Years ago when we lived in Las Cruces, New Mexico, in a wonderful little adobe house with two rosebushes, a pomegranate tree, and an apricot tree that hung over the neighbor’s fence into our yard (and with fruit, location is ownership, right?), many of the neighbors had suns hanging on the porches or on the front of our houses. My house had a paper mache sun that looked much like the one above. When driving down the streets of just about any neighborhood in that little New Mexican town you felt, or I did, welcomed and warmed by the smiling faces that greeted you.
And then it happened. In the spring, I think. Warm and sunny, I remember, but most days in southern New Mexico were warm and sunny. As we returned to our homes in the late afternoon, from work or school or whatever it was that we did during the days of our Las Cruces life, we realized that our suns had been stolen from our houses. Dozens of them taken from porches and walls, gates and doors. We were all a bit stunned by the audacity of the thieves, assuming it was not a single person’s caper, to walk up to house after house after house, and remove the sun hanging there.
I imagined a car or truck loaded with suns, suns stacked in the back seat or pouring over the bed, like sunshine, like daytime, and making its way to the border or Albuquerque or the airport in El Paso where they would fly to New York and become part of the decor for some upscale Mexican restaurant where tacos looked more like a green leaf-filled gondolas, and stolen sunshine smiled down upon you as you ate them.
We were annoyed, to say the least, stunned mostly, and as our sun was a bit unique, we were sad, and we doubted that we could replace it exactly, nor, as it ended up, could we. I have an actual photo of it somewhere, but to this day, when searching through hundreds of sun images online, it is to no avail. That sun was gone forever.
And it is the sad irony of this story that brings me to write it, certainly not the robbery, as unique and almost funny as the story may seem. My neighbor Kathy and I laughed as we joked, ‘we lost our suns.’ Neither of us having sons. Neither of us having lost our children, ever.
But now, here is the ironic part. Ironic and tragic and heartbreaking. I have two very close friends, and two colleagues, who all, literally, lost a son. My boyfriend Richard has lost three, actually, his own son, and two stepsons. My daughter Bridget lost a best friend last year, a young man from our community, gone, his parents, of course, devastated.
Boys lost to drugs, to suicide, to war, to incurable heart disease. Boys taken, one at a time, from family homes. Removed, as easily, it would seem, as our suns were. One day there, hanging out, sunny, bringing smiles to others, then one day gone. Irreplaceable. No searching on the internet brings them back.
These friends and colleagues all speak of insomnia, exhaustion. Of ‘moving on’ or ‘buggering on’ and I see or hear a heavy futility in their voices. For with every encouraged or enthusiastic moment they have, there is a background of resistance. Like a heavy red velvet curtain that could open at any minute. And then they wouldn’t have to. Keep going forward. Buggering on. Keep their chin up. They could back up into the opening in the large curtain behind them, step into the darkness back there, find a rafter or corner or scaffold to sit behind or below. Stay put. And just disappear.
Those of us who have never lost children try desperately to be sympathetic, compassionate, supportive, to be there for them. We may have lost a parent, or friend, or sibling. So we have an inkling of the weight of grief. The enervation. The repetition. The persistence. But all of our understanding of such loss, such grief, such heart wrenching death, cannot ever compare. Losing a son, or daughter, a child, even an older child, sucks.
My 97-year-old neighbor Maxine has lost two sons. They died when in their 60s. She in her 80s. I guess when you live for nearly 100 years that can happen. Each time I see her leave her house to walk her little dog to the corner and back. Or sweep her driveway. Or grab the mail, I see her buggering on. I know that it is work every day to stop wondering why them? Why not her?
It is work, everyday, to not give in to the non-sense of it all. And to the distraction that the nonsense spreads over your life. Every day. Every word. Action. Like soot. Invisible soot. Always there. Whether a baby, a boy, a grown man. Non sense. No son.
Maxine is beautiful and kind as she sweeps and keeps her eye on our neighborhood. Distracting herself with the comings and goings. Who’s walking their dog. Who’s visiting whom. Who put their lights on.Who swept their chimney. She watches over us. Watches over our children. Our houses. Our porches. And our suns. Their tireless smiles.
You Must Be An Angel Now
You must be an angel now
having found your place
as a brand new light,
a white dwarf star,
on a cool clear night
gleaming as only
you, child–the dead victim
of some starved spiritless villain–
When that raging beast wrestled away
your brave and terrified breath,
a cheerless heroism
took flight and carved
august wings from your gentle spirit
tied them to your soul,
carried you to your niche,
pearled gold dust to your hair.
Now you bless your playmates below
with the blink of your eyes
you brighten the streetlights
guide the excited sighs
of your old friends whispering
and waiting in summer’s shadows
you know where they all are.
But your terror still scratches
at your mother’s faith;
her doubt, like clenched teeth,
questions God, the government
the police, the neighbors
and all the other
who didn’t keep her baby safe.
But the night has taught you, child,
to fly and to find safety
in the sky’s darkness,
a playground where no strangers lurk;
and your mother’s wishes
for your safety
all come true;
soon she will decipher
when she prays to the starry sky
that it is you winking at her
from your perch behind
the newest white dwarf star.