I don’t recall why I chose to write a story about a son’s relationship to his father. Maybe, on some level every boy goes through a stage of contemplation as he reaches manhood; I was not immune to these feelings. It has to be said that in no way is this story a reflection of my own experience. I believe it served its purpose of situating myself in relation to something, I am not quite sure what, to provide some coherence amongst the multitude of feelings that surged through my teenage mind.
A concealed path
In a city where the individual, in the course of the cities growth, had disappeared to blend with all others of his kind into a larger, less distinct mass of humanity, I was born as a somebody. A somebody, whose distinction from the masses was determined exclusively by the mighty family name that, like a sinister godfather, hovered above and behind me, to watch over my every step. Born and raised in the mighty industrial city of Sao Paulo, located in southeast Brazil, where the number of skyscrapers radiating out from the center seemed to have reached infinite dimensions and where the many people, the children, the mothers, the fathers, uncles, aunts, teachers, students, villains, beggars, businessmen, and the individual all feed into and became a single gathering of souls, eternally on a mission for a purpose, of which they were not yet enlightened, my father was one of the richest men that would ever walk the streets of unsurpassable abundance. Nothing and nobody appeared not to belong to him. Everywhere, he had his agents, his workers, his investments. Everywhere he spent money, made much more and was known as a man to be reckoned with. Supposedly, he was tall, handsome, with wavy dark hair and a rugged exterior. Supposedly, he was intelligent, had exquisite manners and was very respected. Supposedly he was this and that. I am not sure. I never met him.
I grew up in an exceptionally private boarding school, where predominantly the richest of the rich had the golden opportunity to unload their children, allowing them, the oh so unfortunate parents, to focus on what supposedly held more value in their lives. Moneymaking!
Inside the walls of this highly accredited school, I was taught, no, fashioned, better yet, constructed, like an inanimate machine, to, one highly anticipated day, be able to step into my fathers shoes and take his place among the giants of history. I lived, laughed, cried, learned, and grew in my father’s ever present shadow. Every single day, my teachers reminded me where I came from, haunted me with future expectations and warned me of limitations, while trying to fashion the perfect little version of my father. In a very demoralizing sense, they indoctrinated me. I had no self-image, no self-worth, nor any self-esteem. I began to think that I existed for the solitary purpose of becoming someone that already existed. I was, that is to say, a nobody. I would be forgotten, not merely because I lived a meager life, but principally because I was never allowed to live in the first place. What was haunting me the most, however, was the fear of forgetting the individual that so desperately desired to break free of the shackles of this artificial world. In this, I was forced to live my worst nightmare as it became ever and ever more alive.
Unfortunately for my teachers and more so for me, I did not look anything like my father. From birth on, I was of diminutive statue, awkward on foot and radiated not the same awesome divinity that my father did, but had an almost cringing, forgettable appearance. On one occasion, I recall having heard the principal of the institute talking to another man, who I did not recognize. With the ever-present arrogance in his sharp, almost painful voice, my principal had calmly declared that he had heard from a source high up in the social hierarchy and close to my father, that I, the son of the richest man in Brazil had been a mistake. In fact, I had been the only mistake that Emanuel Sanchez, my father, had ever made in his entire life.
That night, sleep fled from me. I was forced to lie awake through the agonizing hours of darkness and to relive every word I had heard. Emotionally cringing in the lowest corners of my existence, I cried for the first time in my usually very composed life. That night, the remaining fires in my soul were smothered and extinguished, over and over again, as hundreds, no thousands of people, thousands of disheartening faces, among them the image of my father, all stared down at me, voicing the single most demeaning word in the world. Mistake! I was a mistake! Regrettable!, Irreversible!, and Eternal!
As long as I will live and hold within me the ability to feel, I will never forget how low and unworthy I had felt during that night, the night after and many others to follow. I sincerely believe that I would not have survived my stay at the, what I began to call, ‘place that held my soul in chains’, if it would not have been for a single, solitary man.
