GRATITUDE IS LOVE MADE GENTLE THROUGH UNDERSTANDING

cofIn my last post I mentioned the letters… (the package of letters and memorabilia that my husband had kept and which, through the kindness of his second wife and my children, reached my hands last Xmas). Well there was much more than letters. I could hardly believe finding the menu of the dinner served at the dance where Fernando was my blind date with my then phone number written on the back along with the name B R I A N D A in capital letters!!! He kept it all those years. I didn’t know, I knew nothing of this secret cache, nothing until my kids put it into my hands. To say the least: it has been one hell of a belated Christmas gift.cof

Before we were married and while I was still studying Social Work at a school near his house, Fernando used to leave small messages for me on the windscreen of my blue jeep (yes, I had a baby blue jeep that I bombed around Mexico City in, a gift from my father who figured that in an accident, the jeep would come out on top, and the day I had one, it did[1]). Little mementos… I can’t believe he kept them. Even today I can watch the movie of me leaving the building where I studied and seeing –across the street- the small cofslip of paper under the windshield wiper, and running over to find the day’s missive. A smile comes to my face and tears to my eyes… so long ago and we were so young!

Another unexpected discovery was that not only did he keep all my letters to him, but also all his letters to me, each one numbered so they can be read in succession. I have no idea when he scooped them up and stashed them away, or where for that matter. Mine are mostly typewritten (I carted my little Baby Hermes around everywhere) and his are in that clear, even script so undoctor-like that was characteristic of him.cof

First there is the series of letters back and forth from Mexico City to Acapulco that first Xmas after meeting each other. They go from the 24th of December 1961 to the first of January 1962 , and what should I discover but that he had made original drafts of these letters which he then corrected and copied onto letter paper. He kept both (which goes to show how difficult it was for him to throw anything out) so that the draft of the first letter –which had gotten lost in the mail and I never received- is there and now I can read them all complete (even twice if I want to find out what he crossed off in the drafts).

untitledCarefully folded and lost amongst the envelopes is a slip of paper with a note that he sent with 3 dozen red roses and one white one the 14th of February 1962. On the 10th of that month we had broken up after a dinner at his sister-in-law’s house where she introduced me as his “girlfriend or novia[2] ; I was 19 years old, very confused and unsure of my feelings for him (or my feelings about anything, for that matter) and he was getting serious. I remember saying that I couldn’t imagine him as the father of my children (as if I could even imagine having children at that point) and that I wanted to just be friends. He said we couldn’t be friends because he was in love with me, so we broke it off. The note with the roses said: With a thousand and one reasons and at the same time with none, I beg you receive this bouquet. Fernando. By thatcof time, I had been crying for three days since our separation so, of course, I called him immediately and suggested we give it another try. A little over 5 months later, the 31st of July, he came with his parents to ask for my hand in marriage; I found amongst his papers a note I wrote him that night to accompany the crucifix I gave him[3] to mark the event. The following day I turned 20 and, although I had managed to finally leave my tormented teens, I was none the wiser.

At the end of the month of October, 1962, I went to New York with my mother to buy my wedding dress and there was another volley of letters back and forth, this time between Mexico and New York. Mushy, icky sweet, full of I love you’s and I miss you’s and I can’t wait to see you’s and I’ll be yours forever’s; mine always trying to be a bit humorous, his never… If anything, they are boring and certainly of no interest to anyone, not even to me anymore. My first one, written on Eastern Airlines note paper, starts: Darling, I have only been in the air 15 minutes and already I miss you…” and anyone can take it from there.

fDO     BRI

The papers and mementos continued: wedding invitation, menu served, newspaper announcements and religious wedding certificate. Amidst all this official stuff, a letter written to me by my grandmother that perhaps he kept because she says how handsome she finds him. Later, two more letters from my grandmother show up, a letter from my half-brother, Manolo, and a poem written to me by my father on my 23rd birthday. After our marriage, missives map our moves, to Hermosillo, Sonora and then back to Mexico City; up to Framingham, Massachusetts where an innumerable pile of letters from his father urging him to come back to Mexico reminds me how desperately I wanted to stay in the USA and how I resented my father-in-law’s pull over my husband. We did go back however, some five months after arriving and with our three month old little boy.

cofIn September of 1966, I went up to Larchmont, New York to bring my grandmother back to Mexico to live with us. She wanted to buy us a house and move in with us. There were letters every single day of the 15 I spent in the US, one of his and one of mine, all duly numbered by him and kept in their envelopes. They tell of a falling out between my parents and my husband; it was not the first and it would not be the last but, in the end, love would always retake its course and things would be fixed. My grandmother’s stay in Mexico lasted little over a year. My daughter was born while we were in the house she had bought, supposedly for us, but shortly after I had given birth there was a fight over something so simple as to be absurd and my grandmother stormed out, went to my mother’s and put the house up for sale. It was a painful end to what I had believed to be a dream come true but, as everything, in the long run it was for the best. My grandmother returned to New York and it was several years before I could forgive her. Today it is easy for me to see how that fight had nothing to do with us, how she was sorry for her decision to come to Mexico and didn’t know how to get out of what she had promised.

