It’s taken me a while to finish this post. It was rather emotional for me writing about the loss of a friend. I hope you forgive me if it makes you feel sad.
A few weeks ago I went to the funeral of a good friend, Sonia Iris Urquijo, who passed away from insidious disease called Scleroderma. I wasn’t there are Sonia towards the end and that makes me feel sad. Distance separated once I moved to Canberra. I’ve been here 20 years. It is only in more recent times that I’ve gone less to Sydney and had less opportunity to see Sonia.
Sonia is someone I shared my 30s with and I had a fabulous time in my 30s. We met through the school through our children and through a mutual friend, Lynn. We headed off on Friday and Saturday nights to sleazy Latin American nightclub/restaurants to dance and check out the sights. We just hit it off. She said she liked my salt-and-pepper.
Sonia and me, Watson’s Bay Sydney
Note: Sonia didn’t like being photographed.
Sonia was from Uruguay and culturally she was very different to me. She said I had ‘silly English morals’ because I wouldn’t give my phone number out to men who were five years younger than me matter how good looking and persuasive they were. Or when out in the dating game at nightclubs I would tell people straight up how old I was and that I was divorced with three children. I liked to sort the men from the boys with ‘no surprises’ but she was appalled. Sonia never told anyone anything. I was open and she was closed. Opposite but attracted to each other. She did share things with me. I’m so glad she did.
My first time visiting the snow with Sonia and Clemente
Sonia you are a part of me, a part of my life that I will take forever forward. I will treasure always those snippets of your life that you shared with me. How much you missed your mother but because you had a fear of flying you couldn’t return to Uruguay to see her. How you regretted in your young teenage years making her get rid of her boyfriend after your father died and how much you loved your father and missed him.
Sonia and me on a Sydney Ferry (1992)
Note. Sonia liked to hide her face.
You shared with me the story of your courtship and your wedding night. Of your life as a teenager in Uruguay. The journey on the aeroplane with your young son Alejandro and how your husband did his best to distract you in keeping calm. You didn’t know until then that you had a fear of flying. You shared with me also those early years as a migrant in Australia in a hostel, learning the language and the culture and how much you relied on your husband.
You told me of that awful night in a head-on collision on Parramatta Road and how your beautiful face was destroyed. You told me how difficult it was being in a different hospital from your husband but how fortunate it was that the first doctor on the scene was an eye specialist and he sent you to an eye hospital and saved your sight.
I remember wanting to cry when you told me how after the accident you stayed indoors to 12 months and you didn’t tell your mother back in Uruguay what had happened to you, you couldn’t bear to. You told me how your mother figured out that something was wrong and the day you opened up the front door and there she was. She came all the way knowing in her heart you were in trouble. You shared with me how your mother supported you and made you look in the mirror and see that you were still beautiful and that you had a fantastic figure. It was with her help and support you managed to go out again into the world.
I came to know you well after that time and I always loved your vibrancy, your shining eyes and your laugh and the coffee you used to make with International Roast and sugar which you made into a smooth paste and filled the mugs with hot milk. My taste buds have changed but we thought it was delicious.
I remember coming around to your place after school and seeing you put underpants on your head as you cooked dinner for your daughters. Your daughters was so ashamed and we laughed at their horror. I asked you why you had underpants on your head and you told me it was to keep the smell of food from your freshly coiffed hair. Then asked you why you are cooking dinner at 4 PM in the afternoon and you told me that it was the best time to feed your daughters straight after school because they were hungry and they ate. I thought it was rather ingenious and it seemed to work for you.
I remember watching you eat lentils. Your version of lentils made my eyes boggle. You cooked lentils in what I consider the normal Spanish way, but you added a can of kidney beans and then peas then served yourself a large bowl. When I commented that I was glad I wasn’t there to be there in the morning you look at the quizzically. When I explained what I meant about gas and you laughed.
Sonia, you introduced me to ballroom dancing. I was never as good as you, but I remember us practicing at your place, or going to class together. You were the leader then, going out and showing off your hot figure and your Latin moves.
Sonia, Alfred and me at a dinner dance
Note: Sonia showed her face in photos more often once she started dancing.
I remember too when you were alone after your husband left you. How hard it was to adjust from being dependent on someone else and transitioning to be in control of your life. Those midnight conversations we had. The time you needed a new bed and how hard it was to decide to buy and us laughing about what the worse thing could happen–that you would get a bad sleep. That was the first of many decisions you made about your life then. I was glad I was there for you.
In 1996 you were there for me when I fostered James. I stayed with you and we bathed him and cuddled him. A large chubby baby of 4 months of age. You formed a bond with him. We visited with you many times over the years. Hard to believe he is 19 now.
While we didn’t always keep in touch, we were able to see each other and pick up where we left off. You always welcomed me back into your life when I visited you.
I’m sorry you suffered so much Sonia and that you chose to be silent about it. I’m glad you had Alfred to care for you and that you had your children and grandchildren who you loved. I am glad I came to say goodbye. I cried for the loss of you and the loved ones you leave behind. Thank you for being in my life. Thank you for the part of me that I owe to you.
If you want to know more about Scleroderma, here is a link to the Wikipeia article. The disease attacked her blood vessels and heart and lungs.