It’s hard to believe it’s been 5 years, but such poignant yet happy memories. A reminder to live in the now and how blessed I am!
January 17, 2017 · Shared with Public
There’s always so much I want to say but can’t…therefore I write…it’s the only way I know how to deal with emotions. This is one of my stories. I’m telling it because, not only is my heart breaking, but I want to express how someone, through small, kind gestures, can make such a big impact on your life and you’re not even aware of it…until they’re gone. I would love to cry until there are no more tears but again, I can’t. Something inside only allows a few to trickle out then I drown in all the unshed ones.To quote Sally Estes (a character in The Misfits) when her lover leaves her, “I wonder how many times a heart can break before it becomes irreparable, unable to be put back together again…or so scarred, it can no longer feel, no longer love or beat with passion….I don’t know how much more I can stand of this throbbing agony.”
When I spent most of the summer in New Orleans last year, I was honored to have gotten to know Juan, Matilde’s father. Those long, hot days, with intermittent torrential rains and flooding, brought about a connection with this man. Each night before he went to bed, he would come into the courtyard separating the main house from the studio I was living in. He spoke no English…I no Spanish. I would be having wine and a cigarette, and he would nod toward a chair…I would nod back, smile and he would sit.
Juan was having dialysis three times a week and it was terribly painful. Through gestures, nods, the shaking of the heads, we would talk, he in Spanish…me responding with a shrug and/or giggle. He would lean back, and sigh then pull out a small bag of Tabaco and rolling papers and tease me, saying, “Marijuana” in that gravelly voice of his. I’d grin and tell him if it was, he should share… At 88, Juan was a tall trim nice-looking man with a full head of unruly, mostly white hair and he was charming as hell. One would never guess he was as sick as he really was.
That was the best summer I can remember since my children were small. I had run away. I hid and laughed and cried and wondered how I was going to take care of my life…I drank, I smoked, I danced in the moonlight, sat in the rain, drove everyone crazy with my incessant music, cooked and I wrote. I was totally and completely irresponsible for probably the first time in my life. I was a hellion who created her own world in that courtyard and studio.
And no matter what went on…whether I was having a breakdown or upset because someone had hurt me…Juan was there every sultry night and sometimes during the blistering hot days…in the courtyard. Eventually, he would just sit at the little bistro table under the trees outside my door. Oh, what he must have thought of the people coming in and out all hours of the day and night or of my little get-togethers. Hopefully, he enjoyed the commotion, and it gave him some entertainment during those last months of his life.
During this time, I was able to help and would sometimes take him to and pick him up from dialysis. He was always so grateful and tried hard not to say anything when I went a way he wasn’t used to going. He didn’t complain when he was in terrible pain as my car bumped over battered streets. He was always the gentleman. Going down Prytania, he would point to my old house and say, “Tina’s”. I would nod and smile, occasionally, I could bungle my way through “Si”. One night, I was pointing out to him that one of the rose bushes needed trimming. I knew he loved his roses. The following morning, I got up to find the bush cut back and a perfect, beautifully scented rose waiting for me on the bistro table when I went out to have my coffee. Did it make me feel good? Of course, it did. If men only knew how much some tiny gesture like that means to a woman. Juan didn’t have much to give…but he was giving me what he could…respect, letting me know he appreciated me…that he didn’t take our time together for granted. He came from an older generation that knew how to court a woman.
Oh yes, we would joke and laugh about it all…Matilde would call me “Mommy”….but I look back and realize how much he impacted my life at a time I was acting like a recalcitrant child. He did something for me I can never repay…he made me feel young again and beautiful, the way every woman wants to feel. Always courteous, always sure to tell me I was pretty, always making me smile. I spent so much time with friends who are family to me, and Juan was one of them. This was the summer I felt 17 again and I’ll never be able to recreate that, because Juan is no longer with us. I was fortunate to be able to go back in November. The temperature had dropped, and the bistro table and chairs were damp from an earlier rain. Juan came out chilled to the bones. I didn’t know it, but it would be the last time we were to visit and share a smoke. Though shivering, he was worried about me being cold, got up (with much difficulty) and brought me two dry cushions…one for my non-existent butt, the other for my back, wanting to be sure I was dry and comfortable. He was always so kind to me. As I said, my heart is breaking. I wish I had spent more time with him. I wish I had appreciated what he did for me sooner…but I was so selfishly wrapped up in my own problems…doing a lousy imitation of Virginia Wolf…that I didn’t give him the attention or time I should have… Yet, on the day before I left New Orleans this last trip, I was fortunate to be able to see Juan, hoping it wouldn’t be for the last time but feeling in my heart it would. Someone suggested that perhaps I had made him feel young again, too. I can only hope so.I am grateful to have had this experience…Goodbye, Juan, and thank you for giving me the summer of my youth.
6Schellibooze Boyd, Diane Jacobson and 4 others14 Comments