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THE SON OF MAN

Excerpt

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It is 1986 in New York City. 

A violin song, the sound of subway trains and cars, the smell of fresh coffee, all things invade the city without asking for permission. He notices the morning light comes to the wall, creating a strange creature form. This whole city-that-never-sleeps engulfs everything and everyone who dares to enter it. He learned long ago about waking up before dawn, not to the light, but to the stirring that moves the blood in his thighs and hands. The morning was ancient before the sun even rose. Rising early in New York City allows him to hear the busy birds on the street looking for something to eat and feed their little ones. When his eyes are half-open, he emerges from the tight doorway leading out of the apartment; he sees that the sidewalk color and street match the sky's tone. It is an inconspicuous shade to provide a backdrop for the yellow taxis, traffic lights, and cars' waves. He walks and rushes to the other side of the street without thinking, assuming that his body connects to the city. He scuffs the heels of his boots on the sparkling sidewalk. 

New York was an altogether different city from the safe, clean cosmopolitan urban playground today – at least for the most part. Homicides were at near-record highs, the crack epidemic was raging, and NYC had not yet experienced the wave of gentrification that has marked it in modern times. The government mismanagement caused the near bankruptcy of the city. Although many residents fled the city in record numbers yet, NYC never ceased receiving new adventurers of remote towns in the country. During the '80s, any new resident could witness the images of New York streets and an East Village made of abandoned tenements, drug raids, and overdoses, the homeless of the bowery, social change without social media.

Vangelis Jackson Anele, a young man, son of a carpenter in Bethlehem, NY, was a man of habit. He always rose early, fed his dog, Skipper, had breakfast; did the necessary household chores; helped his father, Mr. Joe Anele, or only Joe, at the little carpentry shop annex to the house just off the Main Street. 

After work, Vangelis tended his garden and went for a brisk walk. Consequently, he seldom missed a day at the park. Vangelis went every sunny day – of which a few – to exercise his legs, read the daily newspaper, and picked up on his way to the park. In those private moments, when he thought about his mother's stories while he was growing up. Vangelis knew he was different from the other kids, but one thing that had intrigued him for years was his mother's story about when she was pregnant with him. She said she suffered severe heartbreak when she was 16 years old. His mother was in love with an older boy named Liam and thought he would eventually be her husband. She threw herself into school, work and started dreaming about her wedding. There was no statutory prohibition to dating someone under the age of 18. Liam was very respectful and polite. They never had any forms of intimacy that would shame the young girl, Madonna Concepción. 

Madonna Concepción was born in Guadalupe in Mexico but came to the U.S. when she was 4. Her father was born in Port-au-Prince in Haiti, and her mother in Puebla - about 130km southeast of Mexico City. Madonna had long black hair, brown skin, and green eyes. No wonder she gave Vangelis beautiful light brown skin and light hazel color eyes. Madona Concepción had strong Latino family values. She was always proud to be a Hispanic woman. The term Latino/Latina used in modern times to identify Latin American people was not accessible. She considered herself a Hispanic woman, and she was proud of it. 

"Why is your name Spanish?" That question came up one morning as Vangelis was getting ready for the day. It was more than mere curiosity, Vangelis only had American friends, and he knew his friends' names – even their middle names. After telling her his friends' names – all "American" names – he asked her if she would like to change her name to an American name. Then she asked, "Why is my name in Spanish? and laughed. "Well, because I am Mexican," she told him. "Besides, my first name is not even in Spanish; it is an Italian baby name. In Italian, the meaning of the name Madonna is "My Lady." I also gave you a name that is not very popular – Vangelis." Then he said, "I like my name, but I was born here, right?" 

"Mom? I like saying your name in Spanish – Madonna Concepción," he said just before hurry outside on his way to school.

Madonna Concepción never received sex education, but she knew one thing – she must preserve her virginity until she married. Latino parents had avoided talking about sex to their children, they were afraid of promoting it or encouraging a child to do it, so it was best not to talk about it. 

Time went by, and Liam deployed to Korea. Not even six months later, the war called off her dream to marry him. After two years overseas, Liam came back home, and they got married. She knew he was suffering from severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, but he didn't want to talk about it to anybody. That took over him, and he would blame her for cheating and being out with other men when she wasn't. 

She knew very little about PTSD. After talked to Father Samuel, Madonna could understand what Liam was going through. The stress on military families from overseas deployments can be immense. When Liam deployed, the separation was lonely and difficult for Liam, his family, and Madonna. As challenging as being apart can be, however, coming home often involves complex realities as well. It happens when a spouse is severely injured, and Liam was seriously wounded while in the Korean war. After weeks at the hospital, the doctors discharged him in wheelchairs, which became his mobility for the next few months. 

They got into a domestic dispute. One night Liam was walking and limping to grandma's house drunk when aunty Louise and his mother picked him up. Liam started calling his mother a whore, and when she went after him to scream at him, he grabbed her and threw her on the dirt road at 2:30 in the morning. 

