One of the ways that human beings are wonderfully and marvelous made is our ability to produce memories that extend the moments that we have spent with loved one who died. While after nearly 12 years I still cannot stand at my son’s grave for more than five minutes without dissolving into a puddle, I am thankful to God for the memories, some good, some bad, and some just downright funny in hindsight.
One favorite memory is his undisguised joy at learning that I had not given him the name Hezekiah, after the king in the Old Testament. My mother and friends begged me not to “do that to the child” right up until the morning I gave birth to him.
I related to him how I had held my ground, determined that he was going to be “Zeke” for short, until the moment the lady from the hospital asked me for his name. Not wanting to upset my mother or friends, I Changed my mind. Not having a second choice, in a panic, I looked at the book I was reading, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, and I named him Malcolm, instead.
He loved his name. He called himself, MacDaddy, long before he became a father, for it denoted his belief that he was truly a magnet for women. Hezekiah just would not have suited his image of himself as a Casanova. He smiled that wonderful, open, loving smile, as he thanked me profusely for listening to my mother. Throughout his too young life, he would smile and thank me all over again for his name.
One bad memory that became funny to both of us later was the Valentine’s Day debacle. He was age 16, and he had a curfew of 10:00PM, as it was a school night, but punctuality was never one of his strong suits. It was nearly 2:00 in the morning before he bounced out of a friend’s car, laughing for all he was worth, unaware, and to my mind, unconcerned about my feelings.
Just as I was preparing to start calling hospitals and jails, he walked through the door. I was so happy that he was alright, but also angry that he could be so callous of my feelings. Before I knew it, I started hitting him with the belt I found on the sofa near me. He was so surprised, because I had never hit him before. He looked at me in a dazed manner, and he said, “You’re hurting me!” I responded, “I’m trying to!”
He balled up his fists, and I thought he was coming towards me. I looked him in the eyes, and I said,”If you put your hands on me, one of us is going to jail, and one of us is going to Hell, and I don’t plan on dying tonight!” Unaccustomed to me using profanity, he blinked his eyes, and he turned and ran to his room. I had to sit down, for my legs would not hold me up any longer, for I could not believe that I had been afraid of my child hurting me or that I had threatened his life.
He came back out of his room with a Valentine’s card he had bought me but had forgotten to give me. He proceeded to rip it up in front of me, which hurt me deeply. But, I realized that the card was a convenient substitute for me. He had gotten his message across that he was unhappy with me, and I let the episode end there. We both went to bed, and we did not speak about it for years after.
Fourteen years later, he moved back into my home with his daughters after having a heart transplant. He was driving me to work, and somehow the topic came up. He apologized for that night. I accepted his apology, and all was quiet. Then he started laughing about how I looked when I said my famous hell-or-jail speech, and we both ended up laughing uproariously. It might have been the last time we laughed together.
Malcolm became a grandfather this year, and oh, how I wish his grandson could have met him and saw his sweet smile. I know that he would be grinning from ear to ear to meet Malachi, named as close as my granddaughter felt comfortable to naming him after her father. When I look at Malcolm’s picture in my office, I always say, “Mommy will never forget you, Mac!” And, with the all the wonderful and not-so-wonderful memories of him to share with Malachi, I know that I never will.