Mother has been bothering me about taking on a mother role to a kitten or two in Newark. Both myself and my son have told her that I have asthma and I am severely allergic to them. I am not quite sure when the allergy developed because I have had cats before.
Nosky, the youngest of 8 children, gave me a grey and white street cat (it wasn’t a pure breed) for my 21st birthday. We named him Porkchop and about a year later, we had gotten another cat from one of my mother’s many litters. We named him Tarzan. I never had any issues with them. They slept in my bed, walked on the couches I laid my head on and changing the litter box was never an issue.
Then one day Eric and I found a little orange cat- kitten, crying under a car around the corner from our house. It was mid-winter and dark and cold outside. We knew that it wouldn’t make it through the night. We took him home and named him Garfield. He was an addition to the family since we have we longer had Porkchop and Tarzan. Those boys remained street cats on Oraton Ave in Newark when we moved.
Garfield did damage to me. My eyes were red and watery and itchy. My breathing became wheezy. I had to have a talk with my son and let the cat go to a rescue organization that would foster him and then find him a good permanent home.
My mother knew of my body’s response to felines. I could no longer touch her two cats without reaching for my inhaler. I could never walk into someone’s house and not smell them. I was ultra sensitive to their pheromones. My skin would itch. My nose would tingle.
But I entertained her request anyway.
I picked her up from her apartment. The weather was not blistering cold but the wind did whip once in a while. I was able to handle the 35 degree weather as long as I held my hot cup of coffee in my hands. Once in the car, her 49 year old body screamed for the heat to be turned on.
“Go onto Rt 280 and get off at the Roseville Ave exit”
We drove the 5 minutes at the speed limit in which time she informed me that someone died. Some man I should have known cause he was known by everyone in Harrison. He was a friend of your brothers or related to so and so.
“No I don’t know him.” and I shook my head.
“Well, fulano told me he passed away. I was like dayum man.”
I made a turn off the highway- the 6th street exit. After a few more turns my mother and I were sitting at a light at the hospital, now closed down, where they took us from her. I always feel some type of way passing by this place. I lived down the street, two blocks, from where my story in Newark began and I had no idea until I was about 14 or 15 years old.
My mother never mentions this place. I wondered if she even know? Did she remember? Like how can you not bow to the place that broke you? Or did you walk through those doors already broken?
The light turned green.
“Turn left here, go down one block. He lives on that side”
I saw a man standing in the middle of the street from the corner. I know this man. Bori stood in a blue bubble coat from the late 1990’s. It was riddled with dried white paint stains. He held a Styrofoam coffee cup in his left hand and a Newport cigarette in his right.
He walked up to the car and I rolled down the window. He and my mother began to talk about the cats.
“What’s your name?” I interrupted
“No. What do they call you in these streets?”
“You don’t remember me?”
“I was over here late one night with Mirtha looking for my father’s clothes. His personal belongings.”
“Oh yes. Yes. You’re his daughter.”
“Yeah. And this is my mother”
His eyes and body jerk when he made the connection that he’s been friends with the only woman who had my father’s children.
There was no longer any concern for the cats and their lives. Their safety or my allergies. Bori and my mother spoke of the addiction. Of the lies. How each of them tried to help my dad at different points of his life. But an addict is an addict and you can’t really help them. Mom had him when his only vice was alcohol. Bori helped when his addiction had grown to heroin. He spoke of how he offered him only one night of heat and when he looked up it was 3 months had passed. Before Bori can utter the words to put him back out in the streets, my father was dead.
And here he stood before me and my mother. Apologizing for “our” lost but it was only my burden to carry.
“You did what you could. Dios te pagara.” was the only thing my mother said to me during the conversation with the bubble jacket standing to my left.
She was now playing the role of church-goer and baptized Jesus lover. This woman who only posted “yo amo zapatos” images on her Facebook wall with God bless me for this day memes. The same woman who’s marriage is borderline suspect and should be investigated by the immigration department.
“Como es el mundo no? Yo conociendo la que era la mujer de Papo.”
I didn’t say anything after I told him I knew who he was. I stared at the white house I walked around just a little over a year ago. Bori is still sleeping in the basement. A non-finished basement. He turned a storage unit into an apartment. He has job. He’s a mechanic. Yet he’s living in a basement and states that he doesn’t have any vice other than coffee and cigarettes..
I finally pulled off when my mother was no longer speaking of God and blessings.
“I told you I knew him. I wanted to punch him in the face.”
I explained to my mother about the night I was on this block under the cover of night. How the cold didn’t creep up in my coat. How the smell of Mirtha lingered in my car. About the two black men standing outside watching us. Then finally how Bori came out of his face and asked me “why didn’t you guys ever come and take care of your father.” How that statement made me boil.
“Pero tu no viste que tu padre lo mentio?”
It didn’t matter. It wasn’t his place to say that shit.
I dropped my mother off at her house and returned home without a cat. We never spoke felines or Bori or my father again.
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