THE FAREWELL LETTER

Text by  Susana Medina

Translated by Rosie Marteau

Still from Object Lessons, Paul Louis Arher & Susana Medina, Photo Derek OgbourneStill from Object Lessons, Paul Louis Arher & Susana Medina, Photo Derek Ogbourne 

 

14th February 1992, 

 

Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch

 

Maybe because we’re nobody and a definite direction is nothing but a handy bit of self-deceit to stop us from losing our minds, I’ve chosen to situate myself in loss, a sound course, the chaos that embodies me. To have been there and done it, and yet to be undone. In this rural hotel room where so many travellers have left their dreams and something of their intimacies, a clean slate now peopled with the ghosts of others that probably wash over me so as to begin afresh, the romantic me listens to the odourless mooing of working cows, poor grazing numbers, although farmers claim each one has a name, just as we have names and numbers and we graze and produce milk, usually skimmed. Amidst this pastoral serenity, the confused me can’t understand why you didn’t want to go with Cookie, if she loved you to death, insisting unequivocal you’d never find anyone else like me, though you know all I really want is to abandon myself to poetry, the medicine that heals all my ills, not to mention your unbearable jealousy towards poets and my evenings spent with their words, the phone off the hook, when you appeared before me like a spectre pleading clemency, knowing everyone wants to be with Cookie and Cookie didn’t want anyone but you and all I wanted was to be with the poets, me the dreamer. And as you know, I’ve always brushed things that bother me aside as if they didn’t exist, but with you it’s been different, and if I cut your life’s thread, sorry for leaving my vagina dentata in your jugular, it was for my survival, to protect myself, because you kept trying to invade my every nook and cranny. Now here in this Welsh village, where there’s nothing to do but walk along mountain paths, look at your muddy reflection in puddles and catch glimpses of wandering spirits, the farmer cooks stews and says we city people always turn up with a face on, and when I go to my room, the solitary me, the farmer never bothers me and I can lose myself in reading, in the animal-shaped soaps I’ve brought and whose faces I like to disfigure gradually through use while thinking of you, until they have no eyes, noses or mouths left, the evil me, a little as though I’ve annihilated them and I’ve already made myself at home in this room, the nomadic me skipping from hotel to hotel, from identity to identity, from object of desire to object of desire, the empty hangers coming in handy for my black clothes, my kimonos, I’m anonymous here in the midst of it all, where I can abandon myself in the reading that fills my cortex with words and stare out of the garden window, deep in thought. And as you know, I’m always searching for something that I don’t find, because you weren’t the you I was looking for and maybe I’m not even the me that gave up anymore, because the farmer will be nothing but an erotic souvenir of my Valentine’s Day stay in this improbably named paradise in Wales:

Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch. Why wouldn’t you let me speak?

 

19th March 1992, Madrid

 

Because you’re softening my will with the camouflage of that telephone smile of yours and when either of us hangs up, I rewind the tape and listen thousands of times over to the spirits of your voice until I memorise the pauses, the unfinished phrases, most of all your silences and then the dizzying echoes of your silences, because you please me, darling, because if I’ve come here it’s just to hear your voice from that bit closer, the timid me.

          The hotel is a grotty dive, for only a dive of a hotel can boast not only views of a Moroccan in flames as people look on, the smell of petrol in the air, and a skinhead legging it with a toolbox and rug that belonged to the now-scorched guy, indifferent thanks to the relentless bruises he’s endured in the ebb and flow of a life condemned, but also a broken bathroom tap although the man assures me it’ll be working very soon, when I focus on the tap as if it was an object of desire, the water running spasmodically through the pipes and every time I hear a spluttering sound I jump, the neurotic me, sensing it’s going to bite me, though for the time being it remains impassive. I call reception ‘547 9321 please’ and quickly conjure up an excuse to listen to your sexy voice once more and I get the tape recorder ready which I always have at hand to record you with, because I always record every conversation, just in case, to study what people say and what they don’t. And then you answer and cleverly I say the following: it’s me, the amorphous me, I’m all possibilities, even the erotic ones, and you, disembodied like an echo I’m chasing, you apologise, I’m sorry you’ve got the wrong number, while I lovingly trace my tongue slowly over the receiver as if it were your ear, the erotomaniac me who dreams of licking you until you dissolve, and you hang up, and I rewind the cassette and ecstatically consume your words thousands of times like a drug, eventually finding something odd about your intonation as if you were tired or something, and then your final silence. And I could go to the Prado to see Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights, a triptych of eternal mirrors reflecting life, the moralist me demanding order, but today’s a Monday and it’s closed, and I think about the frenzy of solitary creatures in groups I’ve missed out on, although I’m sure, the obsessive me, that I’d really have gone, just as I always do, to visit the mad people in their tawdry-gilt crowns and the witches and especially Saturn devouring his children because I’m fascinated by the similarity between him and my father and the headless body I imagine to be me. But now the water’s coming thick and fast and I let it run and run, a drought-like thirst turned cerebral bleed: I’m sorry but you’ve got the wrong number, and I call back a moment later to check whether it really was and when you answer I hang up because you still might not know that I’m searching desperately for you and then I rewind the tape and listen, dumbstruck: hello? … hello? … hello?

