He’s coming home for Thanksgiving. First holiday in eleven years.
He’s not the same person he was long ago. He’s older, huskier, with four kids. Four.
God, where has time gone?
When we met, he was sixteen and so was I. We sat around an Andalusia campfire with six other reprehensible, intoxicated young men. He cried about his mama. It made the others uncomfortable.
So, I took him for a walk in the field to compose himself. He staggered beside me, singing in Spanish.
He is the oldest of eight siblings. His Mexican family shared a mobile home with another family. He slept on the floor.
One night, his father left town and never came back. His mother had two jobs. So did he. He was high-schooler by day, food-service grunt by night.
After high school, he joined the military.
The week before he left, his mother invited family and friends for supper. She made cabeza—a fancy word for cow head.
She sliced a sliver off the snout and handed it to me.
My buddy giggled, saying, “She wants you to have the lips.”
I’m honored, ma’am.
Then I watched him eat an eyeball like it was a Bing cherry.
That night, my pal’s girlfriend sat beside him. She was blonde, blue-eyed. They’d been dating for a year. She was pregnant. Her family disowned her because they didn’t care for his skin tone.
The two married. It was a courthouse ceremony. They spent a few days as newlyweds, then he left for basic training.
We lost touch.
Anyway, he’s done well for himself. He turned out to be a cracker-jack with computers. They promoted him. He’s traveled the world.
A few years ago, he bought his mother a two-bedroom house. It’s a modest one, with granite countertops.
That must’ve felt good.
He emailed a few days ago. I haven’t heard from him in forever. He sent photos of his young family. I’ve never seen a baby so fat, nor a family so fine.
His plane touches down early this morning. He’ll drive to his mother’s in Birmingham. There, he’ll hug siblings and kiss his mama. They’ll talk about old times, hard living, and cabeza.
He’s the man of the family, he’ll ask the blessing in Spanish, and he’ll mean it. Then, maybe he’ll thank heaven that nothing bad lasts forever. Not even sadness.
“Hey,” he wrote me. “Sometimes I read your stories and wonder if I’ll ever see my name. I want you to know, you’re free to tell my story if you think it’ll help someone…”
I can’t speak for anybody else.
But it’s already helped one.