I leaned against the wall and cried. It was such a big, ugly cry that Z, with a mix of fascination and revulsion, calmly said, “Mom, you’re crying A LOT…You’re loud.”
She then got on her Hello Kitty scooter and pushed away, only to turn around a minute later to collect me from my public bit of hysterics- I was out in the hallway of our apartment building after all.
“It’s going to be okay. He’ll be back,” Z said, while stroking my arm. She then grabbed my elbow, lightly pulling me in the direction of our door. Her calm, yet strong demeanor pulled me out of myself. I was being dramatic. I pushed myself off the wall and grabbed the handles of my rollator and started back to our apartment.
I stopped to wipe my running nose. I couldn’t help crying. My nephew Nate would be on a plane to San Francisco the next morning, with a final destination of Hawaii. It was no vacation; it was the start of his new life for the next few years in the U.S. Army.
Nate- Joseph Nathaniel- was born on January 15th, 2001, Martin Luther King Jr. Day. His dad is my big brother, Joe- Joseph Alaric. His mom, Darlene, was Joe’s then girlfriend. I had cut my auntie teeth by babysitting Darlene’s daughter, Ashley, from a previous relationship. I was prepared for diaper changes and warming bottles. I wasn’t prepared to fall so completely in love.
I held my newborn nephew in utter awe. He was a healthy 7.7 pounds and a long 21 inches. He had slanted, dark eyes like Joe, and a pouty pink mouth like Darlene. Curiously, he had a patch of platinum blond hair at the front of his head. His mom, of mostly Irish ancestry, was a brunette, like her parents. A unique birthmark it was, a streak of light in the midst of darkness, much like him.
Nate, and his younger cousin Justin, my sisters son born in December, were 2001 babies. I turned 19 that year, and the tragedy of 9-11 changed the nation forever. I was never the same, either, despite not having been in Lower Manhattan or personally losing anyone (I do have family and friends who were and did, though). By the end of that horrible September day, I had held Nate and felt bad that he’d never know how life was before. I didn’t foresee the war in Iraq, The Patriot Act, or the Great Recession, of course. But I just knew American life was different, and scarier.
By the time I graduated from college in 2004, Joe was a single dad. I had taken to driving my sister Joscelyne, her son Justin, and Nate, around quite a bit. I’d pick Nate up from pre-k3, where he excelled. By the end of the school year, he was promoted right past k4 to kindergarten- and why not? He was already reading, writing, counting, and starting to add and subtract.
I took great pride in My Little Man, buying him new clothes for church and his first bike. I began constructing a dream future for him. Maybe he’d be a lawyer or a congressman, or an engineer or even an astronaut! And again, why not? He was smart as a whip and charming and brave and strong… he would be everything I’m not. He was… is… better than me.
He would be everything I’m not. He was… is… better than me.
When he got into gaming, I saw a future for him doing it professionally, and began watching his YouTube streams of him playing. When he began making short movies, writing, acting, and directing, I watched those, too, and imagined he’d make it in the indie film world. I saw the moon, the stars, and the sun for him. Too bad I hadn’t stopped to actually get to know his world.
I was disappointed when he matriculated at my alma mater. Crestfallen, really. If I could graduate from there, it obviously was not good enough for him. But about during his second, rather lackluster semester, the truth came out. Not to me, of course, or even his (far more attuned but still not totally seeing it) dad. Nope, he told stepmom Jenny (an Army vet), the voice of reason and rationality, he was going early Kanye (not signing to Jay-Z’s label)- he would be a college dropout. Having turned 18 at the start of his second semester, he was free to follow his dream of joining the Army. I cried (yup, I stay teary-eyed because of this boy) when Joe told me, after Jenny told him. I yelled at Joe, “STOP HIM! Make him stop!” Joe said calmly and resolutely: “Dita, I can’t. He’s a grown man. It’s his life.” I shut up.
“He’s a grown man. It’s his life.”
So, we go back to December, to my post-sobs headache, to Z asking about what I was planning for dinner (“Pizza?” she asked pushily). I knew by then Nate would be okay. He’d made it through bootcamp without any problems (and having gained quite a bit of muscle). No, my tears were not from fear. It was more like mourning the death of the dreams I had for him, the ones I had summoned out of my wants and not his needs. My dreams died; but his reality thrives.
I laughed aloud. My Little (6 foot 3 inch) Man, my first nephew, my teacher.
Happy Nineteenth Birthday, Nate. I love you.