Writing is like going to the gym; you stop for a couple of weeks and next thing you know you’ve been on the couch for months, about a thousand Netflix series checked off your watch list, unable to wake up your mind to write a story, or your fat ass to go for a run. I guess we all go through those stages sometimes, and it’s up to us to decide when enough is enough. I’m not there yet. I am happy living through the lives of those characters who become my friends during the two or three seasons of each show.
Luckily, this is not my daughter’s case. Unlike her mother, who could never write anything based off a fictitious situation, Maitane’s imagination is way more vivid, as you will see if you continue reading below. For a 13 year-old who doesn’t know much about love and heartbreak, I thought she did a pretty good job describing how much it sucks.
I hope she continues to write but, above all, I wish that she will find her “Miguel” – whether that’s man, a job, or a dream. More importantly, may fear (or Netflix) never stand in the way of reaching her goals.
Amor prohibido, by Maitane Hollenbeck
It was an average day in Madrid that morning. The fresh scent of spring embraced us when we stepped outside; a slight breeze tickling through trees as men quickly made their way to work. I had taken a morning walk with my husband Francisco to our favorite cafe, El Manfer. We both ordered our usual, me ordering a café con leche and him a strong tea. It was at this time that he liked to talk about his work and complain about his other co-workers that he couldn’t be less excited to interact with. I pretended to pay him any attention, being used to this everyday occurrence. My marriage consisted of him loving me, but me being unable to do the same for him. An uneventful and loveless marriage was worse than being alone. However, as a woman in 1926, you’d find that it was futile to so much as attempt to survive without a man. I figured that Francisco was a wealthy man who would allow me to sustain a stable life while loving me. He was a kind man that meant well, and we married within a couple of months of meeting.
“Carlota, what is wrong now? It seems as if every morning you’re bothered”, Francisco would always say to me. I reassured him that I was fine and I quickly sent him on his way to work. I went on my usual way back home, always taking the long way to observe the stores and restaurants that would be considered too lowly for my kind and ridden with uncouth people. Isn’t it funny how people assume your personality for something as simple as how much money you have, or the places you go to eat? In reality, the people who spent their time there were the happiest of all. I had envied their way of living ever since I married Francisco. It was instilled in my mind from a young age that marriage should be the most prominent goal in my life; that without a man I would amount to nothing. I could almost hear my mother’s voice in that moment: Carlota, find a wealthy man and marry him. Mi’ja, don’t say things like that, a man won’t marry you if you act that way. After 20 years, you come to terms with the fact that that’s just the way life is. I reminisce, looking longingly through the windows. I suddenly catch my reflection, I snap out of my daze, and continue walking towards my house; my bland life.
I’m greeted by the familiar scent of my home: my Chanel No. 5 perfume and the fresh bread that I pick up from the bakery across the street every morning. I sit on the couch, pick up the newspaper, and begin reading. The story that day, like many others: Ah, yes. The country seemed fascinated by the fact that women were working at telephone companies; picking up calls and redirecting them. Yes, women, with jobs. It was revolutionary. “Hola, doña Almanza”, I’m suddenly interrupted by our maid, Blanca. “Is there anything I can get you?” I smile lightly, and shake my head. “No, thank you.” I think that Blanca knows that I’m unhappy in my marriage. In fact, I think she and I have that in common: Both stuck in a life we would change if the chance were to ever arise. Without wasting a moment, she gets back to her everyday life, cooking and cleaning like women are supposed to. I, on the other hand, promptly get up and walk out the door. I know that Blanca must’ve heard me leave, because she runs after me and hands me my purse. “Here, doña Almanza.” I respond, “Gracias.” And that was that. She didn’t ask me any questions; no, she simply turned and walked back. I had somewhere to be, someone to meet – and it wasn’t Francisco.
I could’ve taken the train, but I decided against it. Why would I rush to get somewhere? Why can’t I just live in the moment and why can’t others do the same? Always eager to be somewhere, always in a rush, and for what? Francisco was one of these people. He’d always say to me: Ay, Carlota, why are you this way? And I’d always respond: Because this way is the only way I know. I keep walking for another half an hour, finally arriving at my desired destination: the beach. He was there, waiting for me. It was rare to see him elsewhere, so I always knew where to find him. “Don’t you get tired of this same view, this same spot?” I would always ask him. “Of course not”, he’d respond, “because that would mean I was tired of you.” I stand facing him, and he lightly picks up my hand and holds it. “Carlota, I miss you”, he says. I don’t respond. It hurts to look at him, knowing that this was the outcome of his mistake. “Don’t.”
