Chapter 26: Replacing and Filling In

(C) 2011 by Metta Anderson – All Rights Reserved 

Dear Julian,

It’s been a while since we wrote. I can remember the date but I’d rather not. What I want to do is apologize and explain and say things I never dared to tell you. I don’t know where you are, except in my heart, as always. If I find your address, I’ll send this to you. I promise. We started a conversation somewhere in the past and I want it to continue. I hope you feel the same.

I’m sorry I left Colombia and that I did so without telling you. I know I hung up on you that night. It’s taken a very long time to separate and untangle all my emotions, everything that I was feeling then. Ironically (and only you could appreciate this), I self-destructed all by myself, without drugs or alcohol or self-inflicted wounds, and now I think I should have gone that route. Instead, I destroyed things that meant the world to me, especially the photos and Super-8 films taken over the years. Not having the negatives of the photos I took of you is a self-inflicted wound that doesn’t heal. But I do remember you–your voice, your face, your sense of humor and everything else–in so many ways. Still, I’d like a photo.

I think I should back up to the last time we were together, in Bogotá in 1978. Looking back, I think the city went through a bad period at the same time I did. Esoteric? Whatever, I left, but now I’m back. No, I should never have left. I belong here. We started here. We haven’t finished, though. You could be in Bogotá and I wouldn’t know it. The place has become so large! Remember when we could go from Calle 19 to my apartment on Carrera 5 with 68 in about 15 minutes? During the day!

I’m getting sidetracked.

When I left, I thought my entire life was collapsing and I was helpless to stop it. I could not deal with my mother’s betrayals (causing scenes on the phone was just the beginning) and later, with what I still perceive to be a betrayal of US society. I’m NOT a leftist, and I’ll try to explain this as I go along, so please bear with me.

When I got back to Arizona, the girl who was supposed to pick me up told me on the phone that she was too stoned to drive, so I spent the night at the airport hotel. The next day, I searched for my car. It wasn’t in the garage of the couple who said they’d take care of it, but at the dealer’s. The dealer plays golf with Chuck, Mom’s husband, who said he’d take better care of it.

Crap! He left it outside and the sun damaged the paint. Worse–his college student son took the keys and drag-raced the car on back roads in the desert on weekends. The transmission was almost completely burned out when I got back. Chuck went to the dealer and had to threaten him with a major lawsuit to get the car even reasonably fixed. On the other hand, I wrote Datsun’s head office in the US and they took over. In the end, the dealer lost authorization to sell Datsuns and an entirely new transmission was installed at Datsun’s expense. I had to rent a car for a month, non-reimburable.

When I got back to the house, meanwhile, I found a gas bill for over $250. The renter had taken off after a month, leaving the air conditioner on at 72° all summer. Gee, he did turn off the lights. How fortunate. I went to the real estate agency who had handled the deal, and was told that the agent responsible had left the company and they didn’t know where he was. They didn’t want to take responsibility, so Chuck went over there, threatened another lawsuit, and, voilà, the bills were paid and some maintenance was done in the front and back patios.

My mother simply disconnected from everything–nothing was her fault. So I looked around at the nothingness of Tucson and decided to sell that house and move to LA. By this time, I had the Datsun back with a new transmission and decided to drive there by myself.

I hope you never ever have to make this drive, Julian, in any mental state imaginable. The highway between Phoenix and Yuma stretches on and on and on and it’s the most barren place I’ve ever seen. Okay, it’s the Great Sonora Desert and Disney’s made some great nature films there. Good for him. But remember when we drove through Mexico at night from Nogales? There were other people on the road and we could see little towns lit up here and there. But that highway (I-10) is just a strip of uninhabited asphalt and nothing exists there. I had to stop at a motel near Yuma to spend the night and felt as if I’d fallen off the planet.

The LA freeway system was a nightmare. I’m sure you’ve learned to deal with it, but I never could. I did move to LA in December, into a one-bedroom on Blackburn, a few blocks from the “world famous” Farmer’s Market. Apparently no one in LA has ever seen fresh produce or fresh anything. I never went there. There was a Safeway a block away.

In one year, I had a couple of anxiety attacks, which landed me in the office of the worst and most incompetent psychiatrist ever to be allowed to practice medicine. First, he gave me a prescription for 30 Valium (10 mg each), knowing I was very depressed. Then he talked me into staying at the psych clinic at St. John’s Hospital . Since I checked myself in, I also checked myself out the next day. The intake nurse criticized me for not liking pot or coke and not wanting to be around people who do them. She said I was “judgemental.” This from a 30 year old with bad skin, unnatural hair, the worst taste in clothes I’ve ever seen on anyone, ever, and some cheapie Jesus sandals. One more day of her and I probably would have taken a handful of whatever drug was available.

