Silent losses

By : Alberto Palacios
Jefe del Departamento de Inmunología y Reumatología del Hospital de los Angeles Pedregal en CDMX

04 December, 2021

"Borders are being shut down, but the virus will find ways to make our existence stealthier."

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Borders are being shut down, but the virus will find ways to make our existence stealthier.

- And I am not her owner, nor can she be completely mine, however good my wish may be

- he cynically told me, disguising his melancholy

He leaned back on the worn-down sofa of the cabaret we frequented and immediately said:

- The dreamlike images of my parents are condensed in her in an unusual way. That intellectual bravery unfathomable to me as a child and the elusive tenderness of my mom that I have traced all my life.

I found the music around too loud, so I insisted to the waiter to lower the volume, and order two more mezcals and the house snack. My companion had been intubated for twenty-three days. His voice was a hoarse whisper. He was crying.

Some quarrels are unnecessary between friends, but I kindly asked him to get vaccinated now. He asked me to recap what had happened in the world outside while he was in an induced coma, and I tried to be candid. Some of our acquaintances did not see the light, especially those who had taken life lightly, eating and drinking themselves to diabetes.

- Tell me -he begged- Who did we lose?

We had been schoolmates at the Patria, back in the 1960’s. We were an inseparable group. We called each other by our last names, as we were used to listen the roll call every morning. Crespo was a few months older than the rest of us. Breadless and brilliant for several years he exercised the tacit leadership of the group.

We often enjoyed his dissertations, as much as he would challenge the teachers and ironize our rivals. He was not particularly skilled at sports, but no one minded his presence from the bench or the stands, because he gave us some kind of confidence that was very welcome. However, once we began to court the girls from the Vallarta or the Regina, he withdrew and left us to our fate.

As time went by, we discovered that her ostracism was not betrayal, but a choice of gender. His attitude became frivolous, and he became to frequent bars of ill-repute in the city center. We understood, despite our candor, that Crespo would remain our brother, but his intimacy was different and, of course, respectable.

During many years we saw each other on birthdays and wedding anniversaries, we celebrated the birth of our children, as well as baptisms and the occasional children's party for our godchildren. The good Crespo was always invited and would attend alone, or with his sister Rebeca, a faithful spinster companion.

He had an impeccable dress sense, even when he wore jeans or sneakers. Always impeccable with that characteristic mocking smile he had had since he was a child. As if the world and the trivial were passing him by.

Covid-19 pandemic radically changed it all. In June, we lost three of our grandparents and Ricalde’s father, with whom we used to play dominoes once a month. Luis Miranda’s mother and sister-in-law fell ill by the end of the summer, and were taken to Centro Banamex, where were saved thanks to the prodigious care of the young doctors and nurses who were working tirelessly. As the good friends we are, we took turns to visit, that is, to go to the daily reports, because we did not see them for two months. Crespo was tired, but he relieved us without complaining.

One day, near Christmas, we found out that he had a fever and was coughing heavily, feeling out of breath. Ricalde and I went to his place that same day, but we were late. A couple of friends, whom by the way we did not know, had took him to a covid-19 hospital thanks to the influence of a businessman with whom he had worked in his younger years. All so enigmatic, so typical of our elusive friend.

Later, we found out that his thinness was the result of AIDS, a condition he had been suffering from for the last decade and which, due to his stubbornness, he had treated carelessly. His condition was critical and there was smug talk of a cytokine storm.

There, on the street in front of the hospital, we were finally introduced to his partner, a lovely man who wrote poetry and who had shared his life in seclusion with our friend. We were moved to realize that he dressed impeccable as Crespo and had a sharp intelligence; thus, we understood that his social circle was so special, that our simplicity would have discredited him. We look at each other with some embarrassment realizing that we had ignored that intellectual opulence while we were raising children and creating a family behind the back of another reality.

His death was as unexpected as it was devastating. We never imagined that he was the weaker of us. Since Iturriarte was still hospitalized, the other three attended the funeral as strangers, distant brothers in time and culture. They sang music of Queen, George Michael (with tears in between), Juan Gabriel and Spandau Ballet between rejoicing and mourning. I was moved by a couple of rather rugged women – one of them had dreadlocks and her companion was wearing a top hat – handing out shots of tequila and “aguas frescas”.  Both with swollen eyes from crying, their voices breaking each time they offered their trays to the crowd.

At the back there was a beautiful picture of Crespo with his partner, Juan, kissing in front of the Duomo in Florence, the Ghiberti doors as a frame. Someone told us that they had married in Spain, before gay marriages were authorized in Latin America, and that this picture showed their happiness during their honeymoon like no other.

I could not sleep that night. When I went back home from the visitation, I kissed my children, looked out to see that Natalia was sleeping peacefully, and went downstairs to pour myself a Laphoraig with soda in the middle of the darkened room.

I thought a lot about who we were and our different origins. On the uselessness of the Christian values we were taught, on the power of love and sadness. I remembered those afternoons when we studied hard to win math or history contests, the endless rehearsals learning long poems and then being the ones chosen to recite before the school. I sobbed silently and drank the liquor as a balm to cure all my absences.

Today, with my friend Fernando (with age we regained our first names), I admit that we will undoubtedly face other waves of coronavirus. Right now, our fears are rising with the versatile variant (in terms of infection) that started in Botswana or South Africa called Omicron after the Greek letter. Borders are being shut down, but the virus will find ways to make our existence stealthier.

Perhaps, in spite of its effects, we will take care of ourselves like helpless children, we will learn to wear masks in public just as another item of clothing, we will look for open-air meetings and we will hesitate like lepers in new territories.

I feel, however, that we will not take for granted our loved ones, we will try to settle past grievances and offenses. That many of us, prejudices thrown into the trash, will approach those who think or dress differently, other faiths and other races, as it should be for us, humble mortals. 

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