Carmen sat on the edge of her California king bed looking out of her third floor bedroom window feeling accomplished. She had just moved into her new three story home on Mafanikio Lane the night before and the timing couldn’t have been any more perfect. Today was her thirtieth birthday and what a wonderful day it was going to be, unpacking boxes and decorating her brand new home. For years, she’d driven up and down the streets lining Wonderment Estates, admiring the picturesque old homes with perfectly manicured lawns and high end cars tucked safely behind two car garages.
As she drove through the neighborhood time after time, Carmen vowed to do whatever it took to own one of the illustrious homes she’d always admired from afar; and seven years later, she did exactly what she’d set out to do. Fifty, four, thirty seven Mafanikio Lane was her new favorite phrase and she couldn’t help but smile as she whispered it aloud. She had much to be grateful for, not only was she celebrating her birthday in her new home but the promotion she’d gotten last week all but secured her and Caleb’s future and additionally it gave her extra financial breathing room. Carmen was now Assistant Director of Finance for one of the largest hotel chains in Washington, D.C.
The poor teenage girl who’d dropped out of school due to an unplanned pregnancy had come a long way. Carmen began to get teary eyed just thinking about how far she’d come; how she’d defied the odds of being an undereducated, unwed teenage mother destined for a life of food stamps, mediocre living and monthly recertification meetings with nasty social workers whose sole job requirement was to treat recipients like the scum of the earth. The little time she did receive public assistance, Carmen often wondered if any of the social workers she was forced to endure ever considered what it must’ve felt like for the person sitting on the opposite side of their desk. Yes, she needed temporary assistance but she like so many others yearned for more. Not only did she want more for herself but also for her son. Caleb deserved more than raggedy neighborhoods, urine stained hallways and subpar schools. Although, she’d grown up in Hurt Village and turned out fairly well, she couldn’t take a chance with her son. It was a well-known fact that the odds of young black men making it out of the ghetto were less than favorable.
Carmen began to cry as she looked down at the foot of her bed and watched Caleb sleeping peacefully. He had not a care in the world. If nothing else, he knew his mother had his back no matter what; she’d been there from day one. All of the hard work and many sacrifices she’d made had finally come to fruition. “Thank you God,” she whispered as she moved to kiss Caleb on his forehead. Suddenly, her phone began to vibrate rapidly. Carmen reached over three small boxes on her nightstand to find her phone behind the lamp. There were three text messages from her sister that read: “Caleb’s sperm donor came over Mama’s late last night looking for you. He said he’s been trying to get in touch with you for months, with no luck. So he decided to stop by Mama’s as a last resort and left his cell number. Long story short, he wants to see Caleb. LOLLLL. We all told him we have no clue where you are. Needless to say, he’s pissed. LOLLLL. Oh well, I guess he’ll crawl back under the rock he slithered out from. Boy BYE!!! Oh, and Happy Birthday. I’ll be over later.”
Carmen sat straight up in the bed. The joy she’d just felt was suddenly replaced with seething anger. “How dare he try to reach her,” she thought. He hadn’t gotten the hint that he wasn’t wanted or needed even after she changed her cell phone number whenever he found her. It had been at least four years since she’d spoken to him or seen him and the last encounter wasn’t a pleasant one at all. She called him everything but a child of God when she saw Carlos at the mall with his new girlfriend, playing daddy to his girlfriend’s child without having seen his own in years. It would be a cold day in hell before she would ever allow Carlos to see her son. There was no way he would reap the benefits of her hard work without ever having paid a dime of child support. She’d raised Caleb on her own; without any help from Carlos or his family. Too her, there was no excuse for his lack of support. Yeah, they were both young but at some point she grew up and he didn’t. As far as Carmen was concerned, nothing needed to change. They were doing just fine without him and didn’t need him for anything.
But what about Caleb, she wondered. Did Caleb need him? “You’re talking silly,” she whispered as if she was trying to remove the doubts from her mind. “Caleb is fine,” she mumbled. After all, she was doing a great job raising him to be a man. She didn’t need him. For what? She’d taught him how to aim for the center of the toilet bowl instead of the floor. She’d taught him how to ride a bike. She’d taught him how to take out the trash, wash and fold his clothes. She’d taught him how to hold the door for a lady and how to pump the gas. She was the one who sat up on Christmas Eve reading through pages of directions in an effort to put his bikes together. She was the one who helped with homework, attended back to school nights and doctor’s appointments, while he lived responsibility free. He didn’t need a father, she was both Caleb’s mother and father. She was doing pretty good teaching him how to be a man and a real one at that.
With everything she’d accomplished in her life, there wasn’t much she couldn’t do. After all, she was a college dual degree holding, independent, successful woman who didn’t need a man and nor did her son. She didn’t have a dad in her life and by the looks of it, she had done well for herself. She was okay. Or was she? Her grandmother, mother, all of her aunts and her sister had all raised sons without their fathers being around and so could she. Carmen refused to even consider the look she saw in her sons eyes when all of his teammates dads were at the games. It was the universal look of hushed pain; a look she’d recognized in her own eyes but often denied. She also refused to acknowledge the anger she felt whenever Caleb glanced at her quizzically whenever she corrected his teacher’s for addressing her as Mrs. Denton. She was angrier with herself for giving Caleb Carlos’ last name and even more for believing he would one day marry her like he’d promised during their many late night rendezvous. Carmen grabbed her phone as she wiped her tears, neither Carlos nor her dad deserved them. She glanced at Caleb still sleeping peacefully and began texting her sister; “Lose his number. We don’t need it or anything else for that matter! We are fine without him. Caleb’s at peace with not seeing him. I am Caleb’s father and I have countless Happy Father’s Day cards to prove it. LOLLLL”