Monday, March 5, 2018

Passionate Cursive

Life of my heart, the only woman I have ever kissed, I want to kneel at your feet forever… my 28-year-old father writes.

A stack of letters between my parents has lately come into my hands. The first letter dates from 1941, at the very start of their courtship, when he is her violin teacher, and the last is probably from 1953, the year before we leave Spain for Ecuador.

Between those two dates there are dozens of letters, most of them written by my father in Barcelona during the times my mother is at her parents’ farm in the country. But during their courtship he writes even while they are both in the city and he sees her every day. He walks her home from the university and then goes to his parents’ apartment, finds a quiet corner and pours out his adoration on paper (goddess of my dreams, star of my firmament, joy of my life…).

The next day he meets her at the usual place. “When I would see him coming,” my mother once told me, “I always looked at his breast pocket, to see if there was a letter peeking out.”

There usually was, and these and the letters that he wrote during their times apart make for overwhelming reading. The first time I plowed through them, I had to take breaks, because their intensity made me gasp.

Does anybody still write love letters like these (adorable angel, without you the city is a desert, gray and dead, and I wander the streets like a soul in torment…)? Her beautiful hair, the soft skin of her cheeks, her hands, her eyes, her sublime spirit have kindled in him a flame that will never be extinguished…With his music and her love, he tells her over and over, he needs neither wealth nor fame to be the happiest man on earth.

In letter after letter, my father’s elegant handwriting unfolds across the page like a visual melody. How can these harmonious loops and strokes, these impeccably parallel lines, hold so much ardor?

My mother’s letters—there are several in the collection—match his in intensity, but the writing is often illegible. Sometimes the handwriting leans forward, others backward, and the words stretch out or bunch irregularly on the page, propelled by the changing rhythms of her feelings. 

But my musician father was accustomed to containing his emotions within the boundaries of a certain form, and even in the transports of amorous passion, his pen-holding fingers kept a steady beat. Which is why, reading his letters almost a century later, I can feel his young heart, beating in my hands.