(what happened the next day)
I had emailed my best friend, confiding in her what had occurred like it was some dirty secret. But she didn’t write back and I guessed she was as abhorred with my actions as I was. I kept picturing the two men needing to buy food and being a dollar short. What had I done? But, try as I might, I couldn’t forget Michael’s words and the sadness that took his face when I attempted to refuse his right to give.
The next morning I rose with a mission. I baked a loaf of bread. We were living out of backpacks, eating with plastic cutlery, definitely sans measuring cups and it was no easy task, but I managed. Back home, bread-making was something I excelled at and I was going to share that skill here.
The kids made a card for Russell and Michael, putting into misspelled words what they guessed Scarlett wanted to say to them. I pulled some money from our grocery stash, stuck it in the card, grabbed my loaf of bread wrapped in a plastic sack and headed out the door. I had no idea how to find them in a city as big as Boston, but we were starting out early and my best inclination was to hit the track again.
Exuberant Charlie reached them twenty feet ahead of the rest of us. By the time I reached him, Michael was clutching the bread and in tears. He held a hand out to me, obviously not recognizing me from the day before and asked who I was. I sat down next to him, reintroduced myself while shifting Scarlett in hopes that he might remember her. He smelled strongly of alcohol and he looked tired, but his eyes were as friendly as the day before.
Russell took over the reins of the conversation today, saying, “Michael forgets things. Give him a second.” He spoke to the kids and remembered Scarlett and the previous day’s exchange. He read the little note and struggled with the crazy misspellings of kid language. A few words in he got weepy and found a hanky. He shoved a corner of it into his nose and left it there, hanging, every once in awhile wiping at a silent tear with the back of his hand.
“They’re crying over your bread, Mom.” My son said at my leg.
Both men laughed hard. The humor seemed to snap Michael back into sobriety. “You remember these times.” He commanded me. “I have two kids. All grown. Good boys. You just keep being a good Ma to them.”
Before even realizing the words were out, I asked the question, “How do I do that?”
It was something I hadn’t even asked my own mother-- my closest friends. Only my husband knew that I was struggling with this heavy burden of terror that I was a horrible mother. I don’t know if it was the sudden flash of lucidity that made Michael appear to me like a spiritual guru that had all the answers, or his yesterday’s breaking of a social absolute, or if it was just that I’d been waiting for so long to have an emotional connection with someone, anyone, who would give me an honest answer.
Russell repeated the words. “Love ‘em.”
I nodded, a bit stunned by the wisdom and the simplicity of their guidance and how it was just what I needed to hear. A lot of things came together for me right then. Yesterday, I had tried to deny a man his right to be generous, purely because I ignorantly thought I had more to give. Also, because taking money from a homeless man wasn’t what a perfect mother would do. I had almost messed up a beautiful moment because I was too afraid of messing it up. I realized I was doing the same thing with my children.
Russell added, “…and get ‘em ice cream every once in awhile!” They both whooped at that.
That night I quit worrying about money and being perfect and doing what was socially acceptable. That night we all had ice cream for dinner and I loved my kids.
Not perfectly, but good.