Chapter 10: Dumped at the Border by my Uncle
As the gorgeous Florida sun beats down on our backs at the hotel bar, we order two Jamaican Me Crazy drinks from our bartender for the week, Jermaine.
He’s making us crazy because he is apparently on Florida time and we are so fucking thirsty for that drink. The sweat trickles down our foreheads as our mouths water for the lime green concoction. We are cracking jokes back and forth trying to distract ourselves. Jermaine lazily looks up at us and asks how long we are married.
We look at each other and immediately break out in deep belly laughs. I explain to Jermaine that the man standing next to me is my Uncle. Uncle Jeff. Jermaine throws us some serious side-eye and then a knowing smirk; I could read his mind.
He then says sarcastically, “Yeah, your ‘Uncle’” So I quickly respond, “YES, my Uncle! I swear!” I quickly add, “He’s not a Sugar Daddy and I am certainly no Gold Digger!”
See my Uncle Jeff is young. He’s 52 and the youngest of the five brothers and sisters, also known as the five J’s; Jackie, Joyce, Judy, Jimmy and Jeff. My mom, Joyce, is second in command and she’s 67 years young!
I’ve always admired my Uncle; he’s been more of an older brother than an Uncle. And that took on a whole other level when about five years ago, our lives unraveled entirely. We came undone.
About four months before the Chupacabra of Joy and I got separated, my Aunt Lorraine, Uncle Jeff’s wife, was rushed to the hospital wherein one innocent evening her entire life, and the life of my Uncle and cousins, transformed entirely. She was diagnosed with brain cancer and had to get emergency brain surgery to remove the tumors.
She was never the same after that surgery. At the time, the kids were 12 (Jules) and eight (Livy) and MSP was four. Ironically, as my Uncle faced unimaginable emotions and decision-making for my Aunt’s health, I met the imminent destruction of my marriage.
These tragedies are not similar in any way, but the timing was ironic. Devastatingly, my Aunt and Uncle battled this disease for two years until this incurable brain cancer took her life.
During her arduous war with cancer, I traveled back and forth to my Uncle’s house in Westfield, NJ, to help with the kids. At the time, MSP and I lived on Staten Island, but we spent most weekends there. Throughout those two terrible years, I witnessed my Aunt and Uncle’s community and friends step up in a big way. From delivering them meal after meal, every single night for TWO YEARS to visiting her in the hospital and at home. They made her tea or brushed her hair. They took the kids to school or rehearsals. They cried as if they were losing their sister.
It was during this time, as I watched an entire community come together to help my family, I fell in love with Westfield.
My Uncle, Aunt and the kids fought so hard but sadly, the night came when she was starting her journey home. Jules called and told me to come over immediately. She was dying. The time had come to say good-bye.
Thankfully, MSP was with her father so I raced there to be with them (the rare moment when I would feel thankful for the Chupacabra). That evening I felt the weight (and the gift) of my responsibility. I made a promise to Aunt Lorraine, that while I could never replace her, I would do everything in my power to be a mother figure for Jules and Livy; and a support system for my Uncle.
There are things in life we dream about, that make it to our goal list, things we expect and plan for…never in my life did I consider that while I gave birth to one child, two more would grow in my heart.
In retrospect, I see this as a blessing inside a horrific curse. Through our heartbreak, my Uncle and I found a friendship neither of us expected. While we were falling apart, we found a shoulder that we could lean on and a partner we could count on.
Two months later, I had an epiphany. Why don’t MSP and I move to Westfield when she goes to Junior High School (she was in 2nd grade at the time)? It came in a flash and I decided to talk to my Uncle and the kids about it. We all fell in love with the idea of being so close. I saw a sense of relief in their eyes, I saw the love they felt.
I knew this would be complicated with the Chupacabra of Joy (as is everything with him). We had a visitation agreement that did not include MSP and me living in Westfield. But I figured that I had time to introduce this idea.
In a twist of fate or the universe supporting this idea, about one week later after that lightbulb went off, the Chupacabra of Joy decided to ask MSP to choose between us (what the fuck is wrong with him!) To determine whether she would live with me five days a week and him every other weekend or vice versa.
First off, this is highly frowned upon by the court and, you know, general morality. She had just turned seven and was not equipped to choose between her parents. He recommended that she weigh the pros and cons between us. She asked him “Daddy, what are pros and cons?” He tells her to think about the good things and bad things about living with each of us (cue my sheer horror).
I found out about this after I picked up MSP and she says to me, “Mama I choose YOU!” With a look of confusion, I ask her what she is talking about. So she tells me about this conversation with her father and it takes everything in me not to fucking scream. Holding back tears of anger and frustration I said, “that’s wonderful mama, let me talk to Daddy about this.”
After texting the Chupacabra about this matter, he suggests that we meet for dinner to chat about logistics. We meet at a diner on a Friday night in early December and he makes her tell me her choice again and asks if she is sure, to which she responds, “YES!” At this point, I’m so happy my anger dissipates.
