Mel stared at her twenty-year-old hands, similar to her mother’s without spots or crinkled skin. She pondered the next big move. Schooling was behind her. So was her steady boyfriend. In other words, everything that tied her to dependence. It was time to step into a fully grown up world and embrace the challenges that lay ahead. She knew two things for sure: that someday she’d buy a house like the one that she grew up in, and that she’d want her own twenty-year-old. The question was how to get there on her own, without the crutches of her past.
It’s the end of July. The sky should be bright blue and the sun shining through the haze formed by rising heat. Yet, clouds swish across the sky pushed by the blowing wind. The tops of surrounding skyscrapers are barely visible through the grayness that shrouds the city. Down below, the streets bustle with the comings and goings of gawking tourists. I wonder if the overwhelming pedestrian and vehicular traffic makes them uneasy. When I travel, I want to spread my arms wide. I want my toes free of pulleys and wheelies that constantly trip passersby in this congested realm.
Miranda’s eyes shifted in confusion. What exactly had played before her? “The whole time?” she asked.
Daniel’s nose poked through the torn silicone mask. His face came into a slow focus; a bashful smile touched his lips.
“The whole time?” she asked again. Her eyes took in the enormity of the events unfolding before her. Did her soon-to-be ex-husband really disguise himself as an elderly matron? Had he passed himself off as a nanny for the past few weeks? The truth sank. Her eyes narrowed to thin daggers which her forehead swallowed. “The whole time?” she spat through gritted teeth.
Elena stood by the doorway. She carried a haughty demeanor with the ease of someone born into old money. Except that she wasn’t, as her mother-in-law pointed out whenever the subject matter of grandchildren surfaced. The old woman spat that Elena was nothing but a barren imitation. Yet, nothing in her posture or poise betrayed Elena’s humble beginnings. Not then, not now.
Elena moved to the windowsill, ears fixed on the monitors. Her gaze settled on a family of four across the hospital’s courtyard, the little girl skipping. She waited for the sound of freedom, the old woman’s last exhale.
He played with the children in an uninhibited manner. With them, Michael could be himself without carrying the types of tensions that adults bear. But, the repressed always finds a way to light and although he willed to remain childlike, his slim build began to fill out. Arms and legs stretched. Hair grew in covered areas. He knew not what to do with the unfurling of his body. He got on his knees and prayed. He meditated. He immersed himself completely to his art. But the body wants what the body wants and the repression occasionally surfaced in involuntary impulses.
His earliest memories of adult love involved pain. Dad beat Mom because he loved her. Mom accepted Dad sleeping around because she loved him. Mom and Dad beat the children for their own good because they loved them. In the middle of the night, he’d overhear thrusts and groans coming from Mom and Dad’s bedroom in the name of love. It’s little wonder he grew up afraid of grown up love. Love equaled violence and he wanted no part of that for himself. He lived a Peter Pan existence and surrounded himself with innocent children incapable of eliciting complicated love.
“Bendicion mami,” said Elena. She reached up and kissed her mother for the daily blessing.
Her mother wrinkled her nose. “Fó! Lávate la boca!”
Elena rushed to the bathroom. The rebuke had become routine. Up and down, side to side, but no matter how hard she brushed, a strong odor emanated from the back of her throat. It wasn’t only her mother. She began to notice classmates avoiding conversations with her. She withdrew and became the girl with bad breath. Isolation masked the discomfort behind her throat when she drank her lonely tears. Meanwhile, the lump continued to grow unnoticed.
Linda’s wiring system was such that she recoiled at human touch. Sounds screeched in her head. Images loomed large. The world was terrifying. She self-preserved in an invisible shell. There she rocked herself to sleep and blocked out sounds by counting or quietly reciting songs. Today she’d fall under the wide autism spectrum, but back then, “What a strange child,” were common whispers. Her mother felt rejected and her father alienated. Her little sister, though, refused to be ignored. She nagged and prodded. She hugged even when hugs went unreturned. Eventually she cracked the shell and forged a forever bond.
Creaking floorboards alerted Mari that cousins were fast approaching. She was their easy target in the game of catch, but today she determined to outwit the whole lot. She paused at the windowsill. The blue sky beyond the shutters revealed a path. It was a far drop, but she felt confident. She had watched them take the jump many times. She sat on the ledge and lunged forward. Her body slammed back against the wall and knocked out her wind. Her flailing body suspended in midair. Pain shot up her left arm. Her ring had caught on a hanging nail!
I’d occasionally run into Brian standing in front of the Shubert Theater. A gregarious sort of fella, with wavy hair and smiling eyes. I’d wave to him and he’d happily wave back, adding his unmistakable personal touch, “How are those headaches of yours?” I’d continue on my journey to the Port Authority anxious to tell my husband I had seen his cousin. I still feel his presence in Shubert Alley, as if guarding his beloved theater. This morning when I passed by, I whispered, “I attended your baby’s wedding. She was radiant.” He replied, “I know. I saw you there.”