Resting for a few days during an Indian trip a few years back, on the cliffs overlooking Varkala beach in the Indian state of Kerala, I met Katrina, a 50-ish American expat. With Tom the Irishman I listened one day at sunset to her story while sipping fresh lime juice.
In LA, Orange County, she and her husband started from nothing and became quite successful in the custom auto parts business. They had a son and it was the American Dream.
Her son was stricken with leukemia and she told the terrible story of how his condition slowly got worse until he died, she was with him the whole time and when he died she was exhausted, finished, and she knew that her life was broken and could never, ever be fixed again.
She and her husband grieved for a long time and wondered: what was the point? One day her husband told her that he was gay. He was sorry that he’d misled her as he tried to mislead himself, but he had, and saw no point in hiding it anymore.
After losing their son, this was anticlimax. They laughed about it. She thought she knew what her life was, now it was gone. But she was still alive.
I don’t remember what her husband did, or how long it took Katrina to find herself living in a small house near the cliffs overlooking a spectacular beach favored by tourists in India, but here she was. Everyone knew her and over time the locals had come to regard her as more Keralan than Californian.
As she made her small, quiet contributions to the community, whether it was paying local guys to help her fix up her house or maybe giving money to help a sick child, they kept an eye on her too, as people in small communities do, she said.
And every afternoon about four she’d come to the same restaurant and have her two banana daiquiris, one for herself and one for her son, who died at 21.
That day Tom and I shared sunset with her and heard the whole thing, which she hadn’t told in a long time.
She was crying, but as we each gave her a hug (‘come ‘ere ya ol’ ting’ said Tom in his Dublin brogue) she was smiling too at the thought of both of us choosing to be so far away from our moms, to come here and listen to her story, on Christmas day.
At some point Tom and I left. The wayward sons. It was a sad story, but I wasn’t worried about Katrina, now.
Between her local ‘family’, the flow of new tourist friends and the situation she’d made for herself, life looked not bearable, but livable.
She’d found life when she least expected it, and on the far side of her world she’d arrived at a place where she could say there would always be someone to make sure she made it home through the darkness if two daiquiris turned into three or four.