By Michelle Powers
Manuel Oliver never thought he’d be in a one-man show talking about his son, performing a work he never wanted to write.
But on February 14, 2018 the Oliver’s family changed forever when a gunman opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. 17 people were killed.
“Part of you —all of you —wants to think its not your kid,” Manuel explained. But it was Joaquin: their son, their hero. He was the baby they moved from Venezuela for a safer life — their funny, artistic and loving child.
Now Manuel and his wife Patricia are about to step off on a tour across the country, where he is starring in one night, one man performances that tell the story of their son, and the year after the shooting.
That day they lost their son, but the Olivers say Joaquin didn’t lose his mom and dad. “We are parents, always parents. We will keep being mom and dad,” said Patricia.
He and his wife agree: this is the moment they’ve been training for their entire lives.
They are making it their mission to keep his memory alive. Where it was too late to save Joaquin, it’s early enough to save someone else.
“I like to think of it that way, it gives me a reason for what happened,” said Manuel. “Nothing is going to bring him back, period. So because that’s how we know things will go, we need to be okay with the process and with small victories.”
What they consider a win is people stepping into their shoes and feeling with them.
They say the show is not about politics. It’s about saving lives.
The tour will kick off in New York this Friday before it makes stops in swing states and other cities marred by mass shootings.
“Our job to honor Joaquin’s life, and allow people through seeing that to draw their conclusions about the future of this country,” explained the show’s director, James Clements.
He’s been brought to tears, no matter how many times he watches Manuel.
“He isn’t a trained actor, but he what he perhaps lacks in the training he more than makes up for, because there’s no actor that could bring this amount of passion to a role,” James said. For hours and days at a time, it’s hard for James to get Manuel to take a break.
When he’s tired, Manuel just thinks of the last moments of his son’s life.
“How I feel means nothing,” he said.
“I think Joaquin is with me. I can’t have more faith than that,” said Manuel.“He just started early, he’s stepping up up there and we will be together again.”
“He’s with us,” said Patricia. “He’s with us everywhere we go.”
The Olivers say God will also give them strength and faith they need to believe they’ll see their son again.
You can see Manuel take the stage at the 92nd Street Y tomorrow on the Upper East Side.
The show begins at 8 p.m on Nov. 22, 2019. Tickets are still available at guacmysonmyhero.com.