White bread with strawberry jam
Over the forty-four years Felipe and I have been together, he has told me many stories of his youth. I’ve eagerly listened. I’ve imagined that I was there in the kitchen, in the house where he grew up when his mother answered his questions by singing a song with the answer hidden within. I visualized myself at his side, visiting his grandmother who slapped him with a fly swatter when he laughed or fidgeted.
My desire to be with him in the past is like my fantasies of visiting faraway places when I was young, but it has an extra dimension to it. By sharing his remembrances, our lives become even more intertwined. His memories are the entryway through which I can fill the twenty-four years we didn’t spend together with my presence, even if only imagined.
One of my favorite stories is how, as a six-year-old boy, he’d feed stray dogs in his neighborhood in Mexico City white bread with strawberry jam because he enjoyed that treat so much himself. I’m there with him on the cobblestoned street, under the huge ahuehuete tree in front of their house. Little Felipe in his short grey pants and white shirt carefully tears the loaf of bread into small pieces, each with a dollop of jam, while the thin street dogs whirl around him.
Felipe was less willing to share a memory of the time I was sick with a life-threatening encephalitis twenty years ago. While I was recovering in a hotel in Amsterdam after having been discharged from the hospital, he went to Barcelona for two days to prepare our return there. He knew that our dog’s caretaker would go to a playing field close to our apartment every evening and, even though he yearned to hug Ollie after having been away for three months, he decided it was better not to because he couldn’t take him home yet. It would only confuse our dog. So he hid behind a tree to observe Ollie frolicking with other dogs, unaware of his presence. Unlike his youthful memories he told me this story only once.
I feel a deep sadness at the thought of how agonizing my sickness was for him, a sadness made even more painful by the knowledge that I wasn’t able to console him at the time. I also realise how fortunate I am to have someone at my side, whose every gesture brims with the same love and dedication with which he fed the stray dogs. I think of white bread with strawberry jam.