Imagine it, it is winter break. The children are out of school, the parents are off of work, and the snow was hitting like there was no tomorrow. It is Christmas time in New York City, and it was beautiful. While everyone was inside listening to the soothing Christmas music and cuddling up with their loved ones, Manny was standing behind the back of a bodega on one of the dirtiest, most dangerous streets ever, trying to look unsuspicious at three in the morning. 5th Avenue was no longer the loud, busy, buzzing place it typically is. The city that never sleeps was sleeping. The snow mixed in with the strong, freezing wind coming down heavily seemed unbearable. It was almost like if every little snowflake that fell from the sky were racing against each other, and it was getting hard to see.
Manny saw the headlights on a 1989 Grand Marquis. The engine’s roar became more audible the closer the vehicle came to him. The car was smooth but moved with a sense of urgency. He knew he needed it, and now. Manny tensed up; the blood rushed through his body. A jit (child) dealing drugs in the game was unheard of, but it was nothing that Mr. New York could not handle. The transaction was quick; the mysterious man in the car rolled down the window and slid Manny the money with no conversation. In return, Manny handed over the small bag, and the man in the car drove away. He watched the car as it slowly disappeared into the white snow.
After it was far gone, he took a look at the money. It was a lot, and especially more than what he would have made if he tried working in fast food or retail. Manny was in disbelief. It seemed like the whole world was in his hands. He felt a rush of excitement and fear at the same time. Manny knew he was dealing for the right reasons, but he also knew that he was playing with fire. People deal drugs for their own financial gain, but Manny was doing it to save his mother’s life. She needed a heart transplant, and he needed the money to get her one. The clock was ticking, and those regular jobs were not going to do the trick. He needed easy, quick money, and this was the way to go in New York. He told himself that he was not going to be in the game long, but that this was just simple business, something essential. He knew from now on that it was game time.
Hours before every transaction, Manny made sure that everything was packed and ready to go. He had the drugs, now all he had to do was play the game, and play it well. New York has plenty of dealers, people can go to about anyone really, but if they suspect that you are a newbie, they will try to scam you. Being the new child on the block was intimidating enough with all the experienced dealers, Manny felt outnumbered. Sometimes he felt his nerves beginning to get the best of him. He thought to himself that this was a waste of time, but every time this feeling tried to take over, he thought of his mother. Ever since they heard that she needed a heart transplant, his mother has been in a deep state of depression. He would sometimes hear her weeping in the middle of the night or praying to God that a miracle would just fall upon her lap. It woke him out of his sleep, and he would lay there on the bed staring at the ceiling till sunrise trying to figure out how to make her world again. Manny just wanted to see his mother’s dark brown eyes light up. He wanted her face to wake up from the deep trance that she was in. Her laugh by itself came from angels, and he longed to hear it once more. If he lost her, he lost his world, and that was enough reason to keep fighting for her. This was his only motivation through it all.
Growing up, it was Manny and his mother against the world. His mother had sisters and brothers, but they were too occupied with life to worry. They had everything figured out, and they expected their sister to follow suit. They were married, had their own businesses, and moved out of the hood in Brooklyn by the ages of 24 and 26, but LaTasha had to figure it out by herself. She was hopeless, alone, and afraid. Manny’s father was not in the picture either. He left the family when Manny was at the age of two. Therefore, Manny took it among himself to step up and be the man of the house. It was just the two of them. I asked him if he ever doubted that he would not be able to raise the money.
He was shocked at the first question, but nevertheless, he looked at me and said, “Every day. I would cry myself to sleep every night because of it too. Momma ended up picking up extra shifts at the coffee house down 39th street, but as long as I am here, I don’t want her to be worried about that shit. When I got the news, I called the fam. Hoping they would throw some spare change.” There was a pause. “They said no,” Manny looked down and shook his head, his facial expression dropped. With his head still down, he lit his blunt and took a puff. I saw his tensed-up face, relaxed. Then, he said the most powerful sentence out of this response,
“That was when I knew I had to take matters into my own hands.”
The statement was simple, but it stuck with me. I knew his eyes were watery. I felt his pain, and all I ever wanted was to hug him. Manny was not the type of person to get emotional.
To lighten his spirit, I asked how he felt when he finally raised all of the money to pay for his mother’s operation. He looked at me, cocked his head, and pursed his lips together. His frizzy brown hair moved in front of his amber eyes. He smiled. It was one of the biggest smiles I have ever seen. His smile was contagious, so a smile appeared on my face as well. I knew the answer.
I knew he was excited. The moment that he was waiting for finally arrived. He did not have to explain. It was understood, a silent bliss. I asked Manny what an average day looked like as a drug dealer.
“Real talk, it was hard, T. During the day, I went to school. Didn’t want to, but I did. And you know during those five minutes we had going from class to class? I set up my appointments. To everyone, it looked like I was texting my billy (my friend), but I was really telling my clients to meet me in different places. After school, I came home, took a shower, you know, regular shit.
