| This is the 255th story of Our Life Logs |
I was born in 1948 in Chester, New York at the height of the baby boom. My father, a full-blooded Italian, wanted the American Dream to be his family’s future. We moved to one of the first suburbs in America in Chester. My father owned an ice cream shop a couple blocks from our house. His dream was a colorful candy store but with the blistering heat of New York, he found ice cream to be the better business. My mother was English and very beautiful. She mostly focused on taking care of us kids and doing motherly duties like keeping the house clean and providing breakfast, lunch, and dinner. When I think of her, the first things that come to mind are her gorgeous smile, her motherly smell, and her kind eyes.
My childhood is hazy, but I slightly remember when each of my siblings was born. After me came Gary, 18 months younger than me, and then Rob, whom Gary and I liked to pick on since he was the baby for most of our childhood. Mom and Dad thought, “As long as they all include each other, it’s harmless fun.” For a while it was, but when we got older, we got reckless with little Rob. Needless to say, one adventure got too crazy, and Rob will always have a scar to remember. Lastly came Marcy, the baby and only girl of the Manna clan, completing our family with all its warmth and laughter. You see, we were just your average, loving family, and sure, we could get rowdy every now and then, but we were happy.
Nothing could have prepared us for what happened in 1958. Picture this. It was a bitter cold winter day. A blanket of frost was covering the windows and a foot of snow was clogging the streets. It was the sweet limbo between school ending and starting for the spring semester. Children in bright colored marshmallows were sledding down the hills next to the church. It was a normal day, so far.
Meanwhile inside my family’s living room, my mom was gathering my brothers, infant sister and me together. As a family, we sat in the front room waiting for the doctor to arrive to give us all flu shots. In that time, doctors made house calls. The couch was cold to the touch, the cream soaked walls surrounded us on all sides, with plank floors at our feet and the dim lights flickering. The doctor looked over and said, “Mom first.” With a comforting smile and a minor flinch, he finished by placing a band-aid over her bicep. Then he motioned toward me. With a pinch in the bicep of my right arm, a chilly tingle spiraled through my body. I could feel both of my brothers’ eyes on me, hoping to suck up some courage I falsely projected.
I looked over at Mom for comfort, but her eyes were set forward, locked on the snow falling outside. Suddenly, she reached for the doctor, “I can’t breathe,” she croaked. Then in an instant, her knees buckled and she fell to the ground. Her body thrashed around. The doctor rushed to her side and tried to get her to respond. “Keep breathing, Mrs. Manna! Come on!” The doctor tried chest compressions, but got no response. I was frozen in shock, and my brothers and sister were as scared and confused as me.
Suddenly I was pulled from the room and given some books and other trinkets to distract me, but my eyes were locked on the closed door of the living room. The sounds of a familiar voice broke my focus, and it was as if he appeared from thin air; Dad was there. His hand was tight on my shoulder and the other was holding my sister, I felt a sharp pain in the pit of my stomach and thought to myself, “Something is wrong. Where is Mom?”
Voices echoed through the house.
“We don’t know what happened. She was fine one second then…”
“Those poor kids…having to watch it happen.”
My father took me and my siblings outside for some “fresh air.” About three minutes after I walked outside, I saw men in dark colors pushing a gurney down the stairs and out the front door. There was a thin sheet covering what looked like…a body. It was only after seeing the sad and broken look from the doctor did I realize, it was Mom under the sheet. It was in that moment that the shocked haze had cleared, and I felt that pain in my stomach resonate throughout my entire body, and I knew my mom was dead.
In the years following my mother’s death we found out she was allergic to penicillin, so she had an allergic reaction to the flu shot. Finding the reason didn’t take away the pain we felt from her death. Dad coped by fulfilling his dream of owning and operating a candy shop in hopes of achieving his idyllic American Dream. We all tried to force “normal” as an attempt to cope with her death, but by the time summer rolled around, we were pushed beyond our limits and us kids had gone wild.
