“Welcome home”, said the wise P. That was the shortest, yet probably the most meaningful, way of greeting someone who has not slept in the same bed two nights in a row for several weeks – someone whose most tangible connection to life was WhatsApp and FaceTime. “I needed to hear this”, I said in response. They were going to take me away, to a little town on the seaside. My godmother firmly clasped my hand, interlacing her fingers with mine, like He would do when we were climbing down the stairs. She did not let it go for the next two hours, while we drove silently in thick darkness, pierced only by the frail light of an eclipsed moon.
I thought of the lyrics of “The Partisan” on the spur of the moment (I only knew the English version of the song made famous by Leonard Cohen):
When they poured across the border
I was cautioned to surrender
This I could not do
I took my gun and vanished.
I have changed my name so often
I’ve lost my wife and children
But I have many friends
And some of them are with me
An old woman gave us shelter
Kept us hidden in the garret
Then the soldiers came
She died without a whisper
There were three of us this morning
I’m the only one this evening
But I must go on
The frontiers are my prison
Les Allemands étaient chez moi
Ils me dirent, “résigne toi”
Mais je n’ai pas peur
J’ai repris mon âme
J’ai changé cent fois de nom
J’ai perdu femme et enfants
Mais j’ai tant d’amis
J’ai la France entière
Un vieil homme dans un grenier
Pour la nuit nous a caché
Les Allemands l’ont pris
Il est mort sans surprise
Oh, the wind, the wind is blowing
Through the graves the wind is blowing
Freedom soon will come
Then we’ll come from the shadows
True, the conditions I found myself in were not as bad as that of a French resistance fighter during the Second World War. I had also lost a child, but I had many friends who could give me shelter. Frontiers were not my prison. To the contrary, the world out there was less foreign than the place I used to call home for seven years.
But the “garret” I was hiding in, the love that was poured out on me since I began this new journey could not fill the void I had within me. The bells of the little church that rang at every quarter past the hour, the sand that was burning my feet, even Sixto, the charming dog of the family, everything reminded me of “Him” (as He had played with Sixto a whole day when He was receiving treatment in Barcelona). I knew that I was going to travel and suffer alone from now on.
And just like the French resistance fighter, I had to go on. For “Him”. For my friends and companions. For the “resistance”.
To continue to resist is in itself an enormous challenge. Some nights, I only see morbid things when I close my eyes, often death itself. Those nights – most nights – I am scared to close my eyes. Other nights, I see nothing. The void inside morphs into a black velvet curtain, covering over the good moments I shared with Him. I try to remember his face, but I can’t. It was as if someone has deleted my memory. I know I had a past, but I don’t know who I am. And I don’t know what is the purpose of my life, why I am fighting. After all, to resist cannot be the sole purpose of life.
Or maybe it is too early to continue to resist, to struggle to find a new meaning for life. Perhaps I have to understand, I have to feel that I am still alive first. I fix my eyes on the text message that was sent by my other godmother: “Take your time. Don’t feel pressured about anything. Get in the sea, though. She will remind you about yourself! Float about and feel how good the water is.”
I obey. I get in the sea. I fill my lungs with her unique briny smell. I let her take me into her arms. While floating about, I look at the beach, the white houses and the little church that rise below the green hills.
“He would have loved these church bells”, I say to myself. “And he would have hated the bells of the church where he embarked on his last journey”. Was it possible to live constantly thinking about what he would have loved or hated? Could this be the freedom that the French fighter talked about?
It is indeed too early to answer these questions, or to enjoy freedom – a freedom that was thrust upon me, and not on my own volition. I cannot come from the shadows yet, for the shadows are my prison.