are crooked? I don’t know, but I can’t help but think that all those years of drug abuse are partially responsible for some of my not so apparent limitations. In any case, I’m pretty healthy, and I’ve lived a pretty full life, so I cannot complain. I’m here, and I’ve succeeded in life. I’m glad that you and mom were around to see it, and I’m happy that you could benefit from my hard work. I’m glad that I was able to make your last months more comfortable. I miss you pops.