She said, “It’s a Portuguese word. And it means a nostalgic longing to be near again to something or someone that is distant, or that has been loved and been lost; ‘the love that remains.’”


Morning lavender light smudges the sky amidst the eucalyptus and cypress trees where a mockingbird trills high in a branch. A rooster crows from the deep in the canyons of Echo Park, and a dachshund, Olive, curls up on my legs, keeping them warm. I’ve lit a candle, made hot coffee in my favorite pale green cup with the daisy, and I recall taking a picture of the moon in the middle of the night bright ivory and waxing.

It is late July of 2015 and we sleep in a bed that my husband built when the kids were little. He made it as a surprise for me. They helped him and said I couldn’t peek no matter what. He needed a jigsaw to make the designs. We were inspired after an Emma Thompson film set in Bloomsbury where she and the man she loved slept in a beautiful hand-carved bed. The title of the movie began with an “S.” Emma Thompson loved a difficult man or, maybe she was difficult. It was Bloomsbury. They were all difficult.

Actually, the title of the film did not begin with an “S.” I looked it up. It was “Carrington,” and Emma Thompson was the painter Dora Carrington, but she loved the writer Lytton Strachey, so there’s the “S.” (Were they both gay and in love with each other?) I don’t know but they had the most beautiful bed in one scene as I recall, roses and vines carved into the headboard and painted luscious colors, and I remember thinking – people really sleep in beds like that?

For years we’d had only a double mattress and box springs but no headboard. We anchored the wheels on the bed frame with beat-up shoes so it wouldn’t roll away from the wall. It always rolled away from the wall, and I put it in a short story about a young couple who felt they deserved better than a sad/rolly bed, and so they were having troubles. The story was called “The Big Chicken.”

But after we saw “Carrington,” Kiffen took months to draw plans to build our own beautiful bed. He bought the materials to begin construction. The children, boy and girl, got to help with little jobs like sanding or painting part of the garage floor for fun. He carved each section of the wooden frame into a series of clouds inspired by a Native American design, which he painted a raspberry rose. The sturdy legs of the bed were mountains and the head and footboard clouds.

At first it was a loft bed because we lived in a tiny house of stucco and sheetrock (763 square feet) that had been rocked off its foundation in the Northridge earthquake. Giant fissures split spidery cracks at the base of the house. Our landlords turned a deaf ear at any suggestion of FEMA, but rent was cheap so we stayed for eight years – far too long – the woebegone landlady who sneaked in regularly in turban and muumuu to snake the toilet and left us brittle notes typed on yellowed paper about what could and could not be flushed. With the kids growing, however, we needed the extra room beneath the new loft bed where I put my writing desk and wrote my first novel.

We moved when I got pregnant with Norah, our youngest, and Kiffen cut the legs off to make it simply a tall bed in the new place that all three kids crowded into over the years. We kept a futon underneath it to pull out whenever one of them got sick. The futon was called “The Sick Bed” for whichever child needed to sleep close to us during the night when fevers came. That sounds so “Little House on the Prairie/Helen Keller/Little Women” but all our kids seemed to get really high fevers where they were little, and Flannery even contracted scarlet fever as a tiny boy.

I took him to the doctor who asked, “How are you feeling?”

He smiled and croaked up, “Fine, thank you.”

He was so hot and red and rashy that the doctor had to laugh.

* * *

Alice McDermott says we must read our novels through from beginning to end as write them over and over. This gives me comfort for it is how I write. If I’m away too long – a few days even – I go back to the beginning. It’s not economical but it’s the only way I know to fall into the lives of my characters again. Somehow I currently have 444 very messy pages of a new novel where the grandmother wants to see the Bronte Parsonage and walk across the moors before she dies. She’s like Horton Foote’s Carrie Watts who wants to see her home of Bountiful again, but my character, Maime Hazlett, longs to see something different so that when she gets to Heaven she’ll be able to prove that she did more than cling to the familiar in East Tennessee all her life – daily Mass, Dairy Queen, and early-bird specials at Shoney’s Big Boy but instead found the strength to go to the Bronte Parsonage and walk the moors as an old woman.

