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.
It’s snowing here. Ever so lightly, but snowing. The sun’s trying to peek through, but the clouds are winning. I’m watching the fat flakes fall as I eat lentil soup, bought at the deli over on Nostrand. I will miss being able to walk a couple of blocks to the deli. And the grocery, the bagel place, the bank, the health food shop, the nail salon, the hipster coffee shop.
Next week, I’m going back to the Land of Enchantment, where it’s sunny 280+ days per year and you have to drive everywhere. I might call it a trade-off…if I were a sun-lover.
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.
Tomorrow, I will have been back in Albuquerque for four weeks. Seems like yesterday. Seems like a hundred years.
I want to write, but darned if I know what to write about. Do you want to hear about my comparison of bread and cookies? Would you rather hear about how everywhere I turn here something reminds me of Phillip? Can I whine about how miserably hot it is? If I did, would you sympathize with me or tell me to suck it up? ¡Aguanta no mas!
Dare I mention the crazy political climate that makes my stomach churn and leaves me feeling choice-less, voiceless, hopeless, and helpless?
Last night, I dreamed about my son, Phillip. If you’re new to my blog, I should tell you that my son passed away on May 4. In the past, I’d often dreamed about him as a young boy.
I am a vivid dreamer. My dreams, always in color, tend to be wild and crazy. Sometimes, they star strangers. Usually, they’re centered around people I know. I’ve been dreaming about Phillip a lot since returning to the US three weeks ago.
In this dream, Phillip was an adult. He was helping me garden. With the best of intentions, he dug up most of my plants. There was one in particular that I felt sad about losing. It was a hearty plant, a succulent. He had chopped off the flowering top and left the roots planted in the ground.
Back in the US for precisely two weeks now, the one question everyone asks me is “How long are you here for?”
Some people seem to expect a concrete answer to that question, but they don’t know me very well. What I’d originally planned as a visit to the US has now turned into a full repatriation. But it feels temporary.
Those who know me best are not surprised by the real answer, which is “I don’t know.” I can’t imagine not going back overseas.
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.
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.
A few weeks ago, I wrote an article for The Displaced Nation, talking about my reverse cultural shock in coming back to Chile. This week, as I recover from my garage sale, I’d like to share with you my take on being a Perpetually Perplexed Peripatetic Expat.
“Once upon a time, Sally Rose was happily settled in Santiago, Chile. But then five years passed, and she got itchy feet. She took a half-year sojourn in Europe trying to figure it out. So, is Santiago still “home”?”