Vincent DeNigris, who lives in Hancock, New York with Samuel, his partner of 24 years, and his English bulldog Bella, is the father of Vincent, 35. He is a retired New York City police officer who worked the same streets of Williamsburg, Brooklyn where he grew up. He was on duty on September 11, 2001 and lost 23 of his friends that day. He has raised pigeons as a hobby for 42 years – learning how from the old Italians and Jews in his neighborhood – and is now widely known as a master breeder of English carrier pigeons.
I met your mother, Barbara, on Devoe Street, in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Her grandparents lived around the corner on Humboldt Street, and her Aunt Nettie and cousin Elvira lived two houses over from there. Barbara and I became childhood friends.
Your mother was funny and bright, and none too bad on the eyes. She loved music and loved to dance (you’re so much like her in that respect). We always enjoyed being together.
After you were born, everything just started to fall apart. I was holding down three jobs. I was a stationary engineer for the Minkskoff Theater family, a part-time stagehand on 44th Street and Broadway, and superintendent of our apartment building in Kew Gardens. While I was out making a living so that we could buy a house close to Uncle Nick and Aunt Marilyn in Bethpage, your mother started to do hardcore drugs.
The rent we collected for the landlord, your mother would take and spend on heroin.
She always told me she used that money because she was running short, and that I was bringing home too little money for us to survive. She did a good job of covering up.
I would be up for work and out of the house at 6 a.m. every day, and your mother would give you breakfast, take the bus back to Williamsburg, drop you off with your grandmother Carmela, and go do drugs with her friend Irene.
I finally caught on to her and we got divorced. I could no longer live with myself knowing you were living with her while she spiraled out of control. I got full custody of you when you were three years old.
Because I always loved your grandmother Carmela, I would let you go to her apartment to visit your mother there. I would bring you there on a Friday night with the promise you were going to see your mother, you were always so happy and excited about that.
Sometimes your mother would show up to see you.
But more often she failed to make an appearance.
Carmela would always plead with me to let you stay a little longer so that your mother could see you. At first I did that for the both of you. But your mother had a habit of showing up to see you just when I was about to take you home. Depending on my mood, I would either let you stay a couple of hours more, or I would just take you home because most of the time she showed up, she showed up high. This went on untill you were nine years old.
During all that time, my heart would just tear apart for you. When you were sick and cried for your mother, it was my face that you would see hovering over your bed. When you woke up screaming from a nightmare, it was either me or your grandmother, (my mother Maria) who picked you up and comforted you. Your first day of school, you proudly waited for your mother to show up at our house to see you off. She never came.
Your mother died when you were only nine years old. I waited three days before I could get up the courage to tell you. She died from AIDS-related complications brought on by intravenous drug use. It still kills me to remember how badly you took that news.
I know you have gone through hell, my son, and I wish I could just take away all your pain. I wish I could have been a mother to you. No matter how much a father does, a child wants and needs a good mother.
Neither of us care to acknowledge Mother’s Day. Your Mom is still a very hard topic for us both.
And so, my son, I did the best I could for you with what I had.