Maime’s granddaughter is an exchange student in Manchester, which has sparked the old lady’s imagination for international travel. I, too, was an exchange student in Manchester, but my grandmother would no more have traveled to England than to the moon. So I’ve attempted to give her a trip in fiction – in the afterlife. If she were still alive, she would deem it silly, not too mention extravagant, such a trip, and then continue watching Young and the Restless in her red velvet chair with a bowl of tomato soup and a rosary in Leavenworth, Kansas until “Meals on Wheels” arrived or it was time to go to daily Mass at 5:00 pm with my grandfather.

I will put this novel aside knowing to ask anyone to plow through 444 pages is monstrous cruel (and only the closest have already done so) and I already know its myriad structural problems, so I will go back to it after I finish my children’s novel about Vulcan. Vulcan is Birmingham’s giant (56 feet tall) cast iron statue who wakes up when the eleven-year-old daughter of an illegal immigrant begins writing him letters that arrive in his ears like smoke signals. When I finish Vulcan, and I am close, I will return to the Bronte novel.

Laurie Halse Anderson says she pounds the keys twelve to fourteen hours a day to make a deadline. This does not give me comfort. This makes me feel like a slacker, a wastrel, a scalawag with change jingling in my pockets; one who hangs out on street corners wondering what the day will bring without a plan or direction – or how about dark aimless plans that take up the whole day. If you drive me here…if you do this…if we could stop there…coffee…shoes…massage…phone…buy me some food…bring me a blanket…aren’t you my parents?…fuck you then…the possibilities are endless at killing days, killing time.

But in this moment, I’m not thinking of words like slacker, wastrel or scalawag. I’m thinking about the word “saudade.” I learned it on a Sunday making conversation at a chuppah party where we gathered in the orange groves fifty miles north of Los Angeles to sew juju (fairies, a bird’s nest, a seahorse, a heart-shaped rock, plastic fruit, old wedding veil of lace and so much more) on Emily’s chuppah, and drink mimosas of fresh squeezed oranges. More sparkly champagne please.

At one point in the afternoon, Amy, the mother of the bride, announced, “Hey for the Gentiles gathered, listen up, Gentiles, announcement, are you listening? This is not a Jewish tradition. So don’t go around telling the Jews you meet about the chuppah party you went to and sewing on juju. They won’t know what you’re talking about. This is an Emily tradition. She wanted juju sewed on the chuppah.”

And in that sunny room of windows from floor to ceiling, lovely young women in flowery dresses sewed juju on the chuppah with Emily, while older women talked, cleaned, organized, took pictures, served vegan dishes, and sewed a little too.

I talked to Kiki and Judy, and I noticed Judy’s tattoo on her arm, a word in block letters – “saudade.” I told her I liked her tattoo, and what did it mean?

She said, “It’s a Portuguese word. And it means a nostalgic longing to be near again to something or someone that is distant, or that has been loved and been lost; ‘the love that remains.’”

She’d clearly memorized the definition of this lovely word – so foreign a word – I asked her to repeat it again, and I thought I might cry in front of these women I didn’t really know very well.

A nostalgic longing to be near again to something or someone that is distant, or that has been loved and been lost; “the love that remains.”

Judy smiled and said, “Isn’t it the best word in the world? We don’t have anything like it really in English. How can one word be packed with such meaning?”

I could only nod, and maybe she didn’t say exactly that but it was something close, and it had been so many years since a word had sliced my heart open, and I could think of nothing to compare it too.

A friend recently described in an essay where Orson Welles arrived to visit an old friend “catastrophically fat,” and I loved the way she strung those words together, but then there is “saudade.”

Before Emily’s chuppah party, we had to call the police to have our beautiful adult child escorted from our backyard where he lay sleeping, sunburnt, barefoot and dirty on a Sunday morning. I think I must have done something horrible in a past life to have this slow torture of crisis of addiction.