Vangelis's mother could not say how she got pregnant. Madonna only remembered the night an older woman came when she was about 18 years old and told she was expecting a baby boy, and then the older woman vanished in the mist. How could it be? She didn't believe the old lady. She thought the old lady had mental problems. His mother knew that that story was implausible unless she was the second Virgin Mary and sounded crazy. She was a virgin when they got married, and her husband didn't want to have sex with her after they got married.

She ended up being pregnant, and she could not explain how that happened. Liam was drunk most of the time; however, he believed she was pregnant with his child. When Angelis was ready to come to this world, Madonna and Liam weren't living together.

It was ubiquitous in the 1950s midwives support and protected women through their childbearing. Madonna's mother had explained to her the process of giving birth. On Monday morning, Madonna's baby couldn't wait. The expectant mother barely made it to her mom's house before her son Vangelis made his world debut on May 14. The plan was her mom's house, but baby Vangelis had a different idea. She knew she was in labor. She knew it was time. There was only one option – the fire station. She hurried there as fast as she could. As luck and timing would have it all, six employees were at the fire station when she arrived. She yelled to them, "My baby is coming right now! Please, help me!" She was crowning. After two steps, she knelt, sat sideways, and laid on her back. The fire chief caught the baby just in time before his head hit the ground, and then he put the baby on her chest. Vangelis came into the world in less than one hour. With tears of joy, Madonna said: God took good care of me, and look what happened – my son is beautiful and healthy. I am the luckiest woman on earth! What God has done for me will never be forgotten. At that moment, Liam came to the door, drunk. 

For years she carried so many demons from her past. They divorced right after Vangelis was born. Madonna Concepción thought she could raise Vangelis by herself. Maybe the young mother could find a job and could take him with her. Maybe her mother could stay with Vangelis while she is working. None of the options were possible back then. Grandma was working outside of the house, and she didn't have much time for little Vangelis. She had no choice but to share the care of baby Vangelis with her mother. Vangelis would stay with his mother in the nights and mornings and with his grandmother in the afternoons. On the weekends, they would all be together when possible. 

Madonna had two sexual incidents that never should have happened. After a failed engagement and a boyfriend who had no commitments, Vangelis's mother automatically thought it was something to do with her. 

Three years passed, and she met Joe, an amazing man. After everything she went through and the two failed relationships, she thought she could not love again. She was wrong. This man, who Vangelis called "dad," was her best friend. Joe stood beside her when she was going through tough times. It's been almost thirty years since they first met, and it's been a hell of a ride. They moved to Bethlehem in New York, oddly, six months after dating – unquestionably, she was not afraid of taking risks. Of course, life has its ups and downs, and living in New York state wasn't easy. When she found out she was pregnant with Vangelis's brother, Jeremy, five months after moving to Bethlehem, she couldn't tell Joe. They were always fighting at the time, and she wasn't sure if she wanted to say to him, she was pregnant. The first person she called and told was her mother. 

Eventually, everything came to peace. 

Bethlehem has always been a town of tranquility. For Vangelis, sitting at the bench at the park near the river was his quiet time and peace. 

Vangelis always chose a particular time of day when few were out. He would be able to sit on the memorial bench his father had made from Acacia wood and donated to the park in memory of his wife, Madonna Concepción Anele. When Joe finished it, he said nostalgically to his son: "It is done. I think she'll like it. This wood is known to be naturally durable, resistant to insects, molds, and water." His father designed the bench with comfort in mind, and it has a standard height slatted back; anyone can sit back fully supported—the gentle slope of the slatted seat curves with the body. Vangelis's father decided to engrave a piece of solid wood and stained dark brown, with wording carved into the wood and painted white – "Be still. Close your eyes. Breathe. I am not gone but merely walk within you." The engraved oval wood plaque was securely insured in the backrest.

His friends knew that Vangelis would come to the park and sit on that bench every day after dinner. Once when he was standing on the river bank, his friends happened to be with him. He walked back and sat down on the bench his father made and said, "While you're still here, you still have a lot to do. Only you can change and control your future, and only you have the key to your future. Life is about choices, and you are free. What you choose will define who you will be. Don't give up, don't lose hope. Don't let what happened in the past prevent you from making better tomorrow for yourself and those around you. I call you friends. You are worthy of something so much more. You are loved, you are important. You have a purpose, even if you don't know what that is yet. I promise you. When everything looks gray and hope is about to meltdown, you will know there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Love yourself, love the one next to you, and the rest will follow. You know you are a child of God, and that you are truly my beloved friend." 

Vangelis didn't have any formal religious education. When he was about five years old, his mother let him spend some time with Father Samuel. He wasn't the only one with Father Samuel. In those days in that small town, mothers let their children play and learn at Saint Thomas the Apostle Church. Among the kids, Vangelis was the only one more interested in learning the priest's teachings. He could spend hours listening to what Father Samuel had to say. 

The Son of  Man - Kindle Edition (English Only)
by Mauro C. Souza 
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