But, I spent the midnight hours counting the drugs, putting them in bags, and making sure everyone had the right amount. You don’t want to pack too much drugs because then you were getting scammed, and you definitely don’t want to pack too little because then you were the scammer. And do you know what happens if you’re the scammer,” He looked at me, he knew I knew the answer, he took a puff of his blunt and continued, “they bounty your ass, you might as well kill yourself first before they kill you.”
We laughed for a good bit. It was true. In New York, especially Brooklyn, people will either kill or be killed over these drugs. Then, I started thinking who got him into selling drugs, who did he have to talk to, and most importantly, how did he get out of the game. I asked, and he said, “After momma got the call, we talked about where we would get the money to get it done. The conversation got intense, and I had to take a minute to myself, I needed a smoke. I walked down the street and at the end I saw it before my eyes. I acted like I did see anything, but I saw it all, and after the man in the car left with the drug I ran up to the dealer. I asked him how and where do I sign up. He gave a number and told me to call him. Then, he disappeared.”
“Just like that?” I asked.
“Yeah, just like that, he gave me the number, I called and told him the situation, then he gave me a starter pack and referred his clients to me. He said he was trying to stop because his girl was spazzing out.”
I raised an eyebrow and said, “So, once you raised the money, how did you get out?”
Manny laughed and said, “I was really a pro out in these streets. I did appointments back-to-back. I was known as Mr. New York, and after I raised the money I was just obsessed with making more. I never thought that I would be able to make this kind of money. Seeing how I was able to provide for my mother just made me want to work even more. My momma was the only reason why I continued to do it, so when I saw how much it helped her, I started thinking of other ways to financially take care of her. I was ballin’ out of control, but I knew things were getting out of hand. Remember the guy I was tellin’ you about earlier, the one with the starter pack? I asked him how do I get out, and the process was simple. You just simply pass it off to someone else that wants to sell drugs. It doesn’t necessarily work for some people but for me it did. Crazy.”
He paused for a minute, then continued.
“But, it took a toll on me. I was depressed, I wanted money. All I could ever think about was money. You know? I still sell a little on the side here and there, but I am trying to stop. Promise. It is just hard.”
One thing I can say about Mr. New York is that he is a man of his word. He said he was going to take care of his mother and so he did, and I admire his huge heart. Manny is one of the strongest and most determined people I have ever met. Even though what he did was extremely risky for multiple reasons, his love for his mother made it worth it.
Before every transaction, Manny would make sure of two things. One was that he prayed for his safety, and second that his mother was asleep. LaTasha never knew that her baby would sneak out in the middle of the night to do these things. I was curious, so I asked her how did she find out, and when she did, how did she felt. “I never knew until he handed me a fat stack of cash, and told me, here momma, I got it. I said Manny, where in the hell did you get this money. I was angry because I knew what he was going to say, and I was gonna slap the taste out of his mouth.”
She laughed and then continued.
“He told me. I looked at him and was about to slap the everlasting shit out of him.” She put her hand up to demonstrate, then went on. “But then I stopped in midair. I said to myself. LaTasha, your boy just saved your life.
Put your hand down. Surrender, then, I looked at him and fell into his arms. My boy.”
She shook her head, smiled, and then laughed. It was a beautiful moment that I was able to capture.
I asked her what the family thought of it. I am sure they were excited, huh?
“I don’t talk to them no more. They are in their own world, and I am in mine. The bond was dying between all of us anyways. My mom and dad were the glue that kept us together really, but once they passed on that was really it. They didn’t like that Manny was out there like that, and shit, I don’t either. But if it was not for him, I would not be here. I think Manny did what was right.”
She smiled and shrugged her shoulders. Lastly, I asked how she felt now.
“Girl, I feel good! I’m alive and well. I praise God every day. Don’t tell me my God ain’t real! He spared me!”
LaTasha has a heart of gold. She is the definition of strength and power. Even without her knowing Manny’s plans, she was going to find a way to get her operation done without the help of others. And her son is a product of her kindness and courage. It is clear that she well raised a determined Black man. Manny and LaTasha, LaTasha and Manny against the world. To LaTasha, Manny was home. The love they have is an unbreakable, powerful bond.
After hearing their beautiful story, I learned the importance of family, especially the relationship between a mother and son. Being able to provide for your family should be a priority. But, this doesn’t mean that it is easily accessible. Unfortunately, in his case, this means that some risks might have to be made. Yet, taking these dangerous risks for someone you love makes it all worth it. Manny’s story is important. It needs to be heard. Life is real but love is more real. Black family love almost made Manny become a statistic for helping his mother. That kind of love is unconditional and essential. This love can build mountains. If they were stripped of all worldly riches, and they would still have each other. That day that I interviewed them, I witnessed something so raw and true. Manny found healing, somewhere where it did not lay.
Black love is beauty, strength, and power. Family love conquers all. Nothing real can be threatened.