Mixed in amongst our correspondence, there were personal letters to me from friends of mine, both in the USA and in Mexico, and from a Spanish cousin now long deceased who at the time was studying to be a Jesuit priest and was doing summersaults of joy over my becoming a Catholic (he never became a priest and I left all religion behind two years later). There are many notes and letters from our son, Peter, to his father, to me and to both of us. There is a letter of ours to him that, I know not how, ended up amongst the others. And there is the letter from my son to me that I most treasure, where he thanks me for the work we did together on his dyslexia for months and months when he was in 3rd grade, because he could read all the wonderful books he was discovering in College at that time.

Image (3)Amongst the notes and envelopes, a handful of photos recall the past visually: There’s me on the terrace of our weekend house in Valle de Bravo (Mexico); me with Peter newly born in Framingham,Image (2) Mass. and a snapshot that I gave Fernando when we first started dating so he could keep it in his wallet.

And then, at the end, after all the letters and notes and mementos that covered the better part of our marriage, there were three very personal documents. The first was a long, hand-written diatribe that I had sent to Fernando, basically claiming that neither I nor my children were getting the attention we needed and deserved; that he didn’t see or understand me and that every time I attempted to tell him what I wanted or needed, I found myself accused of trying to run his life and of being demanding and controlling. There is no date on it; I have no idea if it was before, after or during my psychoanalysis, but it very definitely predated the onset of our drinking together every night which led to our final alcoholism and breakup, as the drinking together every night was what I –at least- mistakenly saw as the way to get the attention and love I craved.

The other two were written by Fernando and both are about Love; in the first (and neither has a date so I can’t really know it is the first, but I intuit it) he waxes melancholic about his incapacity to love and gives himself all sorts of philosophical and poetic advice. It was the second one, however, that touched my heart to the very core. In it he begins by saying he wants me to love him because he loves me, but then he asks: “but do I really love her?” What follows is an analysis of what he considers might be his Imagefailings in our relationship and, then, Oh surprise of surprises: upon reading the next ten lines I felt for the first time that he actually saw me, saw me as I was, my longings and frustrations, my aspirations and needs, my despair in believing I had to be someone other than who I was in order to be worthy of his love. This simple but profound feeling of being seen as I was, brought a wave of love upon me.

At that moment, my heart filled with gratitude to that beautiful man who had married a woman the opposite of his self-denying mother and then demanded she turn into a self-denying wife, but who had been capable –god knows at what moment- to see this even if only briefly and admit it, even if only to himself… and then to truly see me as I was and wanted to be. What a gift!

After we were divorced, one of the things I did during my recovery (physical, emotional and mental) was to write him a letter begging his forgiveness for all the times I must have hurt him and thanking him for everything I had received from him. I remember thinking that I would have liked to receive the same from him and realizing, at that time, that he if he could have he probably would have written something similar. This small handwritten document is that letter even though it was not meant for my eyes… or perhaps it was, for it is to them it has finally arrived so many years later. Gratitude is love made gentle through true understanding.

1983 Sept DUMAC (Catira)19042014 (3)                    Snapshot_20110111_1

Thank you, my Love.

 

 

 

 

[1] It was at a cross-section in Mexico City: a car shot out of the street to my left and I hit its front fender head on. Nothing happened to the jeep, but the fender was ripped open as if by a giant iron can opener.

[2] In Spanish, novia which means ‘girlfriend’ is a term that in Mexico at the time applied to a serious relationship that was headed towards marriage.

[3] On March 26th of that year I had become Catholic and between then and when we married we had juggled pre-marital sex and confession, and that is stuff of another post.

A BAG FULL OF MEMORIES

oznorTomorrow would have been the 82nd birthday of the father of my children. In his memory, I have decided to dedicate the day to reading all the “stuff” he kept over the years, even after we had been divorced and he was remarried: a bag full of letters and mementos collected during our relationship, both before and during our marriage[1]. In this way, we were very different. I have done away with almost everything from the past and moved on, lighter, freer… yet perhaps less anchored also, adrift rather than safely docked in the harbor of approaching old age. He seems to have kept everything he could, I will see tomorrow. Already, I shiver with excitement, the memories, love and tears rising even now before I have begun.

My children showed it to me last Xmas asking what I wanted them to do with it. I glanced over a few items and realized I did not want to throw any of it out at that moment, so I took it, tucked it into my suitcase, brought it back to France and placed it on the bookshelf in the hallway. I have not opened it since but, suddenly I decided it would be tomorrow that I would. Memories…

The year was 1961. I had recently dropped out of Barnard College in New York after my first year there and returned home, begun studies in Social Work in a school run by Catholic nuns and taken up volunteer work in the National Hospital for the Handicapped. After not having received any religious education at home, I had just found out that my best friend at the new school was a nun and had begun taking Catechism with her in order to become a Catholic. Needless to say, it was a very confused period of my life and religion had somehow seemed like the best life-boat around.