He says he doesn’t want her to go to school in Staten Island (which by the way is where she was born and where we planned to raise her). I respond that I will not drive her to school in Brooklyn every day from Staten Island, so I bring up the idea of moving to Westfield. He supports this idea because the school system is excellent and says, “we need this to happen in a month.” I respond by saying, “well, let me find a house and move in and then she can move to Westfield in the summer and attend 3rd grade there.”
He commands, “No, we have to rip off the band-aid and do it ASAP. January 3rd will be the switch or all bets are off.” His response was a threat because he was surprised by her decision and clearly not happy (but he is never happy so this is par for the course). Stupidly, I agree and go on the speed path to making this all a reality. Even though I had developed an agreement that we were negotiating on our own, without a court order, this was a significant error on my part.
But I wanted Westfield and I wanted it bad. I uprooted my life and worked hard to make it happen! Moving heaven and earth to buy a house and sell my home in the matter of one month. Then proceeded to get childcare and work support to ensure that MSP would be well-adjusted. He ultimately reneged on our agreement and we landed in court that same year. (I’ll share more on how this impacted our visitation and the epic battle that ensued, a battle that remains unresolved, in a future blog).
Regardless of the immense difficulty with MSP’s father, this was the best decision I’ve ever made.
As time went on, our unique modern family got tighter and more familial. We traveled together to family events, we argued like a family, we would have spontaneous days at the beach together. We laughed, cried, hugged hard, had deep talks or were just still, together. On top of all that goodness, I saw the positive effect on MSP. She was thriving, even while she struggled with the loss of her own traditional family.
As my Uncle healed, he supported me as much as I did him. He became a father figure to MSP. Her cousins by chance, became siblings by choice. We started traditions like Sunday Dinners and Friday sleepovers. Apple Picking and Asbury Park. We attended all the kid’s shows, recitals, graduations and events together.
My uncle helped me with the process of buying and renovating my beautiful 1880’s home in Westfield (MSP and I moved in May 2017). He is a very talented builder and very well connected. He helped make a painful and scary process much more comfortable (even though the house got finished the day we moved in!).
We taught our children that while tragedy can break you, love can stitch you back together, just in a different form. We showed them that even after a horrific destructive storm, a double rainbow can appear.
Now five years later, we took our first family vacation together to Marco Island, FL. We had so much to celebrate, so much to be grateful for…Jules is on his way to college this Fall and Livy is in her second year of middle school as MSP enters the 4th grade. We have watched these children grow together and now our memories are entirely entwined. Our family album is filled with beautiful and funny moments we’ve shared over these past five years.
We are celebrating these exciting phases of life on the beach on Marco Island, as we impatiently await our Jamaican Me Crazy drinks.
While at the bar, we start talking about the woman my Uncle started seeing about three months ago. He waited a very long time to even think about dating as he wanted to be there full force for his kids. Two and a half years after his wife passed, I convinced him to join a couple of dating apps, but he was still struggling with the loss.
He eventually gained the courage to outreach and made some connections. Interestingly, his first date, turns out to be the real thing! My Uncle shares with me that his relationship is progressing and he’s thinking about introducing her to the kids.
This makes me so very happy…but then I pause and start to process what this means for us. My partner in crime is replacing me! (How fucking weird is that thought process?) While I am beyond thrilled, as I was the biggest champion of my Uncle finding someone, I can’t help but feel that the family we created and the relationship we built is coming to an end; more so taking on a new form with new participants.
As he builds his relationship, they will want to have Sunday Dinners together and go on family vacations or have spontaneous Asbury Park beach days. Where do MSP and I fit into that equation now? (God, I sound like a freaking jealous girlfriend!) I knew this was inevitable…he and I were eventually going to find a partner, but this is truly bittersweet.
And fuck, I also feel a little envious that he goes online for a couple of months and finds someone. All while I’ve been at this dating thing for five years and haven’t had a relationship that lasted longer than ten months! Alas, the universe works mysteriously, and I am so thrilled that this time, the universe delivered someone who makes him happy.
Of course, I keep this all inside as my heart and mind process the many emotions I am experiencing, both rational and irrational. I start to feel that maybe Marco Island is an end AND a beginning. A celebration of surviving and thriving together through our tragedies while we face an unknown and exciting future. As the saying goes, “change is the only constant.”
I am genuinely grateful for my uncle, and for Jules and Livy. I feel the tears start to build a little in my eyes as I prepare for the next phase of our lives.
After ten long minutes, Jermaine finally gets us the drinks and I suck it down in three seconds flat. “Ummm Jermaine, I’ll take another Jamaican Me Crazy. Make it a double.”
Cherry Maggiore is the proud single mom of her 9-year-old super-sassy daughter (aka Miss Sassy Pants or MSP) and 15-year-old pug baby (Tiki Barber); in addition to being an award-winning senior marketing executive at NBCUniversal.
Beside her side hustle as the Freak of Nurture, she also started a home design company after being inspired by renovating and designing her 1880’s home in NJ.
This insanely curious and passionate “multi-potentialite” can be found dancing the Argentinan tango, swing and Hustle every Saturday, cooking her family an Italian Sunday dinner, singing and air drumming at concerts or searching for her next adventure.