Four Mothers On The Block
By M.A. Porter
My son John died on January 2 from an accidental overdose. He was only 31. He had a few drinks one night and then took a strong painkiller, and the combination of chemistry stopped his heart. He didn’t have much of either in his system, but the medical examiner said that the new opiates out there in the world of pharmaceuticals can not be mixed with even a little booze – he’s seen what happened to John more than he’d like.
I’ve since learned of other mothers losing sons to an early death more than I’d like, too. But in the telling, I have also seen visions of hope and courage.
When the call came in that the apartment manager had found John’s body, I collapsed in the garden, which was a surprise to me. I thought I was stronger than that, but apparently not. Not only that, but a loud keening emanated from my throat and it carried up over our high walls and out into the neighborhood. A few minutes later, we had some Mexican neighbors at the door, ringing to know what was the matter. My husband assured them that all was well (fibbing; not wanting to name it yet) and soon enough, we found ourselves in Colorado, attending memorials and settling John’s affairs. Twelve days later, we were back here where, painfully, everything reminds me of him because he loved Mexico.
I hid out in my house for a few weeks but then decided to resume my walks. On my first outing, I passed by my neighbor Guadalupe and we exchanged polite greetings, as was usual – my Mexican neighbors and I are friendly, but we maintain the formalities of people with different cultures. This time, however, Guadalupe reached over and took my hand and asked specifically how I was doing. She knew – my gardener had told her. So, with my throat tightening, I explained. She responded, in Spanish, “Oh, it’s so hard to lose a son,” and then told me about the son that she had lost, seven years ago, workplace accident, 24 years old. “But God will help you. Only God can help. Everyone else, they try to comfort you, but they don’t understand how it is for a mother,” she said, smiling empathetically.
A few days later, I ran into a gringa artist named Ruth who lives up the lane. She seemed not to have heard, so I told her about John. Her face fell. “Oh, that’s the worst thing ever. I lost my son two years ago, 52 years old. He’d been sick a long time. But listen …” she said as she embraced me, “what you do is, you just decide to keep on living anyway.” Her eyes bore meaning into mine.
A few weeks on, I was in the loncheria at the end of my street. The owner, Maria, mentioned that she hadn’t seen me in a long time. So I told her why. She walked around the counter and put her arms on either side of mine. Then she told me about her son, automobile accident, 28 years old, gone now 11 years. She said, in Spanish, “You will never be the same. You are changed. But you can have a good life still. This is what your son wants. This is what God wants.” Then she pulled me into her arms and said, “Oh, I am so sorry that you must pass through this.”
Indeed, it is unfair that we must pass through this, but we do. And as I occasion to watch these three mothers – my sisters in grief – on the streets, I notice that even though their hearts have been ripped apart and their minds run a torturous video loop of their sons’ lives from birth to the last time they were hugged, these women can still care for grandchildren, create inspiring art, and cook food meant for the gods. I see them able to smile and laugh and take pride in who they are as they participate in the joys of daily life. Miraculously, they are not destroyed. It feels as though angels are present, pointing me the way. I am grateful.