Friday, April 16, 2010

The Unquiet Past

I've been meaning to write about this for a while.  It regards, generally, my fascination with the past and, specifically, my dead family.  If this sounds macabre or sad, please accept my assurances that it isn't (I think).  I hope someday to write more in detail about it, but for now, I'll settle for writing about the event that triggered it all in the first place.
Last Christmas I got to visit my mom's aunt whose son had recently passed away.  Since her sisters (my grandmother and grandaunts) live in the states and she's estranged from her daughter, my mom is really the last family that visits her with any regularity.  Reynaldo had died a few months before, so we weren't there to console her, per se.  I think this was more to remind her that she wasn't alone.
Though I though I was ready for the inevitable reminiscing, I was dead wrong.  It shouldn't have caught me by surprise, but I hadn't accounted for the fact that I'd have to confront the last material remnants of Reynaldo's existence.  For me, more than words and memories, things have the ability to bring the past and the dead back into the present.
Lucy's son used to live with her and most of his things were still laid out.  I couldn't help but reconstruct Reynaldo's life in my head using the bits and pieces he left behind.  His room was small and sparsely furnished, with just a bed, nightstand and writing desk.  It had a closet with some clothes and shoes and lots and lots of books.  There were a few pieces of art he had bought in the apartment and, nicely framed, his diplomas and award certificates.
The modesty of his room stood in contrast to the elegance of his old home.  I remembered visiting it a few times as a kid and even then I thought the place was nice.  It was a rowhome in Old San Juan, built on the cliffs that overlook the Atlantic.  Though small (as houses in the area tend to be), it was tastefully decorated and a residence befitting a successful engineer and college professor.  He lived there with his boyfriend of many years, that has since "recovered" and remarried.
His books spoke of a person all-too-familiar to me.  There were books on math and science, classics of literature and philosophy, poetry, essays.  My sister and I rummaged through them and each picked a few to take home.  She took poetry, while I took a copy of Walden and The Consolation of Philosophy.  I wondered if either of these was important to him, if he longed to escape into nature or sought solace in his learning as his life took a turn for the worst.
I considered his diplomas, from his undergraduate to doctoral degrees, as well as the commendations he received from the professional societies he belonged to.  It reminded me of my own desire for a higher degree and accolades.  What good did they do him?  What good would they do me, if I had to deal with depression and alcoholism like he did?
We talked with my mom's aunt some and she presented me with a gift, for my (then) upcoming wedding.  It was a brandy decanter that used to belong to Reynaldo.  It's a beautiful piece, made of crystal, that for me carries a lot of his story.  It was obviously expensive, bought during the good times, and obviously of fine taste.  At the same time, it's purpose was to contain what led to his death.  I'm not sure if I'll ever be able to drink from it, but I'm happy to own a piece of the past.