Last week, I started taking a French class.
I’ve always wanted to learn French. A thousand years ago, I went to college in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. I transferred there as a sophomore and didn’t have the option of preregistering for classes beforehand.
During the normal registration period, I signed up for the classes I needed. If one was unavailable, I had to start over and rebuild my schedule from scratch, trying to fit the classes together like a Tetris puzzle. I’d already done this twice, which meant running around the entire campus, from department to department, getting approval for admittance.
My son, Phillip, took this photo when he visited me in New York, back in 2009.
Today marks the first anniversary of his death. Over the past year, I’ve discovered many things about grief and about how awkward giving and receiving condolences can be.
People offer condolences and I reply, “Thank you.” People ask how I’m doing and I answer, “Fine.” Then, there’s that hush because…where do you go from there? Do I just carry on and start talking about the weather? A class I’m taking? My grandkids? Oops, I’ll never have any grandkids. So many taboo subjects now. Touchy, delicate subjects where there used to be none.
Do I talk about a year that I’d rather forget? For me, 2016 can be summed up in one word–difficult. Nothing could have prepared me for the death of my son last May.
Do I concentrate on looking forward? For the first time in many years, I don’t have “plans” for the new year. I have some ideas and goals, but there’s no strategy for accomplishing them. And there are no travel plans. Yet.
Technically, I’m traveling now. I’m sitting in a brownstone in Brooklyn, NY. I spent Christmas with my BFF and Fran, my former student, who was visiting from Chile. Travel makes for interesting connections.
This week, my “Chilean daughter” turned 21.
It seems like only yesterday that I walked into her 8th grade classroom for the first time, but that was back in 2009. Francisca would have been 14 then. A quiet teenager, she came to the front of the classroom when I played Buddy Holly’s “That’ll Be the Day.”
I wrote about it in A Million Sticky Kisses:
When I was a little girl, I used to visit my grandma. We had a special relationship and I wanted to stay there with her forever and ever, where I felt comfortable, safe, and loved up.
After a visit, when my parents came to pick me up, she would stand on her front porch and wave goodbye until our car passed over the last rise and out of sight. I always had the feeling that she stayed there, for a minute or two afterward, with her hand raised in a wave just to make sure that I, teary-eyed, with my nose pressed against the back window of the car, could no longer see her.
Right, it’s been a month since Phillip passed away. Four short weeks that feel like a lifetime. I’ve had lots of sympathy, condolences, notes, calls, offers of food, help, or companionship.
My friends, both Chilean and gringo, have rallied around, watched over me, and listened to my long-winded stories about Phillip, family, and everything in between. Mostly, I’ve just needed to talk about it. Whatever, “it” is. I am so grateful for their willing ears.
It’s been a strange time. I’ve had almost no energy. It’s slowly coming back, but very slowly. In a country where the party begins at 10pm, I’ve often been in bed, and asleep, by 9pm. I can’t make myself care about what I might be missing.
He called himself “Sid,” the kid I’d named Phillip thirty-four years ago.
He crawled at six months. He walked at nine. He made his first whole sentence at 18 months. In a restaurant in Fredericksburg, Texas, where trophy animal heads hung on the walls. “Me see moose.”
He was the boy who dragged home stray kittens and puppies. And wanted to keep them all. He was the one who loved bedtime stories from comic books. Snuggled together in the rocker, with his yellow baby blanket, we read page after page, night after night, until he was too big to fit on my lap.