For this adult was a radiant child, a sparkly kid, and strangers and friends alike used to tell me how lucky I was to have the gift of this child, and we tried to raise the child with love, respect, kindness – all of it – but I wonder sometimes if we tried hard enough? What did we miss? How did we end up here? Is there a trap door I could go through to fix it and change the story? Questions without answers or answers buried so deep that I stop asking until they snake back around to taunt me. What did we miss? How did we end up here?

A nostalgic longing to be near again to something or someone that is distant, or that has been loved and been lost; “the love that remains.”

When I was a child I watched half a movie starring Sally Field called, Maybe I’ll Come Home in the Spring, but as her strung-out, druggie boyfriend, David Carradine, walked through a glass window shattering it to bits in slow motion, my father, a distracted coach, who paid little attention to what we watched or did, suddenly reared up from his newspaper like a grizzly and shouted, “Turn that sumbitch off!” It was right at a critical moment and nothing could persuade him to let me finish watching it.

“Turn that sumbitch off.”

Enraged, I memorized the title and vowed to watch it when I grew older. I would see Sally Field triumph in this made-for-tv movie.

* * *

A few days after the chuppah party, I went into the hospital to have a hysterectomy, but I still preferred Amy’s word for it – “hysterical-ectomy.” Amy is the mother of Emily, the bride, who later married on Halloween in a little library in Glendale, California under a chuppah with lots of juju that is not a Jewish tradition but an Emily tradition, and everyone came to the wedding in costume.

Amy is one of my dearest friends. She says things like “Hey Gentiles, announcement, listen up!” and “hysterical-ectomy.”

And I meet people like Judy who sport tattoos of words like “saudade.”

Emily, the bride, survived cancer as a young teenager. When we found out that winter day so long ago now, we rushed to Children’s Hospital with flowers and all three kids in tow, and Emily had long honey-gold hair then and Kiffen’s fingers smelled of onions and garlic because he’d been cooking supper, which made Amy nauseous, and Amy’s friend’s Sue was the one listening to the doctors because Amy couldn’t process the information of what was happening.

After the chemo and all of it, Emily began a graphic novel in my writing workshop for teens in my living room one hot summer week where the first panel was a mother racing into her daughter’s theatre rehearsal shrieking, “YOU HAVE CANCER!” And in the next panels, teen girls (Emily’s friends) twirling their hair, saying, “Wow. Cancer. Bummer.”

But back on that gray July morning before my hysterical-ectomy, a person was rifling through our recycling bin, which made a distant Christmas Day flood to mind – a day of cold California sunshine when our next-door neighbor screamed at a homeless man going through his recycling bin on the curb. An Ebenezer Scrooge moment of lessons not learned and a homeless man being humiliated/chastised for gathering bottles and cans on Christmas Day by a big, bellowing man (who is not “catastrophically fat” but definitely chubby and cranky) who lives in a beautiful home with a loving partner, and I thought in that mean moment:

I don’t want to know my heartless neighbor.

But I didn’t rush out to give the scavenging man food or money or wish him Merry Christmas. I didn’t yell at my cruel not quite “catastrophically fat” neighbor. I only felt the icy chill of Christmas Day in Los Angeles, and listened to the lecture from the landowner, “Get out of here. Wait. You put that back. I’ll call the police. I’ll call them. Put it back now. You’re trespassing. Get out, now!”

The scavenging man said nothing but obeyed and pushed his shopping cart up the hill maybe to a friendlier recycling bin on Christmas Day.

* * *

Where is our child sleeping now? Under a tree or rock or cloud? Is he scavenging for food or bottles? He has occasionally set up camp on the hillside near our home just far enough from the restraining order.

“Don’t come around. It’s too hard for us to see you like this.”

“Like what?”

A sunburned rooster who’s right, and we’re wrong, that rooster knows. He knows it all. Where is our child? Why did the rooster come and take him?

“It’s too hard for us to see you like this.”

“Like what?”

It is a challenge, but it isn’t.

Crow, crow, crow.

Before my surgery, Kiffen and my mother talked in the kitchen about the New Yorker appearing magically on his I-Pad and her magical pedometer and its 10,000 steps and my brother, who is a flamenco dancer recently deported from Spain for not having a Visa after thirteen years of living in Madrid, who now lives with our mother and our father in San Diego and what is to become of things? Sometimes, m mother and brother remind me of Amanda and Tom Wingfield from The Glass Menagerie if Tom Wingfield were a flamenco dancer and my mother, a southern belle.

