It was 15 years ago today when Michael stood at a frail ledge in the balcony of his New York apartment looking down on Third Avenue from the 18th floor of his one bedroom in what he called an experiment of sorts. As you may or may not remember, our common friend wanted to feel what it was like to be close to committing suicide so he could better describe that sensation in his incipient, New York University-toned prose.
It's been 15 years since he slipped from that same ledge, and, by what some call a miracle, others a coincidence, others an act of faith, managed to hold on tight to the rusting gates and climb his way back from the all so-close, voracious death.
Mike came to town last week, spending five days with me down here in Santiago. He looks tanned, strong and has managed to keep his charm without succumbing to the silliness that can easily pervade one's middle age.
During conversation, he still talks about Joan, his now infamous high-school sweetheart. You remember how he used to bug us with his eternal love for her, and his faithful beliefs in teenage dreams ("Love never ends. If it ends, it is because it wasn't love in the first place."), don't you?
In a lucky hand of poker the other night, he pulled one full house, two straights, a flush and a four of a kind, therefore leaving me practically broke and, invariably, befuddled at such an unordinary achievement.
My wife left the table after the flush, disillusioned and somewhat incredulous, if not outright suspicious, about his continuous, affluent stream of luck. He just smiled. I smirked and nodded, and she went on to finish reading a book.
We talked about old times, and how we ended up doing what we do: Me, a journalist; Him, a publicist whose talent for writing, despite existent, was left behind shortly after that fateful slip from the ledge in the New York apartment.
He spoke a lot about you. We spoke a lot about you, I must say. But his hoarse voice seemed to invoke a special tone, a sort of reverence when your name was brought up. And I caught myself answering questions about you, actually guessing, since it's been such a long time since we last spoke, without realizing at once how much you were present in our talks.
At some point, after we emptied a bottle of Chilean Merlot, he pulled out a picture from his wallet. The snapshot portrayed the two of you semi-naked somewhere in Vermont. The exact location he would not, to my frustration, reveal. And that concealment made my incipient suspicions about his renewed interested in the past, in our past, grow sharper.
Your faces were pale, most likely due to the brightness of the sun reflected on the snow around you. How cold was that day after all? And, more importantly, how did you manage to stand out there sporting just one piece of underwear, which, to my astonishment, was actually the top? Also, unless you two have made some sort of sacred vow over the location of that particular encounter, I want to know, I actually demand to know, where and when it took place and how come I was not invited, or even notified, of such happening.
The years in college were memorable, and the subtlety of our deeds, words and attitude still play an important role in my life. I look for a meaning, and, more than ever, a reason to why we were the way we were. The weird threesome, who would, to the dismay of many in the school, defy the sacred rules of NYU's fraternities.
I remembered when we kissed for the first time, and how badly Mike took it, saying how that could break the very thin sexual thread that held us together, just to grab you in his arms a second later, right before my eyes, and kiss you passionately for a good minute or so.
I could barely believe my eyes when Mike wrote me to say he would come all the way down here from New York. His marriage, as you know, didn't last long. Linda seemed to be an exceptional woman, but her lack of independence was, from the start, a major stumbling block in their relationship.
Mike says he's feeling good about being alone, but his recurring and insistent mentioning your name during our conversations lead me to think that he might be contemplating his memories of you in a very different way than mine. That is not to say that any of this is good or bad, for you know me better than that, but it still makes me feel comfortable to be able, after all these years, to tell you all this without feeling guilty or blame or shocked or shy.
Our memories look like a foreign film. Funny that.
What have we become, my dear Dora? What can the world still expect from us? What are our contributions to this Earth going to be?
Maybe we have already done what we should, maybe we have already carved an impression on each other's souls deep enough to suffice as a legacy to our names, and surnames. And thus, when our grandchildren come to us and ask what good have we done with our lives, we'll be able to say three words: Juan, Michael and Dora.
I truly hope you're well. I'm completely unaware of your current marital status. I do hope - and I'm probably the only one who can say that without being struck by the wrath of Dora - you're still divorced. By that, I mean alone.
Maybe I'm too old for this, but if you are still single, why don't you spend a couple of hours on a train and play Mike a visit in New York? You know his address. That, despite the ever-lasting spot of jealousy I'll nurture like an eternal flame, would make Mike, and me, very happy.
A tender kiss and my deepest love,
Juan Sevilla Johnson