 

1st May 1992, near Tenochtitlan

 

Hello? I was wondering whether you have a harder bed, this one makes a high-pitched screeching sound in the night, the lack of natural light is a shame and … It’s the only room with a double bed, if you’re going to break it I’d rather you went to stay at some other B&B, replies the woman much to our confusion.  And the democratic me has just met you on the motorway 30 km from this abandoned town, the ardent me, and you look at me and smile, and I study you in return as a warm-up exercise, the calculating me. You look back at me. And I think of the hundreds and hundreds of bodies that have passed through this room, the hundreds and hundreds of bodies that have passed through my own body, realising now that I’m a hotel, a hotel room complete with a bathroom where they’ve all deposited their shit, their implausible embraces, their rehearsed words, repeating my name in a bed where they’ve all left their fluids, their pubic hairs and their mange, this really is the last time, in this overly soft bed with stiff sheets and in the windowless blackness I figure I’m going to start charging from now on, sick of all these bodies, so many bodies dying all over me as if I were a graveyard. Sick of hopping from one body to the next, it’s that scar on your cheek that’s made my mind up, this is the very last time, thinks the spiritual me wearing a Buddha print dress and I’m a nurse I say, too young you say, and you ask why, and in this dark life of ours, I’m sorry, because I’m utterly devoted to the thrilling shiver that transpires before the unknown, and I don’t want to know your name I reply, I just want to look at you, especially at that scar on your cheek sprouting a few hairs, sure I’ve never liked men in uniform, because you’re a policeman. And you look blindly at the shadow of a fish cast on the ceiling by the lamp and some wiring, and there’s a painting of the sea hanging over the bed, an absolute sea that could be a window leading to a faraway escape. And the childish me can’t decide whether to play doctors and nurses anymore, because they always think I’m nuts, especially when I get the nurse’s uniform out of my suitcase as I’m doing now and vowing violently to give you a suppository while you start hurriedly throwing your clothes on, I shout: HANDS UP. Because with some men it just comes naturally to want to give them a suppository as if they had some unseen illness, for healing is my mission.

 

9th October 1992, Paris 

 

I’m not planning to get up until you come and kiss me passionately on the lips, I think sleepily from my solitary bed, from the chaos in my life, because I must admit there’s been some turmoil in my life of late, not least since I got the boot from the magazine for making up the exhibitions I wrote about, even falsifying the visual material using little mock-ups I’d made myself, the fraudulent me, and so I’m no longer a correspondent or anything now and I’ve decided to blow my last pay cheque on travelling the world until I find you, me with nothing but the clothes on my back, no luggage, in my yellow heels, having always felt like a foreigner wherever I go anyway, especially in my  body, and I thought maybe you’d too be searching the world for me, this crazed world. But then if somebody else happens to come along tonight I might just close my eyes, although I wish it was you, for I can be weak-willed at times as you know, finding it impossible to stick to my intentions, my promises even more so. And as you weren’t coming I went out for a walk and at reception, the cabinet behind the desk hung with so many keys to so many doors, they told me they’d stay open all night, so I’ve been ambling through the deserted streets of Paris, as deserted as my existence and on my return, the night porter seemed so alone that I invited him for a drink in my room and he was only too happy to accept, but you know that I love only you. And as we talked of this and that, I happened to tell him I was really into Beckett, the existentialist me, and next thing I know he’s hypnotising me with a well-known bit of Bécquer from his school days: the soul that aspires to paradise searching without faith grows tired, a wave without purpose that rolls not knowing why, and know that if your red lips are scorched by some unseen blast of air, that the soul whose eyes can speak might also kiss with a glance, and when he looked at me I began to drift off once more, the sleeping beauty me irked by a pea from beneath the mattresses.