Miguel and I met when we were children; innocent and oblivious to the problems that would later tear us apart. We spent our days together for years, and, cliché as it may sound, we fell in love. We dreamed about traveling the world together, and neither one of us was interested in having children. We treasured every moment that we spent with each other, treating it like a gift, because that was truly what it was. Our love for each other was immense. When we were together, it felt like we were the only two people in Madrid. There was nowhere we’d rather be except together, for the rest of our days. Regular people wandering the streets would see us laughing and holding hands, and would briefly stop what they were doing, admire us in awe, jealous of what they always wanted but could never have, and turn back to their everyday life. I was more in love than I ever thought possible. We soon started discussing the idea of marriage, and that would be the beginning of our life; no interruptions, just the two of us. Neither one of us wanted a glamorous wedding nor did we want to invite anyone, all we wanted was each other. As the day approached, Miguel was distant and unsure. “Carlota, te quiero. I love you too much to let you marry me. The amount of guilt I’d feel for the rest of my life if I allowed you to commit such a mistake is immeasurable. I’m not wealthy; I wouldn’t be able to pamper you and provide you with all the luxurious things you please. What happens if one day, ten years from now, you realize that you don’t want me or this life we lead anymore? How could I live with myself knowing that I wasted your life? I couldn’t. Carlota, por favor, you need to find a man that can provide for you, unlike me.”
I was speechless. I was confused, hurt, and experiencing emotions I didn’t even know existed. He looked at me, with sorrowful eyes. Miguel was always too careful with me, and would always put my happiness and well being before his. We were both silent for a minute. As he opened his mouth, I interrupted him.“No. Miguel, no. This is ridiculous”, I said as the tears brimming my eyes started to fall. “I love you, no matter what. Nothing you could ever, ever, do or say would make me love you less. I don’t care about money or luxuries or pampering; being with you is worth more to me than all of those things combined. I want you, and only you, for the rest of my life.” It was him who was crying now, and I could tell that what he felt was never-ending sadness. He kissed me lightly, and left. He turned away from me, on our favorite part of the beach, and didn’t look back. I screamed his name, crying, running after him, begging for him to come back. He never did.
It has been four years since that day. I fell into a terrible depression soon after, and have been ever since. Not a day goes by that I don’t miss Miguel. I’ve lost hope that Francisco will ever fill the void in my heart, because it is Miguel who closed it and the one who could reopened it. So, every week, I go back to our favorite part of the beach, that feels more like a constant reminder of my life before Francisco than anything else. I look up from the ground momentarily, and instead turn my gaze to the vast sea. “You said that in 10 years I would regret marrying you, that instead I should marry a wealthy man who could pamper me with luxuries and give me a pleasurable life. I did exactly as you said, Miguel. I did exactly as you said, but even still, I return to you. I always return to you.” He doesn’t let go of my hand, instead he pulls us both down to sit on the sand. I think I am the only woman in Madrid who doesn’t care about her skirt getting dirty. I know Miguel always liked that about me; not caring what others thought and not worrying about the little things, like staining a blouse or scuffing up a pair of heels. After a long silence, he finally brings his eyes to mine. “Carlota, in this day a woman is dependent on a man. How could I risk your life by tying you down to me, when I can’t provide for you?” Once more, he repeats his “logic” as to why he can’t spend his life with me. “Miguel, it’s been four years and you still believe yourself? I have done exactly what you told me to do four years ago. I have everything I could ever want, but I have never been more miserable. I have everything, everything but you.”
I watch him as he tears his gaze away from me. I recognize every movement of his body as he does this, the lines created in his shirt; the way his hair looks as the wind swiftly passes through it. “Eres el amor de mi vida,” he says, still not facing me. “I had to do what I did. Your life is more important to me than my own. I’m sorry I could never be what you needed.” Although Miguel was the love of my life, he was also just as stubborn as I was. “From the moment I met you I knew you were the one for me. There were no questions, no hesitations; I knew. If you don’t understand that now, I don’t think that you will ever.” I put an end to our conversation sharply. I slide my hand, still in his, out of the comfort and safety it provides. He turns back to me as I gracefully get up. Still carrying my heels, I walk away from our favorite spot; our memories. I keep walking, knowing that he is still watching me. I keep walking, until I am out of his sight.
