Monday, September 17, 2007

My Son Marco's Birthday

Today is my son Marco's 19th birthday. All right, everybody: HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MARCO!
It's been a fairly amazing life with him so far. No one, with the exception of his mother, ever tested me, pushed me, prodded me, like Marco has. Difficult would not begin to touch it. Yet I love him thoroughly and wonderfully.
I met Marco when he was just 4. I'd fallen in love with his mom and asked her to marry me. She didn't take me seriously: Gringos in Iquitos fall in love easily--as do the girls--but there's a long way between falling in love and marrying a woman with two young boys, like Chepa had. Didn't matter to me: though I'd never wanted kids I knew that with her it would be no problem.
I shoulda run when I had the chance...or at the very least when I saw Marco, always thin, out in front of a joint called Ari's Burger--at the time the only place where a gringo could go to get a cup of coffee--his arms cleverly hidden in his shirt, posing as an armless urchin and begging money from tourists. I might have run when we got to New York and he was about 6 and I took the family grocery shopping for the first time. It was a nice supermarket, a Gristedes, and when we paid and got out I realized Marco was eating a candy bar. The problem was I hadn't bought any. So I sort of went crazy and dragged him back into the store and called for the manager and made Marco pay for the candy he'd stolen--my money, of course--and apologize. Marco wasn't happy, and asked if he could keep the other candy. "What other candy?" I asked in front of the manager. Marco smiled and took out more than a dozen candy bars and packages of gum and then glumly turned them over when told he couldn't keep them.
We got outside and I was still lecturing on the evils of stealing when Marco, unphased, reached into one of his coat pockets and pulled out a candy bar and offered it to me. Nothing I could do but laugh at that point. Kid must have had 10 more than he'd turned in. But the lesson wasn't lost on him. Steal. Apologize and return some. Keep the rest. Dad will laugh.
And I should have known it would be difficult between me and Marco when once, in Iquitos we had to walk from Belen--the market--back to the Hotel Isabel where we were staying, a good 8 block walk. Well Marco, then probably 7, didn't want to do it. So I carried him, then I dragged him, kicking and screaming, and finally just left him to follow Chepa and I to a joint around the corner from the hotel where we were going to get a beer. Marco came in and sat at a table nearby but wouldn't look at us. We had a soda brought for him but while he drank the soda he still wouldn't look at us.
A few minutes later several police, all armed with automatics, came in and looked around the joint. They asked who we were. I told them and asked what was up. They said they'd received a report that a gringo and a local girl had been seen dragging a child down the street and they thought it was an abduction. They asked if we knew the boy at the table near us. I told them he was our son, Vinny (he changed his name to Marco when he was 10 or so). They walked over to him and asked if we were his parents. Very deliberately he shook his head no. They asked if he'd ever seen us before and he shook his head no. They asked if we'd dragged him down the street and he nodded his head, yes. Took me and Chepa about two hours and half-a-dozen beers for the cops until they believed our story.
But then he got sick and nearly died and when the nurses couldn't find veins--he was on medication that swelled him up--I had to hold him down for the nurses to take blood and man, you should never have to hold down your son for his own good like that. He screamed wildly, three times a day while the nurses searched for blood under his fingernails, from his thighs, under his tongue, anywhere they could find even the littlest vein.
In New York once at grammer school I got a call from the school principle saying Marco had been in a fight. I asked if he was alright. She said yes, but that the other kid had a broken nose and the police would be calling. Then she added that the kid had been picking on Marco for days and Marco had put up with it until that morning when the kid jumped on his back and he turned around and lashed out and broke his nose. "You should have seen it, Mr. Gorman. It was wonderful to see that bully just lay down and cry. You've got a great kid there."
I got another call from his middle school a couple of years later. "This is Sgt. Broklen, NYPD. We've got your son down here at the school and we need you to come down and talk with us."
I got on my bicycle and was there in three minutes flat. They told me Marco had a butterfly knife at school. They showed me a zerox copy of it and asked if I knew it. I said it was mine, part of my collection of interesting things like butterfly knives.
The story was that Marco had brought it to school and traded it with a kid for two dollars. The other kid took it out to show it off, was caught and asked where he got it. He ratted on Marco, hence the call to me. The cop was fine, just wanted to let me know that while Marco hadn't shown it to people or scared people or anything, he still shouldn't/couldn't bring things like butterfly knives to school anymore.
One of the assistant principles got upset. "That's all? Just a reprimand?" she demanded, and when the officer said he didn't see the need for anything further she added: "DO you know what he did with the two dollars? He bought pornography!" She flashed a rolled up magazine in front of me and the others in the room.
"Now just hold on a sec," I interrupted. "I'm very angry that Marco stole my knife. I'm angry that he doesn't realize that when he sold it he might be selling it to someone who could hurt other people with it. But the fact that a 12-year-old was later caught having used the money from the sale of the knife for pornography is not a bad thing. That's a good and normal thing. He's supposed to have porno at that age. May I see the magazine?"
"No you may not!"
"Well, then, can you at least tell me if it's straight or gay pornography so I'll know how to deal with him on sexual issues?"
The woman almost feinted; the cop nearly busted a gut laughing.
When we moved to Texas Marco didn't change. First party we had one of his friends--who has since gone on to be a professional bull rider--broke off the nipple from our house air conditioning unit and all the kids huffed the freon. I didn't find out about it till the next Spring when we went to use the air conditioner and there was no gas. I went through the roof and thanked the creator that none of them died.
Couple of years ago he called me from a party and asked me to pick him up. He was dead drunk. Police had come to the party after the kids started a bonfire behind the house. Marco had to walk a line and failed miserably but for some reason didn't arrest him. That was nice of him. I wasn't nearly as nice. Bonfires in Texas have a way of getting out of hand. Marco got the point. Not that night, of course, but the next day, while he was ill. The hangover turned him off alcohol.
On the other hand, after having broken every electronic device we ever owned up until he was 15, he can now fix any electronic device on the planet. And after not doing homework--except under threat of murder by me--he managed to graduate from high school last year with pretty good grades and a very legit diploma. And now he's working and getting to be more of a man every day. And he still hugs me and has learned how to say please and thank you over the years and I think he's going to turn out to be one hell of a man.
Thanks for being my son, Marco. Happy Birthday, boy.


Hummingbird said...

Happy Birthday, Marco! :)

Morgan said...

Happy Birthday!
Was there a grand fiesta?

The Grudge said...

Although not a timely I wish your son a happy birthday. Seems like you've been through quite a ride with him so far.