 

25th December 1992, Los Angeles

 

And I don’t remember how I got to this lovely hotel where at last I can drag myself along the carpeted floor because I’m a natural born slitherer, what with this leukemia that’s flared up in my knees, becoming mixed up with the pine smell of the carpet, when the chambermaids, so kind and attentive, rush to take my pulse. Now with dry tongue and parched lips, because the chambermaids give me sweets they call vitamins which I swallow obediently without chewing, the chambermaids ask me so politely to stick out my tongue so they can check if I’ve swallowed them, and so I do, the submissive me, pink tongue with red sweet that makes the outside world slip into darkness. A place where I also find something akin to sympathy in the melancholic eyes of the travellers dressed in nighties or pyjamas who pass me by in the corridors, none worried about what the other might say, all reflecting on the solidarity of parched lips and a perfectly broken gaze.

          Because we are freer than we think, so you used to tell me, the magic words that allowed you to steal your way into my night for a while, and now you no longer want anything to do with me, I dream of marrying you under the portent of church bells, so difficult to be loved since entering this state of perpetual exhaustion that feels as though the world’s on my shoulders making me seasick in this ship of a hotel. Such kind chambermaids, so unusual the obliging kindness of this hotel, the perfect service that undoubtedly, the intelligent me, means it’s always fully booked, when even the hotel manager comes by every morning to ask after my health, strange, too, their discretion, because after living here full board for so long, they’ve not once handed me a bill, really remarkable service. There’s a feeling that something’s amiss in this hotel here, the hypochondriac me with AIDS, high cholesterol, malaria and pregnant by you to boot, not that you even come and see me, despite me telling you that both the Pope and Michael Jackson are in residence here, where I have the vague sense the hairdresser has lobotomised me but I’m so dizzy and the fog is so very thick. Strange, this thick air, the rooms with curtains instead of doors and in those that do have doors, a window so everything inside the room can be seen from outside and then there are double-glazed windows you can only lift a few centimetres as if they’re worried about the risk of suicides in this hotel as can sometimes come to pass when there isn’t an awful lot to do. Hence I water the plants frenetically, because after so many deaths, so many deaths just  to end up living in this hotel that others mistake for a hospital, now I endure the end of deaths once more so my daughter is born as I’m writing you a farewell letter, which I hope you can understand:

 I am inside contradiction: a space covered with undefined puddles that reflect my ever-changing reflection in a spot where all contradictions cancel each other out to raise a fleeting unity.
          Because I’m obsessed with myself, with always being the first personal pronoun, the only one written with a capital letter in English, an alibi therefore for what they term my egocentricity, they who assail my ears with litanies whenever I practice listening.
          And I’ve reached the other side of the muddy puddle and I’ve encountered the opacity of the ‘I’ which is the opacity of death of which we know nothing, save for the slow rotting of the body, unless one has a particular wish to be cremated.
And the altruist me speaks in defence of selfishness, so you won’t feel guilty about us being in the same boat.
Because I wanted to love myself, for to love is to dream and love is the only thing that redeems us and so never again will I cut open my veins for it looks so unsightly on the wrists that I now kiss.
          And perhaps both the soul and puddles are oases that disentangle me from life and from my affection for it in spite of it all.
          But let me dream of false purity, many a true paradise lost, and most of all let me unlearn and become primitive in this land of the living dead.
          Wait, don’t go: leprosy has just erupted all over my body, like a thin film of anxiety, and I’m eyeing it curiously now.
          And I leant in on myself and felt the frenzied urge to remove, scrape, sand, scrub and edit, turning monsters into tranquil, hardy flowers brimming with healthy narcissism that revealed the reflection as a reflection in a flash of lucidity.
          I’m lost: just don’t tell anybody.
         And I was alone: why don’t you join the bodies dancing to ambient background music on the road to nowhere?
          And sometimes I get the impression I’ll never really escape myself, a mostly fleeting impression.
          I know, too, that I’m to be found in all of the objects that surround me now and in all of the objects that will ever surround me, as if they were my hands or feet, for there isn’t a single thing that enters my personal space that isn’t chosen by me, for there are forbidden objects I’ll never let over the threshold of my being.
          And I’m a lady-dwarf reflected in this black car door, with tiny, stubby legs: a dwarf at the mercy of an anonymous fart, my mouth level with their backside.
          Do you call yourself ‘you’ when you talk to yourself? Or do you address yourself as ‘one’?
          And I was tired of reinventing myself too, because in this life you have to reinvent yourself.
      And I’m still an unknown country: when I’m deep in this uncharted territory I have to leap over a wall covered in broken glass, but now I’m digging a tunnel to take me to hell and the rash-like anxiety that wraps around me will be my dress.
          Do you speak to yourself in the third person singular?
        I’m the formless nothing, but then we’re all within me, aren’t we? I am I, you, he, she, we, you all and they, until my ritual disappearance.
         An exploding self: due to a bomb planted by the terrorist me who keeps me on tenterhooks, me who dreams  of serene fantasy, the pieces now floating to airborne cosmic music.
          I know I’m another: someone who evaporates as soon as she’s about to be grasped.
          And I no longer feel strange when I listen to the voices that speak through me as they’re doing now, broadcasting blessings for damned souls, the choral me, a calamitous blend of voices and dissonance.
          I feel therefore I am, like my dog who also feels and therefore also is and like animals threatened with extinction.
          And if I am many bits and even deliberate veneers, I don’t see why they want me to appear whole if resonance is born only of contradiction, nor why they insist on a sole truth that silences all the other voices that noisily inhabit me, ever the bewildered me.
          It’s always me that leaves with them: not I.
       And now my gaze wanders from your iris to your pupil thus changing my skin tone, mixed race now, the narcissistic me merely seeking affirmation in your eyes.
         And I’m not the only image in this puddle: everything that exists around me is reflected too, like the ‘no entry’ sign urging me to repeat this forbidden journey, tired, ever more tired from my travels, and so like the puddle I’ll become vapour and dust.
 
I’m the stuff that flutters around my being and occasionally retreats to the corner of my hotel room.
          To renounce flights of fancy: I can’t see myself giving them up because they excite me, but I aspire to purity, but frivolity might be a way of betraying the soul and there’s nothing like self-betrayal to keep one amused.
          I’d like to stomp right through this puddle of stagnant water and shatter its reflections.
          And now the loneliness returns, and this drip that connects me to life like an umbilical cord dries up once more.
      And since everything I’ve told you so far has been a mere rhapsody, tired of churning out lies, from now on I think I’ll just speak the truth.
More on puddles: puddles are faithful because they don’t warp our fleeting nature, offering a blurred reflection of our own confusion, so falsely rendered by the mirror.
          In the see-through glass cup I observe the way my cheeks spread backwards, my forehead taking up nearly half of my face, my eyes bigger than my cheeks, my ears smaller than my eyes, because I’m monstrous now.
          The mud, and the brownish water in which I’m reflected, tell  the truth, as I dive and excavate and know that on the other side of the puddle the damp earth soaks it all up, complicating the surrounding dryness.
          Because rather than thinking myself, I want to feel myself intuitively.
          And the soul, an energy in the most unexpected places, like a blade of grass or a nail or a breath of air, I saw it flowing from the shower hose today after having detected it in the sweat enfolding my body.
          And the objects that really reflect me are mostly opaque, like this eroded stone or this broken detonator.
          And sometimes I get the feeling that my nose has been brutally smashed open, and I raise my hand to cover it in a protective gesture only to find my nose is still in one piece, though no one can see the invisible blood coursing out thanks to a forceful punch.          
And as the other me reflects on itself, I sit out in the open air, admiring the Milky Way.
          Where all decisions are already made, the voices tell me: you’ve just fallen from the clouds and haven’t broken a thing: you’ve learnt to fall without twisting even an ankle.
          Ever boundless, this empty and plural me that I protect.
          And now that the puddles have dried up and so I no longer exist, I wander peacefully about the abysses of the tangible.

 

Red Tales Cuentos rojos, Susana Medina, Araña Editorial