Love in a time of cholera

When it happened I wasn’t looking for it. In the midst of my confusing first year in Chile, I found myself in a fiesta de campo. He’d just come back from an exchange trip in the US and I’d just moved to the small southern town. Away from curious eyes, we walked for miles into soggy fields giggling, bellies full of piscola’s. Under the stars; those same ones romanticised by the musings of Pablo Neruda, I stumbled upon my first love. From that night we became inseparable. It was unfortunate that his father had been a high ranking Naval officer who knew and despised me before we’d met. It was also unfortunate that his mother was the regional head honcho of the conservative catholic cult, Schoenstatt

My first and last meeting with his family was cathartic. His perfectly made-up mother fired cutting questions at me faster than a circus knife thrower and his step father’s disapproval was made apparent by his inexplicable absence. The uncomfortable silence was broken by the arrival of lunch, served on an immaculately decorated table, displaying various silver cutlery I had never used before. As the first course was dished up, the step father entered the room and the polite chatter hushed to an awkward silence. I greeted him churlishly and he responded with a glare so penetrating that I dropped my fork. I could not taste the delicious foods being served by the uniformed nana, so tense was the mood. At the end of the meal, between the main course and desert, the intimidating ex naval officer fixed his attention on me and said ‘ I know who your family is. I know who your grandfather was’. He wiped his mouth and stood up slowly, leaving his embarrassed family to nervously fill the silence with offers of tea and kuchen. When his mother poured out my tea, she burnt my hands with freshly boiled water. I never again entered that house as a guest.

After that encounter things did not get easier. His family, deeply anti communist and from the religious right, did their best to prise us apart. His allowance was severed, a curfew was imposed and our clandestine love affair was blighted by family threats to move away if he did not stop his relationship with ‘the marxist’. One night he came sobbing to my door. His father had found a copy of ‘Punto Final’ hidden under the bed and beaten him severely. Luckily my house was an oasis for us to dream and be free. We spent many nights on my balcony, imagining our future and fantasised about running away to Manchester but real life got in the way; constant punishments and rows chipped away at our innocent teenage love, crowding out our innocence with a historical hatred so intense it would eventually strangle the life out of our budding love.

One day I got an invite from his glamorous mother to meet her for afternoon tea at ‘La Fuente Alemana’. Naively we both thought she’d become an ally. Not so, she told me that the thought of ‘communist’ grandchildren was an abhorrence she could not tolerate and she’d do everything in her power to get me out of her son’s life. Defiant we continued our relationship continuing to meet in secret at his house until one fateful afternoon his mother unexpectedly turned up to find us naked and unapologetic in his bedroom. Enraged, she removed her shoes and attempted to attack me with the spindly heel. Shocked, I gathered up my clothes and fled down the melting hot streets.

That night, the family confrontation he endured I will never know the details of; his words were indecipherable when he came to me with a bruised face and a shaven head. Within six months he had been moved away to Santiago. I never saw him again.


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