Bano, was the gardener. All day long, the specter of man would drag himself from place to place, steadily tottering along, like an old car, to water the trees, prune the flowers and cut the grass. His every act was one of downright defiance against the force of age and its associated dilemmas. Although his body was exhausted and unquestionably on its way towards death, his heart, his mind and his soul remained sharp, fixated on life and full of passion. Only with his iron willpower and youthful spirit, did he force every single remaining muscles in his body to obey his every desire. For the majority of the faculty and students, he did not exist. For them, he would never be worth a glance, never be worth of any sign of respect; not for his courage in life, not for his age, and not even for the beautiful job he managed to do in maintaining the garden as a true paradise among the dusty precincts of the city. Yet for me, in my desperate state, the unassuming, ever smiling, minuscule man, offered every consolidation and comfort I never had and frantically needed. Bano was kind, and genuinely listened, with those huge, youthful eyes that seemed to reach into the deepest, most secret corners of my soul, always fixed on me. He treated me as a human being; as a friend; and as a somebody. In his presence, I felt the confinements of my life drift away. Every noon hour, I spent my time strolling beside him as he worked, talking and listening. Bano told me many tales of great adventure; tales of sorrow and joy, tales of compassion, hatred and hope. His rough, rattling voice carried me into worlds of beauty, worlds of honesty and integrity, worlds where families lived together, loved and cared for one another, worlds where I would walk side by side with my father and worlds where I could feel warmed and comforted by his paternal presence. Those few hours taught me more about life and about myself than all the 16 years of school combined could ever have hoped to teach.
Bano awakened in me, for the first time, the sensation that there was something else out there for me, something with more significance, something with vast beauty, something which would allow me to find myself. I owed him so much. I owed him my life.
On my 20th birthday, I was still living among the hated walls of my imprisonment. They had not yet allowed me to leave, although I had finally met their expectations. I held the highest marks in all my classes, outwitted and outsmarted all other students and was consequentially raised to become the honor student of the faculty. It was during my prime hours of achievement that the principal called me to his office. Uncertain of what to expect, I sat and waited as he stared at me, seemingly measuring my worth. Finally I could not stand his piercing gaze any longer and asked if there was anything I could do for him. For a second longer, he stared at me. Suddenly, however, he stood up and handed me a letter. “This is from your father” he said. Mute and motionless, I sat, sat and stared at the piece of paper in my hands, which were starting to shake uncontrollably. Fleetingly, time stood still. The letter and I, were alone, secluded in a moment of intense significance. At that moment, every memory I held within me or had wanted to create, every feeling of hatred, love, desperation, desolation, loneliness and fear, every single step in my life, all came rushing in with an incredibly ferocious force of awareness, creating a whirlwind of havoc in my mind, so strong as to falter my very existence. No aspect in my life, had ever held so much potential value to my survival, to my growth, as that, yet to be opened envelope. In total disarray, I walked out of that office, my gaze, distant and focused on a reality only I could visualize. For days, I could not open the envelope. All I was able to do was to stare at it, with such a hopefulness, such an anticipation that my father, yes, my father, would reclaim the word ‘mistake’ from my shattered soul and open his arms to me, finally.
The envelope remained unopened for two more weeks. It sat on my nightstand, motionless, patient, absorbing my every thought, question and accusation with an unnerving calm. It was on the first day of the third week, when I was suddenly overcome by a burst of courage. I had been reading my favorite book, when out of the blue it surprised me, rushing at me without any premonition or warning whatsoever. This was it. I knew. It would be now or never for all eternity. The envelope summoned me. Like a frantic child, I raced up the stairs to my room, threw the door open and panting, came to stop before the envelope. When I reached for it, desperate to end my suffering and my hours of endless expectation, I felt the slightest flicker of anxiety and doubt trying to reappear in my heart. Nervously, before I could change my mind, I tore the envelope open and with my heart nearly bursting out of my chest, began to read silently, my lips gently caressing every word I saw. So engrossed was I in the letter, that only after having finished it, did emotion finally break free from my heart, like a raging thunderstorm. Thick and heavy teardrops started to run in torrents down my face, until the letter became indistinguishable in my shaking hands. I never bothered to wipe away those tears. Every single word had already burned itself, like a festering wound that would never heal, deep into my heart. As if everything happening to me was merely a glimpse into a different dimension, another reality, I watched as the letter, gradually and after a long time, fell apart in my hands. Incredulous and totally stunned, I sank to the floor. Every muscle in my body had become lifeless. At that point, I was sobbing quietly. Haunted, frightened and confused, I held the remaining fragments of letter close to my heart, feeling its nonexistent form pulsating, as if having a life of its own, beneath my hands. I was isolated in my room, me, my letter and my feelings that, like silent spectators floated, circling above me. For what seemed like an eternity, I remained in my room, quiet and solemn, wondering and aching. Forever wondering, forever sad, forever hating, forever loving, forever bewildered! Then, I fled.
