Juan García Ponce, teenager (English version)
Andrea Enríquez Cañedo
One rainy afternoon I invited my friend Carmen del Pando to take a coffee in Sanborns. She has been my friend all my life but by hazard I stop seeing her for some years as I moved to live to Venezuela.
There¿s no doubt that coffee is a good stimulant for talking and for opening the memory to the past. Hence I decided to tell Carmen an episode of my past life, regarding the writer Juan García Ponce, my eternal lover.
I was fifteen years old and he must have been seventeen or eighteen when I first met him. We were neighbors in the Colonia Condesa, and boys then used to go out to play on the streets or at the Parque Mexico. I recognized him but I didn¿t care about him. Nevertheless, he started to talk to me, to follow me, to bother me, and his forwardness went as far as to start throwing small stones against my window that woke up my beloved sister Stella, who slept in the same room.
It became a routine that I left my house early to go to school and he was leaning over a tree, with a childlike somewhat cynical smile and a cigarette in the mouth. His hair was straight with a wave that fell over his forehead. He wasn¿t ugly, but his quotidian insistence upset me and I only saw him like a drag. Nonetheless, now that I remember him through the years, he was good looking, but by then I couldn¿t appreciate anything about his person.
I hurried my pace without turning to see him, just concentrated on the hour. I took the bus to Santa Maria that left me close to Oxford School where I studied. Of course, he also took the same bus and took a seat in front of me. He stayed there watching me with a mocking sight and a sarcastic smile. I think I hated him deeply.
When we reached my stop, I climbed down the bus scared to death and hurried my pace until I arrived to the school, I got in and climbed up to my classroom and took my seat that, on the top of all, was right beside the window. Meanwhile he laid on the grass of the flower bed in front of the school, and he stayed there, legs crossed, all the morning, looking at me until I left.
In his book The night, García Ponce writes this:
Cecilia in school clothes and a blue ribbon on the hair. I waited all the mornings for she to leave, always fearing it was too late and she was already gone, and I followed her not daring to talk to her until she turned with mock surprise. I kept her company until the school gate and then I stayed laying on the grass in front, hoping to see her through the window, but first only her friends left, laughing and pushing themselves, and at the end she showed for an instant and made signs for me to go.
One day I stopped to talk to him face to face and I demanded him to have caused me to get a ¿green bill¿. How humiliating it was to get the mentioned bill from the headmistress Miss Alice, who explained to all the students in the school why you got that punishment! The third green bill meant an imminent expulsion. That afternoon, as I left the school, he was so close to me that I could hear his breath, then I turned and I gave him such a slap that he could never forget.
Years later I would remember the description he made about me while I read his story Tajimara:
Fragile girl, absurd, timid and barefaced, exasperating, impossible, exigent [...] so hard to penetrate and so unbalanced, and sometimes so silly too, insisting on living in an non recovering age and always trying to change the sense of her acts, talking the whole time and saying nothing and with a sight that suddenly seemed to embrace everything, with the inexhaustible passivity of the moon.
Was I all that? I don¿t think I minded in the beginning as so many years had passed, at most it was the memory of a torrid familiar past that I can perfectly face now.
Juan used to attend the Cristóbal Colón School. I never knew why he followed me and stayed all the morning near by me instead of going to his school. How did he end up being so talented? By then he sent me poems that I carelessly threw to the trash.
Some time later parties and balls began; the same group attended to all. On one side my friends and on the other the gang Juan had formed, including his brother Fernando, who would become a great painter much later. During that time, I had met Guillermo, who was all the contrary to Juan. Juan was jealous, impetuous and quarrelsome. Guillermo was, from the first moment I saw him, my greatest love. Parties were successful even if Juan organized such monumental quarrels, as his jealousy was beyond his control and he ended up beating either Guillermo or whoever else had been dancing with me. That didn¿t exclude his cousin, Miguel Barbachano Ponce, who was much older than him.
I never knew how to value his love and even less his innate talent, as his poems went directly to the trashcan just like I mentioned before. Youth is like that, ignorant and merciless, you hurt and you still can sleep at nights.
I accepted to write this article with nostalgia, regret and impotence for not being able to fix the damage I inflicted on him. That¿s how life went by, he loving me and I despising him.
When I started to buy his books long time after, I found a certain sick joy in recognizing me in each one of his characters. But I also thought it was the result of a past obsession, of something he could never reach.
After many years I decided to see him again. I was married and had a teenage son. Juan had been sick with multiple sclerosis for years, a disease that never made him stop writing and making it better each time.
It was so easy to find where he lived. His telephone number was on the directory. So I decided to call. I later knew it was Patricia the person that answered my call, a French woman that was his partner by then. I explained Patricia that I wanted to see him and she asked Juan, who immediately requested her to tell me he would be waiting for me the following day.
While I was driving to his house in Espíritu Santo street in Coyoacán, I wondered once and again how he would find me, deteriorated perhaps after the thirty five years that had passed.
Patricia opened the door for me and let me in. Very circumspect and solemn enough, she murmured:
¿I¿m going out for a while because Juan wants to be alone with you.¿
I stood there watching the hallway in front of me, I walked slowly searching for him until I reached his studio. He was seating, with the same smile that I remembered from many years before.
After a short moment of silence, I murmured:
¿Hello, Juan, I¿m here.¿
Immediately he replied:
¿Smile before any other thing. You always looked like Vivian Leigh when you smiled... There, much better. Help me lit up a cigarette because this shit of sickness doesn¿t let me.¿
At that moment I remembered how much Juan had smoked all his life. We stayed there looking at each other without saying a word. Then I took a seat in front of him.
¿Well, what do you think? Here I am, sick and half useless, but I don¿t stop writing. I get up at six in the morning thinking about the screenplay I have to write.¿
I looked around and I could see his old and always useful typewriter. As he once told me:
¿I can¿t get rid of her. She¿s my partner.¿
I kept silence until I started to talk about our meetings with the gang at the Parque Mexico, including his brother Fernando, who died too young. I also tried to explain him why time was gone so fast and that I never could either understand him or enjoy the love that ―I understood then― he had felt for me. I didn¿t deserve him.
He shook his head and told me tenderly:
¿You¿re right. I¿ve loved you my whole life.¿
I heard some steps. Patricia had just gotten in, she walked until she was outside Juan¿s studio. He seemed not to hear anything and kept on talking:
¿Have you already seen the movie Tajimara? It¿s part of our life. I even asked for Pilar Pellicer to play Cecilia. I never had the courage to actually mention your real name. I picked her up remembering what good friends you were and how well she knew you.¿
¿Juan, you keep on being the same.¿
¿Oh, but I¿ve grown up already, and you?¿
¿I guess so...¿
I felt tears stinging in my eyes as he never complained about his disease. He looked at me with the same love than before, as if time had suddenly stopped. I kissed him on the cheek and very moved, I left his house.
I walked a long while over Miguel Ángel de Quevedo Avenue flower bed. My thoughts flocked to my head and not realizing how, I thought that Guillermo had been an idiot and Juan an idealist.
Exactly two years ago I saw the Juan Rulfo Award ceremony, and Juan García Ponce had been granted with it. My emotion and my feelings were too big, longing again for our teenage years, that were gone in the middle of the ignorance.
Outside Sanborns it was still raining. I don¿t remember how many cups of coffee I drank. I looked at the face at my friend Carmen del Pando, whom I had rescued from the past, my classmate that I won¿t let go again because there is nothing more important than a great friendship.
Translated by Gabriela Valenzuela Navarrete
|Fuente: From Nosotros. Mexico, # 65, Dec. 2003, pages. 25-28.|