The shrink gave me an appointment immediately to find out why I’d left that “sanctuary,” during which time he came on to me. I called his bluff and he said I had no grasp of reality. (Oh how I wish you’d been there, Julian! You would have loved the exchange!) I drew myself up and gave him one of my coldest, most killer looks (you know which one) as I said, “There is no such thing as reality. Each person has to create his or her own.”

Swear to God, Julían, this guy physically flipped so far back in his chair I thought he was going to land on the floor behind him.

That’s when I decided to leave LA, and fortunately, a check from Al Londoño arrived with the money earned from selling the two apartments. I lost money on the sale, of course, and I shouldn’t have been surprised. I was, briefly, but then I thought, at least I can get the hell out of here! And I did, driving cross-country to Chicago to stay with Beca.

Okay, before this memory gets buried somewhere else–One night, when I was still in LA, I dreamed of you. You were terribly upset in the dream and needed me, wanted to tell me something, but the words wouldn’t come out.

I didn’t know where you were. I hoped you’d write or we’d run into each other somehow, and felt very sad when nothing happened. I would have given anything to see you again!

Anyway, I got to Chicago and called my father in Michigan. He announced that he’d separated from his wife of thirty-some years. I burst into tears. Somehow, I felt that it was also my fault even as I wanted to shout at him, “Well, that’s your goddamned problem and don’t dump it on me!” (He hadn’t, in fact, but after Mom, any unusual event made me depressed.)

And once I got to Michigan, I think my life came to an end. You know how buoys bob up and down in the water? They’re anchored in place and just shift with the tides. That’s how I spent the next few years. I got a place to live, I got a job, I started to write again as well as do a little painting. I started to take my photography more seriously. Yes, I destroyed my negatives in Tucson, but I kept the equipment. I bought darkroom equipment. I entered a great photo of the back of a football player from Michigan State in a local contest and was rejected pretty much the way I was rejected by the Tucson Museum of Art when I submitted that black-and-white of you sprawled on the bed. I know you decided you didn’t like it, but for once, you weren’t being particularly objective. It’s a figure–your BACK, your legs, one of your feet, your arms–but since your face is hidden by a pillow, who the hell’s going to know it’s you?

Anyway, the judge for the Tucson show liked the photo and set it aside. The ladies from the Junior League who were organizing the show refused to let it in. An argument ensued and I lost. Ditto in Michigan, almost. This time the rejection was based on the use of a black matte around the print. The judge insisted that all photos have white ones. Asshole. I’m sure all these people are superb judges of books, just by looking at their covers.

So then–to keep going with this–my brother’s wife committed suicide and I flipped out. Sold almost everything I had and went to Europe, to Holland and Denmark for a few months. In the fall! But out of the corner of my eye, in Copenhagen, I’d think I was looking at buildings that are actually in Bogotá. I knew in my heart that I wanted to go back, but I didn’t dare. Instead, I went back to Michigan, and in the winter of 1985, I went back to Michigan State, only this time, I majored in something that mattered to me. Art. I wanted to become a better photographer, and the photographers I most admired had backgrounds in painting and drawing. So that’s what I did.

And graduated in December 1988. What next?

Came back to Bogotá. I was faced with such limited opportunities in Michigan and had only made two friends in almost 10 years that I wondered what I was supposed to do with myself. I barely spoke to my family. In fact, for a few years, I didn’t have any contact with them. But then, in 1986, I inherited some money, which made phone calls necessary. Therefore, re-contact.

And that was it. I remembered what you said one time, and I think you’re right, still, that as a woman alone I have little or no chance of being successful in Bogotá. You’re mostly right, but I’ve found that I can sell my work (and have), the photography, but only if I do it myself. There are galleries here, but the “negocio redondo” is not my cup of tea–the gallery charges me for frames and then–jacking the price up so high no one will buy the print–re-sells the same frame containing my image to an unsuspecting buyer. No, gracias.

After trying to live in the suburbs (a new and awful housing solution here, you must admit), I finally moved down to the Candelaria. Don’t scream. It’s not as bad as it used to be. They have street lights now. Internet. Paved streets. Hordes of foreign tourists. I found a large apartment, cheap, too, and felt like I’d finally been able to drop anchor. I’m not a buoy on the water, but a ship riding the water even when it’s stormy.

