The Zenaida Code

On the morning of the Women’s March, as I stood on the steps of the Trenton War Memorial in my home state of New Jersey, my friends and family greeted me with words I’d never heard before: “Oh my God, you look exactly like your mother!”

All my life, from birth to that memorable morning, anyone who’s known my dad has commented on my likeness to him. The fair skin, the light hair, the long neck, the dimple, all of it handed down from my father’s side of the family tree. I never knew him angry. I never knew him to rush through anyone or anything to get to someone or something else. My way of being in the world, my lack of need for “things,” my love of conversation, an outward ease with the world and an offhanded relationship with time, if such things are genetically coded, those things are Oscar Code. 

My mother is pure fire. With thick, wavy dark hair (before it went gray), enormous brown eyes, and a resting expression that gives people pause before approaching, she is a force unknown even to herself. I’ve never known her to sit and wait for things to come to her. In the years we’ve had to manage without my father, who passed away when I was 15, I know she’s been afraid, but damned if she hasn’t gotten up the next morning, every single morning, and done the work that needs to be done.  If such things are coded, the college degrees on my wall, the authored book on my shelf, the car in the driveway, the roof over my head, all single-handedly earned, that’s Zenaida Code.

You know, the night before The March, that very Friday night, I was still on the fence about going. I was genuinely afraid. I wanted to join my sisters and supportive brothers. Wanted express my solidarity with the side of the global conversation that felt right and good. But with news of rioting in D.C. the day before and the world being what it is these days, I spun myself into a tightly wound ball of unanswerable questions. What if something happens? Who will take care of Ma? What difference does it make if I don’t go? So very many women I know, admire, and love were already on buses on the way down to D.C. So many others were checking into local events.  What’s one less body? The work will get done. The collective voice will be heard, whether or not I am there. This is what I told myself.

And suddenly the spinning stopped. I have work to do. And I can’t let anyone else do it for me.

I’ve been reading each Marcher’s story. “Why I March.” Every single one resonates. So much so that to add to the list of reasons implies something separate from them. I am not separate. I’m part of the whole that marched that day, part of the father of two toddlers to my right who doesn’t understand how we got here, part of the gay man in front of me waving his “Love is Love” poster, part of the Muslim girls on my left who have found a new home here, part of the Hispanic women up ahead carrying a crucifix, part of the woman in a wheelchair who would not be mocked, part of the young lady in the photo here, only a few feet away from me on the steps, holding up just the sign I needed to read at just that very moment. Thank you, sister.

On Saturday morning, January 21, 2017, as all of those parts merged into one gorgeous, historic whole, my mind often bounced back to the fact that suddenly, 51 years into life, I looked exactly like my mother. In that moment, I couldn’t understand why it mattered so much. It’s taken a few days to recognize that the person on the steps of the Trenton War Memorial is different on the inside too. Suddenly, blissfully, I’ve become physically incapable of backing down or shutting up. And that, too, is pure Zenaida Code.

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