I learned of S’s death two days before Christmas while standing in the doorway of my mother’s new home. She lived ten minutes away from the airport in one of the suburbs south of Washington DC that had become popular with retired middle-class immigrants like her. We hadn’t seen each other in five years, and yet I had insisted that I would take a taxi from the airport. It was the last chance I had to indulge the fantasy that at any moment I was going to turn around and board the next flight back to Paris. I had remained convinced until the plane lifted off that something would happen to make it impossible for me to leave. The trip was supposed to have been both family vacation and reunion, a chance for my three-year-old son to set foot on American soil and meet his American grandmother. Instead, as the cab pulled up to the address my mother had given me, my wife and son were asleep nearly 4,000 miles away in the two-bedroom apartment we had moved into when our son was born.
My mother told me of S’s death as soon as I dropped my suitcase at the bottom of the half-spiral staircase that led up to the three bedrooms and two bathrooms she was so proud of. I had imagined carrying my son slowly up those steps. It would have been a deliberate attempt to demonstrate to him the grandeur of America, a two-story house many times larger than our apartment, larger than anything I had ever imagined for us as a child.
I had felt lightheaded walking up the driveway, and without my suitcase I struggled to stand straight. I might have collapsed right there had my mother not taken me in her arms and whispered, even though we were alone, ‘Yenegeta, something terrible has happened to S.’