But my mother is a piano teacher and she recently taught a four-year-old to sing “Danny Boy” for her Irish mother as a surprise, and after the little girl heard the song, she blinked back tears and said, “My eyes are wet. What happened to Danny?”

The sky is white now without sun. I listen for signs of something, someone.

Where is my sparkly child?

Our two daughters were together the day of the surgery, because I sent the youngest to be with her big sister who lives in Chicago, so I could heal in privacy with my husband and the girls could explore Chicago together and play. I wanted them to play and have adventures together as sisters. They worry about their brother who hasn’t acted like a brother in a long time. He’s made them guarded and wary. They know not to count on him.

A nostalgic longing to be near again to something or someone that is distant, or that has been loved and been lost; “the love that remains.”

* * *

Sometimes, it feels like we are living the tale of Orpheus and Eurydice – We’re Orpheus, and we keep looking back at our child, who is Eurydice, but the more we look back, in other words, the more we try to help and check to see if he’s still there even though we’ve been told not to, the deeper he falls into the underworld. So for now we are trying not to look back, but sometimes it’s so hard not to peek. I understand Orpheus better than ever these days.

I long to sleep in the cloud bed that Kiffen built or maybe instead we’ll take a walk around Echo Park to see the lotus flowers and visit the Lady of the Lake statue. I’ll sleep another day in our cloud bed. And I’ll also finally watch the movie, Maybe I’ll Come Home in the Spring, and realize my father was right – it is a terrible movie.

Turn that sumbitch off.

Where is my sparkly child? Give him back now.


A nostalgic longing to be near again to something or someone that is distant, or that has been loved and been lost; “the love that remains.”


Maybe he’ll come home in the spring.

My eyes are wet. What happened to Danny?

My sister tells me to listen to Cesaria Evora sing “Saudade,” and I finally remember to do so. It’s haunting and lovely, and I read up on Cesaria Evora, the singer of this beautiful song, who was in bad health at the end of her life but she still smoked and accepted visitors until her death. She was an orphan who found music.

Our adult child is a musician – singer, piano player, dancer. When our old hound dog was dying, our son played the piano and it soothed our sweet agitated dog, who finally relaxed and stopped fighting. He slipped away in our arms listening to our child’s music.

Maybe he’ll come home in the spring.

But we’ve had so many springs and summers and falls and winters of this.

The Brontes had a brother.

Branwell Bronte.



Don’t peek.

A tree, a rock, a cloud.

Don’t come around here.

Find the trap door.

Reason with him.

Take care of yourselves first.

Enforce the restraining order.

Shattered glass.

But it’s not him. This isn’t him talking.


Don’t send mixed messages.

You’re trespassing.


Sparkly boy.


bronte parsonage

bronte parsonage


moors 2

THE BIG CHICKEN, first published in Shenandoah


10 thoughts on “SAUDADE

  1. Kerry dear. This is soul-stirring and beautiful. It’s a poem. And so are you. Thank you for this glimpse at the inside of your heart. It’s a gift. Received with gratitude.


  2. Kerry,
    This is so moving and heartbreaking and beautiful all at the same time. Thank you for writing from your heart and letting us experience your anxiety, pain, sorrow, and joys. I too hope your son comes home.
    all my love,
    Susan R.


  3. Kerry,
    Thank you for reminding me (and so eloquently) that I am not the only parent with a lost child and that our children make choices beyond our reach. The word saudade is now etched on my heart, a name for the pain/hope that resides there.
    Georgia (sister of Susan P. who pointed me in your direction)


    1. Dear Georgia,
      Oh you’re in my heart. I’m so sorry you’re living this right now. If you ever want to talk Susan has my number and email. I go to Al-Anon and it has saved me. Three years now. I still can’t bear it some days but other days I reach out to others who are going through it or have gone through it and are living lives of peace, which seemed so unbelievable at one point to me. I’m sending so much love to you. love Kerry xxoo


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