I make my way back to my home, stopping at a cafe to meet my mother. We meet here daily, not being able to go to many places without a male chaperone. She knows about Miguel, but she never approved of our relationship. The moment we meet, she immediately suspects something. “You saw him, didn’t you?” She doesn’t even look up from stirring her coffee as she says it, she simply knows. I give a small chuckle as I respond, “It’s good to see you too, mamá.” My lack of response isn’t what she’s looking for, so she presses on: “You have a husband, Carlota. A rich husband that cares about you.” The way she says rich sickens me. “Ay madre de Dios. Siempre es lo mismo. Why are you like this? I simply cannot understand you. Your disapproval of Miguel was always surrounded by the fact that he wasn’t wealthy. I never cared about that, you were the one who did,” I hiss. We’ve made a scene, I can tell by the way people are looking at us. I couldn’t care less. “Adiós”. I leave within seconds of ending the conversation.
I exit the cafe fuming, my pace quicker than usual. As I walk home, my level of anger diminishes. Although I’m upset with my mother, I can’t deny that she has somewhat of a point. I am married, but unhappily so. The more I think about it, the less angry I become. My anger is replaced with excruciating sadness. My relationship with Miguel will never have a future, but I can’t imagine a future with Francisco either, at least not a fulfilling one. I unlock the door to my home, glance at the clock, and sigh. 15:00. Francisco, I imagine, will be here shortly for the meal. I enter the kitchen, where Blanca is finishing up sopa de patata and lomo. I observe Blanca while she prepares the meal and cleans the kitchen. She is well aware that she’s being watched, but she doesn’t so much as glance up from what she’s doing. This time seems as good as nay to ask the question that has bubbled up inside me ever since I married Francisco. “Blanca, why are you here?” she turns abruptly, taken aback. “¿Disculpe?” I realize that the question is somewhat unclear when directed at someone who hasn’t been thinking about it their whole life. “What I mean is, what would you rather do with your life than what you’re inevitably stuck doing?” She ponders the question, and stops what she’s doing. Her face lights up every so often, imagining what her life could’ve been. When she returns to reality, I suddenly sense a melancholic atmosphere filling the room. “Well, Carlota, that’s quite the complicated question. I guess I would’ve married the love of my life. His name was Pablo Espada and he was the kindest man I’d ever met. Our love for one another was unconditional”, she smiles as she reminisces. “We always dreamed of marriage, until he was sent away to Madrid with his father. We wrote each other for years, until one day we lost contact. Ten years later, I took a train to Madrid in hopes of finding him. I searched and asked around for months. When I finally found him, I was overjoyed. We embraced one another, and he held me like he was never going to let go. I thought this was the start of our new life together, but my joy was short-lived. As soon as we let go, a ravishing woman with a curled bob and perfect red lips holding the hand of a young child no older than three walked out behind him.
“His smile quickly disappeared as he looked back at them. He looked down for a brief moment and turned back to me. I will never forget the look in his eyes when he told me that the woman and the small child were his wife and daughter. I left without saying another word to him.” Blanca wipes the tears off her face, and we’re both quiet for a moment. She looks back at me, and continues her story: “He ran after me, his wife looking somewhat confused. He kissed me passionately, and I returned a kiss. He embraced me, and as he did, he whispered something in my ear: ‘I will never forget you as long as I live. You’re the love of my life and I’m sorry it has to be this way. Te quiero.’ Those are the last words he ever said to me. I was always broken, but that broke me permanently.” She looked up at me, and we locked eyes. As they say, the eyes are the windows to the soul. In that moment, I could see how broken hers was.
Blanca, I can tell, has never told this story to anyone before; not because she didn’t want to, but because she never had anyone to tell it to. Finally, I break the silence: “Thank you for telling me.” Blanca smiles lightly and beckons me closer to her. She places her hands on my arms, and tells me something I have never forgotten since that moment, and never will: “My biggest regret was not going with Pablo to Madrid that day because I was too scared. Look where I am now: loveless and alone, with no inviting future. Don’t let yourself become Blanca López; you are Carlota Almanza, a strong and ambitious woman. You have your whole life ahead of you, don’t waste it. He’s waiting for you, that man you meet every week. He’s waiting for you, and he loves you.”
She, without wasting another second, returns to preparing our meal. Blanca acts as if our entire conversation didn’t even happen, as if this was just another normal day. I, however, cannot act as if that conversation never occured. Today is the last day we will ever speak of this – but I can’t let this moment fly away just yet. “Blanca, how did you know?” she doesn’t so much as turn towards me. “Mi vida, I can smell it on your clothes, I can see it in your eyes, and I can taste your despair.” Before I can say anything else, Francisco walks inside. My nostalgia has suddenly disappeared; my hope of returning to Miguel is now foolish. “Hola, mi amor.”
- Basque Stories Writing Contest from Reno’s Center for Basque Studies
- Have a minute to help PhD student Maialen Goirizelaia with her “Basques in the United States” survey?