The first person I came upon was Bano. Staggering towards him, unfocused, a man out of synch with his body, I felt my heart plead for relieve. Without a single word, but with thousands of questions appearing on his weathered face, Bano embraced me, holding on to my sobbing form, until he was dragged down by my weight. Like a drowning man, I held on to him. He was my rock, my only safety among the intense seas of reality, of life. I don’t remember how long it took me, until I finally told him. Holding on to his tattered shirt, nearly shaking him, I wailed. “He… he wrote…he wrote, wrote that he loves me, that everything had been a mistake, that ….that…. He is begging for my forgiveness, Bano. He is begging forgiveness for being an old, ignorant fool of a man who has caused his son so much suffering. He wrote that he loves…..Me!”
It seemed that Bano thought for a very long time before he eventually responded. “You are happy?” he asked, desiring to draw out and reveal all of that what was bothering me. Swallowing, I looked into his eyes. “Oh Bano. “ I cried. “How could he possibly do this to me. Why, Bano, why?! For 20 years, for every second of the day, I lived in shame, in isolation and filled with a fierce hatred. You can not imagine how I hated my father, the man that abandoned me! The man that killed my youth and filled my memories with bitterness and hopelessness. Bano, I was dead inside for such an incredibly long time. All because of him. Do you understand” I asked, running my hand through the air, snatching desperately for strength. Taking a breath I whispered “Do you understand what this letter signifies? Side by side with my hatred grew the hope, the immense anticipation that my father would one day enter my life, that everything would just be a big misunderstanding. I had dreamed and hoped for this so incredibly long. Now, that moment has come, and Bano, what scares me is that I feel numb. I’m lost, Bano, I’m incredibly lost and scared!!
Nodding his head, Bano caught my hand and held it between his. “Listen to me” he said, his voice full of sorrow. “Listen to me closely, my young friend. I am an old man and have seen and learned very much in life. In Brazil, everywhere I walked, looked or listened for human signs, signs of life and happiness, I bore witness to sorrow, grief and desolation. From every street, from every house or apartment echoed a history of human pain; a pain so unfathomable that you feel like escaping from it. Only you can not escape. You can not hide. The city is saturated with pain and anguish! I saw people from all assortments of races, ages and genders, all disillusioned and living in their own worlds of past memories, some happy, but most sad. They had all lost something in their life, be it a family member, a job, or more dangerously faith. I was fortunate, one of many that did not fall victim to the plague of anguish hovering and lingering all over the country. That was why I could never understand why these people, hurting from deep wounds that no one but they could see and feel, release their stress, for it was a very stressful situation they were coping with, by turning on others, trying to inflict an even greater pain than the one they were feeling. These people, some of whom I knew very well, desperately needed someone who would share their pain. They wanted other people to feel like they felt, depressed and aching from numerous internal and external wounds of both body and soul.
I can not claim to understand what profound inner turmoil truly drove them mad, drove them to harm others, but I do know, that in every one of them, there was goodness inside. I also know, that amongst all this sadness and melancholy, you have to learn to forgive. You have to forgive, forgive but never forget. That was one lesson I learned, one that brought me very far in life. Only by forgiving others can you learn to forgive yourself and believe me, in everyone’s life there will come a time when you desperately need your own forgiveness“.
Today, twenty years later, I look back upon those moments of my youth, and wonder. I wonder about innumerable ‘what ifs’ that could have lead my down different paths.
Yet, I am content with the path I chose after the long and eye-opening speech Bano had given me so long ago, during the climax of my weakness.
I neither forgave nor forgot what my father had done to me. I could not find that strength or that goodness inside my heart. Maybe he had destroyed that aspect of my personality. I don’t know? I don’t know what would have happened, and still wonder sometimes, what the result of my forgiveness would have been.
Speculating about it now, is senseless, I know. The past is, after all, the past. It can not be changed or relived. There is no second chance! For no one.
A long time ago, I ultimately decided, after many sleepless nights, to burn what remained of the letter, to sever the only link I had to my father. It was, in a sense, a very gratifying experience. I can still remember that I stood for hours, gazing into the flames, thinking and truly believing that I was setting myself free.
Today, I can finally find it in myself to forgive my father. After the long times of wandering aimlessly within this world, I found myself at long last. I am a doctor now and run a small clinic, which located amongst the towering tree giants of the Amazon Rainforest, is currently home to more than a hundred native tribesmen. It is here, that I fight against some of the miseries in life. In this niche of mine, I am doing my best to, every single day of my remaining life, change and enhance my and everybody else’s world to the best of my abilities. And I am doing it in memory of Bano, the only true father I ever had.