After my return to Mexico, I had reconnected with some of my old schoolmates from the past and one of them had invited me to her sister’s 15th birthday party on Friday the 10th of November. At that time, a girl’s 15th birthday was the moment for her presentation in society and her parents usually threw an enormous party something like the then fashionable cotillion in New England. I was 19 and not very keen on going to a party for 15-year-olds, so I said that I didn’t have anyone to go with, but my friend immediately countered with the promise of arranging a blind date: the older brother of one of her sister’s escorts who was studying to be a doctor and was supposedly not bad looking. I accepted.

The day of the dance I participated in a fashion show at the Hospital where I volunteered and was on my feet all day. I arrived home around 6pm exhausted and announced to my mother that I was not going to the dance. She immediately told me that, having accepted, it would be very impolite to stand my blind date up; then she dangled in front of me the offer to wear one of her most beautiful red dresses and I was hooked. Truth be told, once I was dressed and made up I felt so beautiful I just hoped my date wasn’t a dead-beat. My parents drove me to the dance hall called ‘Salon Illusion’, a popular place for events at the time, and dropped me off saying that I should have my date drive me home.

As it turned out, he had not arrived yet so I sat at a table with my friend, her date and some other people I didn’t know. I was nervous. It was actually the first time I had been on a blind date and their reputation was not promising. I had visions of some pimply undesirable dancing through my head when my friend announced: “Here he comes,” gesturing towards the door. I looked up and immediately blushed: never had I had a date with someone so tall and good looking; he was like out of the movies. He came over and introduced himself. His name was Fernando and he was every bit a man at 25. Seeing I was flustered, he smiled; it was a magnificent smile: kind and soft, it lit up his whole face. From then on the night should have been a fairy tale but, as it turned out, it was somewhat of a disaster that we would laugh about for many years afterwards.

Once the birthday girl had come down the flowered staircase in the middle of the dance floor, accompanied by her tuxedoed escorts and billows of dry ice, and danced her first waltz with her father and then with each escort, the dancing was opened for all of us and Fernando held out his hand. I had grown up watching my parents dance in the living room forming a beautiful couple and now I had the chance to dance with a man as tall as my father and even more handsome, so it was with great expectations that I took his hand and was led to the dance floor.

We danced… or perhaps I should say: He danced… all over my feet! My future husband was not a bad dancer; he was –in fact- an excellent dancer; I was the one who had not learned ballroom dancing so, in the beginning, I had some trouble following him. But the problem that night was actually my mother’s dress which was tapered down to an unusual narrowness right about 4 inches below the knee. There was no way I could take the adequate step to get my feet out of the way of his rather large ones. He was embarrassed and I was more so, although it was clear what the problem was. Perhaps we should have given up, but we didn’t. He tried to measure his steps to the constraint of my skirt and I tried to keep my toes out of reach of his feet. My shoes took a beating and we spent most of the time apologizing to each other, but we managed to dance till 3 in the morning.

By that time, I was ready to go home and I hinted at it several times with no success. My date didn’t seem at all interested in doing what to me was obviously called for, which was to deliver me to my parents’ house. Finally, my friend  –probably tired of hearing my fruitless hints– offered me her chauffer and Fernando immediately asked if he could accompany me. As we both climbed into the back of my friend’s chauffered car, I was at a loss to understand why in the world he hadn’t offered to take me himself. No explanation was offered as we drove to my house. When he walked me to the door that night, he asked for my phone number so –in spite of the fact that he didn’t even try to kiss me on the cheek- I presumed he was interested. I certainly was. I had never been out on a date with a real man before: just boys, usually my own age or slightly older and wanting nothing more than to get into my panties as fast as possible. This was different and I wondered how it would turn out.

IMG-20130319-WA0000But it did… turn out, I mean. Months later we both shared our experience of that first night. I confessed that I had not wanted to go to the dance and that my mother had bribed me into it with the fateful dress, and that I had thought very poorly of him for not offering to take me home. As it turned out, he hadn’t wanted to go to a 15-year-old’s dance party either (after all he was finishing medical school and soon would be a practicing doctor), but that morning his horoscope had said he would meet the love of his life and he had gone to the party to prove it was wrong (destiny is a tricky thing!). As for taking me home, he had heard me from the first hint, but didn’t own a car at the time and had not thought to take any money with him, so he had no idea how to solve his dilemma until my friend had offered her chauffer.

So tomorrow I am going to dedicate the day to him and memories: tomorrow –Friday again, only 56 years, 5 months and three days after that first encounter in a Dance Hall called Illusion.

[1] His second wife was kind enough to keep this and pass it on to my children after his death in 2012.