“Look for my nephew when you get there. He’s single pastor and has a ton of free time. If you need anything, he’ll help you.” When these words were spoken to us nine years ago, we didn’t know they would be the understatement of the millennia.
We met Alonso at a reception at the First Baptist Church in Arica, Chile. The reception was a blur—with so many names and people and Spanish on our first night in our new home. We met Alonso there, but he didn’t give off any friendly much less helpful vibes. We wrote him off and decided to invest our time in other friendships. He later confessed that he was thoroughly annoyed that so many people were talking to and attending to the newbies (us) and ignoring the elderly and less social members of the churches present at the reception.
Through a mutual (and new to us) friend, we starting spending more time with Alonso. The four of us were all relatively new to Arica, with the two of them claiming that it was nothing like the rest of Chile. We culture shocked, worked and adventured together. When our other friend’s wife and young child joined him in Arica, our group of four became a group of three most days. We road tripped south with him, staying with various family members and seeing the country we were growing to love. It was a blast–the three of us and the open road.
Marcelo, Alonso, Blake and me in 2011
When our lease was up the next year, we moved in with Alonso while we looked for a home for our soon to be family of three. He traipsed around Arica with us, pointing out issues with potential rentals and, finally, helped us seal the deal on one we all loved. After the house, we all furniture shopped together. Since wood is incredibly scarce in the desert, he helped us figure out how to order a bamboo and wicker rocking chair for the nursery from a local artisan. He also said he’d buy his new nephew a real wood high chair when the time came.
A couple of months later, our parked car was totaled by a drunk driver. When we were awaked in the middle of the night, he was the first person we called. He stayed with us until the coroner and last police officer left. We used public transit some, but Alonso also drove us around a good bit. I was pretty pregnant at that point, so buses were not my preferred transportation.
When Silas stopped moving, Alonso drove us to the hospital. Like us, he was relieved when the hospital staff told us there was nothing to worry about. The next day when my doctor couldn’t find a heartbeat, Alonso drove us to another clinic for the ultrasound that changed our lives forever. He was waiting outside of the exam room when we were told that Silas was gone. We didn’t have to tell him the news; he heard my wounded cries as my soul broke. He led us out of the clinic and back into his car and drove us home. He drove us back to the clinic later that night for my induction.
He didn’t leave the hospital while I was in labor and after I gave birth, he didn’t leave Blake’s side. Together, they ran all of the necessary errands to the different offices to get our sweet baby home for burial. I came across all of the paperwork a year or so ago and it was so much red tape from so many different places. One of the things they had to secure was a death certificate. As it turns out, birth and death certificates are issued from the same office. As I lay in a hospital bed listening to and sobbing at newborn cries, Blake sat in a government office full of newborns. There is no way Blake would have been able to do all that he had to do alone, grieving, and in another language. I’ll never know what the two of them went through, though I will always be grateful.
Alonso drove us home from the hospital and, again, was Blake’s shadow until a few days later when he drove us to the airport. When we came home to grieve with our families and bury our son, Alonso kept our dog and looked after our house. Looking back, I can’t imagine the weight of his own grief and feelings of helplessness.
When we returned to Chile three months later, he was there to pick us up at the airport and take us to our silent, still house. He was there when I got the incredibly painful news that my sister was expecting a baby. Happy for her, of course, but I honestly wanted to just die.
Shortly after we found out I was pregnant with Benji, we nearly lost him and was I put on bedrest. Almost immediately after I got cleared to travel, Alonso took us to the airport to get me home. Still grieving and anxious about my pregnancy, Blake returned to Chile to wrap up our work and lives. During that time, I don’t think he and Alonso spent much time apart. Alonso was going through some tough times then, as well, in addition to sharing our grief. Even dealing with his own stuff, he helped Blake sell and give away everything we’d amassed for what we thought was a lifetime of work there.
Over the last six years, we’ve called and texted, always picking right back up where we left off, always promising that we’d see each other again.
What a joy, indeed, it was for us to introduce our dearest and closet friend to our kids, families, pets and life over the last two weeks. If you saw or briefly met Alonso while he was here, you probably didn’t know just how special he is to us. I got a chuckle last week when one of my students acted surprised that Alonso was staying with us. “Wait. The visiting teacher from Chile is staying with you? Y’all are friends?” “More like family.”
“Look for my nephew when you get there… if you need anything, he’ll help you.