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Mom, Mareno, and Me

The first time I ever heard the word "nigger" come from the tight lips of my devoted Jewish mother was during a phone conversation,when she demanded to talk to my then boyfriend, Mareno. He overheard what she said, despite my futile attempt at holding the receiver tightly against my leg.

I was devastated. My boyfriend was not surprised. We had only been dating a few weeks, but already my mother had given me numerous ultimatums. Bribery was not beneath her nor her Holocaust-surviving husband, who had spent five years at the Auschwitz concentration camp. At first they offered me the dog I was not allowed to have as a child. The last attempt to 'bring me to my senses' was an offer to go to Israel, always a dream of mine. When all else had failed, they offered my new boyfriend $10,000 to leave me alone. His father said, "Take it!" It was at this moment that I realized how in deep I was.

This was all new to me. I had dated sure, but never an African-American. It was an exciting time for me. I was anxious, afraid, and happy constantly. My mother, who was my best friend, threatened to kick me out of our home. As I had only been dating "Mareno" for about three weeks, I came to his house crying uncontrollably, explaining what had transpired. He suggested that I move in with him. I did.

A month later I found out I was pregnant. Pregnant at 18, and I barely knew this guy! And he was only 21 himself. After much thought, and after every girlfriend that I had left (I had lost the majority of my friends due to dating Mareno), suggested abortion, abortion, ABORTION, we decided to have the baby.

My mother came over to our apartment and met Mareno for the first time. From then on she grudgingly began to bring over fruits and vegetables. Over the course of the next five months, my husband postponed his education to work the additional overtime our household so desperately needed. I began going to night school at a community college, and three days before our wedding I received my high school diploma. Despite my mother's numerous requests to get an abortion, which she was happy to pay for, with the stipulation that I NEVER marry this man, she came to our wedding with her husband. After the ceremony, I ran to my mother in tears. I had never been happier. A little cousin of my husband's said as I was walking down the aisle, "She looks like a princess!" That was exactly how I felt.

Although she still disliked Mareno, after the wedding she was cordial. She knew she had faced the inevitable, and the strength and independence which she herself had taught me was now stabbing her in the back. There was nothing more she could do. Her baby girl, who was raised as a princess, had married a black man at 18, six months pregnant no less!

July 14th , two weeks before my 19th birthday, we had a baby boy. We named him Ari Yisroel, the Lion of Israel. We were in love.

Despite his father, my mother was head over heels. She took us to lunch, bought diapers, clothes, food, toys, and everything else a "Savtah," the Jewish word for grandmother, would do. That was her pride and joy, her reason for living. We were always at Savtah's. She turned from a racist into Auntie Mame. Eventually, my mother began to realize things just might be okay for her baby girl. She bought Ari two cribs. One for us, and one for her house. My old room, the room where my mother referred to the man at the other end of the phone as a "nigger" was painted and furnished for his son, her grandchild.

We've been married nine years now. Retelling our story still brings me to tears, but I think it is a story of beauty and of hope.





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