ISIS, Delta Airlines, My Son And My Dead Mother

Because of ISIS, Delta Airlines would not let my almost 27 year old Jewish son fly to Mexico for a work related music festival. In a moments flash, the New York City airport based TSA accomplished what I, a Yiddishe Mama, had tried all week to do. After two dreams featuring my mother, I called on her, now deceased 25 years, for help. With terrorists threatening all sorts of horror, I did not want my son traveling to Monterrey. And I told my child that in so many ways.

After googling Monterrey, and learning the history, current events, distance to the American border and the murder rate, I became wildly nervous with my kid’s traveling to this Mexican city. Sitting, alone, by my laptop, I began to shake. Even without the threat of ISIS doing whatever they wanted to do like chopping off heads, I didn’t like the idea of my child traveling to Mexico. I listen to right wing radio everyday yell about immigration troubles at the border.

When I began to see that my texts, phone calls and emails were not getting anywhere, and sometimes were not even getting answered, I knew I was not convincing my almost 27 year old man child to stay within America’s borders and be protected. So I took the bus to New York City. That’s where he lives and works. I live almost three hours away in the Catskills. It was a longer than usual ride, anticipating seeing my kid. I watched as people got on the bus at different stops. I took notice of the scenery change from wooded windy roads to a shadowy concrete tunnel. The chocolate bar in my bag couldn’t take my mind off my worries.

Over a tense lunch of chicken fingers, fries and chocolate cake in a coffee shop, with my son checking his texts and getting stressed out about work related stuff, I begged, I pleaded, “Don’t go.” I explained the political climate, immigration tsoris at the border and ISIS threats. I reminded him that this would not be like, many years ago, visiting a girlfriend’s family in Bolivia. There would not be a father figure looking after him in Monterrey. When that did not work, I implored him to remember “watch what you drink, who gives you a drink and don’t put it down anywhere.”

Hopefully it was a sarcastic joke that he made when my child looked up from his Iphone and told me “I’ll tell everyone my last name, that my father is a reporter and my mother is a hebrew school teacher.” I heard that years earlier just before he left for the Bolivian trip. It made me a wreck then, and fast forward it rattled me in the year 2014. I felt more on edge, thinking of the recent events in Iraq or was it Syria, both not sympathetic spots for the post bar mitzvah English speaking crowd. He said it was too late, this was work related, people were relying on him to go to the music festival in Mexico. And then with a sly smile my son said, “Maybe I shouldn’t tell you this.” I was like “now what, what, what.” It seems a friend of a friend of his was kidnapped in Monterrey, and held for two days. “Argh.” My blood pressure. I envisioned all sorts of horror.

Outside the coffee shop, surrounded by tourists walking a leisurely pace and office workers weaving through crowds, I walked my son back to his office building. I wanted more time. I hugged him goodbye. I inhaled who he is now, a man. I touched his arm a little longer. I walked toward the bus station. Afraid wondering if I’d ever see him again if he went to Mexico, I turned around to look for him hoping to see him one more time. In a crowd of people, he was gone.

Over the next two days, at first I continued to try to get him not to go. That wasn’t working. I decided I better keep quiet, not to alienate him. And I did stay as subdued about this trip as I possibly could, to my son. But I did not totally keep silent. In my life there is no mute button. If there is an injustice to be found, I won’t stand for it being left unsettled. And so I sought help from wherever it could be found.

My mother came to me in two dreams. Gone 25 years, she’d never done that before. The first dream, it was a dimly lit grey room, almost a hospital setting. As in real life, she was blonde, and she was physically weak moving slow. I heard her voice, it was fierce, intense and she was sure of herself. The second time, there were escalators. As I was about to get on one of them I recognized someone I had known while growing up. And then there were the hallways, long, cold, white walls. It looked like the hospital where my mother died. But now she was stronger, no longer attached to a respirator. Outside it was a mausoleum city, tall grey buildings, dark sky, no one walking around, gates not easy to open or close.

Long ago, when I was a little girl, my mother told me her mother, my grandmother, would have dreams featuring her own mother. And then someone would die. I thought of this as family folklore. Now I woke up each morning missing my mother, wanting to smell her favorite perfume, Norell. I was shaken, sure I’d seen another world. And because of family history of these types of dreams, I was scared for my son. I asked my mother for help. Yes, I spoke to the dead. I pleaded for her help. I played on her emotions telling her how she, my son’s Gran, felt happiest when with him. I said, “Helping me would be helping your grandson.” Both blonde haired, blue eyed, they loved each other when he was a baby. My son walked his first steps to his Gran.

I didn’t know what else to do. I went to a store in town that sold angels, fairies, hamsas. It also sold candles. Candles that reminded me of house fires, of Chanukah, of visiting St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Fear, tradition, curiosity. Saints surrounding me, a lost Jewish girl. I bought three candles, green, pink, orange. One for money, always needing that. One for a housewarming, hoping to move back home to the city to be closer to my son. And one that said to manifest a miracle. That one stared straight back at me when I took notice of it surrounded by the many different colored candles.

When I got home to my teeny apartment that barely fits a bed and a couch, I put the smoke alarm on the other side of the room and removed the batteries. And then I lit all the candles, asking for help in stopping my child from going to Monterrey. I asked my mother to please help, reminding her of the connection we had to my son, her grandson. He was determined to go. Even with the candle burning, I decided to be prepared. I called the cell phone company to add on the ability to send emails to and from Mexico. And I sent him a text saying so about the phone plan.

Later that night, shaking from nerves, I gave up and cracked a valium in half and swallowed one part. Admitting defeat, I got ready for a weekend of more valium, hoping for his safe homecoming. I relit the candle, asking my mother and whoever else might have been listening that my child return safely from this trip he insisted on taking to Mexico. After a while of wishing I had a Pepperidge Farm chocolate cake in the freezer, I blew out the candle, set the alarm for a 5 AM wake up. I always speak with him right before one of his trips. And this one I would do the same.

The next morning I woke up at 4:50 AM panicking. With my three dogs looking at me all confused and sleepy eyed, I jumped out of bed to the hardwood floor. Did my child oversleep as I told him I hoped he would? Pacing back and forth across the sloping floors, I picked up my Iphone and called. As the phone rang, I crossed my fingers I would hear a groggy pissed off kid say he was going to miss his flight. And thus began what would be the strangest phone calls and texts back and forth. He was at the airport for the 6 AM flight. The airline was not allowing him to board. His American passport was too tattered. They said they had to be careful because of ISIS.

Who knows if that was the real reason, or just the reason they gave him, the condition of his passport. I was both relieved that he was not traveling to Mexico, and sorry it had to happen this way like why couldn’t he have just cancelled the trip earlier in the week. Well I’ll admit I was more relieved, saying with a smile and a queasy relieved stomach, “There is a Gd.” And then I thought of the bizarreness of the whole thing, how the inability to travel out of the country occurred. I looked over to see that the candles were all melted from the previous night, and I thought of the dreams I had. Did my mother have something to do with protecting my son? I’d like to think so.

About the Author
Bonnie Bernstein, born and bred in New York City, now lives in the Catskill Mountains. A freelance writer, Bonnie's words can be found in places like TheFix, YourTango, Salon, Babble and Newsday. Lisa Belkin wrote about Bonnie in Motherlode, Anderson Cooper interviewed her and Craig Carton read a story of hers on the radio. Bonnie Bernstein is, currently, writing a book.