In the summer of 1959, my brother Gary and I were exploring rows of buildings on the outside of town. Old bricks, broken revolutionary buildings that were still filled with random artifacts of history for us to play with, or should I say destroy. We happened upon a tank of kerosene one day and thought a small fire wouldn’t hurt anybody. With the sound of a match and piles of dead grass, we started a fire so large that it could have taken the whole block and could have started the largest fire in the history of Chester. At least that’s what the fireman who was there within minutes of the building catching fire told us.
The trouble had only just begun with that fire, something we really enjoyed was scrapping with the neighborhood kids, taking our anger and confusion out on something, anything, to pull us away from the sadness in our hearts. The neighbors labeled us as “flawed” and “difficult” even though the reason for our behavior was widely known. We used to make games out of breaking glass windows in local abandoned buildings, of which one, in particular, was a blacksmith. We made it to the third-floor windows before being chased out by some locals.
Gary and I became more difficult as the years went by. While we had inclinations of wild behavior before our mother’s death, we lost ourselves in the world of drugs, chaos and the open road after she died. This was what we became, lost and broken boys, scarred by the death of their mother before their very eyes. I thought I’d never amount to anything, and I didn’t want to, at least not yet.
Flash forward to the 70s. It was a time of struggle where you were either drafted to fight in Vietnam or became a hippie/burnout. The crime rate was at an all-time high and it was hard to find a place to belong. I became a flower child and continued using drugs, but went to college in 1966 at Syracuse University. I studied English and journalism. I took five classes during the day and washed dishes from 10 PM to 3 or 4 AM to put myself through school.
I graduated in 1972. In my early years, I had played around with writing stories both fictional and on current events but never had the courage to send them in to be published. That was until a small local newspaper stumbled upon some of my work. To this day, I don’t know how they got it, but a week later I was hired as a reporter. I used the words locked in my head as a powerful tool and started to write about anything I could get my hands on. I found solace in writing, pulling me away from the toxic thoughts in my mind.
There was no single experience that turned my life around. Instead, through a constant adventure of exploring the words and finding beauty in the ugly I found a sense of rebirth. But, if I had to put a finger on a single event, it would be when I got hired as a reporter for that small-town newspaper. My life was filled with such darkness before then. Finding a passion in the simple act of writing made me feel like I could breathe again, like I didn’t have to harbor the pain anymore. It was then that I broke away from drugs and my self-destructive behaviors and became a new man.
I spent the remaining decades building my writing career. I continue to use it to overcome the negative feelings I held inside since age 10. I had found dark places filled with temptations, an ecstasy that took many years of my life, but now I live a sober life of contentment. I have been married and divorced, took in two young girls, Jennifer and Chelsea, who needed a father figure in their life, and had my son Anthony. None of this could have happened if I hadn’t turned a corner through writing. I’m happy to say that I’ve healed from my troubled past.
Of course, my mother’s death greatly affected my life, and who knows where I would be today if she hadn’t died in front of me. I do know that life is uncountable and happens in the blink of an eye. I can only move with the tides rather than against them. I am able to cherish the memories I do have of her and the times I spent as a child, and I will forever be thankful for finding my life’s calling in reporting and writing stories of the ever-changing world we live in. I will always have a slightly skewed attitude of life because of what I experienced, but that has made me into a better person who will work through any challenge thrown his way.
This is the story of Theodore Robert Manna Jr
Theodore lives contentedly in New York working as a reporter. A man of indescribable talent with the written word, Theodore suffered a pain every person must endure, the loss of a loved one. After seeing his mother die in front of his eyes when he was 10, Theodore spiraled out of control and the only thing that leveled him out was drugs until he discovered his passion for writing, which helped him straighten out and cope with the pain. Today, Theodore wakes up each day as a happy man who loves to work out, cook, and read. He still writes, but lately he has found a love in helping others further their writing. In his spare time, Theodore likes communicating with his siblings. They have weekly phone calls and visit each other a couple times a year. Theodore misses his mother and always will, but she lives on in his heart and his writing.
Rest in peace, Florence Manna.
This story first touched our hearts on January 26, 2019.