It is hard for her to imagine him as a little boy, brushing Semolina breadcrumbs from the corners of his mouth. Surrounded by a table of babbling older sisters and whirling hand gestures and the aroma of Mama’s sauce.
She can’t see him on porch steps in Brooklyn or in front of the corner store, sneaking kisses with a girl whose red hair had only half the fire churning inside her warm belly.
Back then, he still fought for his love.
Maybe not with raised fists or harsh voices, but in the quiet defiance of a boy who loves a Girl He’s Not Supposed To Marry.
Back then, people didn’t throw the word Arranged around the way they did garlic cloves and oregano in pots of red sauce.
They ingested it like pasta—accepting it because Mama said so.
Mama said a lot of things, but I am sure she didn’t say to run away the minute that Girl He Wasn’t Supposed To Marry was buried six feet under.
I think Mama was a storyteller. I imagine her Italian hands, wrinkled from stirring pots and sewing shirts, moving in concentric circles as she grasps for the right word.
It is ‘Sorry,’ Mama.
Sorry the Girl with red hair stole his heart. Sorry he did not ask for it back. Sorry he could not stop her from slipping into a disease that took parts of her until she was laying on a white hospital bed. Sorry the doctors did not properly diagnose her the first time. Sorry they still do not have a cure.
Sorry, Not Sorry.
That’s what we say now, Mama. It means something like this: “I am only sorry you do not wish to understand her, Mama, but I love her.”
I love the Girl I’m Not Supposed To Love With Red Hair and Freckled Arms. I love her burgundy tree in my backyard. The house in the back corner of the cul-de-sac. The Yoo-Hoo drinks in her fridge and the aqua plush carpet.
I love the smell of chlorine in the mountains of Pennsylvania in the middle of December.
Mama would have hated it there, but she would have wanted him to stay.
I know it. I know the boy whose most dangerous habits were eating apples off a knife and kissing Irish girls was meant to stay.
Because when the people you fight for die, you don’t pretend to have listened to Mama. You don’t pretend you never loved her.
He was meant to push little boys with goopy smiles in strollers and take three-mile walks through the park and always pay when the next-door neighbors’ ice cream truck pulled up. He was meant to hold babies and give Mamas breaks.
He was not meant to listen to his own Mama. He was meant to keep the fire alive when the Girl He Wasn’t Supposed To Love couldn’t anymore.
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