And I still think of you. I think I have more insight now. You’d get depressed and the pot and the coke helped you through it. I honestly can not tell you that you’re wrong. Pharmaceutical companies in the US now advertise their psychotropics on TV during dinner time, and those drugs have pretty much the same effects as the pot, at least. So why the war on drugs? It just strikes me as so tremendously hypocritical to blame Colombia (and Peru and Bolivia) for “supplying” drugs when American drug companies are selling the same thing!

I don’t want to get into that, though. You did what you did for a lot of reasons. I’m not going to criticize you for doing it. I loved you when you did it and I love you now, regardless of your state of intoxication. Maybe you don’t go beyond a glass of wine at dinner (sorry; I find that hard to believe, but since I haven’t seen you in a while, anything’s possible) or you might be buying Chivas Regal by the case, weekly. I actually don’t care. I care that I love you and hope you’re all right, that you have a decent place to live, that you’ve resolved the things that bothered you. That you’re still Julian.

We should have–taken that trip through Ecuador and Peru, maybe Chile, all those years ago; stayed in the Mexican village we found; stayed in Popayán; gotten married or just worked out a relationship based on what WE needed.

Most of all, I want to apologize for not being able to recognize that you really did love me. I spent so much of my life feeling that I was not worthy of being liked or respected, that the idea that any man could actually love me for the person I am was unacceptable to me. I still can not believe how much I have lost because of that. You loved me and I pushed you away when I needed you most and I am profoundly sorry, because I lost so much and mostly, because I hurt you so very, very much. Please forgive me, Julian.

When the phone rings, I still hope it’s you, sometimes. I miss your voice. I look at faces when I walk through one of the malls or down a street in neighborhoods we both knew and I look for your face. So far, I’ve never seen anyone who comes close to looking like you. You are unique. I always knew that and treasured that aspect of you. I should have protected it better.

I have to be honest, too. I’m not living as alone as this letter implies. There is someone in my life. His name is Felipe and he’s younger than I am. We don’t live together. He works for me. We get along well. His ability to drink sometimes reminds me of you. I’ll have to tell you more about him someday. Oh yeah–he met my mother, and survived. She taught him how to make vodka martinis–always a useful skill. She told me she liked him, was glad he was in my life, and then said I should leave him and move back to Tucson. I told her she could leave, and I wasn’t kidding. She shut up after that.

And I guess that’s all for the moment. I ask you again to forgive me, Julian, for all the hurt I caused. I love you.


My dear Grace–

I don’t know if I’ll ever mail this. I don’t know where you are. I hope you’re in Bogotá, or if not, that you’ve found a place that gives you whatever it was that you had there. But still, I remember the look of intense fascination on your face as we passed houses and buildings in Bogotá. It took me forever to understand that a person can genuinely like a city as it is, and not complain about what it is not. This is one reason Colombians always thought you were a little weird–what did you see in Bogotá that they did not? I can’t answer that question, even now, but after all this time with Elisabetta and her circle of friends (especially her friends), I simply understand more. So I hope you’re in Bogotá. You should live where you like.

I don’t remember having problems writing you in the past, but today, I feel lost somehow. There’s a lot to tell you. I’ve wanted to write you for a very long time. I’m afraid that, if I start, everything will come rushing out in a jumble, or else I’ll forget to tell you something important. I’m alone in the house–Elisabetta went to a designer convention in San Francisco for the weekend, and I begged off; I went last year, never again! Why can’t gay men take no for an answer?  Sorry, not relevant. Anyway, she’s gone for the weekend and I decided to sit down and write you, for better or for worse. For whatever reason. So much time has passed and yet I still see you, or feel you or know that you’re around, even though you’re not actually there.

I love you. In all those years, I only said that to you once. I should have said it before and more often. I liked to think you loved me. I hope you did. I still do. 

The thing with Elisabetta is this–I work for her. I doubt there was ever any love between us. We liked each other, from the beginning. It was fun to hang out with a chick who took snorting a line as a challenge. But then she took much once too often and I really hate having to revive her or–once–take her to the ER. Then her parents called her and ordered her back to Amsterdam. She went back and decided she wanted me with her. 

I helped her with that, though. While I ws living with you, I did write her and told her I missed her but (sigh) had no way to fly to Holland, etc. And eventually, she helped me get a job and a visa and all that. From there, I made myself indispensible. Eventually, we developed a relationship that was formalized into a contract with salary and benefits and another visa and all that. 

