This past weekend I returned to Boston, after four years away. The last time I was in Boston, December 2009 was to visit my BFF Phina (R.I.P), and bid her farewell. My then 17 months-old son and I were moving to Cape Town, South Africa. Little did we know that would be the last time we would see Phina in person.
My dearest Phina left this world last year in February 2012, for no justifiable reason other than a fibroid operation gone wrong! I had never imagined that she would be gone, while I am still here. In fact, she was my estate trustee, on behalf of my son. That’s how sure I was, she will still be here longer that myself. That is not true anymore.
The entire journey to Boston was a reminder of Phina’s soul, spirit and presence. I had dreaded going to Boston without her. See, we recently returned to the United States after four years abroad – Norway, South Africa and Uganda. We were not in the country when Phina passed on. This past Saturday and Sunday, I went into Boston to run 10 miles with the Tufts [Boston] Marathon Team (TMT). My son’s grandparents and uncle drove me to Boston. I had planned to take them to Phina’s former apartment but we did not have plenty of time left before they had to head back home. So, I let them leave me at my hosts’ residence in Roxbury, south of where Phina lived in Malden, MA.
It did not help that my hosts -Emma and Hope-were Uganda. Emma knew Phina, whom he had met through shared friends Dawn and Matt Wolfe also residents of Boston. Matt, Phina and I went to the same grad school. Emma told me that he went to Phina’s memorial service; the euphoria was emotional! Her brother gave a very moving eulogy of Phina. It was great to hear somebody who knew Phina…but equally painful. It made me so nostalgic for her! I wished she were still in Boston, it would have made life so much more fun. But then again, I would have missed a chance to meet Hope, Emma’s girlfriend. Or enjoy the comfort of their crib in Roxbury with hardwood kitchen cabinets, wooden refrigerator, center stove and built-in microwave, walk-in bedroom closet, rusty bathtub and shower, platinum looking taps and all things metal. It was magnificent. I caught myself saying, “Phina would have liked this.” she had a weakness for aesthetic. She was the “dandy girl”, my Ms. Pretty, as I often teased her:).
I woke up on Sunday morning and headed to my run at Tufts, about an hour to get to Tufts from Roxbury, with train and bus transport factored in. Unfortunately, I got to Davis after the bus had left, so I took a cab. That too reminded me of Phina, who loved taking cabs (with Jane) from our school dorm to Davis Square, a quick 30 minutes walk. I always made fun of them, “Princesses”!
While purchasing a Charlie Card to get me onto the “T” [Boston Train system], memories of Phina rushed back. She would have had a T-card ready for me to use. She always insisted on giving me her T-Charlie Card whenever I visited, even when I insisted that I would not be going out of the house and she would need it to go to work. She always insist that she had an extra Charlie Card, and would get me to keep it!
I thought about Phina on my run, and after my run. Tears came down so hard on me, after the run. I imagined how excited she would have been for me: packing me breakfast or a snack to eat on my way out to run. Coming with me to Tufts, before heading off to Church. Then planning to meet up and hang-out after the run. I thought of her cheering me on. She was always my biggest cheerleader. She understood me. For people like me with a strong personality, it is not very often that you meet a person who understands you all damn good! Someone who supports you and loves you no matter what. I thought of her, after running a good run – 10-50 miles at 7:37 minutes per mile! I thought of her as I stretched my muscles.
After the run, i decided to take a tour of Tufts campus and Fletcher. I re-traced the paths I remember walking with Phina: the Hall of Flags, Mugar Library, Institute for Human Security, Blakeley and the Green House. Some offices had changed location, but I found them. Blakeley, our hall of residence looked pretty much the same, as did our second home, The Green House. I sat quietly with tears flowing down my eyes in the Hall of Flags, as I remembered Phina walking through several times, with her backpack on her back, her brown winter jacket with the South African HIV/AIDS lapel pinned on. I remembered her black lips with shinny gloss on them. I remembered her curly hair weave. I remembered her giggle and her smile. I remembered her sitting in the Institute for Human Security, sometimes working too late into the night to put in as much income as she could. It was hard experiencing all that by myself. But I did.
I went to Harvard square, thereafter. To “OUT-OF-TOWN NEWS”, toured Harvard University, went bak to Harvard Law School, and The Coop. Fortunately, I got connected to the internet, so got a message about dinner plans with my hosts in time. I had to run through it. Finish up with Harvard Square and head to Malden – to take some flowers and Tiramisu to Phina’s to 30 Malden Place. She loved Tiramisu, from her fav place in Harvard Sq! I got onto the “T”, and braved it to Phina’s apartment. Fortunately, there was a bus heading her way when I got off the T, and a cab had just pulled up to her apartment, as I was winding down. I delivered all that I had to. I missed her!
For the first time in a long time, I felt I was on my own, in the city of my best friend, without my best friend. She was really gone. Phina does not live in Boston OR Malden, no more. She lives somewhere in Uganda. Between bushes and trees. I had never imagined being in the US without her here. Moreover, never thought of her ‘resident’ in Uganda! Her absence and silence is deafening. The surreality of this is so bulky….We do not find so many people who love us for love!