“Love expressed and love betrayed,” said my godmother, while I was munching the tortilla she cooked for me in the scorching heat of the Barcelona summer. “A pithy summary of my last six months,” I thought.
J. was a writer and a philosopher, shaped in the huge blast furnace we call life, though I knew she would prefer to describe herself as a translator above all else. I knew her through Fred Halliday, my mentor and second father (yes, I have a preponderance of parents), who died of cancer in Barcelona in 2010. “This must be a ‘twisted’ twist of fate”, I had thought when we ended up in Sant Joan de Déu to give Luca one last chance. I had never dared to visit Barcelona after Fred passed away, and deserted my godmothers like a rebellious teenager. They didn’t even know I had a son, let alone a terminally sick one.
And yet, like family, they were there when it mattered most. The seven years that had elapsed since I last saw them was nothing more than a blink of an eye – an eye they have continued to cherish in defiance of silence and the inexorable passage of time. They were there when love mattered most. This is “love expressed”, I said to myself, nothing less nothing more. For love could be expressed without words, through a green heart posted by perfect strangers, a hug or a kiss on the head by your godmother, a friendly look by Sixto or Jonas.
Later, J. would object to the term “betrayed”, arguing against herself that this was too strong a term to describe what she meant. “I was actually thinking of dirty love, you know,” she said, “things you would do for someone you love – and not necessarily in love with, things that would make you vomit, like cutting his/her toe nails, if it were someone else.” Obviously, I had misunderstood her. I was thinking of something more concrete, more tangible, my reservations with the connotations of the term “betrayal” notwithstanding.
I knew of dirty love, of course. Both literally and metaphorically. And I knew that what I called dirty yet “unconditional” love before he came to my life was just garbage compared to the love I felt for him. But I had also learned about love “betrayed”, whatever the connotations of the latter. J. was right. The term was too strong. But the feelings love expressed and love betrayed stirred were strong too. Sometimes too strong, to the point of consuming you.
I thus refused to let go of the term “betrayed”. J. was wise. J. was compassionate and tender. She did not insist. She just offered me another metaphor, which she knew would make the point hammer home later. “You are driving through a series of tunnels”, she said, referring to my ever-changing “state of emotion”. Excruciating pain, outwards expressions of angst and anger, a certainly “uncomfortable” numbness, depression. “These are all tunnels”, she continued. “You will drive through them, one after another. You will always see the light at the end of each one, only to go through another one. Eventually, you will find the light.”
I had just started driving through my third tunnel, a thick, acute depression, thinking I would never see the light. I was becoming more and more aware that I was the partisan who had to go on – alone. No one, nothing could fill in the void. I knew that I had to first reclaim myself, to reclaim him, as J. said. But I was, I am confused.
I read, I watch, I listen to stuff. They all get mixed up in my head which has turned into a giant cocktail shaker since he is gone. Crosby, Still, Nash and Young who are “Helplessly Hoping” that they would see “The Beautiful Boy” surrounded by a “Halo” again, either here or “there”, if there is a “there”; Chavela telling about her childhood to Olga Tokarczuk who is probably busy writing her next novel in a remote village in Poland.
But it is Chavela’s words that were echoing in my mind as I set foot in what used to be my, our, “home”:
I never saw my mother, I didn’t even know where she was. I didn’t see my father. I didn’t see anyone. And I started feeling, not fury or hatred, but every artery and vein in my body started to fill with a rage that was so strong, I swear I could have ripped the walls of that house with my bare hands.
I could too…