I just re-read that. I probably should have told you this a long time ago. I wasn’t married to Elisabetta, even though you thought I was. I was embarrassed to explain the situation to you. My mother knew what I was doing. She still–to this day–insists that I should have married you, and she was right. I should have. The thing with Tere was a rebellion and I knew it and I was not the least bit surprised when it was over as quickly as it was. (In the meantime, Tere turned into a proper dama bogotana with atittude. Things were fine between her and Al Londoño til he cheated on her once too often. By then, they were living in New York and she knew he had a pile of money stashed in Bogotá. She got two lawyers–one in NY and one in Bogotá–and pretty much cleaned him out. Now she’s got a gorgeous place in Santa Bárbara, fulltime maid, chauffeur (she needs one; she was always a terrible driver), the kids are all in the best schools and so on. Better Al than me.)

Oh yeah–remember Ricardo Franklin del Valle? The skinny guy  with long eyelashes and a thing for the “Dior tuck”? (How could I forget that?) Well, he was living in LA, just about the time that Elisabetta and I had moved here. I didn’t know that til I saw an article in the LA Times about a murder in West Hollywood. I recognized the name right away and wrote my mother. She actually called me, long distance, to say it was the same one and she was going to the memorial mass and how devastated everyone was. I never said this to anyone, but I was freaked out. I was glad he’d been able to come out of the closet, but to end up dead as a result of some kind of sex game, and then have it ruled murder, not an accident, actually made me wonder if I wanted to stay in LA at all. But I did, and for a while, things went quite well. I could help out my family, which was the point of the whole exercise. I got a very nice “vacation package” which allowed me to travel–to see you in Tucson, and then in Bogotá, and keep in touch and the things that meant a lot to me. 

Elisabetta came to Bogotá a couple more times, but without the drugs, she didn’t like it too much. Very sexist, completely disorganized, helplessly backward. She’d stay in a hotel (the Tequendama, even though it was hardly convenient for the things she wanted to do or the places she wanted to go). Of course my mother invited her to dinner, which was (or seemed to me) a combination of the theater of the absurd and a royal procession. Elisabetta is the royal princess, and we were her humble subjects. Remember my mother’s aunt living with us? Well, may she rest in peace, she eventually died, but a couple of times I did wish she were still alive and could speak English (she didn’t, but Mamá does). She would have found Elisabetta just too much. As it was, Mamá was gracious and polite as always, but afterward, she’d have a couple of good-sized sherries and tell me I was wasting my time and my life with Elisabetta. I’d feel frustrated and get angry and then depressed and have several whiskies. It was a bad situation. 

What Elisabetta and I did work out, as well, was how much I could do for her. She began to design jewelry and she’s been very successful at it. She understands producing different lines for different types of customers and all that. But she likes to use really good stones for the upscale people, who are, these days, “trailer trash with cash.” Elisabetta has good connections with a lot of contemporary designers, whose clients include the latest music, TV and film stars. They want custom designed objects and Elisabetta gets a lot of referrals. That means I get to go back to Bogotá pretty often to buy  raw stones, especially emeralds, and I’ve become a certified courier, for insurance purposes and also to avoid all kinds of hassles with US Customs.  But otherwise, I can keep in touch with my family more easily. Also, my older brother, who used to live in New York, now lives in Miami, so I can see him too, although it’s a long haul to go from Bogotá to LA via Miami, instead of a more direct flight through Mexico. 

I think it’s taken me a while to get used to LA, though. I live here, but I still hope to go back to Bogotá someday and buy a really nice apartment, maybe downtown or in Chapinero. Someplace where I feel like I’m in a city and not a suburb. 

I ‘ve cut down on my drinking and pot, and stopped all the coke and other stuff. Except for one really really horrible incident, I don’t think I need that stuff any more, at least not the way I used to. The incident was grisly and put both Elisabetta and me into therapy for months.

She had this friend, Charles, from one of the Benelux countries, who came to stay with us so he could take some courses at one of the schools here. I’d met him before and he seemed okay. Elisabetta had taken a very large three-bedroom apartment (two baths but no maid’s room and bath) in a kind of gated community, very ritzy by American standards. She was studying and I was taking care of things and taking a class on gemstones. 

I went out one day to run an errand or something and when I got back, I opened the door and found that the place had been trashed! I thought we’d been robbed and started to look for the phone (one in the livingroom, one in the kitchen, one in each bedroom) and I heard something fall. It sounded like it was coming from one of the bedrooms and I went to look. 

That’s how I found Charles, in the guestroom bathtub, blood everywhere, and the bedrooms and hallway trashed, too.

