It was not easy coming to Buenos Aires, finally. It was not easy saying goodbye. But I had to go and you know why … There’s a war in me. But maybe here, at the edge of another ocean, I will be able to make an armistice?
I’m afraid you can’t understand what I’m trying to say – even though you are trying; even though our wars – yours and mine – are so much alike. After all, what is the true difference between losing a husband and your best friend? It’s so close, as we often talked about. The wound is the same shape; it is just a matter of depth, isn’t it?
My war led me to abandon a ship that was already sinking: I left Ohio, my few friends, my mother, and began … drifting. My months in Bolivia, with you, was one of the stops I will never forget.
You helped me find faith again; faith that perhaps all losses are not final. Perhaps … there are always other friends, waiting somewhere, for you to find them – when the ones you knew have been torn out of your life.
If there was one thing I could never share (and I made no secret of that) it was the other faith – your Catholic faith in God. But in a strange way, I feel I have shared it.
Because it was that faith of yours that kept you alive; that there was some indefinable meaning to all you had to go through and that there was some even more indefinable salvation at the end. It made you not give up, and it somehow made me not want to give up.
Maybe it was like one of those waves from the ocean you always wanted to see but never have seen. Like those huge Pacific waves that greeted me every day when I hitch-hiked down the Pan-American.
If you go down to the rock-strewn beach and stand as close to the surf as you dare, then you easily feel the fine mist from its crest in your face even before it crashes down. It’s a nice way to wake up, especially if you are a little sore from 200 miles on the back of a post truck.
Your strength reminds me of the strength of such a wave, Julia; because of your determined will to live – to try again and again, no matter how hard you yourself are hit back by the rocks of the coast, which the currents and wind inevitably hurl you into. You accept it, gather yourself, and come back. Always. And eventually, the sand and gravel of the coast will be eroded away, the rocks will submerge and your wave will win.
Am I being too far out? Perhaps. You know my bouts of melancholy and my penchant for the dramatic. But what can you do when you sit on a bench here in front of that faded palace of roses they call the government building for all of Argentina; where such monumental figures as Evita and Juan Peron once stood on balconies and set afire the imagination of the crowds.
Right now the government palace is barely visible through the clouds of sticky fog flowing in from the South Atlantic. And so is my purpose in continuing all the way to here … I feel. Perhaps there never was one.
I had to journey on, Julia – to leave our friendship before it really got started, I sometimes feel. But at least this time I knew what I was leaving. In Puno, where I met this other traveler, the Canadian – you remember? … there I just left in the morning – before I got to know her at all. I was afraid, but I didn’t even know what for. Now I know.
And it’s hard to have to admit to yourself: That the reason you’re alone is that you are running away.
It’s even harder when you know it’s what you are doing and you just can’t stop doing it: It’s like some illness of the mind.
My mum briefly worked in health care, as I think I mentioned. She needed the money and during summer there were not many substitute classes in school. She told me that the worst of it was not to see the patients who did not know they were hurting themselves.
It was to see the patients who knew they were hurting themselves but could not stop it.
I sometimes wonder if I …
… What would you say?
Perhaps … that I am addicted to running away.
Yes, you would probably say that. You know how it is.
But the only way I can get un-addicted is to drive myself away from everybody – until the end of the world. And if I survive going that end, then … it … is finally out. I think. I think the knot will be loosened. I think I can go back, then.
But right now I don’t think I can send this letter to you, Julia. Like all the others, I think I will just crumble it and throw it away.
What would you think of me if you actually read it?>
I am just about to go home to my shoddy hostal, when I run into him.
Okay, perhaps I could have evaded him … but perhaps I didn’t want to.
After all, what is he doing there, alone on the Plaza de Mayo, standing below sickly-looking trees with the silent rose-tinted presidential building hovering behind him? Is he some kind of guard?
No, his uniform looks old and worn and he hands out some kind of leaflet.
I walk up:
“Would the señorita care for something to read?” he asks when he sees me.
Now that I’m closer I see the lines of his face clearly, like a map of some scarred coast. I don’t want him to be more than 40 but he looks older. Hair slightly greasy and he has stubs. Okay, so he is not in service – not in anybody’s service anymore, it would seem.
I take the leaflet. It is poorly printed, written by a typewriter. There’s a lot in Spanish that I can’t digest with only a few seconds of skimming, but it’s something about a pension for retired military servicemen.
“That’s right,” he says – voice slightly whispering, slightly coarse at the same time. “They deny us our pension. Those pigs. Makes one think, right?”
“Uh, yeah … ” I nod courteously. “That … is unfair.”
I close the leaflet. On the behind is a photocopied cut-out of a map. Now those shapes I recognize.
Something twinkles in his deep, black eyes but his face remains the same. Not a winch.
“Las Malvinas… ” I say and close the leaflet, for want of something to do. Then after a few seconds, I decide I’d better put it in my small shoulder bag.
Something dark, like a shadow, seems to briefly glide between us. Then I make another decision; to say something else – something … polite.
I could have gone on, like the couple of tourists who passes us just now, heading for the presidential palace and chatting eagerly in English about whether or not Madonna was really any good as Evita.
After all, I still look the part. – Okay, my clothes may be shabby from so many months on the road – but what does this old soldier from some long-forgotten war think that I really am? Does he think I am just what he sees: A blonde tourist gringa not really being conscious of anywhere she is going? A little tourist bunny lost?
I realize that I don’t really know what to say, so I don’t say anything. I just nod, and I hope he doesn’t notice that I don’t feel like looking directly into those black eyes. At all.
Then I leave, heading back for the little hostal with the creaking door handles, crammed into that narrow alley a stone’s throw from the central station – somewhere I think by now I can find my way back to. I’ve been here a week and that should be enough, to find my way back to a hole. But is it enough to find out which way to go now, I wonder?
I’m not sure if he follows me with those black eyes of his, but I get the feeling that he does.
It’s not that … they are threatening eyes, yes, but not pitch black like the inside of a grave; more like the pit you sometimes glance in the eyes of alcoholics, sitting in the streets … staring after you.
And perhaps that is what makes me come back the next day.
Last edited April 2021