One of those many nights we spent talking, looking at art books and eating whatever we could find in the refrigerator, we ran into an envelope in one of the books. The envelope was not sealed and had not been mailed. It was just briefly addressed to:
“My love – The room on the back of the house”
Obviously it was a letter from Pepe to his wife written some months ago and probably read and stored in the book in question. I remember being no more than 11 or 12 years old and I had already embarked on a path that was quite different from the rest of kids. For starters we stayed awake late into the night and to continue, we talked about things that we had not heard anyone talk about. We were shyly sharing existential problems in the light of the fireplace that was perennially lit and finally, nothing of what we did coincided with what other kids our age did.
Sometimes Pepe appeared in his underwear in the middle of the night, scratching his head and wandering around, asking us if it was not late enough for us to go to sleep. Certainly he also suffered from insomnia, because apart from fulfilling the ceremonial function of communicating what other parents usually would have done with a string of threats, insults and an excessive waste of false concern, he sat with us to talk, forgetting completely our age, our duties, and his own role and just as an equal he laughed with us and made comments about the world situation. Just like us he also wondered about the ultimate meaning of existence.
Needless to say I never woke up at the right time and the frowns of our teachers were becoming increasingly frequent as we always arrived late to school. Fortunately Pepe never worried about any of those details, they were probably superfluous to his way of seeing the world. I could not say the same about my father because I hardly knew him. Absent since I was two years old, I grew up with my mother and my brother and sisters in a rigid environment regarding schedules and regarding manners and expression. A home where tension was always exuding and effort was what characterized my learning and my passage from child to teenager. Everything was hard to do in my house. Everything had a connection to money, everything was taken seriously. The truth is that it was nobody’s fault, especially when one considers how difficult it would have been for a separated woman to take care of an entire family along with few economic resources, with little time and a social atmosphere rarefied by the prejudices of a Catholic moral and the stiffness of a Basque tradition. I’m still not sure what was more ominous, but between these conditions and the reality of daily life, my life always passed subject to the permanent scrutiny and above all the solemnity I could never make part of my being. Being late for school all the time and my friendship with Rafa were synonymous and were explained in my home by themselves, so as a result I was forbidden to stay in the house of my most precious friend unless it was during the weekend. Occasionally my mother would forget the curfew and of course I took full advantage of the memory lapse. Bicycle with flat tires, tasks that we had to finish in a “group”, all excuses to be able to breathe that calm air, without pressure of that chaotic and colorful house that was Pepe’s house.
None of his children ever address Pepe as “Daddy” or in any formal way. Rafa always spoke of “Pepe” and despite my family upbringing, I also ended up treating him exactly as he wanted to be treated. As equals.
That night, we could not help ourselves and opened the letter which of course we read with curiosity, expectation and surprise. We had never read a love letter from our own parents, let alone a letter that had been sent from one room to another. The adult world has never been characterized by effusive demonstrations of affection, much less passion, but all that changed with Pepe because he was the very essence of all that, he was the expression of the unusual, of the unheard, what was not seen much in the world of the respectable, dull and predictable people.
“Honey, I’ve been thinking for some time that we have not talked for a while” was the headline of the letter and in one sentence summed up the most important human contact and the extraordinary ability to realize something that usually shatters relationships and becomes an inseparable wall between the two people … the lack of dialogue, lack of communication despite living under the same roof.
“My love, I think we should do something about it and maybe one of these days go somewhere with only the two of us… “thus followed Pepe’s letter to his beloved that was nothing less than the mother of my friend, but in the light of a love letter she took on a whole face I had never before imagined.
The letter continued between plans and thoughts on how important it was to be close to the other and not only with the body but with the heart and with everything else …
That night I thought that when I grew up and found the love of my life, I would write letters that I would put under the pillow, as she searched for her nightgown she would discover them and read them by the light of a candle. I thought that every time we might feel increasingly distant, I will write her a letter as Pepe did.
I never did it and I forgot that promise to myself, but Pepe was without doubt one of the main inspirations in my desire to write and express myself. In fact, many years after this situation, I had to write a love letter, a letter to a love of many years ago, many misunderstandings behind many aspirations dashed over the years, and I remembered how easy it would have been if I had followed the example of Pepe. At least in that letter that synthesized many years, I was able to do it with the spirit and inspiration of Pepe.
“And what will I tell you, my dear love if I manage to force Destiny and I am able to communicate with you?
What could I tell you through the invisible thread of the phone? What could I tell that would not cause you to worry or to complicate your life.?
I do not know. Time will come and I will tell you something, but today I am only writing what I perhaps never told you because of fear, cowardice or because I simply did not see it at the time.
I love you and I had always loved you. I have not stopped loving you since we parted almost twenty-six years ago. …“
And so on the letter continued with the pen being guided by memories of a man who perhaps did not live many years but lived intensely and in his own way; special, warm and human. An oasis of life in a world where grays were always the primary tone. A friend, a father and a reference.
Portland September 21, 1999.