Elisabetta and I had separate bedrooms. That was part of the deal we made. We could sleep with whomever we wanted, although I tended to use motels, to be honest. Anyway, all the bedrooms were a mess, and there was Charles, slumped in the bathtub, smeared with blood and with ugly pasty white skin. I threw up, the minute I saw him.

Either I blacked out or I fainted or something. I threw up and then the police arrived and I was still in the bathroom, on the floor. I guess they thought I’d tried to kill myself, too, because a paramedic kept asking me what I’d taken. (Up to then–nothing. Afterward, everything they had!) But I managed to tell them that I had to call Elisabetta, because it was her apartment and her friend in the tub. I ended up leaving a message at her school to have her meet me at the hospital (St. John’s, in Santa Monica), at the ER. 

When she got there, she was distraught. She was convinced I’d been in one of those multiple-car pile-ups on the 405 and very relieved when she found me in one piece. But then I had to tell her about Charles and the apartment, so they gave her more sedatives than they’d given me. We both ended up spending the night in the hospital.

We couldn’t get into the apartment for almost a week. Then I hired a professional crew to clean it up. Meanwhile, I salvaged what I could, put it in storage and joined Elisabetta in a hotel suite. She had to call Charles’s family and agreed to accompany the body home for burial, but left me in charge of finding another apartment or a house while she was gone.

And the whole time, Grace, I only thought of you. I wanted you to be there and take charge or protect me from all the things I’d seen that day. I needed you to help me get through all this shit and it drove me crazy that I couldn’t find you, that I didn’t know where you were! I dreamed of you and when I called Mamá to tell her what was going on, I could only cry and in between crying I told her how much I missed you and that she was right and I should have married you. I think I stayed that way for almost a month. I didn’t even take drugs. All I wanted was you, mi Gracia.

But then Elisabetta came back and tried to restore everything, but couldn’t. We went into therapy for a while, which helped, and we found another place to live, but not in LA. Not in the Valley, either. Now we live up near Santa Barbara (but not in it), and I like it. Lots of creative people.

That’s what I most want to tell you, Grace. I was  miserable in Colombia, in Bogotá, because I felt I had to study something that was “suitable”–medicine, architecture, law, engineering (like my father). There’ve been only two things that truly interest me in my life–helping people in some way, and being creative, or being around creative people. I’m not going to compose music or write a play or anything like that, but I enjoy this flow of ideas that happens when I’m around creative people. Elisabetta is creative and knows really interesting people in the arts. I think that’s why I’m still here. I got so frustrated with you, Grace, because you have these special talents–to write, to take pictures, which I liked very very much–and then you didn’t use them. I couldn’t understand why not!? What was wrong with you!?

But now, I think I understand that aspect better. Your mother got in the way. The moving from Bogotá to Tucson and back to Bogotá and then getting surrounded by–please forgive me, some of them are your friends, but then, I don’t like some of Elisabetta’s either–surrounded by “the wrong people.” That’s an old expression, we both know that, but it fits. Women don’t like you. You’re beautiful and smart and charming, effortlessly. Most men think you’re just candy. And you are–or were, at least–terribly trusting. You take my breath away with the way you trust people who have “low class sleaze” written all over them! How you survived on your own just amazes me, to this day.  But now, at least, I do understand that you can not use those talents when other people get in the way, crowd you and steal from you. That really was the biggest problem you had in Bogotá–too many people who thought you’d write them a check and solve their problems and let them walk all over you. I did want to get you away from that. We almost got away from that. We should have, too.

I don’t know where you are, mi Gracia, but I miss you. I think about you. So many things remind me of you–a breeze across my face or a scent of some kind or a voice I only partially hear. I miss your silences, that always made me nervous. You talked and chatted and I know I told you that, when you were silent, it meant you were thinking, and I was probably in deep shit. Are you still like that? I hope so. It’s a remarkably effective weapon. It was a trait that sometimes drove me crazy, but now I miss it like crazy, babe. I really do. Eres mi doña, la gracia de mi vida y te amo como el primer día que nos conocimos.

I don’t believe in all that esoteric crap, I really don’t. And yet, sometimes, I feel like I always knew you, so without you, I don’t feel right. I miss you. I always will. I love you. I’m sorry I didn’t marry you and face life the way you do. I said the stupidest things anyone could have the last time we spoke and I hoped you’d call me later. But you didn’t, so I went back to Elisabetta, and for a long time, I kind of blamed you for that. But it wasn’t your fault. It was mine. I should have called you. I should have told you the truth. I’m very truly sorry, Grace. Please forgive me. I will always love you.



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