To the people who celebrate Christmas and a hearty "Happy Holidays!" for those who don’t.
The following is fiction. It is based on actual events and is the foundation of one of the stories in my forthcoming book of short stories tentatively titled Ataques de Nervios (Nervous Attacks) or 704 E. 5th St. (or some shit like that). However, I have taken huge liberties with parts of the story, the characters, and time line.
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Moral indignation is jealousy with a halo.
-- H.G. Wells,
It’s so cold she can’t feel her feet. She’s wearing only slippers in the midst of a raging Nor’easter. She’s afraid and her threadbare coat hardly protects her from the 40-50 mile per hour winds. It’s the night before Noche Buena and she’s alone, keeping vigil outside a home in the white section of Lower Manhattan, but she’s here because her kids are in need... there’s no one around and she despairs. Her feet are numb from the cold and they ache...
Eddie left with Gangster with instructions that if she saw anyone, she should whistle. Now she wonders if she can whistle, her face is frozen, and they’ve been gone so long. What if the police come?
Finally, they come rushing out the building with stuffed pillowcases and as she starts to run with them she falls, she can’t feel her toes. Gangster and Eddie thankfully pick her up and they make their way hurriedly back to the Puerto Rican section, which takes too long and she’s crying, she’s in agony. Eddie stops to look at her feet and mutters, “shit!” under his breath.
They hurry home.
They finally get home and by now, she’s crying in agony. Eddie takes off the slippers and thinks she has frostbite. She cries, but tries to stifle her cries, fearful she’ll awaken the children. Unbeknownst to them, her oldest son watches through a crack in the bedroom doorway. He’s afraid.
They call Eddie’s sister, who takes one look at the stuffed pillowcases and looks down at the young mother, as if noting her lack of moral standing. Eddie asks her to look at her feet and the sister says it’s not frostbite, but that she should go to the emergency room anyway. The young mother refuses, afraid. Afraid of the consequences of the act she just helped commit and afraid of what they may say about her toes that throb with pain now.
They give Eddie’s sister a gold watch from the stolen loot, and she’s delighted. It’s an expensive watch, very pretty. She gives the young mother another condescending look and admonishes them for behaving in such an un-Christian manner. The young mother says nothing and thanks her for looking after the children.
That Christmas a good Christmas, or at least the children thought so. There was good food, there were gifts under the tree, and my mother seemed so happy though we noticed that she limped a little when she walked. She had a brand new pair of boots, the only concession she made for herself. She made sure to get her precious children gifts from “Guzman’s” -- the toy store on Avenue C. I remember I got a James Bond attaché case, complete with gadgets and it even shot rubber bullets if you pressed a hidden button. I also got a chemistry set that I used for hours upon hours... She made sure we got our gifts before Eddie and Gangster would leave with the bulk of the loot, returning only when the money was spent on drugs. She didn’t even get herself a decent coat. However, we got warm coats, gloves, scarves, and long underwear.
I never knew why she was crying that wintry night all those years ago. I thought they were fighting... But I am not surprised at her sacrifice -- what she went through for what she thought would make us happy because somehow she always made it right, even if it meant compromising her values or her reputation. She didn’t care, only her children mattered. Still, she was ashamed and part of the reason why I have perfect posture is because she taught us to walk tall, with our heads held high. I guess that was the last bastion against the shame -- that she made certain her children would walk proudly.
Most importantly, she taught me what really matters.
My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization…